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 peoplesnetworknz.info
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 http://wikieducator.org/Hegarty_Reflective_Framework_and_Template
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.

1 comment:

  1. What a fabulous description of two learning situations. They are very different, and both sound incredibly engaging. I like your use of the term "minds on" learning. In the weaving scenario, you describe what I see as an empowering model of learning where the learning is inclusive and social, and can be approached by each student according to their preferences and culture of learning. What fun that session must have been. The session about blood loss also sounds engaging, everyone loves to guess stuff like that.

    In the post-graduate course, have you thought about introducing a portfolio (preferably digital) so that participants can present evidence from their practice and demonstrate how they are supporting their practice with reflection and evidence from the literature? This could be an ongoing assessment with the construction of the portfolio formatively assessed, and perhaps the reflections assessed summatively. Their portfolios could include stories, video, images and annotations of articles they have read. Perhaps they could produce a digital story-type portfolio to demonstrate how they practice evidence-based practice. Does this sound possible?