Friday, 6 July 2012

Activity 9- sustainability

Engaging with the resource materials for this section of the course has lead me to reflect on the things that have enabled me to sustain myself as a midwife for over 20 years. Spending 20-odd years on-call, while raising a family, studying, and (for the last ten) living on a ten-acre block with the ‘work’ that entails, it is energizing to think about what has kept me going. It comes to down to a few basics: a really loving and supportive family, loving and supportive midwifery practice colleagues, (since being employed at OP) a loving, supportive and flexible work environment, and, in midwifery, the thrill of supporting couples becoming families, and knowing it’s possible to make a difference, one birth at a time, to how people view their world and recognize what is important in it. There can be no more sustainable activity than having a baby – it is all about the future!
The OP Education for Sustainability Policy, has a graduate profile vision that includes “being action competent as a sustainable practitioner in the[ir] field”. The Policy values experiential learning and inquiry-based learning over talking-head-at-the-front-of-the-class learning, and leaves it to each School to develop its own strategies around sustainability, either by weaving a thread of sustainability throughout their programme or by having dedicated papers about it.
Recognising that student workload can have a profound impact on student attrition and progression (Lockwood, 2005) it is important to get the balance right when constructing courses.  The Midwifery School has a range of papers with varying credit values, based on the model of each credit point being roughly equivalent to 10 hours study. In practice I am unsure reliable this scale is. Learners take variable lengths of time to complete modules, some look only at ‘need to know’ rather than ‘nice to know’ material in an effort to minimize time spent (and maximize overall course coverage) and I have known of a student who strategically failed an assessment in order to have time to study for the resit opportunity, because the workload at the time was unsustainable.
Workload is a very real issue for midwifery students, because in addition to all their study commitments they are required to be on-call for much of their three years, so need the ability to ‘drop everything and go’ and any time. This impacts greatly on their study, especially around essay deadlines etc, where we encourage students to have their assessments completed 48 hours prior to the deadline, in case they are called to a birth that may take 24 hours. They learn very good time management skills which will sustain them into the future as practicing midwives!

"Hey!, you're the only one trying to move so fast" cartoon by Prof Hiroshi Takatsuki

Practical steps we take in the School to foster sustainability include discouraging students from printing out course materials which are all available online, and as downloadable pdf files. We suggest they carpool when they are attending weekly SPF sessions and Intensive blocks, as the travel is huge for some. When constructing modules for Moodle learning packages, I make a point of signposting clearly which parts of the material are necessary to know, and which parts are additional reading for those with particular interest in the topic or who wish to explore a topic further. I think this is a useful strategy as it enables students to allocate their time in the way that best meets their personal learning needs.
We have two papers specifically focused on sustainability, the first year paper being about global/environmental and personal sustainability topics, and the third year paper focusing more specifically on how they intend to sustain themselves in practice once they graduate. They look at different models of midwifery practice, group practices etc and business models that they reflect on the success or otherwise of. We have them think about how they will organize time off/time out, and explore support networks and frameworks available to them as new graduate practitioners eg the Midwifery First Year of Practice Programme, where the student selects a mentor to assist them to navigate their way through their first year of being a registered midwife. During their second year students are invited to reflect on sustainability issues throughout each paper that they complete.
Looking at the sustainability of midwives in practice, Wakelin & Skinner (2007) identified that paradoxically, it was the things that midwives said sustained them in practice (the quality of the relationships they developed with the women, and continuity of care) which also lead midwives to leave practice. Their recommendations included a strong statement about the need to develop practice arrangements that allowed for structured time off so that a reasonable work/life balanced could be achieved. It is important for student midwives to see this reflected in the practice of midwives they work alongside in their clinical placements, so midwives role-model sustainable practice as a way of ensuring ongoing profession-sustainability.
Lockwood, F. (2005). Estimating student workload: readability and implications for student learning and progression. Retrieved from
Otago Polytechnic Education for Sustainability Policy. Retrieved from
Wakelin, K. & Skinner, J. (2007). Staying or leaving: a telephone survey of midwives exploring the sustainability of practice as Lead Maternity Carers in one urban region of New Zealand. New Zealand College of Midwives Journal, 37, 10-14.

1 comment:

  1. Clearly there are lots of really good approaches to encourage sustainable practice in your programme.

    I am pleased to see that you have acknowledge the impact of workload for students. Often a heavy focus on content inhibits students' ability to explore, that is undertake inquiry learning. Do you think your programme has eliminated this emphasis on content in the way in which it is designed?

    How about staff workloads, do you have strategies to counteract the need for staff to be continually finding content and resources for students?

    In your Flexible Learning plan please indicate how your strategy will accommodate sustainable practices, e.g., more use of OER and open education practices, co-operative /group learning, peer assessment etc.