PHT402 online course accreditation

The #pht402 Professional Ethics course has just been accredited by the South African Society of Physiotherapists and Health Professions Council of South Africa for 6 Level 2 Ethics CPD points. If you are a South African physiotherapist and would like to take part in the course, please register here before 9th August.

Image from opensourceway's Flickr stream
Image from opensourceway’s Flickr stream

Over the past few weeks I’ve been running an open, online course in Professional Ethics for my 3rd year students, in collaboration with Physiopedia. Check out the project page for the details of the course, including the context and background. I also received ethical clearance from our institutional review board to study the process and outcomes.

One of the major decisions we made was to invite qualified physiotherapists to participate as well. We wanted to encourage interaction between our students and the “real world”, that intangible place we say we’re preparing our students for. In return, participants external to the university would receive a badge from Physiopedia. These badges are compatible with Mozilla’s Open Badge standard and so have value outside of the Physiopedia ecosystem.

Until recently the course was only an interesting experiment among our 3rd year students and the 26 international physiotherapists who are also participating. However, I’m now very happy to announce that the SASP and HPCSA have accredited the course for 6 Level 2 Ethics CPD points. They had an additional requirement for participants to write a short test at the end but other than that, the course was accepted as is.

By accrediting the course the SASP and HPCSA have given this method of learning a degree of legitimacy that I find really exciting from two organisations that I think are traditionally quite conservative. It’s one thing for it to be recognised as an interesting research project and quite another for the professional bodies to recognise it’s potential to provide learning opportunities for geographically distributed professionals. A significant challenge for qualified South African physiotherapists obtaining their annual Ethics CPD points is that the courses are most often only offered in major city centres (requiring travel and sometimes overnight accommodation) and the registration fees are usually quite high. Our course is online and self-paced, which acknowledges the unique time constraints of individuals, and is free.

Now that we’ve set a precedent, we’ll offer the course every year and try to build a model for physiotherapy education for appropriate subjects through distance learning. This has potentially massive implications for the profession in terms of:

  • Moving learning away from the classroom, which will impact on physical space requirements
  • Connecting the university to health care professionals at a global level, bringing in many unique perspectives from “the real world”
  • Introducing a host of digital and information literacies for participants
  • Emphasising a student-centred, self-directed approach to learning that empowers learners to take control of their learning
  • Opening up further opportunities for collaboration between academia and the profession

Watch this space for further details. On a related note, I’ve also entered the course into the Reclaim Open Learning Contest, which is being run by MIT. I’ll be sure to post the outcome here.

Reflections on blended learning in clinical education

A few weeks ago I was invited by one of the local groups of the South African Society of Physiotherapy to  present the initial results of my PhD research into the use of blended learning in clinical education. Afterwards, I was surprised by the support I received from the clinicians, and at the resistance (or misunderstanding?) by some of the academics.

After thinking about it for a while, I realised that this makes sense. Clinicians are probably going to welcome anything that may result in a more competent physiotherapy graduate, while academics may be more concerned with a perceived value judgement on the work that they’re doing (“What’s wrong with the way we’re doing it?”). If my research shows that a blended approach to clinical education has potential to enhance practice knowledge at an undergraduate level, pressure to change may be brought to bear on academics, not clinicians.

Another thing I was thinking about is the difference between the “hard” science of clinical contexts, and the “soft” science of educational contexts. I had people asking me how the social aspects of teaching and learning could be analysed via randomised controlled trials, and that anything less would have limited value in physiotherapy education. I realised that if you have a background where evidence is constituted by quantitative research, the qualitative aspect of social science is going to seem messy and difficult to work with.

Here’s the presentation I gave:

Sharing my article for open peer review

I’m interested in how changes in the internet are forcing changes onto institutions that haven’t traditionally responded well to change. One group that’s finding the transition especially hard are the publishers, especially the academic publishers. A little while ago I wrote an open letter to the South African Society of Physiotherapy, asking them to move towards an open access format. My proposal wasn’t exactly welcomed 🙂

There are clearly some problems with the current peer review model and I’m interested in exploring some of the alternatives. With that in mind I’ve taken an article I’m currently working on and that I’m planning to submit for publication, and instead of only sending it to my usual critical readers, I thought I’d try something different. So I’ve uploaded it onto Google Docs and made it publicly available for anyone to comment on.

