In this wide-ranging conversation, Vanessa and I discuss her 25 years in health professions education and research. We look at the changes that have taken place in the domain over the past 5-10 years and how this has impacted the opportunities available for South African health professions educators in the early stages of their careers. We talk about developing the confidence to approach people you may want to work with, from the days when you had to be physically present at a conference workshop, to explore novel ways to connect with colleagues in a networked world. We discuss Vanessa’s role in establishing the Southern African FAIMER Regional Institute (SAFRI), as well as the African Journal of Health Professions Education (AJHPE) and what we might consider when presented with opportunities to drive change in the profession.
Vanessa has a National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award from the Council of Higher Education and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa (HELTASA), and holds a Teaching at University (TAU) fellowship from the Council for Higher Education of South Africa. She is a Deputy Editor at the journal Medical Education, and Associate Editor of Advances in Health Sciences Education. Vanessa was Professor and Chair of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cape Town from 2008-2018in health and is currently Honorary Professor of Medicine at UCT. She works as an educational consultant to the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa.
The In Beta project may seem to have been quiet for the last few months but the fact is we’ve been busy organising a two-day In Beta unconference that will take place on 14-15 May 2019 at HESAV in Lausanne, Switzerland. If you’re planning on going to the WCPT conference (10-13 May) and have an interest in physiotherapy education, you may want to look into the option of joining us for another two days of discussion and engagement, albeit in a more relaxed, less academic format.
Attendance is free, although you will need to make your own arrangements for travel and accommodation. For more information check out the unconference website and register here.
We are incredibly grateful to Haute Ecole de Santé Vaud for hosting the unconference and providing venues for us over the two days.
It’s been about a year and a half since Ben and I started the In Beta community (see my first post in July 2017) and I wanted to reflect on what we’ve achieved in the past 18 months or so. Here are the major aspects of the project with some statistics and my thoughts on the process.
Website: We’re hosting our website on a server provided by the University of the Western Cape and use open source software (WordPress) to build the site, which means that the project costs Ben and I nothing except our time and energy. A few months ago I made a few big changes to the site, which hadn’t been updated since it launched, including a new theme and layout, new per-episode images, and an embedded media player for each episode. This is also going to be more important as the site becomes more central to our plans and needs to do more than simply distribute the audio for the podcasts.
We’ve had a fair amount of traffic since we launched the site in October 2017; far more than I expected. The numbers are obviously quite low relative to more popular sites, but consider that this is a project about physiotherapy education.
Most of our visitors came from the UK (where Ben lives) and the Netherlands (where Joost lives). I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence or if the two of them are just uncommonly popular. Incidentally, Joost has been a major supporter and promoter of the project through his connections with ENPHE and we hope that this collaboration continues to grow.
Podcasts: We’ve released 8 episodes including our first one in October 2017, so we publish about one episode every 1.5 months. We have another 3 episodes recorded but which we haven’t finished editing yet. The audio editing is, by far, the most time-consuming part of the process. We’re hoping to limit the hassle of this component by improving the quality of the initial recording, through 1) getting better at moderating the conversations and so having less to cut, and 2) making more of an effort to record better audio in the first place. Here are the 8 episodes we’ve published so far, along with the number of times each has been downloaded. These statistics exclude the first 50 or so downloads of the first episode, which was hosted on Soundcloud before we moved to our own distribution platform.
Here are the top 10 countries by number of downloads:
Projects: One of our original ideas was to use the website as a way to share examples of classroom exercises, assignments, and teaching practices that others would be able to use as a resource. The plan was to describe in a fair amount of detail the process for setting up a learning task that others could simply copy, maybe with a few minor tweaks. The project pages would include the specific learning outcomes that the lecturer hopes to achieve, comprehensive descriptions of the learning activities, links to freely available resources, and examples of student work. This aspect of In Beta hasn’t taken off as much as we would’ve liked but the potential is still there and will hopefully continue growing over time.
Google Docs: We started with Google Docs as a way to plan for our podcast recordings, using a templated outline that we’d invite guests to complete. The idea is that guests on the podcast will use the template to establish the context for the conversation, including the background, the problem they’re trying to address, and a reading list for interested participants. We then take some of that information and incorporate it into the show notes for the episode and leave the Google Doc online for further reading if anyone is interested. The process (and template) has remained more or less the same since we initially described it but I’m uncertain about whether or not we should include it going forward. It seems like a lot of PT to ask guests to complete and, without statistics for Docs, we can’t be sure if anyone is going there. On the other hand, it really does seem to be good preparation for us to have a deep dive into the topic.
