Teaching a practical Movement Science class

This is the first year that I’ve taught Movement Science (i.e. analysis of movement), which was daunting at first as I wasn’t familiar with it. In addition, the module content was almost entirely in hardcopy, so I’ve been typing away like crazy to get it all into a digital format. The practical component of the module has been both challenging and rewarding. In the past we’d demonstrate a technique or analyse a movement for the students and then ask them to break into small groups and do it for themselves. This year I’ve been trying to do it a little differently.

I begin with a very short lecture identifying the key concepts that will be useful during the practical session. For example, if we’re going to do gait analysis I review the normal gait cycle as well as discuss some of the ways that gait might be compromised in a patient with neurological dysfunction. Then I ask them to do the analysis in small groups but without a demonstration. I explain that I don’t have any expectation that they’ll be able to do it at the appropriate level but that they should try anyway. Each student must do the analysis (otherwise some will passively observe) and each student must model the movement sequence (so that they can all be aware of how movement occurs, as well as demonstrate that each person’s “normal” is actually different).

During the practical I move between the groups, addressing any questions they have and at the same time, getting a feel for their differing levels of understanding. I spend 10-15 minutes with each group, going back to the basic concepts that I presented in the lecture and then using simple movements to do the analysis. Often the students have moved through the different movement sequences quite quickly, having not paid attention to the details and just wanting to “tick off” what they’ve done. When I get to them and we start again, they quickly realise how much they’ve left out.

I’ve found that the students are thinking more deeply about what they’re doing than if I demonstrated a technique at the beginning and asked them to merely copy it. This way, they’re having to figure things out for themselves with only a basic framework to work with. Once they’ve struggled with the analysis for a few minutes, they’ve had the opportunity to work out what they don’t know. Then, when I move around to their group, they not only have several questions but have already tried a few different approaches.

When I’ve worked through all the groups I have an idea of the main concepts that need to be reviewed and elaborated on and can end the session with a practical demonstration highlighting what most of the students were struggling with.

Some of the lessons students leave with, besides the module-specific content:

  • Working the answer out by yourself can be rewarding
  • Trying (and sometimes failing) doesn’t mean that you’re stupid, it’s a valid way to learn
  • Asking questions isn’t a weakness

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Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.