Saturday, 19 May 2012

Activity Four - on a roll!

Activity Four: Access and Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity.
Access in education is about many things, but essentially it is about enabling anyone, irrespective of their characteristics, to engage in the learning opportunities they wish to. This requires the removal of barriers to their engagement, which could relate to affordability, being a particular gender or having personal attributes considered inappropriate. Ideas about access may well be socially constructed, as on the one hand, open access is an honourable aspiration, but there may sometimes be sound reasons why access might be limited. For example, most people would embrace the possibility of a child with a physical disability being a member of a mainstream classroom, but those same people might baulk at the idea of a convicted paedophile having the opportunity to be educated as a primary school teacher.
Zondiros & Dimitris (2008) identify a number of potential barriers in access to education. These include income, gender, race, power, status, age, religion and physical or mental disability. I believe there are additional barriers once access has been secured, which might prevent successful progress in people’s learning pathways. These might include learning strategies that are incompatible with learner styles, inflexible assessment arrangements, negative or prejudicial attitudes within some aspect of the student’s required learning environments (eg in a clinical placement context) or language difficulty.
Equity sits alongside access, and relates to learners having equal opportunity to participate and be successful. It includes the structures that are in place to increase one’s ability to take part, for example distance and online education. Rhode (2009) found that learners participating in distance online learning highly valued the interactions they had with both the lecturer and the content of their course, but found learner-to-learner interaction harder to prioritise. The flexibility that online learning allows might have its cost in less interaction between learners, because students are not engaging at the same time and in the same ways. This seems to be similar in our midwifery course; students say they love being able to engage with the theoretical content at their own pace and in their own time, but this often results in less interaction with one another about specific content areas.
Diversity is humanity, in all its various forms! No two learners are the same, despite that they will share attributes which brought them to their place of study. They may be an eclectic mix of cultures, ages, genders, sexual orientations and learning proclivities, with physical, social, political and spiritual differences and uniqueness. This enables a rich and vibrant learning environment in which people can share experiences and gain valuable insights into each other’s worlds, as they move through their learning journey together.
Inclusivity sits alongside diversity as it is the tool used to ensure that diverse elements have the opportunity to give to and receive from one another. The shared learning in an inclusive context is an important process, as strategies that work for some don’t work for others, but through discussion of the differences new strategies can be found that are workable. A recent example in my context is the learning of Procal – or professional calculations – this is maths-based content which student midwives learn to be able to calculate and administer drug dosages correctly. Some students have learned this content best by using real-life scenarios, picking up a syringe and an ampoule of medication, figuring out what would be a correct volume with the maths and then practicing drawing up etc. They have found the practical application helpful. Others have found the exercises in the Moodle modules adequate for their learning, some have found the Adobe session where a lecturer worked through some examples most useful, and yet others have only learned it through peer –tutoring, and using different strategies with the maths to arrive at the correct result.
Universal Design in Learning: I have really enjoyed looking into this topic, and ended up looking at several of the ‘related’ slideshare offerings alongside the UDL: Framework for Access and Equity. The UDL concept suggests that we conceptualise learning content “from scratch” as incorporating a variety of tools to enable all learners to pick and choose how they will learn the topic. The principles include having multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. This allows learners to have a range of options for acquiring knowledge, for demonstrating what they know, and “taps into [their] interests, offers appropriate challenges, and increases [their] motivation” (Universal Design for Learning, n.d.). I was stimulated into thinking about designing a learning resource that would be about learning a specific skill, for example abdominal palpation, in which I could incorporate an number of different options to accommodate our students’ diverse learning styles. On more than one occasion I have had Maori midwifery students lament the fact that if only they could ‘sing’ an assessment, or weave a mat while they talked to a lecturer about a theoretical concept, this would be much better for them. An idea is taking shape in my head about a learning resource which might include both visual and audio components, maybe even a song to help remember a concept…
Which brings me to issues of access and equity within my learning context: the Bachelor of Midwifery is a four year degree delivered in three years. This means a very long academic year of 45 weeks (end January to mid-Dec each year). This limits student’s chances of being able to work to support their studies, so most have student loans which will continue to burden them once their studies are completed. The cost of the course is also a significant barrier to many prospective students. There are strict entry criteria including a moderately high level of prior academic achievement (NCEA Level 3). Students must be able to afford significant ongoing additional costs over and above course costs, as they are required to travel to weekly face-to-face tutorials, attend visits in women’s homes and clinical placements. In their third year they are required to do a six week placement outside their usual area of residence and therefore have to meet accommodation and travel costs for this. The blended model of course design requires them to have a computer, secure and reliable internet connection, and the requisite digital literacy skills to engage in the learning opportunities provided. Students are required to be on-call, so need to have very flexible and reliable arrangements for childcare, as there exists the possibility of ‘drop everything and go’ at all times. This is made difficult for women who are parenting alone, or whose partners have little flexibility in their workplaces.
Strategies to mitigate these issues: include limited opportunities for scholarships, and the availability of a Certificate Level Course which enables prospective students who do not meet the academic entry criteria to up-skill in the areas they need to demonstrate proficiency in. The Learning Centre is available to support students who have ongoing learning difficulty once they are accepted into the course. Age and gender restrictions are not applied, although it is unusual to receive applications from men for the midwifery course. Learning pedagogy within the school sees great variety being offered in terms of course content delivery, with online modules, synchronous online tutorials, face-to-face learning, clinical placements to develop skill proficiency and regular opportunities to debrief practice experiences. Assessment strategies are varied too, with presentations, exams, quizzes, video assessment, essays and case studies all being employed to assess learning. Different learner styles are hopefully accommodated within this matrix, but I can definitely see a place for inclusion of assessments that ‘work’ for students who find these ones stressful and difficult. Perhaps this is where I will focus my attention…
Rhode. (2009). Interaction equivalency in self-paced online learning environments: An exploration of learner preferences. Retrieved from The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 10 (1)

