Monday, 24 June 2013

Flexible Learning Strategies In My Area

Here is the link to my Blended Learning Strategy on ePortfolio with the Bachelor of Midwifery programme.
My second strategy is on Creative Reflection.
Please feel free to comment on these!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Sustainable Education

When working through the module on sustainable education I had a renewed appreciation for the strategic planning that has gone in to the Bachelor of Midwifery programme. All four approaches that support effective pedagogy (Te Kete Ipurangi, n.d.) have been addressed:

·         Cooperative Learning An interactive model for teaching and learning. More than working in groups, it is a process requiring guided facilitation.

·         Inquiry Learning An holistic, integrated approach to teaching and learning, raising questions to investigate and taking action for a sustainable future.

·         Experiential Learning Developed through personal experience, guided reflection and learning conversations.

·         Reflection Fundamental to supporting student action competence.

I particularly appreciate the insight that went in to the development within the Bachelor of Midwifery of the Student Practice Facilitator role which incorporates the four approaches above. Within the first two years of the programme, students are allocated to small tutorial groups which are arranged geographically, and called SPF groups.  One of my main roles is that of facilitating my local groups. Firstly, these groups are beneficial in promoting student involvement, discussion and guided reflective practice. It also helps to review how students are navigating through the blended learning programme, and gives students a chance to pass on strategies and tips related to how they are approaching their learning. This is really beneficial to students and helpful to me to find how they learn best, and to occasionally steer them in another direction if this is needed.
Students have consistently identified when surveyed about the programme that their weekly SPF tutorial is a highlight of the programme.  I believe it is essential within the blended learning model we offer, and reflects the learning-centred learning strategy (O’Neill & McMahon, 2005), and supports effective pedagogy.
I believe this assists with sustainability for the learners.
Thinking more globally, midwifery is a profession which is intrinsically about the sustainability of families. A colleague, Christine, has written eloquently about the topic of Midwifery as a sustainable practice. Our Code of Ethics includes Midwives advocate policies and legislation that promote social justice, improved social conditions and a fairer sharing of the community’s resources (p12, New Zealand College of Midwives, 2008), reflecting the social context in which we live in and the impact this has on families. Our role as midwifery educators is to support the learners to consider the issues of sustainability in midwifery practice. It is pleasing to note that the School of Midwifery has recently been recognised by the OP Quality & Approvals Committee for integrating Sustainability and Cultural Safety/Competency in all courses.
I think our challenge now, is to consider the workload issues for learners and also for teachers.

O’Neill, G. & McMahon, T. (2005). Student-centred learning: What does it mean for students and lecturers? Emerging issues in the practice of university learning and teaching. Retrieved from
New Zealand College of Midwives. (2008). Midwives handbook for practice. Author.
Te Kete Ipurangi, Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Effective pedagogy in education for sustainability. Retrieved from


Regarding student workload, a colleague and I often bemoan the fact that students do not seem to be able to ‘read widely’, which is something that we try to encourage. The BM is a challenging course and the workload is high, despite the flexible nature of the course. Being a longer course than the usual tertiary year also means that learners have to be engaged for a greater proportion of the year. This limits the ability to earn money whilst studying (the traditional student work over long holidays particularly), but on the positive side allows them to graduate within three years rather than four.
As a school I think we need to be strategic about making connections to prior learning and experience and also to avoid unnecessary duplication of content (Te Kete Ipurangi, n.d). We do acknowledge prior learning and try to facilitate the sharing of this knowledge with other students e.g. in the Community Project presentations in Year One where students will often present an organisation that they may have been involved with prior to commencing the course. However there is always room for improvement, and I can see that we need to link content in some Moodle courses with content in others, in an attempt to integrate the material and reduce both staff and student workload. This serves to remind learners of the material they have already covered, and may help with deeper learning. We also need to ‘flag’ more clearly what is ‘nice to know’ and what is ‘need to know’, which can give students clearer direction while still catering for different learning preferences. We have also discussed trying to reduce the replication of our main text book in the modules (as students have purchased this text!) and refer them directly to this instead.
Ultimately we need to consider this quote from Fred Lockwood:
“The consumption of study time is regarded as a major cost. The skipping of set readings, and failure to respond to associated activities, to contribute to discussion boards, and to ignore whole parts of the course in an attempt to save time, not only detracts from both the scope of their learning and its quality but also contributes to feelings of inadequacy. It results in a poor learning experience” (P.6).
Therefore, we need to carefully estimate student workload in both content delivered and assessment techniques to allow students to be successful and to have a positive learning experience.
Lockwood, F. (2005). Estimating student workload, readability and implications for student learning and progression. Australia: ODLAA. Retrieved from:
Te Kete Ipurangi, Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Effective pedagogy: Teacher actions promoting student learning. Retrieved from

