Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely our own and not necessarily those of our employer or any other occupational therapist.

Friday, 6 July 2007

Occupational therapy education and social networking - an issue of disclosure?

Today I have been skimming the social networking services including facebook, myspace and bebo in order to assess their potential in OT education (if any). In order to do this I have had to register, and provide details about myself that can be seen by others - this made me very feel uncomfortable, so much so that I gave it some consideration.

Throughout my career, the concept of professionalism has been of paramount importance. I have views on what is and isn't professional and my colleagues share some but not all of these opinions. What we do agree on however, is that there are differences between our professional self and our personal self. Generally we keep our private lives private from students and clients and personal information remains personal. In order to join myspace though, I had to give my date of birth and other "personal" details. Do I want my students to know I am XX years old? Or that I listen to XX obsessively on my ipod? On facebook I had to decide whether or not to be "friends" with a number of students already registered. How do you say no politely? I don't consider it to be professional to be friends with our students (although I do hope I am friendly).

I was amazed at the level of personal detail provided to the general public by occupational therapists. Is it OK to tell the world you hate your job when the "world" might be one of your clients?". Is it OK to tell the world that you couldn't go to work due to a monumental hangover when the "world" might be your boss? And the classic for me is the student who tells the world that they didn't really miss an OT exam because they were ill, but because they didn't get out of bed! In this case the world could just be their tutor!

My inclination is to deregister and therefore anonymize myself immediately, yet I know that in order for virtual communication to be effective, those involved have to seem very human in order to counteract the sterility of the computer. I don't think I have ascertained the value of social networking in relation to formal CPD and education, but can see that it has a role for informal support and networking. Those of you who have given this matter some thought, or who have more experience that me please comment - I'm open to persuasion.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Is web 2.0 appropriate in occupational therapy education?

I consider myself to be an occupational therapist, an educator, or sometimes even both at the same time, but never would I describe myself as a computer expert. Yet here I am, in the middle of writing a blog, having just set up google reader for RSS streaming, made myself a Del.icio.us site ( for social bookmarking), and considered how best to use wikis to facilitate student projects.

I could not have done this even 6 months ago. So what happened? It was really a case of needs must, in that although the University introduced the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment some time ago, it was only recently that my daily work became dependant on it. Given that I like to appear at least semi-proficient most of the time, I decided I'd better find out about the new learning tools at our fingertips, and this was how I came across blogs and wikis. Interestingly, about 5 months ago students were given the opportunity to incorporate the use of these tools into their learning, but few knew what they were. I suspect that even in this short time, things will have moved on.

Once I saw the potential of web 2.0 technology I was off. I have contributed to discussions on Big Brother, reviewed yutube videos (have you seen the guy singing the occupational therapy song?), discussed OT things with colleagues from around the world and even edited a page of wikipedia. And in doing so, I have learned about communicating online, the differences and similarities between OTs and OT students internationally and I have been challenged in my thinking (is it really a good thing that we can all be so "public" on the internet? What about professional identlity?). In terms of CPD, I think I have developed hugely, and hopefully my colleagues and our students will benefit from this learning.

So I was somewhat disapointed to hear that some Universities frown on the use of web 2.0 citing concerns about academic rigour and plagiarism to name but two. Surely Universities, like all other modern organisations must move with the times, and given the increasing number of OT blogs and online OT Programmes and training appearing on the internet it would seem that the future may be ( at least in part) electronic. I aknowledge that as with anything, web 2.0 has its limitations, but I suggest that to reject it would be to miss an opportunuity to take our profession forward. As OT's we are good at analysing and overcoming barriers - aren't we?

Occupational Therapy and Web 2.0 Technology

Given that we have adopted a PBL approach to undergraduate learning and are used to attempting the student centred experience, I am frequently involved in conversations with colleagues that question the time that we are still spending in face to face contacts with student groups in order to ensure that learning outcomes are being met.
Now that our journey is fast taking us through a steep learning curve of podcasts, wikis and blogs I am becoming convinced that web 2.0 technologies have a place within occupational therapy education. For example, PBL groups can set up wikis that enable them to truly share their learning and their research in consideration of the trigger in a way that does not identify them to the rest of the group - great for those that have confidence issues. At the same time tutors can see who is contributing (or not) and whether the information is accurate and evidenced in an appropriate way. Individual students can then be mentored as necessary to get the most from the learning opportunity.
Another example is that key note lectures can be podcasted so that students can access this as revision, or even to gain a fuller understanding of the topic in a way that suits their own learning committment and style. These can be attached to discussion forums that facilitate student question and comment which tutors can engage in. In this way the content is engaged with in a much more comprehensive way. Thus the face to face time decreases - but the contact time becomes more focused and more student led.
I think that one of the main obstacles to adopting web 2.0 technologies is not about tutor or student motivation to engage with these new concepts, it is ensuring that both groups have the necessary access to the processes and the time to "play" with the concepts before going public.