By Janice Grewatz, BS, CSFA, CST, CSPDT, FAST

2020 was a challenging year for surgical technology instructors, with many having to quickly retool their courses and shift to distance education delivery. Some became Zoom experts and provided synchronous lectures while others used their college’s learning management system (LMS) to deliver course materials. While looking to engage my students via distance learning but still provide quality education, I found an LMS software program called SoftChalk, in which course materials are stored in a cloud and integrated into the college’s specific LMS.

We know students do not always read the textbook, so we must develop creative ways to present course materials. PowerPoint has been a tried and true method, but it has limitations on what can be incorporated. Additionally, these types of presentations are overused and do not necessarily engage the student.

SoftChalk, on the other hand, allows instructors to develop their own content and deliver it in an interactive way. An instructor creates lesson content within the system and can incorporate learning activities or quizzes directly into the material. The activities reinforce the curriculum and allow the instructor to track students’ progress and test their knowledge, while making learning engaging and fun.

Creating content is quick and easy. As the creator, you have control over the style of your lesson, the material and how interactive you want it to be. Images, audio, videos, hyperlinks and interactive activities can all be included. Within the lesson, sidebars can be added to provide students with additional information in their textbook or elsewhere (see photo below, right-hand side). Callout boxes can provide short explanations, such as defining an unfamiliar term for the student.

An example of a SoftChalk sidebar, in which students are instructed to refer to their textbook for additional information.

Interactive activities such as crossword puzzles, diagram labeling, drag and drop, sorting, flashcards, image matching and word searches can be incorporated into your lessons to assist students in mastering the course material and better prepare for a future quiz or exam. The instructor can allow students multiple attempts at the activity or limit to one attempt with other opportunities to master another assessment tool, such as an exam, about the same material.

An example of the matching, interactive activity that instructors can add into their lesson.

Quizzes in various formats can also be incorporated into the lesson. Instructors can create the type of questions they would like to pose (i.e. multiple choice, matching, true/false, etc.) and assign points to each. As SoftChalk content can be integrated into any LMS, points earned can go directly into your gradebook.

I have personally seen improvements in my students’ exam scores when using SoftChalk to supplement a lesson or deliver online content. They love the interactive activities and videos, especially those of surgical procedures, as it reinforces what they have read. I have also found that by creating flash card activities, the students can identify essential knowledge rather than waste their time creating their own flash cards that may not be relevant to what I expect them to know. I also link the lessons back to the lesson objectives, course objectives and other courses so they can build connections across the curriculum to understand the “why” of the lesson plan.

Whether you are supplementing in-person lectures or utilizing self-directed learning in your curriculum, SoftChalk is another tool that instructors can use to engage students. While traditional lectures still have their place, today’s students want to learn in different ways. As instructors, we have an obligation to assist our students in meaningful learning, which ultimately leads to being engaged and retained in our courses.

Janice Grewatz, BS, CSFA, CST, CSPDT, FAST, is the surgical technology program director at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois. She also serves as the president of the ARC/STSA Board of Directors.