Membership: We had about 100 people join the Google+ community but saw little engagement on the site. I think that this is understandable considering that most people have more than enough going on in their personal and professional lives to add yet another online destination to their lists. Most people are already on several social media platforms and it’s not reasonable to expect them to add Google+ just for this project. So we weren’t too upset to see that Google is planning to sunset the consumer version of Google+, so in some ways it’s a bit of a relief not to have to worry about managing the community in different places. We’re in the process of asking people to migrate to the project website and sign up for email notifications of announcements.
Conference collaborations: Ben and I worked with Joost to run two In Beta workshops at the IPSM (Portugal) and ENPHE conferences (Paris) in 2018. We based both sessions on the Unconference format and used them as experiments to think differently about how conference workshops could be useful for participants in the room, as well as those who were “outside” of it. While neither of the workshops went exactly how we planned, I think the fact that both of these sessions actually happened, in large part due to the work that Joost and Ben put in, was a success in itself. We’ve recorded our thoughts on this process and will publish that as an episode early in 2019. It’d be nice to have more of these sessions where we try to do something “in the world”.
Plans for 2019: Our rough ideas for the next 12 months include the following:
More frequent podcast episodes, which should be possible if we can reduce the amount of time it takes to edit each episode. It’d also be nice to get assistance with the audio editing, so if you’re interested in being involved and have an interest in that kind of thing, let us know.
Work on more collaborative projects with colleagues who are interested in alternative approaches to physiotherapy education. For example, it might be interesting to publish an edited “book” of short stories related to physiotherapy education. It could be written by students, educators and clinicians, and might cover a broad range of topics that explore physiotherapy education from a variety of perspectives.
Grow the community so that In Beta is more than a podcast. We started the project because we wanted to share interesting conversations in physiotherapy education and we think that there’s enormous scope for this idea to be developed. But we also know that we’re never going to have all the good ideas ourselves and so we need to involve more of the people doing the interesting work in classrooms and clinical spaces around the world.
Host a workshop for In Beta community members, possibly at a time when enough of us are gathered together in the same place. Maybe in Europe somewhere. Probably in May. Something like a seminar or colloquium on physiotherapy education. If this sounds like something you may like to be involved with, please let us know.
It’s easy to forget what you’ve achieved when you’re caught up in the process. I think that both Ben and I would probably like to have done a bit more on the project over the past 18 months but if I look at where we started (a conversation over coffee at a conference in 2016) then I’m pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished. And I’m excited for 2019.
Action 1: We are shutting down Google+ for consumers.
This review crystallized what we’ve known for a while: that while our engineering teams have put a lot of effort and dedication into building Google+ over the years, it has not achieved broad consumer or developer adoption, and has seen limited user interaction with apps. The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds.
I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that Google+ wasn’t a big hit although I am surprised that they’ve taken the step to shut it down for consumers. And this is the problem with online communities in general; when the decision is made that they’re not cost-effective, they’re shut down regardless of the value they create for community members.
When Ben and I started In Beta last year we decided to use Google+ for our community announcements and have been pretty happy with what we’ve been able to achieve with it. The community has grown to almost 100 members and, while we don’t see much engagement or interaction, that’s not why we started using it. For us, it was to make announcements about planning for upcoming episodes and since we didn’t have a dedicated online space, it made sense to use something that already existed. Now that Google+ is being sunsetted we’ll need to figure out another place to set up the community.
We identify and discuss three different interpretations of the influence of raters’ emotions during assessments: (i) emotions lead to biased decision making; (ii) emotions contribute random noise to assessment, and (iii) emotions constitute legitimate sources of information that contribute to assessment decisions. We discuss these three interpretations in terms of areas for future research and implications for assessment.
Source: Gomez‐Garibello, C. and Young, M. (2018), Emotions and assessment: considerations for rater‐based judgements of entrustment. Med Educ, 52: 254-262. doi:10.1111/medu.13476
When are we going to stop thinking that assessment – of any kind – is objective? As soon as you’re making a decision (about what question to ask, the mode of response, the weighting of the item, etc.) you’re making a subjective choice about the signal you’re sending to students about what you value. If the student considers you to be a proxy of the profession/institution, then you’re subconsciously signalling the values of the profession/institution.
