The UO's brain injury research gets into more teachers’ hands

Research from a UO program that examines brain injury recovery is about to get in front of more people who need it most.

The Center on Brain Injury Research and Training recently launched “In the Classroom After Concussions: Best Practices for Student Success,” an online course aimed at educators that encapsulates key components of the center’s work that is most relevant to teachers and others who work with children and young adults.

“We’ve been studying for a long time what happens when kids go back to school after a brain injury,” said Ann Glang, research professor and director of the center. “Many of these children struggle with the demands of school. One of the key problems is that teachers have had very little, if any, training in brain injury.”

Students in grades K-12 are especially vulnerable, as a brain injury can potentially permanently alter their academic or career trajectories. If a student’s injury causes them to persistently struggle in the classroom or if it occurs later in high school and leaves the student little time to catch up, they may be at risk for academic failure or an altered life trajectory.

The center’s evidence-based training is recognized nationally for teaching educators how to spot the symptoms of traumatic brain injuries and to implement effective strategies to support students’ recovery.

The center, which is part of the Department of Psychology, typically offers training via in-person sessions or webinars. Now, however, teachers, administrators and anyone who wants to can access the information when and where they want it.

The center received a grant in 2014 from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, which funded the bulk of the website’s development. 

Center staff encapsulated the research into nine modules and 21 lessons, with the aim that each lesson can be completed in roughly 15 minutes, short enough to complete during recess or teacher preparation time. The website includes videos with real educators discussing problems they’ve faced as well as classroom scenarios and quizzes at the end of each section.

“As education budgets get tighter and tighter, having people attend in-person trainings is becoming more challenging because it involves getting substitutes for teachers, travel, all of which involve expenses that school districts can’t afford,” added Melissa McCart, director of the center’s Oregon Traumatic Brain Injury Return to School Teams that work with schools around the state. “We’re trying to find a way to get the information into their hands in a way that they can afford it and that allows them some flexibility with how and when they access it.”

Demand for the center’s training has always been strong, but it has steadily increased in recent years as the issue has drawn more attention nationally and with high-profile cases among professional athletes. McCart said the center has also seen a growing number of requests for a web-based option even prior to the move to remote learning due to the pandemic.

Oftentimes, teachers might not feel the need to access information on brain injuries until they have a student suffering from the effects of one. To better serve that need, the website has downloadable documents teachers can save for later.

“Educators are pulled in so many different directions that having evidence-based information that they can access when they need it is a much better approach than attending a workshop once a year,” McCart said.

The course can be accessed for free, or educators can pay a fee to receive a continuing education credit or professional development units. Glang and McCart consulted educators and experts in the field as they refined and tested the content over many iterations before rolling it out in late July.

“If teachers aren’t aware of how brain injury affects learning, their students may struggle,” Glang said. “When a child comes into their classroom, teachers may also misattribute behaviors that are actually due to a brain injury. They may think the student is not motivated or is just disorganized. They are going to label it something that fits into their understanding. They are going to do their best, but the student may not be well-served because of that.

“We know teachers have a solid skillset about teaching and supporting students at school, but what’s different about working with kids with a brain injury, what do you need to know right now that’s going to help you?” Glang asked. “That’s what we put in the In the Classroom program.”

—By Jim Murez, University Communications