Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-03-14

SAFRI residential session

I’ve recently finished the second residential session of SAFRI, a programme for the development of research in medical education in Africa. I spent a big part of 2010 working on my SAFRI project (link to project notes), which I’ll be presenting at this years SAAHE conference in Potchefstroom.Β One of the main assignments for this session was the development of a poster presenting the results of my research project.

We spent most of the first day assisting the first year (2011) Fellows with the research projects that they’ll be implementing this year. I was surprised at how much more confident I felt in terms of being able to give feedback this year. Last year I felt a bit lost a lot of the time and wasn’t really sure of myself. It’s funny how you don’t really notice personal development until you’re in a similar situation as you were before and can compare your previous responses to current ones.

Over the course of the next few days we spent a lot of time discussing the following main topics, often using our individual projects as a foundation:

  • Various aspects of effective leadership
  • Research dissemination in the form of oral and poster presentations, and abstract development
  • The scholarship of teaching
  • Programme evaluation
  • Creating a portfolio of professional development

During the course of the session I had some really interesting conversations with other fellows around their research projects, which I’m hoping will lead to some interesting projects.

One of these is the possibility of introducing a clinical placement for physio students into a rural clinical school in Worcester. Some of our students want to go back to practice physiotherapy in small, rural villages in remote parts of the country, and a rural clinical setting would better prepare them for this.

The other project was one implemented by a palliative care physician who introduced an integrated tutorial on palliative care with small groups of students. Since I had a few students who shared personal experiences around patients with terminal illnesses, and their struggles around related issues, I thought I could learn a lot from attending the tutorial with the medical students and seeing if there’s anything that could translate to our students. I teach a section on Death and Dying in the Professional Ethics module, and this tutorial sounds really inspiring in terms of changing my approach.

On the whole, this session has been far less intensive than the first one, although I didn’t have much free time. I found that I spent a lot more time in discussion with other fellows, which was a great learning experience.

Using social networks to develop reflective discourse in the context of clinical education

My SAFRI project for 2010 looked at the use of a social network as a platform to develop clinical and ethical reasoning skills through reflective discussion between undergraduate physiotherapy students. Part of the assignment was to prepare a poster for presentation at the SAAHE conference in Potchefstroom later this year, which I’ve included below.

I decided to use a “Facebook style” layout to illustrate the idea that research is about participating in a discussion, something that a social network user interface is particularly well-suited to. I also like to try and change perceptions around academic discourse and do things that are a little bit different. I hate the general idea that “academic” equals “boring” and think that this is such an exciting space to work in.


I also included a handout with additional information (including references) that I thought the audience might find interesting, but which couldn’t fit onto the poster.

One of the major challenges I experienced during this project was that I didn’t realise how much time it’d take to complete. I’d thought that the bulk of my time would be used on building and maintaining the social network and facilitating discussion within in, but the assignment design (see handout) took a lot more effort than I expected. I had to make sure that it was aligned with the module learning objectives, as well as the university graduate attributes.

In terms of moving this project forward, I think that it might be possible to use a social network as a focus for other activities that might contribute towards a more blended approach to learning and clinical education. For example:

  • Moving online discussions into physical spaces, either in the classroom or clinical environment
  • Sharing and highlighting student and staff work
  • Sharing social and personal experiences that indicate personal development, or provide platforms for supportive engagement
  • Extensions of classroom assignments
  • Connecting and collaborating with students and staff from other physiotherapy departments, both local and international
  • Helping students to acquire skills to help them navigate an increasingly digital world

I think that one of the most difficult challenges to overcome as I move forward with this project is going to be getting students and staff to embrace the idea that the academic and social spaces aren’t necessarily separate options. Informal learning often happens within social contexts, but universities are about timetables and schedules. How do you convince a staff member that logging into a social network at 21:00 on a Saturday evening might be a valuable use of their time?

If we can soften the boundary between “social” and “academic”, I think that there’s a lot of potential to engage in the type of informal discussion I see during clinical supervision, and which students have reported to really enjoy. I think that the social, cognitive and teacher presences from the Community of Inquiry model may help me to navigate this space.

If you can think of any other ways that social networks might have a role to play in facilitating the clinical education of healthcare professional students, please feel free to comment.

Thoughts on social networking with 3rd year physio students

Earlier this week I ran a workshop with our 3rd year physio students, as part of my SAFRI project where I’m looking at how participation in a social network can impact reflective learning practices in a community. Unlike the other workshops I’ve run, I’m going to be running this assignment, which will see the students posting 2 reflective pieces based on ethical dilemmas they’ve experienced while on their clinical placements. I was struck by a few thoughts as I was going over some of the activity I observed both during and after the workshop.

