Monday, 27 May 2013

Strategies for Flexible Learning.

This is a work in progress, just starting to explore the strategies module and here is the link to my first strategy template.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Is Blended Delivery More Sustainable?

When I became involved in the 'new' model of the Bachelor of Midwifery degree, which is delivered in a blended style with all students classed as distance, I instantly thought of it as a more sustainable approach. Giving this more thought I have begun to see the swings and roundabouts from both sides and have made a quick comparison table below.

I guess my point is that sustainability is complex and what that can on the surface appear more sustainable may not in fact be. It is a balancing act.
Sustainability Comparison Table Between On Campus and Distance Delivery of the Bachelor of Midwifery Programme.


Sustainable Benefit
Sustainable Barrier or Cost
Students having to move to Dunedin to undertake the programme.
a) Utilisation of campus services, buildings etc.
b) Economic benefits for Dunedin.
c) Provides graduates into the workforce in the local area.
a) Students who are unable or unwilling to move to Dunedin lose access to the programme.
b) Does little to address workforce issues in rural areas.
c) Does not allow for expansion of the programme in to other areas.
d) Staff must reside in Dunedin limiting potentially workforce calibre.
Students can study from home and meet in satellite groups.
a) Programme is more accessible to students irrespective of their location.
b) Less need for campus buildings as students study from home, utilising existing work spaces.
c) Students are more likely to stay and work in their home area on graduation, helping address recruitment and retention issues.
d) Staff can reside in other locations increasing diversity and expertise in the school.
e) Scope for programme to expand in to other areas of NZ.
a) Shifts economic benefits out of Dunedin.
b) Students still need to access practical experiences in large hospitals so must still travel to the city.
c) Some teaching needs to be face to face again necessitating travel to the city.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Educational Sustainability.

A theme that occurs in both David Orr's speech and Ken Robinson's talk is of education being geared to meet the needs of University Entrance noting that universities do not result in producing people who will be most useful in nurturing and sustaining our world.

This led me to consider various aspects of sustainability and education, some which link snugly together, others that sit on there own. So at the risk of exposing my rambling nature here are some thoughts.

Creating an Image of Sustainability.

Sustainability is often represented with images of unfolding ferns and pure landscapes. Yet it strikes me that there are so many parts, factors, influences and a degree of the unknown that would make the image of sustainability more microbial.

That is all the great ideas, concepts, plans, goals, methods float around the atmosphere they must wait to find the right host with which to bind to effect change, like bacteria surrounding a cell. If enough come together in the right circumstances then the rate of proliferation can be great and the whole organism can change, yet if the environment is not suitable no host will be found, change cannot proliferate and we remain as we were.

Using the images and metaphors from the world of bacteria and viruses may not paint as pretty a picture as the unfolding fern or babbling brook but it does represent the random nature of how sustainable change occurs in our world.

Binding the Bacteria in Education.

Doubtless the majority of those who work at OP would claim a personal commitment to sustainability. We teach it, weave it thorough our courses and learning outcomes and hope to produce graduates who are cognisant of it as they move into the world post studying with us. Yet what is it that gets some ideas around sustainability in education to stick and how much do we lose by our hands being tied by forces we cannot control?

Flexible Learning and the Corporate Giants.

We may embrace flexible learning and the non traditional delivery methods that come with it. Methods that improve learner diversity, collaboration and learner centred learning. Yet have we considered the devices we ask our students to have to enable them to join us. Laptops, broadband, wifi, ipads, tablets, smart phones have become the enablers of sustainable learning. But what of the companies who produce these devices? What service are we giving to sustainability every time we put our educational dollars in the pockets of corporate giants where profit is king and the creed of capitalism ranks far and above a consideration of sustainability.

Sure there are sustainable features to some of these companies, but if we look at the simple fact that they are global rather than local companies we can illustrate how our reliance on them restricts our options in view of controlling our own destiny by having economic freedom. In Ella Lawton's work around 'Localisation as a Multiplier' she considers that if money is spent locally, 80% of that money will go back into the local economy, spend it globally the economic benefits drop to 20%.

Thus we can consider the sustainable benefits of changes to educational delivery, but the question remains can we reconcile these with the losses that we hand to corporate technology giants.

 Link to Ella Lawton's Tedx talk

The Challenge of Bringing Opposing Forces Together.

One of the challenges facing us when incorporating sustainability into our facilitating and learning are the opposing forces of what is demanded to be quantified and the less quantifiable ways in which people now learn.

It is interesting to read Lockwood's work on timing and content, trying to provide a guideline to us as our courses must fit into credit values and associated hours. Yet this seems to sit at the opposing end of the spectrum when considering effective pedagogy. How do we put a time around reflection  or experiential learning? How do we quantify the moment of transformational change that occurs with some learners?

How truly do we value creativity and the value of learning if it is forced to conform to an assessment and grade to produce a result that must stand up to the scrutiny of qualifications authorities and statutory bodies?

Steve Henry gives us a bit more food for thought on this here:


Lockwood, F. (2005). Estimating student workload, readability and implications for student learning and progression. Australia: ODLAA.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Trends in Learning Tools.

Back to the Future.

The tools of my learning were the over head projector, the slide show, the white board and if we were lucky a video, complemented by hand written lecture notes, reams of paper and an intimate relationship with the photocopier.

Having declared my hand I would now like to introduce the pedagogical concepts of Personal Inquiry, Seamless and Rhizomatic learning (Gaved & Whitelock, 2012) blending them into a learning project for midwifery students utilising a mobile platform.

Learning Contracts.

Currently midwifery students have a portfolio that they complete throughout the entire programme, with inserts from many different courses (soon to be modified into an e-portfolio when Bridget is done). One of the components of this, introduced in the Midwifery Practice Skills paper, is a 'Learning Contract'.  Click link below to see an example and more about learning contracts.

Personal Inquiry. 

This is a paper exercise where the student identifies their learning need, then follows the prompts within the contract to create an action plan to achieve their personal learning goal. Hence 'personal inquiry'.

Best Practice and Reality Gaps.

Often, as the learning goals are skill based, the learner needs to then seek the guidance or assistance of a practicing midwife to demonstrate or assess the learners competency with the skill. Armstrong (2010) writing in the British Journal of Midwifery discusses the gaps between how skills may be taught in education institutions and how they are practiced in the workplace and the difficulty this causes learners who are seeking skill proficiency and workplace acceptance.

If we were able to close these gaps then the transmission of learning between educational institution the workplace and the learner would become 'seamless'.


In the context of Learning Contracts this could be achieved by the use of a mobile learning platform such as an ipad or smart phone.

The learner could identify their goals and create a plan that they then could load onto their mobile device. When there is a learning opportunity around this skill they could show the midwife in practice their learning contract and also any prior learning or research they have done around the skill. This would give the midwife the opportunity to view how the skill is taught by the institution, review any best practice suggestions the learner has researched and add in any adaptations of her own. The learner could use the video functionality of their mobile device to film themselves executing the skill, or document what the midwife's comments are (all with consent of course) to serve as evidence of their learning, which can be reviewed and discussed with their educators.

This could then be shared amongst the learners peers with the thought that by creating a network of learners, many of whom are trying to acquire the same skills, information and knowledge could be passed amongst them, they could learn from each others learning. This would spread learning in a 'rhiozomatic' fashion.


Flexibility of learning would be enhanced as the learner would not be limited to carrying around her paper contract and could in fact have many contracts on the go in her mobile device, which she could access when ever she wishes. This would create time efficiencies for the learner who currently has to spend time writing up their workplace experiences around the skill, whereas with a mobile device it would be instantly captured.Learning would be enhanced by creating a network of learning rather than isolated learning and in sharing between learners and educators a commonality of practice may be achieved.

And after all those words, here is a picture of our dog, who cannot use a mobile, does not have an ipad and thinks flexible learning is picking up your bone with your hind legs......oh for a simple life :)

Monday, 4 March 2013

Some thoughts on cultural diversity.

The Barrier of Dominant Professional Culture.

Pondering cultural diversity led me to consider the impact of culture and cultural diversity not only as it pertains to learners but also how it affects the educators.

Most staff who work in the School of Midwifery are midwives. Midwifery as a profession has a distinct culture which is in part created by the philosophical underpinnings of the profession; feminism and partnership being central tenants accompanied with the culture created by autonomy and self- reliance.

Thus as midwifery educators we look to embed these strong cultural influences into the midwifery programme. This is done on many levels from expectations of students to course content and delivery as well as the likes of assessment tasks and principles. The theory behind this is that as we try to ‘grow’ new midwives there is an acknowledgment that the making of a midwife is not just about the transfer of clinical knowledge, but a much broader concept of growing a learner to be confident, competent and willing to embrace the culture of the profession.

After considering the material in module 4 of the Flexible Learning course I have begun to wonder about how this, for want of a better word, assimilation of student midwives into the dominant midwifery culture may in fact create cultural barriers which impede diversity within the profession. For while one can see the history and thinking behind why midwifery has this culture, it is overtly dominant and may disadvantage a learner who was not prepared to adopt its mantle.

Therefore somewhat strangely I find myself thinking that professional midwifery culture may be a barrier to learner cultural diversity in midwifery students.
A study of some of the more practical and logistical barriers to diversity and some supports around these will be considered in my next blog........coming to a screen near you very soon.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Introduction to Midwifery; a flexiblity checklist.


At this point it is only fair that I bring my hidden agenda out into the open. I have a project this year to develop an exisiting midwifery course into an Open Education Resource. Much of the reasoning and conceptualising for this fits within Flexible Learning, so to use the old addage of 'killing two birds with one stone' I will focus much of my development on the Introduction to Midwifery course.


Currently the Introduction to Midwifery course is a 10 credit course run as an elective paper option for students enrolled in the Certificate in Health course. It is delivered in a blended style with a mixture of face to face, online, group and peer to peer learning. Assessments are by way of an assignment, contributions to an online discussion forum and a group presentation.

The aim of redesigning this course into an OER resource is to provide greater access to information as to the practicalities and realities of being a midwife in New Zealand, particulary for those considering it as a study option. Reduce the current staffing needs to deliver the course and provide a course that still meets the needs of those completing the Cert in Health but also provide the option of engaging with the content without having to enroll or complete the course assessments.

Flexibility Checklist.

Adapting the grid and tables from Collis and Moonen (2004) and Casey and Wilson (2005) I have created a checklist of degrees of flexibility within this course design and provided a contrast between the current course and the intended OER course.



Key: Black = current course. Red = what will change in new course. Green=things that will not change.

FIXED (not flexible)
MEDIUM (or able to change)
Starting and finishing the course.
Must be completed within Cert in Health timetable.
Can be completed at any time, but if enrolled as part of Cert in Health will be done according to their timetable.
Submitting assessments and interacting within the course.
Assignment deadlines are set and interaction is scheduled.
Assessment not required by all participants.
Tempo, pace of study.
Somewhat fixed to assessment and face to face timetable, but self-directed learning is at own pace.
Able to be completed at own pace unless enrolled in Cert in Health.
Moments of assessment.
Will remain fixed.
Topics of the course.
Fixed and defined by learning outcomes.
Scope to alter topics but would require new course outline.
Sequence of the course.
Fixed in timetable.
Potential to sequence individually by having resources open all the time. However some suggested sequencing in order to build on learning may be recommended.
Orientation of the course (theoretical or practical)
Conditions of participation.
Must meet Cert in Health entry requirements.
Open access.
Social organisation of learning (face to face, group, individual.
Mix of face to face, group work and some self-directed work.
Completely online, perhaps face to face for those enrolled in Cert in Health.
Language to be used
Could be translated into numerous languages.
Learning resources: modality, origin.
Online, face to face and peer to peer.
Instructional organisation of learning.
Meeting OP standards for course level and outline.
Need to meet OP standards for Cert in Health, but no fixed institutional needs for OER re assessment but must meet institutional policy for OER, such as the educational platform used.
Time and place where contact with instructor and other students can occur.
Methods, technology for obtaining support and making contact.
Email, web forum, phone.
Types of help, communication available, technology required.
Tutor, institutional support.
Facilitator, peer to peer discussion forum. Admin institutional support.
Location, technology for participating in the course.
Delivery channels for course information content, communication.
Online, and face to face.


Grid adapted from Casey, J. & Wilson, P. (2005) A practical guide to providing flexible learning in further and higher education.


11 areas of the new course design become more flexible.

1 remains with the same degree of flexibility.

