PhD physiotherapy research

Results of the first round of my Delphi study

I’m away on a 3 day writing retreat where I’m trying to put together a full draft of the Delphi study that I’m busy wrapping up. I thought I’d take a break from writing  and do something different (from writing, I mean). I took the full text of the open-ended responses from the first round of my study and created this Wordle…because I can.

The questions were related to the attributes that clinicians and clinical supervisors thought healthcare students should have.

conference PhD research

Research plan for 2011

I’ve just been asked by one of my supervisors for my research goals for 2011. This will include my own work, as well as planning how our undergraduate and Masters students’ work might feed into some of the bigger projects. The first goal I have for 2011 is to submit 2 articles based on my first PhD objective. I’d planned on sending these off at the end of 2010, but never managed to finish them in time. They’re almost done now, and I’m hoping to submit them before lectures begin in a few weeks.

In order to plan my research activities for 2010, I created a chart to help me visualise the different activities I’d be involved in (see below). I completed most of the tasks, although not necessarily exactly as I’d initially planned them. Looking back at the process I went through in 2010, it’s clear that things don’t always work out the way you planned them and that that isn’t always a bad thing. I ran out of time at the end of the year, and didn’t get to complete everything I’d wanted to. Now I have the dilemma of trying to decide if I still want to do them, and run the risk of biasing the results e.g. realising that students may not have great recall of certain events.

First PhD objective

I’ve created a similar chart for my 2011 progress, and tried to incorporate the results of the 2010 research I conducted, showing how they feed into my second PhD objective. This includes a review of the undergraduate curriculum using document analysis, and a Delphi study of physiotherapy educators to plan a blended learning intervention for one (or several) undergraduate modules. The original plan was to identify one module and then develop it using a blended learning approach but now we’re considering the possibility of working with a few, although this isn’t reflected in the diagram below.

I still need to figure out how I’m going to incorporate input from my 4th year research group, as well as the 3 Masters students I’m supervising this year. I can’t really see how they’ll fit in, so I might need to start a few additional projects (Edit 13/01/11: I changed the diagram above to show the 4th year project and one MSc contribution to my study). I find preparing charts like this useful to organise my thoughts around the process. I often struggle to see details but am OK with picturing the overall structure. When I create a flowchart like this, it forces me to think about the specific steps I’m going to need to take to move forward, as well as how all the pieces fit together.

In addition to the research, I also hope to present at 4 international, and 2 local conferences:

  • International Association for Medical Education
  • Education in a Changing Environment
  • Personal Learning Environments
  • World Physical Therapy Congress
  • South African Association for Health Educators
  • Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa

I’ve committed to convert each conference presentation into a publication, so hopefully that’ll grease the wheels for funding from the university. It seems like quite a full programme, but since my teaching load has been reduced for this year, I think it’s doable.

assessment education learning PhD

Constructive alignment workshop

Constructive alignment workshop – Dr. James Garraway

I attended a workshop this morning looking at constructive alignment, with the view to relating it to the work I’ll be doing on my PhD next year. The second of my objectives is to do an analysis of our undergraduate curriculum and then do a Delphi study evaluating certain components of it. After our planning meeting a few weeks ago, we’ve decided to begin working on our curriculum now, in preparation for our HPCSA audit next year.The process is going to be really valuable for us, as we move towards implementing our teaching and learning policy within the department, as well as for me as I try to get a better understanding of how we actually go about graduating physiotherapists.

Here are my notes from the morning.

Intended outcomes ↔ content / learning activity↔ assessment (make sure that they all “look the same”)

Constructive alignment and submission of new programmes on the HEQF:

  • Develop higher level cognitive skills from graduates
  • Explain how competences developed in the programme are aligned with the NQF levels (looking at systematic, coherent and critical understanding of the discipline
  • Map new knowledge onto the discipline
  • Explain the teaching methods, mode of delivery and materials development for the achievement of the stated outcomes of the qualification
  • How does the T&L strategy promote the achievement of the expected learning outcomes?
  • How does the assessment strategy promote the achievement of the learning outcomes?


What do you understand by “constructive”? Builds on the term “scaffolding”, i.e. knowledge is “built” by establishing a foundation of basic understanding and then gradually introducing new concepts / ideas → ZPD

What do you understand by “alignment”? All the components of a curriculum are aligned with each i.e. beginning (outcomes) looks like the middle (learning activity), looks like the end (assessment)

What do you understand by “constructive alignment”?

Main steps in the alignment process:

  1. Define the intended outcomes (should be described using verbs that emphasise the higher learning activities → avoid “list”, etc.
  2. Choose teaching/learning activities that assist/encourage students to achieve the objectives
  3. Engage students in learning activities through the teaching process
  4. Assess students’ learning outcomes using methods that enable students to demonstrate the intended learning and evaluating how well they match what was intended
  5. Arrive at a grade (summative) or give feedback (formative)

What happens when new outcomes are derived from a “loose” approach to teaching and learning i.e. discussion, etc. The lecturer can’t foresee the outcomes before the course starts, and what impact will that have on assessment?

People learn within a set of rules / environment that is often determined by the discipline, so it can be difficult to transfer “learning / knowledge / ways of knowing” between disciplines and subjects

Constructivism isn’t necessarily about questioning established knowledge, but to engage with it (“play with it”)

Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy

  1. Prestructural (unconnected knowledge)
  2. Unistructural (simple, obvious connections, one relevant aspects)
  3. Multistructural (many connections are made, considered independently)
  4. Relational level (part and the whole are understood, links and integrates several parts into a coherent whole)
  5. Extended / abstract (going beyond – generalises beyond the information given)

Level 1 teachers: make assumptions about what students are i.e. blames the student

Level 2 teachers: make assumptions about what teachers do i.e. blames the teacher

Both of the above perspectives lead to passive students

Level 3 teachers are concerned with what a student does to achieve the outcomes of the course

What is understanding?

Humans are not good at memorising random information (only 7 +/- 2 pieces of random information). But we’re very good at building new information on top of old information i.e. associating new knowledge with old knowledge → ZPD. Knowledge is “constructed”, not transmitted

Learning is a result of what the student does/thinks, not what the teacher does

How do we get students to learn what we want them to?

Teachers intention → student’s activity → exam (it’s the assessment that drives the learning activity, not the teachers intention)

Good teaching gets more students to use higher cognitive processes, that “better” students use spontaneously