Open Education

OER or Open Education Resources has been defined as:
OER defined:
OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.
(William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, n.d.).

Strategically OP has identified that Open Education is an Innovation that reflects Our Distinct Character, and seeks to foster creativity and innovation in the learner, along with improving access for learners. Clearly we are moving in the direction of open education.
Following on from Bridget's discussion regarding open education in our context, I would like to add that I see benefits to the profession in being able to access current evidence-based information that fits the NZ context. It would benefit our students, as midwives working with them would be able to access the same information available to students, which would be mutually beneficial.
However, because of our shared programme between CPIT and OP, there is an issue. Whilst OP has a focus on open access, I understand that CPIT does not share this focus to the same degree.

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. (n.d.). Open educational resources. Retrieved from

Saturday, 8 June 2013


Well one could certain become bogged-down in the available technologies that might enhance teaching and learning! Engaging with the course material about Trends in education, and specifically the technologies available reminded me of an event in a staff education setting. About 2 years ago we, in the School of Midwifery, were discussing our blended learning programme at the end of a long day of face to face staff meeting/ education session. We had a guest speaker who began talking about cloud technology. Well at that point, we ‘lost’ one staff member who was so boggled by the use of this term, that she could not be ‘brought back’. To this day, she describes being on a flight home, and thinking about all the filing cabinets full of useful information that are stored in those clouds just below the plane!
This entertaining story illustrates the rapid changes that occur with technology which could leave us as teachers behind. As mentioned previously, I would like to examine ePortfolios as a trend in education, in more depth.
My interest in ePortfolios stems from being a midwife in practice and the frustration I have when reviewed bi-annually for Midwifery Standards Review (this is a review by a midwife and consumer looking at how we are meeting our Standards for Practice). This supportive process is valuable to me, however, I am always disappointed at the amount of paper I need to send off two weeks prior to the review, when I could easily send this electronically (9 pages of 3226 words + evidence for my last review!).
 Bronwyn discusses in her presentation (Hegarty, 2012) that ePortfolios are used for 3 purposes:
·         Learning portfolio: evidence of learning, personal growth, planning and monitoring learning.
·         Assessment: collection of work which is assessed.
·         Showcase: competencies for practice, presentation to employers.
What I am proposing for use in the School of Midwifery would be an amalgamation of all three of these.
In the BM students currently have a portfolio which follows them throughout their programme. We have assessments at strategic points which are portfolio based. For example, in the middle of second year Scope of Midwifery Practice course there is a portfolio assessment. This consists of:
·         Written logs (which are marked as they are presented so this is a roundup)
·         Record of attendance
·         Written reflections
·         Verbal/written feedback from women
·         Maintenance of clinical record – e.g. timesheets and Midwifery Council New Zealand requirements
So it seems our portfolio is an amalgamation of all three purposes outlined above. Some students are very creative within the portfolio while others do the bare minimum requested. I suspect that doing an ePortfolio would suit some and not others, so providing the option of a hard copy or e-portfolio would be beneficial.
·         More portable
·         Saves on printing (and therefore trees!)
·         More creative e.g. potential to use audio, video files
·         Most students become more digitally literate throughout the BM programme, so fits with the Blended Learning model.
·         Quick and convenient to submit
·         For tutor easier to store when marking (one tutor has 10 in her group to mark and transport)
·         The moderation process would be easier (particularly handy for those in satellites)
·         Some prefer tangible hard copy presentation
·         Security – would need password protection, rights for who could access, electronic signatures
·         Can it follow them post programme?
·         Can IT at OP support it?
·         Challenge to the technologically challenged

