Tucked away in a quiet corridor of McLane Hall is an educational cadaver dissection lab used by first-year Doctor of Physical Therapy students. When in-person classes came to a halt in March 2020, the cadaver lab had to quickly convert into a virtual format. Some questioned how students could interact or learn about the human body without being able to physically touch one.
That is the challenge Dr. Caio Sarmento, an assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, was unexpectedly tasked with. Within a week, he transitioned PHTH 511: Anatomy of the Axial Skeleton into an online, fully interactive course, using Visible Body – an educational app that enables students access to interactive 3d modules, animations, and augmented reality including the dissection of cadavers. Through this tool, students were able to learn about major structure of muscles and ligaments, as well as bones and its functions – all items they would have originally learned in-person through the cadaver lab.
“Dr. Sarmento is in only his second year of teaching, and he was handed the daunting task of converting a cornerstone of physical therapy education – cadaver dissection – to a virtual experience,” said Dr. Jenna Sawdon-Bea, chair of the Department of Physical Therapy. “The physical act of dissecting a human body may seem impossible to replace, and in some senses, it is, however, Dr. Sarmento has found creative ways to simulate learning through innovative practices that deepen and enrich student learning.”
Sarmento’s ability to adapt recently earned him the Fall 2020 Provost’s Award for Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times in the category of Innovative Pedagogy, as announced by Dr. Xuanning Fu, Fresno State’s interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs.
For Sarmento, the recognition confirmed to him that the challenges of online teaching can lead to rich results. In addition to his award, Sarmento saw his students excel – far better than he imagined. The 34 students didn’t just pass the course, but did so with high grades. He credits the ability of the students to use the Visible Body app 24 hours, seven days a week, for their great success. Instead of being restricted to learning through a three-hour course, students had unlimited access to cadavers via the online module.
While getting his students adapted to learning new ways, Sarmento also sought ways to improve as an instructor himself. He is currently completing the Effective Online Teaching Practice course by the Association of College and University Educators – a program sponsored by the Center for Faculty Excellence at Fresno State.
“This course has been a real game changer for me,” Sarmento said. “I’ve been able to learn a lot of practices that I’ve implemented into my course, such as the universal design for learning and similar methodologies. And I also think that by being a student in this program, I am able to wear my students’ shoes. By taking an online course myself, I know how they feel and can have a better understanding of what will and what might not work for them. I have been learning so many wonderful strategies that I can implement online, but also when we return to face-to-face instruction.”
Sarmento plans to complete the 25-module course in May.
A constant learner, Sarmento originally pursued medical school with the goal of becoming a physician. However, after one year, he decided to switch his profession to physical therapy. The change spurred from his desire to build close connections with his patients and truly help them advance their health.
“As a physical therapist, you have the capability to help your patients push through their physical limits and remove any restraints that are holding them back,” Sarmento said. “It’s a fantastic feeling, and I cannot see myself in another profession.”
After eight years practicing as a physical therapist, Sarmento transitioned to teaching. This led to him later pursuing his Ph.D. in the field, where he was able to begin researching chronic pain and fibromyalgia – areas he still researches today, alongside his students.
To date, Sarmento has practiced physical therapy or taught across five countries, including Brazil (where he was born and raised), England, Japan, Ireland and finally – right here in the U.S., in the Central Valley.
“I really feel at home here at Fresno State and I really appreciate the diversity that Fresno offers, from the people to the national parks nearby,” Sarmento said. “It’s the perfect location to continue my research and advance my teaching career.”
Sarmento is among 15 faculty from Fresno State to receive the Fall 2020 Provost’s Awards in Extraordinary Teaching in Extraordinary Times recognition, which recognizes faculty who have gone out of their way to educate, advise, mentor and care for their students during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic.