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My Assessment for this course: International Learning Evaluation

The purpose of the assignment is to evaluate a distance learning opportunity that was developed for Canadian and New Zealand Occupational Therapy students. The Blackboard site was called the Kiwi-Canuck connection. The link was made between a group of Master entry students in Canada (43) and Post Graduate students in NZ (19). The 2 lecturers involved put time into this because of their interest in the topic (Clinical Reasoning) and the links that they had forged over a period of years. In other words it was not counted in work loads as it was over and above and as a result of personal interest of the lecturers.

Background: I network frequently with a colleague in Canada (Margo Paterson) who also has a strong interest in one of my favourite topics: Clinical Reasoning. We have met on several occassions and more recently she spent 1 week at Otago and prior to that I spent 2 weeks in Queens University in Kingstone, Ontario.

In 2005 I asked Margo to contribute to the Blackboard discussion for one week on her particular area of interest which is “Artistry in Practice”. Following this, we decided it would be great to set up a collaborative learning experience for the students which could use expertise from Canada and NZ. (NB. We have also had interest in this project from other colleagues). We trialled a joint teaching venture in 2006. This connected the Masters entry students (2nd year) from Canada with the Bachelor programme (3rd year students) in NZ. From this we learnt a number of lessons about what did and did not work and used this to develop another session in 2007. This time it was more suitable to connect with the post Graduate students in NZ. In the world of teaching nothing is ever perfect, so we continue learning!! We have looked at the course reviews and thought about possible changes for 2008. This assignment will be about reviewing these sessions, reflecting on the student feedback and developing recommendations for 2008.

The 2007 outline: Outline for the Kiwi-Canuck sessions

There were several challenges:

  1. How to connect students in different hemispheres who were not involved in identical courses
  2. How to ensure that the learning was at the right level for both groups of students
  3. How to entice the students to take part in what was essentially an ‘extra’
  4. How to provide opportunites so that all students could readily participate without becoming repetitive in their comments.
  5. How to maintain that interest over a period of 4 weeks.

The 2007 programme: Weekly exercises for the Kiwi-Canuck sessions 

Students feedback included the following: (this was done on Monkey Survey)

  • It was difficult to comment when such a big group were contributing
  • The blackboard discussion forum was clumsy
  • It was an opportunity for students to contribute who normally felt less able to do this in class
  • They enjoyed the opportunity to talk to students from another country 
  • Some liked the asynchronous aspect – gave them time to think

Students commented:

“…innovative and exciting way to learn. What drew me to it was the opportunity to talk to NZ OT students in NZ and hear about their thoughts. I think its a particularly good medium for learning about clinical reasoning which seems to be something you need to think and mull over”

“Some students prefer to disucss in class but I need more time to process, this gave me the opportunity to participate in a manner that I felt comfortable”

These comments contributed to the lecturers evaluation that it was worth while continuing with this venture. So the task is now to plan for improvements. 


Teaching strategies that worked well:

One aspect that we did notice was that students were most inspired to take part when there was a challenge that got their attention. The lecturers challenge was to come up with learning tasks that were adequate for this. One of my theories is that keeping students on  board often relies on a provocative topic that will stimulate reflection. So when I went to a session on Eportfolios taken by Russell Butson from Otago University I was delighted to hear him  make this point. The way that we addressed this in the 2007 session was to develop cases that had a complex problem solving component eg. issues that were moral, ethical ones and that challenged ideals of reality versus theory. In this case the theory was primarily about client-centered practice in the community and the reality was funding concerns linked to client safety …. “what if I give him a wheelchair and he goes to the pub and ends up drunk ‘in-charge’ …. far better to fund a carer so that he is safe (but dependent!)”

Another key strategy was to provide a case that had some issues about unused equipment that had been issued to a client. Once students had dealt with the basics, another element was provided – in this case it was identified that the client was Maori. This raised cultural issues and the idea of doing things differently when clients understandings of health and independence were not shared by the OT.

The following are ideas for aspects that I believe could be improved:

The warm ups.

