It is for this reason that Tami Wyatt, PhD, RNN, Med, a professor of nursing at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, created "Okay with Asthma!," an Internet program that aims to help children feel exactly that: okay.
"Elementary-school-age children do not want to feel different.They don't see being unique as a positive thing," Wyatt
...Wyatt, who teaches undergraduate courses in maternal/child nursing and graduate courses in educational principles and strategies, began formulating the idea for the program more than 5 years ago, when she was researching asthma as part of her clinical studies.
"I spent a lot of time with the literature and went back as far as the '70s," she
...Wyatt also has a degree in instructional technology, which helped her develop skills specifically in how to use multimedia technology to promote health in children.
This can work wonders, she
says, because "children are very comfortable and accustomed to multimedia.They engage and interact with it well, and they prefer that type of learning."She
decided to combine her
interest in asthma with her
training in multimedia learning to create a fun,yet educational,way for kids with asthma to learn how to manage it.
Creating a Page TurnerTo fund the program, Wyatt
applied for and received grants from several organizations, most notably the National Institutes of Health
began putting together a prototype using multimedia flash technology, working with a consultant on the asthma content and hiring a professional graphic designer and story writer to create the "storybook" kids read on the site.Then she
recruited neighborhood kids to voice the main characters."It was a lot of fun," she
notes, "but it was a long process."
developed the program, Wyatt
tested it with focus groups of children ages 8 to 11."I tested it probably about three times because I wanted to make sure it was interesting, that there were elements of it that they understood, that they could navigate through it, and that the information they were receiving about asthma was helpful for them," she
After a year of testing, she
determined that children who completed the program did have a significant improvement in knowledge."Most important," Wyatt
adds, "they also had a change in attitude."She
decided early on that the program would be available free on the Internet,as opposed to being available at a cost on CD-ROMs,because in 2001, when she
began developing it, she
says 95% of public schools had Internet access, while today, 99% of schools do."So even if a child doesn't have Internet access at home, they can get it through school or through public libraries," she
says.By putting it on the Internet, "it can reach far more people than if I packaged it up on a CD and tried to push it."
The site, which was up and running in August 2002, has been updated as Wyatt
has continued her
research and testing.The story centers on Gina, a girl with dark hair, a bright green shirt, and jeans, who is playing outside during recess.While petting a friendly dog, she
starts to cough, and one of the other kids teases her
coughing increases, but she
does not tell anyone what is wrong,she
simply says she
needs water and her
friend Matthew accompanies her
goes to get it.
introduces Lara and Tyler Bardal to Okay with Asthma! program
When conducting her
found that a lot of the asthma literature promotes family involvement.While this is very important, she
says, families cannot always be there for children when they are in school or participating in activities like sports.
"Children are forced to make decisions on their own, and they need to be their own advocates," she
explains."So if they're in trouble and they need to use their rescue medication, it's not always going to be the case that the teacher's going to recognize it, or the coach is going to recognize it, or the school nurse,they will have to execute [their treatment plan] themselves."
"Okay with Asthma!"encourages children to understand that they are responsible for getting the help they need while they are in school or in other situations without their families."It teaches them that there are appropriate times to share with others information about having asthma," Wyatt
original testing of the program in schools, working closely with school nurses, because asthma is seen so often there."Nurses have children who require rescue meds just about every PE period," she
believes the program could be very useful during the time a child is recovering in a school nurse's office."It's important that the child stays in the clinic until they've recovered and can breathe easily on their own, and that usually requires around 15 minutes," she
says."Because this program is an independent learning opportunity, the nurse or whoever's responsible can sit the child at the computer and have them work through it."
So far, Wyatt
says, the kids who have tried the program like it a lot."They tend to be very visual, so they had a lot of comments on the visual aspects of it.There's a lot of song in there, and they liked the rap," she
says, noting that kids also love to point-and-click to look for things."They're not passive learners."
Looking ForwardWhile Wyatt
is happy with the current state of the program, she
still has plenty of plans for improvements."My vision is not only to develop more stories for a child to listen to and watch, but also to have more stories thy can write themselves, wherein they have more control," she
wants them to be able to select the kind of character they want, as well as the theme or environment the story takes place in.She
also wants to develop stories for younger children that have less text to read.
Eventually, if she
finds that using a digital story is an extremely effective learning tool, she
might try to create programs focusing on other issues such as diabetes or obesity in children.But that is a long-term goal and she
does not foresee moving past asthma for a very long time.Wyatt
believes that as useful as the program could be within schools, it also has a lot of potential for use in physician waiting rooms."I think it's perfect for a kiosk in a doctor's office or asthma clinic," she
says."I can also see children using this at home, or it could be part of an assignment in a health education class."
For now, she
is concentrating primarily on getting the word out about it,letting people know that it is absolutely free, easy to use, and available any time on the Web.