The University of Montana’s School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science plans to implement block scheduling into its curriculum this fall, which includes integrating clinical instruction throughout the school year.
The doctorate program will join the School of Business as the only schools and programs at UM to use block scheduling.
Ryan Mizner, interim chair of the physical therapy program, said content taught in courses will remain the same, but the delivery will change. Instead of taking a handful of classes each semester, courses will be divided into four smaller semesters.
“You can really delve into the subject when you’re only focused on one or two things at a time,” Mizner said.
The faculty regularly asks students what they think of the program, and before redesigning the curriculum they addressed the sequence and amount of information being taught, Mizner said.
The new block scheduling is a way to make the course load less stressful for students, he said. It also ensures they learn material in the right order.
“They retain the information because it’s applied immediately after,” he said.
Mizner said when the program’s faculty announced the change at the end of spring semester, some students were excited and some thought it should’ve been implemented earlier.
Sarah Fabry, a third-year PT student, said the meeting gave them an opportunity to ask questions and voice any concerns.
“The students seemed leery, like ‘I don’t know how this is going to work,’ ” she said.
But no one has a strong opinion yet because they haven’t experienced the changes, Fabry said.
Fabry said she thinks the new structuring will benefit students because the “flow” of information will help them absorb the lessons better, and will make it easier for professors to align their teaching plans.
For example, she said in her first year her class took gross anatomy and biomechanics in the same semester, and they were further ahead in learning how the hand functions before they had learned its basic anatomy.
“It will allow students to focus on one or two courses at a time rather than five to six, and feel like they’re getting stretched too thin,” Fabry said.
Fabry said the block scheduling gives students a chance to learn the material in a more in-depth manner.
“At the same time, it’s going to require a lot of the professor,” she said.
In block scheduling, students will be in the same classroom learning one subject for about four hours at a time. Although the class gets breaks throughout the day, professors will need to be creative and entertaining for students to stay engaged, Fabry said.
Another change to the program scheduled to take effect next year is integrated clinical instruction. Starting next year, second-year students will get experience at the UM Physical Therapy Clinic throughout the school year, Mizner said.
Reed Humphrey, dean of the College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, said Mizner is taking an innovative approach to the physical therapy by incorporating on-site instruction into the program.
“The spirit of the block scheduling is to compress the instruction and increase the opportunity for practicing psychomotor skills,” Humphrey said, meaning skills involving speaking and using your hands at the same time.
Normally, second-year students complete a supervised internship at clinics across the nation over winter session. The five-week clinical will be spread out during the school year and taught by UM professors, a change that will gradually be phased in, Mizner said.
“It makes that barrier between the lecture and the application with the patient more seamless,” Mizner said.
This way, students can apply what they learned in class the next day, Mizner said. He said it makes their experience in the program “very real” because they can discuss the work they did with patients in class and address any questions they have.
Fabry said after their winter practicum, some people in her class came back disappointed, while others were satisfied with their clinical. And she said while getting clinical practice from the same people who teach class might limit their perspective, the four-to-one physical therapist to student ratio might improve their internship overall.
“So I think they’re looking at it as an opportunity to make sure every student gets an awesome experience,” she said.