Yes, I’m on that subject again! I do think that it this is extremely important aspect of teaching on line as it sets the scene for the social elements of learning. Bridget Murray’s article  Reinventing the Classroom Discussion Online suggests that a greater social knoweldge of the students does increase the amount of sharing. This was a constant theme in the Elluminate sessions and in a a variety of readings. For students who have no f2f opportunities this is particularly important as I noted on my Blog under warm ups. This group of students were mixed in this regard – NZ students were totally distance based; Canadian students met regularly in classrooms and of course the NZ & Canadian students did not come into contact.  My own site has a number of suggestions. Ideas are as follows:

Encourage students to use digital cameras to post photos of themselves, their uni or workplace; their pets … whatever. I  should do this too.

Introduce themselves as their pet or favourite arm chair would describe them – could go well with a photo.

Organise into pairs to introduce themselves and then explain how they got their name. The other student will explain this in the intro.

Ask students to explain an experience that taught them most about their clinical reasoning. Once they have a chance to do this, follow it with a controversial quote to discuss (eg. the one I used from Mattingly’s intro article last year worked well for the NZ students).

Introduce myself with more information than I normally do so that students can get a sense of who I am which in turn may help them to share more about themselves and their thinking further into the course. The role modelling of the lecturer seems to be a critical issue in establishing good social networks. I could even do a small video that introduces myself and the topic of the course.

Ask students to describe where they are from (specific location/ town) and to highlight the best aspect of that place from their point of view.

The way the tasks were presented.

Too many students were allocated to each which resulted in the  feeling that someone else would respond or that there was not much else to say after the first few had contributed. Options to deal with this could be to:

Visual representations might stimulate better discussion – especially when the reasoning is being traced. Written exercises are not nearly as powerful as video. 

The sense of community.

There is not much hope of getting a real sense of community in a 4 week period however, there were opportunities to gain a link between the students in the 2 countries and to look at differences in programmes and in thinking about how to manage clinical problems. I think that the warm up is an essential element here – to get students familiar with both the technology and have a sense of who else is on line.

How to reflect the difference that might be apparent in the 2 countries:

The difficulty was how to reflect different perspectives. Canada has lots of similarities in that ‘western’ culture dominates. Perhaps student could be asked to develop a section of a case to reflect a concern that is relevant to their country and ask the other group to identify the problem and suggest ways of managing it. This could involve giving the students the first 2 sentences of a scenario then asking groups of students to provide the next 2 sentences including some sort of clinical dilemma. Thes could be swapped between students.

Another idea is to ask students to discuss 2 cases that are similar –  eg. spinal damage caused by accident verus caused by a tumour. In NZ the funding available would differ enormously so would impact on reasoning – not so sure in Canada. This could be the basis of the task above.

Could also bring in people from different countries to contribute to the discussion. For instance, the people who have done intensive work with the scenarios we use for discussion. We could also bring in clients from the 2 countries to add their perspective.

The opportunity for all students to participate:

The numbers are reasonably large. As some said in the feedback it was hard to know what else to say ie. it had all been said before. Getting effective asyncronous discussions on Blackboard is almost imppossible. Will the discussions / comments ona blog be any better?

 One strategy that we used last year was to divide the group alphabetically to 4 groups and asked each subgroup to respond to a different aspect about the case that was the topic for the week.  This was certainly better. We thought about   putting a time limit for the contribution from a particular group (eg. one week) and then open the discussion to anyone.  Might try this next time around.

Another way to stimulate discussion would be to get the students enaged in setting up a Blog specifically for the purposes of establishing discussion forums. This would assume that some students have the ability to set up and maintain a Blog – and be willing to do this. (there must be some technocrats out there!) Possiblites include: 

Ask students (about 6) to set up a blog each with one particular task assigned per Blog (could also have one set up by the lecturer – the one to beat!). We then run a competition (informal – no actual reward apart form peer/lecturer esteem). The following could be evaluated:

  • the number of hits from the student group
  • the number of hits from people outside of the course
  • the number of hits from people outside of Dunedin and Kingston
  • the number of links (relevant ones) setup on the Blog

Theory versus practice:

 As with many experiences, we discovered by accident that the more theoretical approach of the Masters entry students and the practical expertise of the NZ Post Graduate students  was a real plus in the discussion. The NZ responses tended to temper the more idealistic solutions of the Canadian students. This aspect could be monopolised further. How??

