Give Your Course a Complete 360

As you wander through rooms of the assistive technology lab, you notice it’s much larger than you thought it would be. Your instructor said there would be plenty to explore, but he didn’t mention it would be an entire lab. After looking around a few rooms, though, everything goes dark. Fumbling for a minute, you find the charger for your laptop and boot your computer back up. The screen flickers to life as the virtual lab lights up the screen again.

For students in Ohio State’s online assistive technology certificate program from the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, this virtual lab will serve as a classroom for students to explore, interact with and learn from for an entire semester. With an infinite number of environments to choose from, Ohio State instructors can create virtual spaces to host their online courses.

Built as part of the course design process with the Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE), the virtual lab is one of the foundations of Introduction to Assistive Technology. The course, launched in autumn 2019, is the first in the new certificate program teaching students at the undergraduate and graduate level, in addition to working professionals, how to incorporate assistive technology into a career in physical rehabilitation and therapy.

“It’s the integration of technology into health sciences,” said Carmen DiGiovine, an Ohio State associate professor and director of Rehabilitation Science and Technology at Ohio State’s Assistive Technology Center. “This course stands out in that it takes the two fields and it blends them together.”

Despite being taught entirely online, the course aims to help students learn how to assess clients with disabilities in person in order to determine what type or types of assistive technology could help them be more independent.

The course is organized into two parts: The first half forms a foundation around assistive technology, and the second half focuses on specific assistive technologies such as motorized wheelchairs and vehicle pedal extensions. Students perform practice assistive technology assessments throughout the semester before delivering a formal assessment that should leave them feeling confident in their abilities to conduct technology assessments for real clients.

Throughout the course, students are also encouraged to explore the virtual lab, a recreation of the Assistive Technology Center at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, in order to find “hot spots.” Released week by week, these 17 hot spots contain helpful material such as video interviews with real assistive technology clients and up-close introductions to a variety of smart assistive home technology including video doorbells and eye-controlled tablets.

The virtual lab is a boon for online students, who may not have access to such a facility.

“Not everyone can go to a university that is moving this (field) forward, and they can’t get to Ohio State,” said DiGiovine. “So, for that cohort of students that are interested in this, this is an easy way to have access to this information that they can then turn into a career path and will be able to support individuals with disabilities.”

The virtual lab was created using a camera comprised of six lenses and four microphones. Once images are captured for every room, the photos are digitally stitched together and put into a creation platform called ViRA, which allows students to jump from room to room using a mouse or a virtual reality headset.

ODEE educational technologists premiered the 360-video technology in autumn 2018 in a nutrition and fitness course. The ViRA feature in that course had only one virtual room and included only a few hot spots for students to interact with. But even that basic functionality is worlds beyond what many people think of when they imagine distance education.

“Online courses five or 10 years ago were all just PDFs and voice over PowerPoint content notorious for being dry, text-heavy courses that were easier than the in-person course,” said Scott Nelson, instructional design video coordinator for ODEE. “But I think our team has done a great job in flipping the mold on that (perception) by creating really content rich courses that are as good, if not better than their in-person equivalent.”

In fact, lectures with PowerPoint presentations were DiGiovine’s original plan for the course before he began working with the ODEE instructional design team. But when he saw what was possible using 360-degree video, DeGiovine was inspired.

“I was very excited because of their (instructional designers’) ideas and was very excited because of their willingness to try new things,” he said.

ODEE’s instructional designers and educational technologists are a support for instructors, showing them what can be done and what could work best for their course.

“Our instructional designers are almost like an interior designer for instructors’ homes,” said Nelson. “It’s their home, so they get to say what they want and what they’re thinking. Instructional designers are just there to help shape it and mold it and show you what’s possible.”

To learn how an instructional designer can help you with your course, contact the distance education team.