2 become less flexible.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Who are my learners?

The Bachelor of Midwifery degree programme offered at Otago Polytechnic is a four year degree compressed into three years made possible by lengthening the academic year to 45 weeks. The programme has been jointly developed with CPIT and is delivered in a blended mode. This allows students from a wide geographical area to access the course. The students, by location are placed in a satellite group where they meet with their ‘Student Practice Facilitator’ weekly for face to face sessions. They engage with online course material at home, gain practical experience in maternity facilities and with midwives in their local area and travel to either Dunedin (SI students) or Wellington (NI students) for block courses twice a year.

On successful completion of their Bachelor of Midwifery degree and meeting the Midwifery Council of New Zealand’s requirements, students can sit the national exam which on passing will give them the opportunity to register as a midwife and gain an Annual Practicing Certificate.

Midwives in New Zealand are the primary providers of the maternity service, with over 80% of women registering with a midwife as their Lead Maternity Carer (LMC) and a midwife being present at every birth. Each midwife provides this care on her own responsibility and is required to uphold high professional standards.

Given the responsibilities of the profession a robust and rigorous education system is needed to prepare women to become midwives. While the motivations to study midwifery are varied, a common theme is the description of being ‘drawn’ to it by their life’s experiences, viewing child bearing as a pivotal event that they feel ‘passionate’ about.

Learner Context.

The age range of students entering the midwifery degree this year was 17-57 from diverse socio economic and educational backgrounds. Academic requirements to enter the degree are 42 NCEA credits at level 3 (including biology and or chemistry and an english rich subject). Many potential applicants do not meet this requirement, so there is an alternative route of completing a bridging programme to gain a Certificate in Health. It is during this programme that students can take an Introduction to Midwifery paper, the course I would like to re-design.

Given the wide and diverse background of the students the course must be able to provide varied options for learning to meet differing learning styles, behaviourist, cognitive and constructionist. For some learning at a tertiary level will be completely new for others it may be some time since they have engaged in formal education, some may be fresh from school. Some may come with insecurities around their own ability or be intimidated at the prospect of considering a degree programme. Some may be so sure of their conviction to be a midwife it could be blinding their ability to see the realities of the profession or programme.

The learners may study the course by distance and thus delivery will be blended. Blended learning may be new to some learners. They will need access to a computer and broadband, plus will need to speak English to an appropriate level to complete the course.

Institutional Values and Professional Expectations.

To summarise some of the values held in Otago Polytechnic’s strategic vision for their learners is that through their education are work ready, capable practitioners who have come from all backgrounds and been exposed to experiential learning at all levels to enable them to partner with their communities in a socially responsible and sustainable manner (Otago Polytechnic, 2011).

These values sit nicely alongside the midwifery profession’s framework, which is described in the Midwife Handbook for Practice and involves such words as dynamic, holistic, collaborative, flexible, creative, empowering and supportive (NZCOM, 2008).

To reach such lofty goals and given the requirement of the Midwifery Council that midwifery students complete their degree in under five years, students must be able to accurately gauge their suitability to the profession as well as their ability to complete the course.

Given that midwifery in nature is dynamic and diverse it is fitting that students of midwifery also come from a range of backgrounds. Such diversity is seen to positively enhance the profession. To encourage diversity into midwifery education it is vital that an alternative route into the programme is offered, hence the development of a dynamic Introduction to Midwifery course.

The midwifery workforce has an obligation to provide an equitable service to all women in New Zealand, irrespective of location and socio economic status. Historically it has sometimes been difficult to attract midwives into some, particularly rural, areas. Offering midwifery education in a blended format goes some way to addressing this problem with the premise that if women can train to be midwives in the area which they already live then they are more likely to stay in that area to provide a midwifery service and thus address shortfalls in recruitment and retention. As this is currently supported in the redesign of the Bachelor of Midwifery programme to a blended model it is equally important that any Introduction to Midwifery be accessible to women irrespective of their location and would be suited to being delivered in a similar style to the degree to expose students to this style of learning.


New Zealand College of Midwives (Inc). (2008). Midwives handbook for practice. Christchurch,  New Zealand.

Otago Polytechnic. (2011). Strategic Directions 2011-13. Retrieved from Vision