The academic year finally ended yesterday for first year students in our new undergraduate midwifery programme in the South Island of New Zealand. This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on the year. I wrote extensively in this blog about my development process for the first year practice skills course. It has been a very busy year one way and another, and I have been somewhat less diligent in blogging about progress during the actual first year of course delivery. Now that we have reached the end of first year it is timely to reflect on how the programme in general and the practice skills course in particular have gone.
We started the year a couple of weeks before other Polytechnic students began and have ended the year a couple of weeks later than other students. This is because we are now delivering the equivalent of a four year midwifery degree programme in three years (more about that later). As a lecturer it has been challenging to be working with students from virtually the very start of the year right through until my last day in Polytech. Anyone involved in undergraduate education will know that the start and end of the year are times of preparation and consolidation when a lot of administrative tasks are undertaken. Having to do these things while also continuing to be involved with preparation and assessment of students is a challenge. In this post I will overview the class “intensives” where the student all come together as a class at Otago Polytechnic in Dunedin. Our programme involves the students coming to Otago Polytechnic for classroom learning and assessment four times in the year. We call these blocks “Intensives”.
Students arrived at the beginning of February. We all went off for a couple of days stay at Wairua Scout camp after a couple of days looking around campus and introduction to lecturers and courses . Staff from the sports school came along and ran some activities for us. We also did some work on communication as well as having fun and getting know each other. During the second week we started formal learning with face to face lectures and skills practice. In the practice skills course students learned about standard precautions and vital signs monitoring.
As the year progressed we have reflected on what we are doing. Everyone seemed to feel the camp was a good activity helping us all to get to know one another and particularly useful as we were then going to be working at a distance from each other. I felt there was a problem with the second week. Lectures are now all online as self learning packages and the idea is that students learn online first then come to class ready to focus on learning the practical skill. There was no time for this online learning to occur so we had to deliver some lectures around the topic before the students could start to practice the skills. This meant that there was not really enough time for the class to work together on the practice skills. As a result of this reflection in 2010 we will split the first two weeks of the course. Students next year will arrive for the first week of the intensive and will then have a couple of weeks to work with the online learning resources before completing the second week of face to face intensive course work.
It was good for all to get together once again in intensive two. This was also a two week intensive and had been planned as we felt there would be things that required face to face delivery to the whole class. While this is the case for some courses items we discovered that there was less needing to be delivered face to face than we have previously thought would be necessary, as a result this intensive will be reduced next year from two weeks to one week.
As with intensive two there was actually less teaching that needed to be done in this intensive than we had thought would be required. Students began the course on Maori health during this intensive and students and staff spent a couple of days and one night on a local Marae learning about issues around health care and birth for Maori women and their families. Students commented on how relaxed this was and how good it was to have another activity where they had an opportunity to come together in this way, but this time knowing each other a little better. I have to admit that I was somewhat skeptical about these two overnight activities before we began the new programme but I do now admit that they are valuable additions to a distance based blended programme such as ours. I would recommend this to any other institutions considering adopting a similar approach to midwifery education.
The first week of this intensive is the time for assessment and of course nerves are high at this time. Our students had some traditional class exams to do. The first was a three hour bioscience examination. The next was an exam loosely based on an “OSCE” type practice skills exam. Here student are randomly allocated one of 5 scenarios that they are already aware of and have had the opportunity to practice. Within these scenarios are two practice skills that the students have learned during the year. Women from our local community role play for these scenarios and a lecturer marks the students practical skill ability while the women are able to comment on students communication skills. Finally the students sit a one hour mathematics examination on professional calculations including drug calculations and infusion rates. We had intended to bring all students to Dunedin for all of these examinations but, in response to students feedback, we arranged supervised examinations for Bioscience and Procal in the students own area, with their practice facilitator invigilating, and they were only required to travel to Dunedin for the OSCE.
The final week of the year for students is the second week of this intensive. It is taken up with Midwifery Integration. This is a short course which is completed in both first and second year of the midwifery programme. Students are given a scenario and are randomly allocated to groups. They have to explore the scenario with consderation of all the different aspects they have been learning about, in all their courses, over the year. At the end of the week they give a presentation to the class and lecturers about their scenario. This is an opportunity for students to integrate learning and consider a practice scenario from a variety of professional perspectives. This is a course we have run over the past five or so years at Otago Polytechnic. We usually run it over two weeks, one in the middle of the year and the other towards the end of the year. This year we dropped the first week as it has always been a challenge to find things the students can explore at this early time. The work the students did in this final week was extremely good. The presentation were generally excellent and the scenarios were well explored. As a lecturer it was very satisfying to see how the students were able to work with these scenarios and suggested that our new programme is working well and students are learning. Some of the work was well in advance of what we would generally expect in first year.This was a good way to complete the year and a nice way to say goodbye to the students.
Final reflection on the intensives
The intensives will always be an important part of this blended programme of midwifery education. It is interesting however that we did not need as much time for these as we had thought we would. In part this is probably because of the weekly tutorial groups which students attend and support a great deal of their practical learning . In my next post I will reflect on these tutorial groups. Students are aware before they enrol that these intensives are a key part of the programme and that they will be required to travel to Dunedin for them. This did not stop some students from complaining about the cost of travelling to Dunedin, of course, understandably, money is always an issue for students. As a result we did do more in the local areas with students than we had thought we might. Student also made connections with Dunedin based students and all our distance students were able to find billets during their stay in Dunedin which would reduce the cost to them.