I have not used an ePortfolio myself but I’m keen to learn and would like to investigate Mahara as a tool.
Hegarty, B. (2012). ePortfolios – getting to the nuts and bolts. Prepared for flexible learning 2012. Retrieved from

Proposed Learning Technology
Within the Portfolio that student midwives present (described earlier), there are compulsory reflections. I propose that these be not only written but could be presented as an audio file or a video, or as an artistic piece (dance or art for instance) with a written or oral component.
 ePortfolio’s would enable the presentation of these more easily. This would suit some students who prefer to verbalise their reflections rather than having to convert them to a written format. It allows potential for a creative outlet which is not currently catered for within the first year, other than in presentations. These are often group presentations and require the whole group to collaborate.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Cultural Diversity

While exploring around the topic of cultural diversity, I came across a report by Ho, Holmes & Cooper (2004) which reviews and evaluates the international literature on managing cultural diversity in the classroom.

The authors acknowledge that different cultures have different norms, values, expectations which impact on educational practices. The report identifies two frameworks: the collectivist-individualist framework and the dialectic-dialogic framework. These two frameworks are used to explore broad differences and similarities in value orientations, learning and communication styles in different cultures within the tertiary education setting (Ho et al, 2004).

The authors note that New Zealand culture is often classified as individualist and its mode of education as dialogic, with an emphasis on independent, self-directed and critical thinking, but it is recognised that there is much more diversity in New Zealand’s educational values and practices. These have been influenced by Maori and Pasifika communities, who have a more collectivist approach, and more recently by East Asian students (Ho et al, 2004).

The authors go on to examine ways of assessing students bearing in mind the cultural diversity now seen in tertiary education. They suggest considering the following strategies:
  • Examine prior assumptions and expectations about assessment tasks
  • Analyse the appropriateness of the tasks being set
  • Help students to succeed
  • Provide clear, explicit, and fair criteria
  • Provide adequate, timely, and helpful feedback
  • Set examinations to accommodate diverse students’ needs.

The report examines cultural diversity with a particular focus on ethnicity, however cultural diversity also refers to diversity in sexual orientation, gender, age, religion etc. Our challenge is to be mindful of differing ways of knowing, learning and perceiving when designing and delivering our courses.

In the School of Midwifery we have seen an increased number of Maori and Pacific Island students (although these numbers remain small percentage-wise) with the expansion into the lower North Island. In discussion with the Pacific Island students particularly, some have identified the desire for more face to face contact, as they recognise that this is the way they individually learn best. With a blended learning model, this is a challenge, as along with face to face sessions, practice experience on shift or with Follow Through women, there is content on Moodle and tutorials delivered on Adobe Connect.

We have seen that most of the Pacific Island students excel when doing tasks such as midwifery skills assessments. Although expressing a preference for face to face learning (and therefore we might assume face to face assessment), one student particularly enjoyed a new assessment introduced last year called VAMPS. This is a Video Assessment in the Midwifery Practice Skills course and was designed by Carolyn McIntosh (and influenced by work in the OP School of Veterinary Nursing). The Pacific Island students reported that they especially liked the repetition involved in perfecting the skill, and then being able to see the results on screen before submitting the assessment for marking.

Whilst this assessment does not give a choice of format, which one could argue is not therefore flexible, it can provide an opportunity for students to explore another way of learning. Being creative in designing assessments and providing a variety of assessment formats may provide an opportunity for students, with preferences for a certain learning style, to excel. 