Universal Design for Learning: Meeting the Needs of Learners. Retrieved from
Zondiros, D. (2008). Online, distance education and globalisation: Its impact on educational access, inequality and exclusion. Retrieved from The European Journal of Open and Distance Learning website:

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The tortoise is edging over the startline

Activity Three: Investigate and describe an example of flexible learning in your organization.
Because I am so far behind in the course, and the option to talk to two colleagues may have escaped me, I am going to reflect on two teaching sessions I have recently observed, and then go on to explore the five dimensions of flexibility within a postgraduate paper that I facilitate. The first session I observed was a colleague running a session on blood loss estimation for a group of ten second year midwifery students. The session was run during a scheduled weekly face-to-face tutorial session, and began with a discussion of the theory and evidence-base for when and how midwives estimate blood loss. Students contributed a number of stories from their clinical experience and the learning was very reciprocal between students and lecturer. There followed a practical exercise where the lecturer had pre-prepared some blood loss scenarios (using fake blood from an internet-sourced recipe!) and the students moved through the ‘stations’ estimating the volume of blood observed on inco sheets, maternity pads and, in one case, the floor – following a simulation of what may happen when a woman gets up to have a shower after giving birth. They were enabled to see how the evidence relating to blood loss estimation was resonant of their own efforts, i.e. that health professionals are typically quite accurate when estimating lower volume losses, with increasing inaccuracy as blood loss volumes rise (Buckland & Homer, 2007).

