Assignments

Over the last week I’ve given my fourth year physiotherapy students 2 assignments to be completed over the next few months. Here is a basic rundown of each.

The first assignment is part of the continuous evaluation for the Management module I teach. The students must create a website for a (fictional) private physiotherapy practice. They’ll be using Google Sites as the platform, which seems to be the simplest approach that removes most of the barriers to creating sites for people with no experience in this regard. I wanted to make the technology as small a factor as possible, which I think Sites does quite nicely. The objectives for the students are that they should be better able to:

  • Identify relevant information that potential clients would need to find their practice
  • Identify and make use of professional guidelines on advertising and self-promotion
  • Learn new skills that will better prepare them for practice e.g. establishing an online presence using freely available tools
  • Be creative in how they present themselves and their practices

The second assignment is part of the Ethics and Human Rights in Health module that I teach. Students will use a wiki to explore the differences in community-based physiotherapy in South Africa (University of the Western Cape) and Ireland (Royal College of Surgeons), as part of an international collaborative project on Physiopedia. This assignment will focus on groupwork and collaborative learning, using the content as a framework on which to build a body of shared experiences. They will be working with Irish physiotherapy students to create short narratives on the different learning and practical experiences of stutdents working in both countries. The objectives (for our students) that they should be better able to:

  • Identify relevant sources of information to provide background to the narratives
  • Highlight the role of the physiotherapist in community-based healthcare settings
  • Explore and discuss some of the ethical and patient rights issues inherent in the South African healthcare system
  • Engage in dialogue with students who come from different backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic environments, acknowledging the perspectives of those who experience the world in different ways
  • Make effective use of technology to community with and share ideas with peers who are geographically dispersed
  • Participate in the peer review process, by commenting on the work of other groups

I’ll be reporting on the progress of the students as they work on these assignments, and will be making any findings available following their completion.

Results of a reflective blogging assignment in physiotherapy ethics

Earlier this year I gave my 4th year Ethics class an assignment in which they were required engage in a reflective exercise that not only encouraged interaction with others, but allowed them to see that their own perceptions of the world were different to others’.

Reflection has been shown to be a significant factor in developing clinical and ethical reasoning skills, so the initial requirement was to read two articles and then post a short reflection on each. Other students would then comment on your reflections and you would have to respond to that comment, hopefully having considered your colleagues comment. The learning objectives of the assignment were to:

  • Understand some of the ethical problems inherent in the South African healthcare system
  • Be able to discuss some types of ethical dilemmas in healthcare, even if they are not directly related to physiotherapy
  • Understand the role of reflection in your professional development, especially in the clinical and ethical reasoning process
  • Have participated in an online, networked conversation with your peers
  • Acknowledge the differing perspectives of others who may experience the world in different ways
  • Understand some of the advantages and disadvantages of using new technologies in healthcare education

I set up a WordPress blog on my own server because I wanted the students to have full control over their data (and it was surprisingly difficult to get access to a university server), created an author account for each student and then gave a tutorial on blogging and the blogging environment. The 47 students then had about a month to complete the assignment before the blog was closed to everyone.

Here are some quick stats:

  • 94 posts (2 each)
  • 222 comments (some students made more than the 3 that were required)
  • 109 tags (the main ones being MDR-TB, Apartheid and Torture)
  • 3983 pageviews (pretty impressive for 47 students)

While the initial results seem to be favorable, I have to say that anyone who assumes that all students in higher education are tech-savvy, needs to rethink that idea. One of the biggest challenges I had was trying to get students to understand what a blog is. And I don’t mean the deeper meaning of what blogging is, I mean the concept of a website that they could edit. Forget about RSS feeds and blogging software clients. The notion of digital natives does not apply here, and if the use of technology in education is going to move forward (in this country, at least), this is one major challenge that’ll have to be overcome.

You can download the content of the blogging tutorial here (2.4 MB ppt). I’ll be opening up the blog to the public once I’ve graded them, and will be presenting the results of an evaluation at the SAAHE conference in July.

SAAHE ’09: abstract for oral presentation

Here’s the abstract I submitted for SAAHE ’09.  It was submitted for consideration in the Innovations and work in progress category.

Title
The use of blogging as a reflective tool in physiotherapy ethics.

Context
The use of social software in higher education facilitates collaborative learning practices and mirrors the social constructivist principles of education by encouraging deeper engagement with both content and individuals. Reflection promotes higher order cognitive skills that promote critical thinking, and together with ethical reasoning has been shown to contribute to professional development and clinical practice. A blog is a service that allows a user to post ideas online, as well as solicit feedback from others that serve to contribute to an ongoing discussion. This allows for a rich, diverse stream of ideas that provide further inputs into the reflective process.

Aims
The main aim of this study is to evaluate the use of blogging as a tool for enhancing physiotherapy students’ reflective practice during an ethics module. By participating in an online, networked conversation on human rights in healthcare, students will discuss some of the problems inherent in the South African healthcare system, as well as recognise and acknowledge the different viewpoints of others.

What was done
A blogging environment was created to allow only students and the lecturer access to post, read and comment on reflections. Articles relevant to the ethics module were provided for students to read and to inform their reflections. They are required to read and comment on the reflections of their peers, facilitating an ongoing conversation around the topic. On completion of the assignment, students will be asked to evaluate the process.

Impact
With the move towards a more networked society and the increasing use of online tools in education and practice, educators must take cognizance of new approaches to teaching and learning. The use of blogging as a tool for reflective practice has shown positive results in other disciplines but has not been evaluated in physiotherapy education.

Take home message
The use of blogging as a tool for reflection brings significant advantages to the process that are not easily leveraged with any other medium. The characteristics of the platform allow for collaborative discussion, immediate feedback and encourages deeper engagement with the content, all of which facilitate more meaningful interactions and stimulate professional development.