This group is by far the most technologically sophisticated group I’ve run the workshop to date. As we were setting up their profile pages, some of the students were logging into their Facebook accounts to pull in those photos to add to our social network. Most of what I was explaining wasn’t new, and even for those who have no experience with any other social networks, they caught on pretty quickly.

I learned that at least one of them enjoys photography, and not only enjoys it but shares his fantastic pictures on Tumblr. I would probably never have learned that about him if it wasn’t for this little experiment of mine. I think that that’s one of the enormous benefits of social networks…that we might actually engage with students in ways that would never come up in class. I mean, how many times do we ask students what their hobbies are? And even if we do, and they choose to mention it, will it ever match up to being able to see it? After exploring some of the photos from this student, I came across one of his short posts, which is one of the most inspiring things I’ve read in a while.

It was quite exciting for me not to have to listen to any moaning when I introduced this assignment. I also haven’t read anything negative about either the assignment or the network, which is refreshing. I did have one student report that the “workshop sucked”, although he hasn’t yet responded to my request for any suggestions for improvement. We still have issues with some of them not having computer or internet access at home, but I think that being on campus for at least a short while during the week is enough time to participate.

I have one more workshop to do with the first year students, which I’m hoping to finish sometime next week. Then it’s just a case of waiting for the assignments to finish running, survey the students to determine their experiences using the network, and finally to analyse their activity to see if there was any reflection / community building going on. I’m going to actively facilitate this group, as opposed to the relatively passive stance that other lecturers took when their assignments were running. I’m interested in seeing if this group has a better experience with active facilitation, as opposed to just being left to their own devices.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-07-26

SAAHE conference, 2010

I’m leaving on Wednesday to attend the 3rd SAAHE conference at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (link to programme). I’ll be presenting the results of a pilot study within our department to try and establish students’ access to computers and the internet, their experience with online tools and services, the learning strategies they employ as part of their studies, and their feelings about the teaching practices within the department.

I’ll post the presentation when it’s done.

Summary of PhD progress

I’m writing this after having read Christina’s post on her thoughts on the PhD process, and following a few of her links to other PhD students who are blogging their own progress. As I’m going through a little slump at the moment, I thought it might be useful to write a short post on where I’m at right now, to review what I’ve done so far.

A few weeks ago I spent 3 days on a writing workshop with colleagues in my department who are also registered for their PhD’s (there are 4 of us), where I worked on my systematic review (see the proposal). I managed to trim the original 103 articles that I gathered during my first, second and third search rounds, to about 60. Then I went through those 60 with a more critical eye, removing what wasn’t appropriate. Finally I narrowed the list down to 20 articles that we eventually conducted independent critical reviews on, and came to consensus with my supervisor, where we finally agreed on 7 articles that matched my inclusion criteria. The article is now ready to be written up, although I’m uncertain of the format. The outcome of the systematic review will be a peer-reviewed publication that identifies some of the ways in which blended learning has been applied in clinical education, and which will inform the development of my own module (one of the later objectives).

My fourth year research group has just finished capturing the data they gathered from a survey we drew up together, where they looked at the role of social networks to facilitate reflective learning. This survey forms part of my first objective, as well as the first component of my SAFRI project (which will later include focus group interviews with staff members, and an additional survey of the students). Immediately after conducting the survey, I have also held workshops with 2 classes so far, to facilitate the process of working within the network, and will be completing workshops with the last 2 classes in the next few weeks. Tomorrow the group will submit an outline of the first few sections of a draft article, and I’ll be presenting some tentative results at the SAAHE conference next week (see the abstract).

I’ve also recently finished a first draft of an article based on a small, wiki-based project I ran in our department last year (you can still comment on it). Strictly speaking it’s unrelated to my PhD as it doesn’t fit into the proposal, but is still work in a related field. Finally, I gave a presentation on PLE’s to the Centre for Teaching and Learning at Stellenbosch University. Again, PLE’s are not explicitly addressed in my PhD proposal, but as I’m leaning more and more towards that concept as having great potential in reflective learning, I think it might ultimately end up playing an important part in the project.

Now that I look back at my progress over the past 6 months, maybe a short break is in order…?

Personal attachment to research

Yesterday I had a meeting with my supervisor to discuss the assignments I’m going to run as part of the first objective of my PhD. Together with a systematic review and a survey, I was interested in using student and staff participation in a social network to derive additional data that would help me form a baseline understanding of their attitudes and skills around teaching and learning practice, as well as establish the level of digital and information literacy within the department.

