The dietetics internship program in food science and human nutrition and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching are partnering to pilot a program in which dietetic interns can choose to exchange information using iPod Touch devices during their internships across the country.
Dietetic interns pilot use of mobile technology in the field
Educators in the Iowa State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) are testing a new program that encourages the use of technology outside the classroom – in the day-to-day lives of dietetic interns, to be exact.
The dietetics internship program in FSHN and the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) partnered to pilot a program in which dietetic interns can choose to exchange information using iPod Touch devices during their internships across the country. Integrating mobile technology into the nation's largest dietetics internship program is designed to connect students with course material, resources, the instructor, and each other, said Janet Johnson, a senior clinician in FSHN and co-leader of the pilot program. There are 46 dietetic interns in this year's class, most of which signed up to use the iPod Touch during the course of the internship. The iPod Touch is a mobile media player with touch-screen capabilities and a Wi-Fi platform.
"We have interns dispersed all over the country," Jackson said. "The internship process is an intensive six-month experience of supervised practice, and it can be a rather lonely experience. You have just left your instructor and classmates, and now you're on the job and you have to actually work in the field and apply the knowledge you've learned in the classroom. We wanted to give students flexible access to connect to each other and to us."
The iPod Touch devices offer easy access to course management software, which was redesigned to provide easier navigation for students. The devices also allow students to listen to podcasts to learn about groundbreaking nutrition information and use job-specific mobile applications, which provide information about subjects like carbohydrate counting, weight management, and prescription drugs, and also make available tools such as Body Mass Index calculators.
One of the goals of the pilot program was to teach students not just to use the technology to manage coursework, but also to learn how to interact with mobile technology as a professional. Johnson said students are already grasping this concept and implementing the technology in their field work.
"One student was counseling a family about diabetes, and the patient's partner didn't appear to be paying a lot of attention to the information and was using his smart phone," Johnson said. "The intern told the partner that there were applications available that would help with carbohydrate counting, and then the partner began to participate in that counseling session. In counseling we talk about trying to work with clients to find motivators for them, and I think the mobile technology is pretty useful in that way. You now have a pretty savvy client who is engaged in the process."
The program is also enhancing collaboration between students and their preceptors. The mobile technology allows for instant access to information, which helps "level the playing field" between students and their supervisors, Johnson said.
"I think it's an innovation in the training of dietetic interns," Johnson said. "It puts them at a different level of communication with their preceptor. The faculty member becomes more of a coach, a facilitator, rather than somebody with all the knowledge. This way, both the intern and the preceptor learn from each other."
While instructors praise the technology for its many uses, they also caution students to apply critical thought and not just be "consumers of applications," said Lesya Hassall, an instructional development specialist in CELT who co-led the pilot program. From the very beginning of the program, the approach has been to use the technology "not just for convenience, but for meaningful learning."
This collaborative effort between CELT and FSHN is funded by a $48,853 grant from the Computation Advisory Committee.
"I hope that we're teaching students that this technology is not an ultimate answer to anything in their profession," Hassall said. "It's just another tool – a tool that's changing – and we want to see them adapt to that and be flexible in changing their strategy."
Janet Johnson, senior clinician in food science and human nutrition, (515) 294-9798, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lesya Hassall, Instructional Development Specialist, (515) 294-9767, email@example.com.
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