One suggestion is to use ethical dilemmas as they often differentiate between how much experiential knowledge a therapist has versus a more idealistic view.

One case that we had  last year worked well (community wheelchair one). I have asked another colleague who is very interested in ethical dilemmas to develop a case. We are meeting next week to do this. The topic will be head injury.

When reading  I was reminded that one particular question that could work well is: For a given scenario is there a best solution? For this it would be helpful to set up a scenario which has been handled it in different ways by 2 therapists. Possibly only give one solution then ask for comment; then provide an alternative. This could be a video clip

Improving the student contribution:

At one stage early on there was a great flurry of contributions made by the Canadian students. On asking Margo what bait she had used, the reply was that students were offered up to 10% for their contributions.  The evidence is that it works! This incentive had a huge impact on student contribution. Don’t you hate it!!

On the topic of student motivation, in the comments on this blog, Graham Wegner makes the point that less structure provides more opportunities for students to ‘find a hook for their personal interests’. He is talking about school children but the principle holds true in tertiary teaching. Students love doing projects that inspire them and will work far beyond the call of duty because the topic excites them – a consequence is that they see the relevance of their work. So what are the implications of this? It could be possible to generate some projects that students might find worthwhile pursing – perhaps around a particular area of practice. It could be as simple as asking them to find if there is any evidence that narrative reasoning is used in paediatrics; neurology; pain management; mental health; community practice etc… (or provide an example of this).  Students could assign themselves to a particular topic and report back on a blog or in one of the discussion forums. This would serve the purpose of seeing how well they understood the idea of narrative reasoning (which I believe is particularly difficult to tease out from the use of narratives as told by the patients – the literature is confusing on this point). Each group could then be assigned to comment on the progress of one other group – all students would still have the option of contributing to any forum. 

Back to the topic of blogs – using a practice area as a topic is another way of providing a focus for the blog discussions.

 Information that could be useful:

PBL software. These provide examples of problem based learning scenarios with the promose of softwear that can assist with this.

Sites that deal with digital stories:

Educational use of digital story telling.  This site provides instructions into setting up digital stories as well as linnks to other helpful sites.

Digital stories in e-portfolios. This one is about using digital stories as a way of reflecting on a course, conference etc..

General information about Elearning. This link is to Innovate which is an on-line periodical that focuses on the creative use of elearning technologies. 


One message that has been clearly highlighted in this course is that technology can be both a barrier to learning as well as a medium for exciting learning opportunities. For students on the Kiwi Canuck enterprise there is limited time to ensure that they can master a lot of technology however, I think it would be safe to say that there will be some who can usefully assist by setting up different learning medium. This may be as simple as a blog. If it provides a medium for ongoing conversations then this would be a great relief as the Blackboard discussion forum is very stilted and discourages conversations.

My belief is that setting the scene is important to get students excited about the possiblities of this learning venture.  This means that the warm ups and introduction to the course are important to get students hooked.  Having too many possibilities for tasks they can get involved in could be confusing so needs to be carefully monitored to get the right mix. I do like the idea of students developing a theme related to their area of interest – they could work in pairs to update a blog. As there are no specific learning outcomes, this learning experience does provide an opportunity for students to develop their own ideas and in so doing, broaden their knowledge base. 


November 12, 2007 - Posted by | E learning communities, Occupational therapy | ,


  1. Linda: I really enjoyed the session you did presenting your experiences with the Canadian students – what a great opportunity for collaborative teaching/learning. We should look at it in midwifery as we have a relationship with a Canadian university. cheers

    Comment by sarah stewart | November 13, 2007 | Reply

  2. Hi Linda, thanks for linking me to your blog to read about your experience. Sounds fantastic! I just started working on a pilot Wiki for the project that we are doing at the U of A and it’s shaping up nicely. Iemail me at anita.hamilton@ualberta.ca and I’ll send you a copy of the grant application (so you can do it too) and I’ll give you the link to the Wiki as it currently stands. Desleigh de Jonge at UQ is keeping an eye on it too! Cheers, Anita. PS: say Hi to Merrolee for me 🙂

    Comment by Anita Hamilton | April 27, 2008 | Reply

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