Athletic Training Educators Remain Flexible as Fall Programs Begin

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As collegiate athletic training education programs are preparing for the new school year amid the uncertain coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, they are working to remain flexible and adaptable. With the many shifts that had to be made beginning in spring 2020, educators nationwide are assessing next steps even as start dates approach. Every program is focused foremost on the safety of students and faculty amid the overall goal to provide quality education no matter what the conditions.

We reached out to two universities for a view into what their specific program is facing with the new academic year beginning.

Wayne R. Lamarre, MEd, LAT, ATC
Clinical Professor and Director
The University of New England in Biddeford, Maine
Master of Science in Athletic Training (MSAT) Program

How did the spring 2020 semester end for you in relation to COVID-19?

The Spring 2020 semester, not surprisingly, was a great disappointment for students and faculty - especially for our senior Athletic Training student group. We have a very close-knit group and it was heartbreaking to deny them the celebration they deserved after completing such a rigorous program. Thankfully, we made the decision several years ago to incorporate more technology in curriculum delivery, so the effect on students' learning wasn't as negative as it could have been. That said, however, both faculty and students really missed the in-person instruction and interaction. The largest impact on our students' preparation for the BOC exam was an understandable delay in scheduling. The exam creates a tremendous amount of anxiety under normal circumstances, and this was compounded by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

What is planned for the fall 2020 semester and beyond at this point?

We will conduct any course that lends itself to virtual instruction remotely while bringing students and faculty together for all clinical skill instruction/assessment. This will present challenges in terms of preparticipation physical evaluation (PPE) impediments and the normal expected technology issues of bandwidth, connectivity and shift in pedagogy. Students will also receive a more limited experience clinically in that all interscholastic competition has been canceled. They will get plenty of opportunity to work on clinical skills with their preceptors in terms of athlete preparation and varsity practice coverage, but they won't get to experience the thrill of "game day" as an athletic training student until we can ensure staff and athlete safety. We are very fortunate in that we have a wonderful staff and group of students who bring a positive, flexible attitude to their work. There will certainly be inconveniences, but we benefit from being part of a comprehensive health sciences university with numerous programs going through the same challenges.

How will you assess and respond to the situation over the fall semester?

In completing summer coursework with our inaugural cohort of MSAT students, we found things went far smoother than we expected. Students and faculty were very accommodating; and we were very pleased with our ability to provide the level of instruction and learning quality we expect despite the challenges of social distancing, PPE and modifications in program delivery that are necessary to keep everyone safe.

What has been the impact of the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE) guidelines?

The CAATE has been incredibly helpful and accommodating throughout this entire process. Working within the guidelines to deliver the curriculum was not difficult.

Christine Odell, PhD, LAT, ATC
Athletic Training Program Director
Metropolitan State University (MSU) of Denver
Denver, Colo.
Department of Human Performance & Sport

How did the spring 2020 semester end for you in relation to COVID-19?

The impact on our faculty was not terrible, but it was definitely challenging. During a normal semester, none of our athletic training classes were taught online and we had to learn quickly, like everyone across the country, how to teach and assess clinical skills. I felt the students had a more challenging situation overall. A few of them did not mind the transition. However, the vast majority of our students are pretty close to their classmates and definitely missed the in-person moral support, laughs and the ability to learn from and with each other. Some of our students at MSU Denver had challenges in regard to technology access and adequate internet speeds so we did not require synchronous didactic classes. Overall, our seniors did pretty well – of the eight students I know who took the BOC exam – seven passed. In measuring the effectiveness of our program overall, I really don’t think we’ll know the answer until we have in-person contact with our new juniors and seniors. Didactic classes this semester will provide a clearer answer in regard to knowledge scaffolding, but until we can see how that translates into practical clinical skills, we won’t know.

What is planned for the fall 2020 semester and beyond at this point?

Our biggest challenge is finding clinical sites for our students. Thankfully, we only have 10 seniors to place and with a three-year clinical program, we do not have many clinical standards left for them to cover. My institution has decided to provide all didactic classes online. The athletic training program has been granted two in-person classes – which will be the junior and senior clinical experience classes.

How will you assess and respond to the situation over the fall semester?

From an assessment standpoint, I can speak for myself and say I am trying to be as adaptable and flexible as possible. I am focused on being available to students – e.g. virtual office hours/live Teams meetings etc. So much of the effectiveness can be based on the students’ access to adequate technology and bandwidth, though. My biggest concern is addressing the students’ concerns. I have already tried to put out small ‘fires’ – some with better success than others. Some students have a higher risk tolerance to the virus and are much more eager to return to in-person learning while others are definitely more leery about returning too quickly. The other piece is trying to make sure that students know that I will work to ensure they have access to assistance with classwork when they do not understand the content.

What has been the impact of CAATE guidelines?
This is tough, needless to say. Like other health care programs though, we do have to make sure that students have the clinical educational experiences they need in order to practice safely upon graduation. I have not fully read their requirements for the assessment plans, but I do hope they are flexible as we need to develop new plans that represent the new structures.

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