Activity Ten – Organisations (more of a ramble…).
The first thing that struck me when I read both the Tertiary Education Strategy (MoE, 2010) from the Ministry of Education, and the Otago Polytechnic Charter (Otago Polytechnic, 2005) was a clear dissonance between the two in tone and focus. I was saddened to see the enormous focus the Ministry places on education as being all about driving the economy, with almost every aspect of the Strategy being linked to improved economic outcome for New Zealand, productivity, pandering to ‘the firms’ and in almost every case, words about the economy came first in the statement before words to do with social benefit. The research focus was about ‘responding to the needs of the economy’, the vocation focus was about increasing employment by enhancing ‘a productive skills base to drive economic growth’, and the labour market was always mentioned before social needs. In fact, using the clever ‘find’ button, it seems the words economic/economy were used 37 times in the document, and the word social appeared 15 times.
In contrast, (and acknowledging the fact that these two documents are not designed to be addressing the same thing), the Otago Polytechnic Charter 2006-2010 (Otago Polytechnic, 2005) focuses on encouragement of lifelong learning, flexibility and accessibility, being socially responsible and sustainable, and providing challenging and creative learning environments. (Words related to the economy were used seven times in this document). Student-centredness and learning as a social good is the focus and I celebrate this!!
The Otago Polytechnic Charter was dated 2005, to cover the period from 2006-2010, and there are several aspects of the content which seem anachronistic in 2012. Although the Strategic Directions 2010-1012 (Otago Polytechnic, 2010) document addresses some of these, the focus still remains fairly local to Otago, with a nod to the value of international collaboration. The expansion of the Bachelor of Midwifery Programme into the lower North Island in 2010 enables the Polytechnic to enhance its likelihood of meeting several of the strategic aims both of itself, and the TES, namely those relating to increased enrolment, retention and success of Māori and Pacific students, as demographically these students are greater in number in the North Island. So any new Charter needs to be explicit about an expanded focus beyond the Otago region. The current version seeks to create an environment at OP which will attract students to the area to study; in 2013 its focus has broadened considerably as there are campuses (campi?) in Central Otago and Auckland, and a visible presence (although no campus) in the Wellington, Whanganui and Palmerston North areas.
In relation to the use of new technologies, the School of Midwifery has thoroughly embraced blended learning, and this has enabled the expansion of the School into areas which have traditionally been hard to staff. Student midwives can now learn, graduate and work in their own communities rather than having to move their families for three years to a large urban area in order to gain their qualification. This meets a number of stakeholder expectations as well, as rural communities can support student learning in a meaningful way, and attract graduates keen to remain in their own localities. The TES also promotes targeting the inclusion of young people in tertiary education. For midwifery this is less attractive, as we need our students to have a modicum of life experience in order to assimilate their experiences, which may include engagement with families experiencing challenge with violence, alcohol and drug issues, child abuse issues etc. A level of maturity is needed to make sense of these experiences, and whilst some young people have much to offer in this area, our course does tend to attract more mature-age students who may be better placed to integrate these experiences. The use of online learning technologies does of course pose its own challenge to some of our mature students; many have not engaged in study since they left school, so for some the digital literacy skills required are a steep learning curve. Steep, but not insurmountable, and most students readily adapt to the virtual environment. Of course this is well balanced with plenty of hands-on clinical experience, and regular face-to-face opportunities for debriefing, and the provision of pastoral care which is so critical to retention and student success.
Looking forward, innovations in teaching and learning technology might include the use of e-portfolios, increased use of video assessment which we have trialed this year and has been very successful from both a student and staff perspective, and increased use of OER are all on our horizon. We regularly use wikis as a way of students sharing their work with their peers, and make extensive use of these in the clinical context for organizing practice placement rosters etc. This actively encourages the students to take responsibility for their own clinical placements, and means they very infrequently cannot attend placements, because they have organized their rosters themselves to work around their family/study commitments.
The School of Midwifery meets the Charter expectations and those of the TES in a number of ways, as described, and has been proactive in introducing technologies to enhance the student experience throughout the blended undergraduate midwifery programme.