Robert Avery Design Narrative
Developing a Blended Learning Module for Physiotherapy Assistants
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7 April 2015
I am a Senior Lecturer in Health based at a small UK university and have a particular interest in developing and supporting the use e-learning to make more effective use of the VLE across a range of programmes within the Faculty.
We were commissioned by one of the NHS Trusts in the region to develop a module that would provide academic recognition for the work undertaken by the Physiotherapy Assistants in their daily role. The module was to be delivered at two venues operated by the Trust which are approximately an hour away from the university campus and staff would be provided with the time to attend sessions. The staff team at the university is small, so time away from the full-time students would be limited and, factoring in travel time, meant that a blended approach had to be considered.
The students had to be provided with a mix of face-to-face and e-learning activities that would enable them to progress through the module and submit an assignment over a fifteen week period. To add to the challenge, most of the students had limited IT skills beyond accessing emails and the hospital record systems. They were also predominantly in the 30-45 age range and had been away from study for a significant period of time.
I worked with one of my colleagues to develop the module learning outcomes and design a range of activities that would enable students to achieve these. Initially this had a high level of e-learning elements which reflected the initial design brief. We then arranged to meet with the potential students and the Trust Co-ordinators to discuss the learning needs of the students and present an outline of the module structure. At this stage the IT limitations became apparent and a revised version of the module was developed making greater use of webinars and online tutorials rather than the planned use of asynchronous discussion forums, wikis and quizzes as it was apparent that the students would be unlikely to engage effectively with these.
What also became apparent was the limitation of the NHS IT infrastructure as few of the local PCs had the necessary facilities to enable students to access the software systems we use on a daily basis. Consequently I designed the webinars to be delivered directly and simultaneously to the two teaching rooms at the Trust. This limited questions and responses to a text based format with a designated typist at each venue.
The effectiveness of the module was evaluated in terms of academic performance, online feedback via the VLE and in-house evaluation by the Trust. All were very positive, with 20 of 21 students submitting the assignment and marks ranging from 54 to 95. Students evaluated their own learning and the impact this had within their departments and all were able to relate the change in practice and impact on service to patients with the learning undertaken on the module. With regard to the e-learning activities, all reported positively on these and indicated that they would encourage colleagues to participate in any future running of the module.
Developing this module led me to reconsider the assumptions I make about e-learning and its place in the academic landscape. Also the assumptions that an organisation like the NHS would have an IT infrastructure that was sufficiently up to date to handle the demands of current software – or at the very least be running the latest versions of Java and Flash. Universities now attract a wide range of students and we need to be aware that, whilst the most recent “traditional” students will be more IT savvy than we are and frequently complain that the university isn’t up-to-date, there are also a significant number of student accessing HE that are more mature and less comfortable with IT beyond the basics of using word processing software.
What was very apparent from the feedback was that, with appropriate exploration and understanding of the student cohort that enabled the design to match their needs, and the encouragement and support of academic staff to navigate the more challenging elements of e-learning, positive outcomes can be achieved.