July 10, 2019

Online course allows anyone, anywhere to learn about concussions

UCalgary Across Alberta: Researcher Kathryn Schneider shares evidence-based information across the miles to more than 8,500 learners

Usually when a professor preps for a new class, particularly one that is being offered open — free of charge and available to all — online and for the first time, he or she needs to take a few things into account.

The curriculum and lessons plans, of course — that stands to reason, as there needs to be structure in place before the course begins. Assignments and group projects need to be considered; how to manage the communication between the instructor and the students, as well as the dialogue between and amongst the students.

And then, with an online course, some imagination may be necessary.

What does the class look like?  Where are they from?  Why are they interested in this topic? How many registrations are there? Normally, there could be anywhere from less than a dozen to about 100 people signed up to learn.

How about 8,500? From all over the world?

When Dr. Kathryn Schneider, PT, PhD, was approached by Dr. Pierre Fremont from Laval Universite’s  Faculty of Medicine to develop a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on sports-related concussion, she was pretty sure it would prove popular. Fremont has developed and offered a French MOOC on concussion four times since 2016.

The organizers engaged collaborators who are leaders in their fields — clinicians, researchers, coaches, athletes, sport associations and policy-makers — from around the globe to share their expertise with participants. This enabled those participants to gain evidence-informed knowledge from a number of different individuals with varying perspectives and experiences in concussion.  

The first offering of the course just wrapped up at the end of May, and Schneider, an assistant professor and clinician-scientist (physiotherapist) in the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre in UCalgary’s Faculty of Kinesiology, says it exceeded her expectations.

“The feedback that we have had to date has been extremely positive,” she says. “Many individuals have reached out to thank us for putting together this course.

“Our interactive forum was very active throughout the MOOC, and some very interesting points were raised. There was active discussion about many topics, and this allowed individuals with differing perspectives to share their knowledge and interpretation of the evidence. I believe this enriched the learning environment for participants.”  

The course was organized in six modules: introduction, prevention, detection, management access to care, adaptation, and implementation and revision of protocols.

Portability is key

So who takes a course like this?

Jeanne Lawrence is a busy mom who lives in northern Alberta in a small town in the Peace Country. She’s a teacher, and she also coaches gymnastics, sits on several teaching and sports-related boards and runs a parent support program for preschool-aged children.  

She found out about the concussion MOOC on Facebook when information about it appeared on a sports council page. “I was instantly interested,” she says, “because it would be a way to take training from a reputable source without having to travel.”

And with a focus on concussion identification and reintegration, as a parent of an active, athletic child and as a coach and teacher, she decided to try it out.

Jeanne Lawrence and her son, Alex Ross, after crossing the finish line at a run in Grand Prairie.

Jeanne Lawrence and her son, Alex Ross, after crossing the finish line at a run in Grand Prairie.

Photo courtesy Jeanne Lawrence

Lawrence had taken distance courses in the past in past, but says she hadn’t really enjoyed them. She says this one was different.

“I loved this class," she says. “I loved the flexibility in the schedule but the strict final date. This allowed me to have a busy week and just make up the time the next week. I loved how there were different videos attached to the modules — short videos that allowed me to find time here or there or to sit down and commit a few hours.

“I was so interested in the class to begin with and so happy with the first few weeks that I got several friends, other teachers and coaches I work with, to enrol as well."

Concussions have affected Lawrence’s life both personally and professionally. In fact, during the time she was taking the course, her son was injured at school and she says it was through newfound awareness and information from the MOOC that she realized the school did not have a complete or comprehensive concussion protocol.

“They’re now working to develop better protocols and are using some of the resources from the MOOC,” she says. 

This course was offered in such a way that the focus was on sharing information and helping people. And Lawrence says that’s something people who don’t live in major centres don’t realize: “Most people in Edmonton and Calgary don’t understand what it means to live in northern Alberta. They don’t understand driving over 100 kilometres to get an X-ray, or to take a first aid class.

“Providing reputable distance education in a flexible manner is very important to those who live remotely. This class was offered in such a way that anyone could take it from any location. It felt very inclusive and available to everyone, so much so that I have signed up to take three more classes this fall.” 

That’s the sort of feedback Schneider and her colleagues want to hear. Based on the success of this first offering, they’re already in the planning stages for the next MOOC, likely to be scheduled in the fall of 2019.

Kathryn Schneider is also a member of Integrated Concussion Research Program and both the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACRHI) at the Cumming School of Medicine.

The Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of Calgary is ranked the No. 1 sport science school in North America and No. 7 globally. 

The Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre is one of 11 International Research Centres for the Prevention of Injury and Protection of Athlete Health supported by the International Olympic Committee.

Led by the Hotchkiss Brain InstituteBrain and Mental Health is one of six research strategies guiding the University of Calgary toward its Eyes High goals. The strategy provides a unifying direction for brain and mental health research at the university and positions researchers to unlock new discoveries and treatments for brain health in our community.