Fieldwork educators in New Zealand have begun to use a collaborative model of fieldwork, which involves supervising two or more students at once. Rather than supervising multiple students individually, therapists apply adult learning principles so that students are more self-directed and take advantage of opportunities to learn from each other. As we will describe, the role of fieldwork educators is to support and facilitate learning, but when guided by a collaborative model the workload on fieldwork educators is reduced, students' learning is enhanced, consumers have greater access to occupational therapy, and the students are more able to contribute to the overall objectives of the organisation.
This article will identify the purpose of a collaborative model of fieldwork supervision and describe how it supports students' learning and prepares them for future practice. It will bring together current literature and a case example of applying a collaborative model in a New Zealand health care setting. The goal is to challenge the belief that supervising more than one student at a time is double the workload and to allay fears that the students are disadvantaged in terms of learning opportunities and supervisor support. The discussion includes personal reflections from the second author, who was asked to write about her experiences of implementing the model shortly after completion of the final placement for the year. The thoughts Laura shares examine her experience of the model in her setting and provide practical suggestions to assist others to use the model in their practice context.
The collaborative model
Collaboration in this context is a reciprocal process where two or more people work together toward a common goal. It is closely aligned with peer learning, where participants engage in mutually beneficial experiences which involve the sharing of experiences, knowledge and ideas (Boud, Cohen, & Samson, 2001). Through formalised peer learning, supported by fieldwork educators who provide suitable learning opportunities, students are enabled to take responsibility for their learning and participate in quality learning experiences.
A collaborative model makes it explicit that students have primary responsibility for their own learning. Drawing on ideas developed by Knowles (1970), Tuinjman (1995), and Carnall (1998), those engaged in collaborative learning are framed as adult learners who are self-directed and able to identify their learning needs, accumulate and use experiences and knowledge, undertake critical reflection, and be goal directed. These understandings are reflected in the notion of peer learning, which is central to a collaborative model and requires that students to support each other's learning. When shared, these qualities allow adult learners to actively engage in the learning process.
Faced with the new way of delivering student placements, Laura was initially cautious.
I imagined that the university was so desperate for placements, that they were willing to compromise the quality of the placement experience for students. I was also concerned about safety for the patients, who might receive interventions from students with less than adequate supervision, and for the students, who would not have the opportunity to fully observe and learn from an experienced Occupational Therapist during the 8 week placement. For the students who would be coming here for their final placement before qualifying, I wondered if this experience would be sufficient to prepare them for working as a new graduate.
Such concerns are not uncommon, perhaps accounting for the fact that more than 70% of placements in clinically oriented services offered to AUT University's Department of Occupational Science and Therapy in 2008 were for one registered occupational therapist directly …