Ho, E., Holmes, P. & Cooper, J. (2004, December). Review and evaluation of international literature on managing cultural diversity in the classroom [Report]. University of Waikato, for Ministry of Education & Education New Zealand. Retrieved from

Thursday, 25 April 2013

What Is Flexible Learning?

The Meaning of Flexible Learning

From what I have learnt so far in my readings, Flexible Learning has no one definition. It is therefore a complex concept! I think that Choice for the learner is the key concept in Flexible Learning.

Why Use A Flexible Approach?

From our Flexible Learning course material it is noted that “one of the reasons for introducing more flexibility into teaching and learning is so that all students, regardless of their diversity, have an equal chance to learn”. This links well to our School of Midwifery Programme Document which states that the Flexible/Blended Learning Strategies we employ aims to enable students previously restricted from accessing the midwifery programme because of geographical location or social restriction, to successfully undertake the programme and to gain registration as a midwife” (Otago Polytechnic & Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology [OP & CPIT], 2012).
This programme is structured in this way to:
·               Enable students from diverse geographical areas to access the programme;
·               Attract more students to the midwifery programme;
·               Maximise midwifery practice opportunities for students;
·               Support students to undertake most of their study through a blended delivery model that includes:
o        A range of online learning resources
o        Local face-to-face tutorial groups
o        Distance synchronous online tutorials
o        Local midwifery educator support
o        Face-to-face blocks (‘intensives’) in Christchurch, Dunedin and Kapiti
o        Midwifery practice experiences in rural and provincial areas as well as main centres

·               Enable flexibility in programme delivery and learning to support students managing home, work and study requirements;
·               Build learning communities amongst the student groups;
·               Build a sense of professional collegiality between midwives in the communities and the smaller groups of midwifery students in these areas;
·               Enhance local maternity services through provision of educational resources to areas outside the main centres.
(OP & CPIT, 2012).
Our challenge therefore is to provide this flexible programme that promotes student participation, engagement with the course and ultimately student success. As you can see this is also about ensuring the sustainability of the midwifery profession in Aotearoa/New Zealand, which also benefits from the Flexible delivery of the Bachelor of Midwifery programme.
Otago Polytechnic & Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology. (2012). School of Midwifery Programme Document, Dunedin, New Zealand: Otago Polytechnic.

Flexible Learning In My Area

When thinking about the notion of Flexible Learning within the School of Midwifery, I automatically thought “yep we are pretty flexible”. However when you look at the Five dimensions of Flexible Learning (Collis & Moonen, 2002) in depth, I began to think differently. My initial thoughts are as follows:
  • Time                      Start and end dates of the overall course are not flexible, but the timing of some tutorials (recorded) and the accessibility of the course material on Moodle at any time is flexible. Block intensives (face to face), and local SPF tutorials are not flexible. When ‘Follow Through’ women birth is not flexible! Self-rostering of practice shifts gives some flexibility, but the times of shifts and the timing of the blocks of shifts are not flexible.
  • Content               Course content is developed and shared between CPIT and OP Schools of Midwifery.  There is choice to read more widely if students choose by following suggested links, and plenty of resources/references are provided and we are beginning to try to ‘flag’ these as need to know or optional. The Midwifery Council of New Zealand sets the Standards for approval of pre-registration midwifery education programmes therefore our theoretical content and practice requirements are influenced by these.
  • Entry requirements        Minimum entry requirements are also influenced and guided by the Midwifery Council of New Zealand. These are essentially present to ensure students have a foundation from which to enable student success in a demanding course.
  • Instructional approach & resources          There is plenty of room for creative and flexible delivery within our Blended course. Within our local tutorials, for instance, we can tailor the session both to needs as they arise, and also to learning styles.  Within Intensive sessions, we have the freedom to maximise the large group experience, and the opportunity to not only 'lecture' but have lots of clinical hands on practise. Moodle allows us to link to video clips, websites, podcasts and utilise discussion forums. However, the technology employed to enable the flexible delivery of the programme has sometimes proved to be challenging. For example, our transition to using an alternate synchronous online tutorial programme was fraught and impacted on student (and staff) experience. It is vital that we have the technology and platforms to allow the delivery of a flexible programme.
  • Delivery & Logistics         As a result of having a blended programme, there has been significant travel for some (both staff and students) however this is limited to set times of the year. I do not believe this was initially anticipated to impact as much as it has on staff workload. As a result we are collectively working to be more savvy and sustainable about firstly what needs to be delivered face to face, and secondly who will deliver this (local or distant staff taking in to consideration areas of expertise and passion). Likewise we need to consider the experience of the student, particularly in relation to travel.

