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Marion Waite, School of Health and Social Care
The topic of the paper
The paper presents a small-scale study, which explored the student experience of participating in online discussions during the non-medical prescribing programme. The School of Health and Social Care delivers this programme, a short continuous professional development course for post-qualified nurses, midwives and allied health care professionals. It is a popular course, which is delivered on a part-time basis twice each academic year and is part of a ten-year plan (DH, 2000) to extend professional roles within the National Health Service (NHS).
Why it is of concern
A number of factors have led to a creative approach to curriculum design. This includes the offering of a flexible study approach to learners and their employers. In addition a myriad of factors are driving learning technologies forward within higher education (Sharpe, 2006).
What was done (methods)
One solution, which has been implemented in this context, is blended learning, which incorporates online discussions. The undertaking of an MSc dissertation in higher professional education by the leader of the non- medical prescribing course was a timely opportunity to evaluate the impact of this in order to establish good models of practice for local and national dissemination.
The small scale study took a grounded theory approach in order to understand the learners’ motivation to participate in online discussions, the outcome of this action, the strategies they used within online interaction and their concerns about participating in online discussions.
What are the main outcomes
The methodology enabled a more in-depth exploration of the student experience than conventional course evaluation.
The findings suggest that learners will participate in online discussions in order to fulfil the requirements of course assessment. Well thought out learning activities, which incorporate online discussion and which relate to the development of relevant professional practice, will encourage participation and encourage construction of knowledge and promote constructive alignment between the face-to-face and online environment.
Lack of participation by some learners will lead to disappointment for others. The role of the teacher therefore is scaffolding to promote online socialisation at an early stage of the course and making a clearer connection between online learning activities and course assessment.