If you’re interested in the topic of subjectivity in assessment, you may be interested in two of our In Beta episodes:
Yesterday Ben Ellis (@bendotellis) and I hosted the first In Beta session live on Hangouts. In Beta is a project that Ben and I started talking about when we met at ER-WCPT last year and the idea is that we have a semi-regular online group chat about any topic related to physiotherapy education (see this post for more information). Our intention is that the conversations focus on the practical problems that educators may come into contact with when trying out new ideas in the classroom.
The conversation yesterday focused on Ben’s idea for incorporating an inquiry-based approach into a new module with a focus on the management of patients with long-term conditions. Yesterday we were joined by 6 colleagues – mostly from the UK – who were able to share reflections on their experiences when trying similar approaches in their own departments (see bottom of the post). Ben suggested that the new approach would be aimed at shifting students’ thinking away from the details of the conditions that patients have and to focus instead on the people who have them. As Ben said:
I am keen where possible for the structure of the module to not be built around specific conditions, but instead to focus on how approaches which empower people to self-manage long term conditions can be applied across a range of clinical situations.
If you’re interested in inquiry-based learning but haven’t yet had a chance to try it in your own classroom, the Google Doc has some useful ideas and resources. The document will remain available for the foreseeable future and includes more detail regarding Ben’s plans for the module. In addition the recorded audio from our conversation will form part of the collection of resources we want to gather on this topic and will be shared into the In Beta G+ community, which is free for anyone to join.
From my point of view, the conversation was great, especially hearing about the challenges experienced by colleagues at other institutions. It’s always valuable to be reminded that the problems in your own department are almost always not unique. The reflections and insights generated were really helpful for me, at least. It was also wonderful to hear from people who I only know on Twitter 🙂
I was talking to Ben Ellis (@bendotellis) from Oxford Brookes University at the ER-WCPT conference in Liverpool last year and bemoaning the fact that the most interesting conversations – for me anyway – were happening outside of the sessions. This is probably not news for anyone who’s gone to more than a few conferences. We started chatting about how we could take the things “that work” from conferences e.g. sharing ideas, and removing the things that “don’t work” e.g. a few people talking at other people for 10 minutes at a time.
We’ve been toying with a few different options – influenced by unconferences and teachmeets – but always trying to keep the following broad principles around the format in focus:
Broad perspectives. Encourage input from a wide variety of expertise, rather than have the “expert” talk to everyone else.
Multiple activities. The session should include presenting, writing, and discussion, all around an artifact of some sort.
Preparation. We wanted the presenter to bring something to the discussion in the form of an idea that the conversation would centre on.
We’ve decided that a Google+ community seems to have the basic features we need to implement the principles described above. We also wanted to reinforce the idea that we’re all constantly learning how to do things better, and that it makes sense to learn from each other. It seems likely that the things we want to do in our classrooms have been done, in some form, somewhere else. And there’s no need to wait until the next conference and hope that your abstract gets accepted. As Ben said in his post on the project:
The idea of In Beta is for physiotherapy educators to bring a teaching and learning idea that they have been working on themselves or with colleagues within their institution to a group of peers in order to spark discussion, feedback and collaboration to improve and develop the original idea prior to releasing it into the classroom or clinic.
In essence, we want to use this space to encourage physio educators to experiment on their own approaches to teaching and learning practices. We have a basic structure for each session, which may change as we experiment with the format:
Members of the In Beta community share an idea for a change in their teaching and learning practice.
Community members choose a topic on a monthly basis, and help the person who submitted the topic develop the idea for presentation.
The presenter shares their idea with the community, probably in a formal presentation (e.g. slideshow), but could equally be something different (e.g. collection of Pinterest images).
There is a discussion around the idea where everyone gets to share their ideas and suggestions for improvement.
During this process, the original submission is open for editing, so the community members present in the session are able to comment, make suggestions, share resources, generate a reading list, etc.
We encourage those who presented to share their experiences back into the community following implementation of the idea.
Finally, we hope that the process generates a collection of shared resources and ideas for other community members who may be interested in similar contexts.
Anyone with an interest in any aspect of physiotherapy education (clinical or practice-based educators as well as academics) can join the Google+ community for In Beta (Google account required).
The first In Beta session will be at 2pm (UK) on Wednesday 19th July 2017. The topic is teaching long term condition management and the background and outline of the teaching idea is available via the In Beta Google+ community. Thanks to Ben for taking the plunge and offering to be the guinea pig in this experiment.