Collis & Moonen (2002) state that “Flexibility implies a move to greater student autonomy and responsibility. Make sure that the pedagogy and administration can foster this move”. Regarding autonomy and responsibility, I am not certain that we can assume that students want greater autonomy and responsibility. However, for student midwives there is inherent responsibility in their choice of career, and autonomy is one of the underpinning principles of our profession (Standard 7: The midwife is accountable to the woman, to herself, to the midwifery profession and to the wider community for her practice, New Zealand College of Midwives, 2005).

The Blended model we are utilising in the School of Midwifery is innovative and creative. It has been born out of a well designed and effective destination programme. We have had successful graduates so it could be said that the programme is achieving our goal of having successful students, and from feedback they are ‘work ready’ (Otago Polytechnic Strategic Direction, 2011 -2013). The model now needs to be evaluated, which is currently the focus of research in the School of Midwifery.
Although restricted in some elements of flexibility, such as the timing of the course, and content covered, it is a varied course, giving lots of choice within assessments, the ability to access most course content at times that suit the student, and ultimately allowing students to remain in their own area for most of their programme.

My goals

There are some areas that could be more flexible in approach in our programme, and one such idea is the use of an e-portfolio to demonstrate that the student has met the course requirements. Currently we have a hard copy Portfolio which is given to each of the midwifery students, and this is built on in each year of the course, and forms the basis of some assessments. It makes sense in a Blended programme to be able to offer this in an electronic, web-based format. Despite many discussions about the benefits of this approach, the logistics have not yet been examined in depth, and I intend to investigate this as part of the Flexible Learning course.

I am also interested in providing opportunities for learners which cater to different learning styles. As a beginning facilitator/teacher I have tried to integrate this in to sessions with some positive results which has inspired me to continue to explore this area.
Collis, B., & Moonen, J. (2002). Flexible learning in a digital world. Open and Distance Series. London: Kogan Page Ltd.
New Zealand College of Midwives. (2008). Midwives handbook for practice. Christchurch: New Zealand College of Midwives.

Otago Polytechnic. (2011). Strategic Directions 2011 -2013. Retrieved from


Characteristics of the Learners

The Bachelor of Midwifery is offered by Otago Polytechnic in both the lower South Island and the lower North Island. There are six satellite areas; Wellington, Palmerston North, Whanganui, Dunedin, Central Otago and Southland.

Within the School of Midwifery we have a diverse range of students in age, ethnicity, academic background, life experience, and socio-economic background. The age range is wide, from school leavers to those in their sixties. Some have prior degrees, some are parents, and some are working as well as studying. Many have attended births, but some have not. Some learners are IT savvy, but many have a steep learning curve regarding IT as they proceed through the course (likewise the tutors also have varying experiences & knowledge of IT).
Gender is not diverse as all students are female. It is important to note there is no restriction on males enrolling in the course.
The reasons for being drawn to the midwifery profession do tend to unite the students in that most report a passion or calling for midwifery, and many have been working towards this for some time. However this does not mean that everyone comes with the same skill set.

