Transnational collaborative digital learning project

Purpose

Physiotherapy programmes must prepare graduates to live and work in a globally interconnected society. Internationalised learning experiences have the potential to break down ethnocentric worldviews by exposing students to analysis and critique of practice from different cultural perspectives. Such experiences may enable transformative learning by developing the student's ability to shift perspective and reflect critically on how disciplinary practice can change with the social context. Opportunities to study abroad can only be offered to a minority of students. In contrast, digital technology such as discussion forums and video conferencing provide an inclusive platform to make international experiences available to all students on a programme. The aim of this educational project was to engage physiotherapy students in a transnational collaborative group task in order to increase awareness of different international perspectives on clinical practice and healthcare provision and facilitate reflection on their local context.

Approach

Small groups of pre-registration students from seven international physiotherapy programmes were paired together. Each pair participated in a video conference in which both groups presented the same fictional case study within their respective health systems. Students discussed differences and similarities between practice in their individual social contexts. The key similarities and differences in each pairing were summarised and shared via a recorded session and the project website. An evaluation of the project´s impact on students´ perception of their awareness of different physiotherapy contexts and reflection on their own experiences was carried out via an online survey including both quantitative self-rating scales and qualitative open questions.

Outcomes

Fifty nine students took part in this pilot project. Forty students (68%) completed the survey (72.5% 18-25 y, 27.5% 25-38 y, 72.5% female, 90% in their final year). Reported self-rated scores were positive for students' perception of the impact of the project on their awareness of international physiotherapy scope of practice (median:9/10 [IQR 7-10]) and healthcare provision (8/10 [IQR 7.25-9.75]), and increased students' reflection on their local context (8/10 [IQR 7-9]). Enjoyment from taking part was high (9/10 [IQR 7.25-9.75]) and the development of similar experiences in the curriculum was perceived as beneficial for their learning (8/10 [IQR 7-10]). Qualitatively, students identified conflicting time pressures as the main barrier to participation and valued increased opportunities for interaction with international peers in future projects.

Cost and savings

There was no additional set-up cost for the project, we used free to access digital platforms to share information and host the conferences. 

Implications

Students were highly satisfied with their participation in this learning task and reported increased awareness and reflection on physiotherapy practice in different healthcare contexts. Digital collaboration was easy to facilitate between physiotherapy students using freely available technologies. Further research is required to understand whether such tasks result in transformational learning, which may require progression of the learning task to allow students to synthesise their learning from different perspectives.

Further investigation of the impact of digital international collaborative experiences on physiotherapy students' socially constructed learning is warranted. Use of digital collaborative learning tasks may be beneficial both to internationalise pre-qualifying healthcare curricula and to support continuing professional development in geographically dispersed populations.

Top three learning points

  1. An internationalised curriculum should be available to all students
  2. Using digital tools to collaborate on a shared project is an easy, engaging and low cost way to provide an internationalised learning opportunity for all students within a cohort
  3. For transformational learning to occur learning opportunities may need to move students beyond merely encountering different perspectives into reflection on how this difference has changed their original position

Fund acknowledgements

This project received no external funding.

Additional notes

More information on this project and a discussion of other internationalisation projects and the role of internationalisation in physiotherapy education can be found in episode 2 on the In Beta podcast available here http://inbeta.uwc.ac.za/2017/10/09/2-internationalisation-of-the-curriculum/.

The authors may be contacted at: bellis@brookes.ac.uk

This work was presented at Physiotherapy UK 2017.