After joining the SAFRI programme, I incorporated the social network idea into my SAFRI project, but unconsciously ended up with a different agenda. Instead of using the network to highlight potential problem areas and the challenges of teaching with technology, it morphed into me trying to demonstrate the effectiveness of using a social network to facilitate reflective practice. In hindsight, it’s clear that the 2 projects were at odds with one another, and the objectives were definitely not aligned.

When my supervisor pointed out that there was inconsistency in the 2 projects I really struggled to accept it. I was adamant that my methods were fine and she suggested that I hand over facilitation of the assignments within the network to other staff who didn’t have such a high personal stake in the success of the project, and I strongly disagreed. I found several reasons to explain why I had to be the person to run it, the strongest of which was that “…no-one else will try as hard as I will to make sure it works”. Which kind of made her point.

When I went away and thought about our conversation I reviewed my objectives for the 2 projects, and then it was clear that they really were 2 different projects. One was suggesting that this would be a useful tool to describe the current state of affairs, which I know will be less than ideal. The other was intent on proving that the network would be a positive tool, rather than describing what would happen if we just incorporated one into the department.

After the painful realisation that I’d let my personal desire for this project to succeed override my objectivity as a researcher, I agreed to let others lead the social network assignments, with guidance from me. This will greatly reduce the impact of researcher bias, as well as synchronise the objectives of the 2 projects. As it stands now, it will more accurately describe the state of the department in terms of attitudes and skills around teaching and learning, and the levels of digital and information literacy, which will give me valuable data that will inform the next objectives of my study.

This was a great learning experience for me, and a warning of the dangers of getting too close to one’s project. There are some situations where the researcher can be an integral part of the project, but this experience has shown me when it would be detrimental to the process.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-03-08

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SAFRI: conflict resolution

Someone told me that the SAFRI programme had changed their life, and I remember thinking that that might be taking it a bit far. But today brought me closer to thinking that it might not be that far from the truth. It wasn’t so much the content of the session, but the reflection and discussion that happened as a result of an exercise on conflict management.Β During the session, I was able to confront a part of me that isn’t the rational, logical person I usually think I am, and gave me a greater appreciation for the poor souls who have to try and understand why I think and do things so differently to them.

We spent a lot of time talking about the different approaches to managing conflict, with people who share similar psychological attributes identifying with certain approaches. I realised that I have ways of dealing with difficult situations that aren’t shared by most other people (I was the only person in my group, besides the facilitator, as opposed to 3 other groups of almost 10 in each group). MyΒ MBTI type is:

  • Introvert – draw energy by looking internally, prefer reflection over action, prefer written communication
  • iNtuitive – prefer theory and abstraction, imaginative, desire change
  • Thinker – use logic and objectivity to make decisions, remain detached, truthful rather than tactful
  • Perceiver – remain open and adapt to new information, be flexible, enjoy surprises, routines are limiting

The exercise I got the most out of today was to analyse a conflict and reflect on my own responses, as well as how I respond to the responses of others. Here’s the short reflection I put together after a few minutes of discussion with the facilitator:

I approach conflict logically, which is good for mediating the conflict of 3rd parties, but not so good when I’m personally involved. While other personality types might avoid conflict, I will sometimes create it by playing devil’s advocate. I’ll probe and push buttons to get a reaction and will sometimes take an opposing viewpoint just to have an interesting discussion (I’ll also not understand when the other party doesn’t appreciate this attempt to engage with them).

When I am involved in a conflict, I experience a rapid escalation of my own emotional response if I feel that those emotions aren’t being acknowledged, yet I have no natural tendency to acknowledge the emotions of other’s (“I’m right, so you must be wrong”). If my emotions are not acknowledged, I tend to withdraw and switch off emotionally. In those cases I find it difficult to let go and will definitely refuse to acknowledge the other person’s emotion…as a form of retribution (when I write it down like this, it seems insane, but in the moment, it’ perfectly clear to me).

On the other hand, if my emotions are acknowledged, there is a complete collapse of my resistance and I’m able to move towards resolution. However, I struggle to close the issue and will often find myself prolonging an argument to make the point that “I’m right”. When I do manage to avoid that and the conflict is resolved, I forget about it in minutes.

This experience, Β and the wonderful conversations it generated afterwards, really gave me a greater insight into who I am, as well as how I relate to others. For the rest of the day I was acutely aware that almost everyone else in the room sees, and responds to the world differently to me, which I found both sobering (“I’m alone”) and inspiring (“I’m special”).