The diversity of the learners is important, as within midwifery we need this to cater for the diversity of the women we are working with.

Barriers to Learning

Financial Barriers This is a concern for students in general however the effects may be particularly felt by midwifery students, as they are unable to work while studying (unless the job is very flexible and for few hours) due to the on call nature & shift work requirements of the course. The academic year is longer which reduces their availability for work over the traditionally long tertiary break over the Christmas period. In addition many students have dependent children.
On the other side, the benefit of the course having a longer academic year is that students are able to enter the workforce after three years rather than four. Therefore there is financial reward earlier.
There are travel expenses to consider as students need to travel Intensives and to and from shifts and midwifery appointments in the community.
On the flip side, students are able to study in their own community rather than having to move themselves to a destination based course site.
The cost of internet access is also a barrier, and I can think of at least one student who has had this ‘cut off’ as she has been unable to pay the bill. This has a significant effect on the flexibility of her study as she now must go to a facility to study.
Students have access to wireless internet on a campus close to them which can reduce their costs.
There are some scholarships available such as the Irihapeti Ramsden Memorial Midwifery Scholarship, and Hauora scholarships through the Ministry of Health for Maori students. There is some financial assistance available through the Student Support Services at OP.

Access to resources Some students perceive that they are limited by lack of resources due to the satellite structure of our courses. However they have access to library services both at local contracted institutions and also the OP distance library services. We have models and equipment available locally but this does take planning and flexibility on the part of the local tutor to coordinate student’s access to these. Most student support services are available at a distance, however they are unable to access student health services in the satellites.

SPF structure addresses some barriers

Students are allocated to small tutorial groups which are arranged geographically, and called SPF groups. The SPF groups are beneficial in promoting student involvement, discussion and guided reflective practice. It also helps to review how students are navigating through the blended learning programme, and gives students a chance to pass on strategies and tips related to how they are approaching their learning. This is really beneficial to students and assists them to navigate barriers to their success. It is helpful to me to find how they learn best, and to occasionally steer them in another direction if this is needed. Within my group of students, I have introduced them to the VARK Categories of learning styles (Fleming, 2010).  Subsequently, I have been able to tailor these sessions to their learning styles as there is flexible in delivery of the sessions. So I become the facilitator and resource person which Brandes & Ginnin (cited in O’Neill & McMahon, 2005) present as a main principle of student-centred learning.
Within the School of Midwifery there is a clear focus on fostering a learner-centred learning environment. Students have consistently identified when surveyed about the programme that their weekly SPF tutorial is a highlight of the programme.  I believe it is essential within the blended learning model we offer, and reflects the learning-centred learning strategy.
Fleming, N. (2010). Vark a guide to learning styles. Retrieved from
O’Neill, G. & McMahon, T. (2005). Student-centred learning: What does it mean for students and lecturers? Emerging issues in the practice of university learning and teaching. Retrieved from

Sunday, 31 March 2013


Kia ora, my name is Deb Beatson and I am a midwife. Welcome to my blog for the Flexible Learning course, which is part of the Graduate Certificate in Teaching & Learning offered by Otago Polytechnic.

About Me

I have practiced as a midwife for the past 13 years, working both in the hospital and in the community, and for the past 3 years I have been involved in midwifery education. Currently I have a small LMC caseload in Whanganui and also work for Otago Polytechnic as a Student Practice Facilitator (SPF)/Lecturer in the School of Midwifery. I am based in Whanganui where we have a satellite group comprising of 6 first year students, 1 second year, and 2 third year students. I am the Course Coordinator for the Hauora Maori, and Rural Midwifery Practice courses and I am involved in several other courses (mainly clinical courses) throughout all three years of the degree.
The Bachelor of Midwifery is a Blended Learning programme incorporating on-line learning, face to face local tutorials, block face to face 'Intensives' and synchronous online tutorials.
I love my job, and enjoy working with women, sharing the passion for our amazing midwifery profession.