Self-motivation and -interest, professional and career goals, and workplace accreditation requirements drive health clinicians to seek post-graduate qualifications. Such programmes should be relevant for current clinical practice, integrated with a sound evidence base, and be adaptable to the changing professional environment, standards and needs of specific health systems and countries. The programmes should also be affordable for the student, and flexible to accommodate life, family and employment commitments. Meaningfulness, self-regulation and autonomy are critical to enhance learning as well as interest in the programmes.
The University of Otago School of Physiotherapy moved to a distance-based learning mode with defined residential weeks for post-graduate courses more than a decade ago. Students can ‘stair-case’ by progressing from a post-graduate certificate, to diploma and Masters degree.1 That allows clinicians to pace themselves with respect to personal commitments, while remaining immersed in their own clinical context. The implication is that the student cohort has a wide range of clinical experiences, different entry-level qualifications, as well as varied previously completed continued education courses. Yet, academic courses and programmes are designed using constructive alignment between defined objectives, outcomes and assessments. To add meaningfulness to the course, the content also needs to be adaptable to the individual student’s context.
International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy framework
To align the paper’s academic expectations with the individual students’ context, students use the International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy (IFSPT) competencies2 at the start of the semester to document their prior learning and individual-specific goals for undertaking the paper. Throughout the semester, they integrate their learning into the framework. At the end of the semester, they reflect on achieved personal goals, and devise a future plan for meeting un-met goals – encouraging self-responsibility for life-long learning.
Individual goal-aligned assessments
Assessed learning tasks are aligned with the students’ self-defined goals. Two clearly defined tasks include preparing a blog suitable for the British Journal of Sports Medicine and submitting a written literature review towards the close of the semester.
Incorporating the blog as an assessed learning task was suggested by Prof Karim Khan when visiting the School of Physiotherapy as part of a Sports and Exercise Physiotherapy New Zealand road-show in 2016. The relevance was immediately clear: allow student autonomy in decision making regarding a ‘trendy’ topic of interest and enhance relatedness to their clinical experience and context. This task acknowledges the students’ past experiences and beliefs, and adds towards a student-driven learning approach.
The paper coordinator reviews and selects the blogs to be submitted to the BSJM blog editor to consider. To date, 9 have been published. The possible visibility of the students’ outputs beyond the constraints of the academic paper adds towards the students’ motivation and sense of accomplishment. Blog writing is an increasing professional mode of disseminating information in multiple directions: between members of the wellness and the performance teams, researchers, patients, and athletes. It provides clinicians opportunity to challenge research findings that may contradict their clinical observations and experiences, take ownership of new ideas emanating from their clinical practice, and provide verification for ‘extending practice through innovation’.2
Written and incidental feedback from students completing the paper often refers to the blog as having been challenging yet highly satisfying. Personalising their goals with the IFSPT competencies and aligning their specific assessments with those goals provides them with a sense of direction beyond the paper. Students appreciate the relative light-heartedness of the nature of a blog compared to a formal literature review. The blog allows them to use clinical ‘stories’ and experiences to formulate a new question – from the perspective of the student’s individual context. In the longer term, the published blog may form part of a portfolio required for formalising professional development towards Specialisation, such as by the Physiotherapy Board of New Zealand and registration with the IFSPT, should that be the student’s long-term goal.
Published blogs can show case the University’s programme to the international community and are highly responsive to current contexts and trends. The most important element of the blog is to add towards the meaningfulness and clinical relevance of the paper – an opportunity for the student to incorporate prior professional learning and experiences into the academic paper’s requirements and demonstrate independence for learning.
Author and Affiliations
Associate Professor Gisela Sole is the coordinator of the Sports Physiotherapy paper at the University of Otago School of Physiotherapy, Dunedin, New Zealand.
- Sole G. University of Otago: towards specialisation with a Masters in Physiotherapy, endorsed in Sports Physiotherapy (continuing professional development series). British Journal of Sports Medicine 2017;51(5):481-82.
- International Federation of Sports Physical Therapy. IFSPT Sports Physical Therapy Competencies and Standards 2020 [Available from: http://ifspt.org/competencies/#:~:text=IFSPT%20Sports%20Physical%20Therapy%20Competencies%20and%20Standards&text=These%20competencies%20provide%20a%20basis,demonstrated%20at%20a%20master’s%20level. accessed 19th September 2020.