Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

Evaluating Students' Use of Web-Based Communication during Practice Placements

Academic journal article British Journal of Occupational Therapy

Evaluating Students' Use of Web-Based Communication during Practice Placements

Article excerpt

Introduction and background

During the past decade, the department of occupational therapy at a Canadian university has been increasing the use of web-based technologies for education and communication within the curriculum. All modules, including practice placement modules, now have the option of incorporating a web-based learning management system (such as WebCT Vista v3 and v4/Blackboard Inc.) to provide module material and resources or to facilitate communication.

A number of studies have looked at the various forms of web-based communication used by occupational therapy students while on practice placement. Creel (2001, p56) introduced the use of chat rooms for students while on level II practice placements to 'enrich communication' between the sites, the academic practice placement coordinator and the students, and among the students themselves. Storr and Thomas (2001) discussed the use of web-based teaching tools to link their students while they were on placement, in order to promote the exchange of knowledge and experiences between students in their different settings. Thomas and Storr (2005) later found that student participation in web-based communication during practice placement appeared to have a positive effect on learning, on improving autonomy during the placement, in supporting self-directed learning and in stimulating higher-order thinking. A study by Wooster (2004) at the University of South Alabama noted that students embarking on a practice placement often experienced anxiety around role transitions, separation from peers and isolation. The university set up a voluntary asynchronous web-based resource, whereby students on placement were able to communicate with each other. Wooster (2004) concluded that web-based communication provided students with additional information, strategies for intervention, support and encouragement.

The two academic practice placement coordinators at this Canadian university similarly decided to incorporate web-based communication formally into practice placements and to evaluate its effectiveness. It was anticipated that there could be pedagogical advantages, such as facilitating peer support, learning and problem solving, and increasing student reflection and depth of learning. Secondly, there was the consideration of emerging trends in online health-related professional communities, such as those recently described by White et al (2008). The concept of communities of practice is defined by Wenger et al (2002, p7) as 'groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis'. Encouraging web-based discussion while on placement therefore seemed a logical choice for grooming students to use this 'online community' of their peers, thereby moving them towards professional communities of practice upon graduation.

Implementation of web-based discussion

During the fall of 2006, each practice placement module was set up with a web-based asynchronous discussion component using WebCT Vista v4/Blackboard Inc. The site was secure because only students who were registered in the module and the module instructors had access to the site. The discussion site was divided into two main sections. The first section, Placement Bulletin Board, contained subheadings divided into typical areas of practice, such as acute care, rehabilitation and mental health. This section was to be used by students while on placement to foster discussion with classmates in similar settings and/or with similar caseloads. The second section, Student Lounge, contained subheadings relating to accommodation, transportation, placement planning and some specific geographical placement areas. The students were encouraged to use the site to communicate with each other prior to placement (for example, to be strategic about placement selection or in sharing travel and accommodation). …

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