Ketewestcoast from
The second observation was of a face-to-face session about sustainability for third year student midwives. The session ran over a whole day, and was the final day in a two-week Intensive block which had been very dense and full-on for the students. After a couple of hours of discussion and structured learning using Powerpoints and general discussion about what sustainability means in midwifery – the lecturer invited all the students to participate in a weaving activity. After observing tikanga (North Islanders here!) we all sat on the floor and spent three hours weaving flax, storytelling and drawing together the threads of the learning that had taken place over the previous two weeks.  We observed and reflected on how we learn, how (or even whether) we seek assistance when we need it, how we persevere when we think we can’t do it, how we help others learn, all from this practical creative venture of creating a putiputi and an ipu whenua. The thread about how as midwives we need to take time to remember to nourish our spirits, to be still and thoughtful in our busyness so we can replenish our own energies for our important work with women and families, was woven throughout the session, and it was a beautiful way to wind up (or down!) the last day of our intensive.    
Reflecting on these two sessions in relation to flexible learning, I discerned that in both sessions although the time element and the entry requirements were unable to be flexible, in each session other opportunities were there for offering flexibility. Because the BM programme is offered in a blended learning environment, this was a rare opportunity to observe two face-to-face components of the course. As such the ‘class’ was at a scheduled time, on a scheduled day. The students for both sessions have met the entry requirements for the BM programme, and additionally have passed the preceding years’ papers in order to have progressed.
FlexibIe aspects of both sessions included that the student’s differing learning styles were accommodated as instructional approaches included both ‘hands on’ and ‘minds on’ learning. The content in the first session was less flexible in terms of there being a primary focus about what would be covered, but because the students were very participatory and storied a great deal from their own clinical experiences, tangential learning opportunities arose because of this (McDrury & Alterio, 2003). In the second session additional flexibility was offered because tikanga suggests that women who were menstruating may choose to either not participate in the activity, or to  participate in a gentle way, as the work of flax weaving was traditionally ceased during menstruation to allow the women to rest and re-energise.  The combination of weaving and storytelling is a powerful way to share knowledge, and my observation was that students who are normally a bit hesitant to contribute to a discussion seemed more relaxed and happier to speak in this environment. As a critical incident (Hegarty, 2011), whilst undramatic in the normal sense, this session particularly enabled me to appreciate how the blend of ‘hands-busy’ and a relaxed atmosphere created a vibrant learning environment I had not anticipated. The principles of andragogy (Knowles, 1989) were alive and well as students were motivated to be engaged, their participation was enthusiastic because of the relevancy of the content, they shared their own knowledge and experiences, and they were collaborative about ‘leading’ the direction of the talk.
The postgraduate paper I facilitate – Evidence-Informed Practice – also has both less and more flexible aspects to its delivery. The students are registered midwives who are on a pathway to Postgraduate Certificate, Diploma or Master of Midwifery, so the entry requirements reflect their midwifery registration. The paper runs over 14 weeks at a pre-scheduled time, but within this timeframe the students are free to engage with the learning material at their own pace.  The structured parts of the course are the Adobe Connect web-conferences which are timetabled, but I do offer the class the opportunity to reschedule these at will, as long as the times and days suit everyone in the class. Other structured parts of the course are the assessments, one of which involves three separate discussion forum postings, and one is an essay- these do have due dates, but  extension requests are possible for both the assessments. 
The first time I ran this course, I opened up the modular content at regular intervals through the duration of the course. This time, I decided to open the whole course at the beginning, so that students who wished to forge ahead could do so, and also so that students could choose which order they covered the content. It also means they can get started on the big assessment as early as they wish, because they have access to the course material that they will utilize to complete the assessment.
Although the paper is only ‘two-pronged’ blended delivery (combination of face-to-face via Adobe and Moodle online modules), within the modules  the learning strategies are quite varied, including straight text, quizzes, an interactive statistics tutorial available at an external website address, YouTube clips, cloze activities etc . This addresses individual students’ learning propensities, and hopefully mixing it up keeps the paper fresh and interesting for the students.  Adobe sessions see the students contributing their own ideas and experiences about the course content and they have assisted one another with refining their essay topics.  So hopefully I have illustrated how flexibility has been introduced into the course by addressing the five dimensions of time, content, entry requirements, instructional approaches and resources, and delivery and logistics (Collis &  Moonen, 2001).
Buckland, J. & Homer, C. (2007). Estimating blood loss after birth: using simulated clinical examples. Women and Birth 20(2) 85-88.
Collis, B & Moonen, J. (2001). Flexible learning in a digital world. Open and Distance Learning Series. London: Kogan Page Ltd.
Hegarty, B. (2011). Three-step reflective framework. Retrieved from
Knowles, M. (1980). The modern practice of adult education .New York: Adult Education Company.
McDrury, J. and Alterio, M. (2003). Learning through storytelling in higher education: using reflection
                and experience to improve learning. London, Sterling VA: Kogan Page.