This isn’t open peer review in the sense that it’s a transparent review of a paper by the journal reviewers, but is more like “open feedback” prior to publication. I have had a few colleagues raise their eyebrows when I suggested this, and I’ve had to try and convince them that I’m not crazy and that the vast majority of people are not going to “steal” my paper (please don’t steal my paper). In terms of any issues that might arise from this debate, I’ve tried to cover my bases with the following:

  • If you make comments that cause me to significantly change the direction, scope or focus of the paper, you will be acknowledged
  • If you add a significant portion of the content of the paper in lieu of the above point, and it’s included in the final publication, you will be added as an author (at this point, don’t ask me what “significant” means…I’ll probably take it to another open forum to decide the matter should it arise)
  • If you add ideas that originated from your own research and they are included, you will be cited
  • If you feel that there should be other criteria in this list, please add them to the Google Doc

So, if you think this is something you might find interesting to participate in please consider giving me some feedback, preferably in the form of comments. In the words of WBY:

“I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…”

Here’s the public article on Google Docs: The Use of Wikis to Facilitate Collaborative Learning in a South African Physiotherapy Department

Note: if you go to the document and see that it’s been trashed with spam, etc. please consider letting me know via this blog post

An open letter to the SASP: Opening up access to the journal

Dear SASP

I’m a young(-ish) and relatively inexperienced author who lately has had a few concerns about the direction of the South African Journal of Physiotherapy (SAJP). I’m proud of the high quality research that is being conducted in the field of rehabilitation and health sciences in South Africa, and like every other academic, researcher and author, I’m trying to make a useful contribution to the field. My concern however, is that most (if not all) of the wonderful research that’s done in this country will never be seen by anyone who is not a member of the South African Society of Physiotherapy.

After thinking about some of these issues, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write to you, in the hope that you might consider some of the benefits of moving the SAJP towards an open access model of publication. I’m sure you’re aware of the disruption taking place in the publishing industry at the moment, with content creators using what are effectively free services to bypass the traditional publication process entirely. Consider the following statement:

“Scientific publishers should be terrified that some of the world’s best scientists, people at or near their research peak, people whose time is at a premium, are spending hundreds of hours each year creating original research content for their blogs, content that in many cases would be difficult or impossible to publish in a conventional journal. What we’re seeing here is a spectacular expansion in the range of the blog medium. By comparison, the journals are standing still.” Nielson, M. (2004)

The warning signs of disruption in an industry can be seen when there is a sudden proliferation of entities offering similar services that fulfill a customer’s need. With that in mind, consider that in the last few years there has been a significant increase in the number of new journals that are open access (BioMed Central, PLoS Medicine), or established journals that are moving towards an open model of publication (Pubmed Central, British Medical Journal, Physiotherapy Canada). These and many other high profile academic journals have recognised the importance of making peer-reviewed research available for everyone in the world, and taken the step towards making it a reality. They recognise that knowledge is essentially useless unless it can be accessed by anyone who wants it, and they accept their social and educational responsibility to advance new and important ideas in a world that is desperately in need of answers to desperate problems.

Opening access to scientific research is in everyone’s best interest, as the journal increases it’s readership, authors increase their citations, and anyone interested in that particular paper gets to read it. If the role of the academic journal is to register, certify, disseminate and preserve ideas, open access seems to be the most efficient way to achieve these goals. Indeed, providing the results of research to anyone with an internet connection must be the best way to make sure that the ideas published in scientific papers are original, disseminated widely and preserved. If publishers don’t seize the opportunity to benefit from a move towards openness, they may find authors increasingly self-archiving their works, leaving traditional publishers out of the loop entirely. These tools are available, free to use and provide researchers with an alternative that would see their work being spread far more widely than if it were stuck behind a paywall.

Researchers have the most to gain by the open access movement, and may soon question the usefulness of a gated system that severely limits the reach of their scientific contributions. Any author will tell you that what they want most of all is for more people to read and cite their work. With most papers essentially invisible to most researchers, how is the status quo benefiting authors? If publishers don’t begin moving towards opening up access, they may find themselves without any relevant content, as scholars establish open repositories in which to deposit the final, peer-reviewed drafts of their work. The University of the Western Cape has recently created a Research Repository, and other institutions will surely follow, perhaps making use of the Open Archive Initiative to ensure cross-institution / international compatibility. The time is approaching when authors will ask why they should pay for access to knowledge when the cost of self-publication is essentially zero (and the cost of purchasing articles is enormous)?

On the periphery of the publication problem, there are also calls for copyright law as it relates to academic publication be revised, and that this “rebellion” should be led by academics in higher education. In addition, some have argued that the entire system of scientific publication is broken, with powerful academic journals and publishers actually hindering the progress of science. In the end though, innovation will happen, with or without the participation of academic journal publishers, and opening up access to peer-reviewed research could be the first step. Creative Commons licensing provides authors and publishers with less restrictive options with which to release content, and is increasingly being embraced by the academic community.

I see this disruption of the publication industry as an opportunity for the SASP to lead the way forward as an example for other academic journals, both locally and internationally. You have the chance to be among the first to offer the collective knowledge of South African physiotherapists to the world, and play an important part in the development and upliftment of our shared communities of practice.

I hope that the ideas outlined in this letter provide enough background for you to consider opening up access to the SAJP. I look forward to your response.

Kind regards,
Michael Rowe

PS. See the following links for additional information on the topic:

SASP congress 2009: final thoughts

The 2009 SASP congress has come and gone. I was fortunate enough to be sponsored by Discovery Health, so I could attend all 3 days and managed to see most of the presentations that caught my attention. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the lack of innovation in the field (using the programme as a guide…not exactly scientific). Maybe I was just missing it, but it didn’t seem as if there was anything really ground-breaking. Having said that, most of it was pretty interesting.