This is a difficult problem with no easy answers. How much of a policy will be a system of rules, and how much will just indicate good practice?
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.
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.
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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.