Web-Based and Computer-Assisted Instruction in Physical Therapist Education

Article excerpt

Background and Purpose. The Internet superhighway is rapidly advancing into higher education, and it now appears the digital medium is making its way into physical therapist education as well. The purpose of this study was to determine the frequency of use of computer-assisted instruction (CAI) and Web-based instruction in accredited professional (entry-level) physical therapist education programs within the United States as of January 2002. Method. A survey instrument was designed and sent to all 186 accredited entry-level physical therapist programs listed on the American Physical Therapy Association Web site. The survey sought to ascertain the number of physical therapist education programs using, or planning to use in the next academic year, student Web bulletin boards, Web-based courses, or CAI. Survey questions inquired about the types of classes offered in these formats, the presence of assessment and quality control measures, and the level of administrative support provided for development and maintenance of courses. Inquiry into the use of the Internet for faculty-student communication and assignments was included along with questions regarding acceptance of prerequisites taken online. Involvement among private versus state-supported institutions was compared. Results. A total of 135 survey instruments (73%) were returned, with good representation from both private and public institutions (64 and 70, respectively, 1 missing data). Private and public institutions appear to be equally involved in CAI and Internet instruction, and programs within both settings are getting similar levels of technical support for development of Web-based courses. All program faculty regularly communicate with students using e-mail from their office computers, and 75% also communicate with students via e-mail from home. Use of the Internet for assignments is prevalent with, 83.1% of programs requiring students to access the Web to complete assignments in several or all courses. Web bulletin boards for communicating with students are utilized by 67.8% of programs, and 53.8% have a computer lab dedicated to their program. A large percentage of respondents (71.4%) reported utilizing computer-assisted technology (CAT) in some or all courses, and an additional 7.7% plan on adding CAT within the next academic year. A total of 41.5% of respondents reported courses taught at least partially online, from which 11.1% (15 programs) include 1 or more classes taught entirely online. An additional 10.4% of schools reported plans for adding some form of Web-based instruction in the next academic year. The types of courses most appropriate for 100% digital delivery appear to be those that do not involve clinical practice and hands-on skills such as administration, education, ethics, and pathology. Many programs (74%) allow online courses from accredited institutions to fulfill some or all admissions prerequisites, and the majority of programs (95.2%) favor the use of Web-based instruction in entry-level physical therapy. Discussion and Conclusion. A substantial number of accredited entry-level physical therapist education programs are implementing computer-assisted and Web-based courses in their curricula. Most programs still lack adequate policies for evaluating online courses, which is a problem shared by most universities engaged in virtual education. As the use of these technological mediums increases, more attention to pedagogical, regulatory, and legal considerations will be necessary to ensure consistency in quality and accreditation standards within physical therapist education programs.

Key Words: Computer-assisted teaching, Internet education, Physical therapist education, Web-enhanced teaching.


The Internet superhighway is rapidly advancing into higher education. While the debate ahout efficacy, intellectual property rights, and academic governance drags on, the proliferation of virtual education speeds ahead. …


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