#8 Building a career in HPE with Vanessa Burch

In this wide-ranging conversation, Vanessa and I discuss her 25 years in health professions education and research. We look at the changes that have taken place in the domain over the past 5-10 years and how this has impacted the opportunities available for South African health professions educators in the early stages of their careers.

“That for me is probably the most rewarding thing about my own career; not what I’ve achieved but what I’ve seen others achieve.”

In this episode, we take a slightly different perspective to the topic of health professions education. Instead of speaking to someone who has completed a PhD in HPE, I talk to Vanessa Burch, who has spent almost all of her career establishing HPE as a field of study in the South African context.

Vanessa has a National Excellence in Teaching and Learning Award from the Council of Higher Education and the Higher Education Learning and Teaching Association of South Africa (HELTASA), and holds a Teaching at University (TAU) fellowship from the Council for Higher Education of South Africa. She is a Deputy Editor at the journal Medical Education, and Associate Editor of Advances in Health Sciences Education. Vanessa was Professor and Chair of Clinical Medicine at the University of Cape Town from 2008-2018, and is currently Honorary Professor of Medicine at UCT. She works as an educational consultant to the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Vanessa and I discuss her 25 years in health professions education and research. We look at the changes that have taken place in the domain over the past 5-10 years and how this has impacted the opportunities available for South African health professions educators in the early stages of their careers. We talk about developing the confidence to approach people you may want to work with, from the days when you had to be physically present at a conference workshop, to explore novel ways to connect with colleagues in a networked world. We discuss Vanessa’s role in establishing the Southern African FAIMER Regional Institute (SAFRI), as well as the African Journal of Health Professions Education (AJHPE) and what we might consider when presented with opportunities to drive change in the profession.

Finally, we talk about Vanessa’s method of writing. As a prolific researcher and author, I thought it’d be useful to learn how she approaches writing and publishing, and she shares some really practical advice on how to write intentionally. Even though we didn’t cover Vanessa’s own research interests, you can get a sense of her research activity by visiting her profiles at ResearchGate, LinkedIn and Google Scholar.

#7 Game based learning with Simone Titus

In this episode of the SAAHE podcast I speak to Simone Titus about her PhD research project on the use of game-based learning. Simone talks about how this approach can lead to improved student engagement and collaboration, as well as some of the challenges she faced. She also describes how she wrote her final thesis, including the final year in Dublin with a mobility funding grant.

Simone Titus is a teaching and learning specialist in the Faculty of Community and Health Science at the University of the Western Cape. She graduated with a PhD in Education from the University of Cape Town where she developed an interest in the use of emerging technologies as a tool to mediate learning.

Her special research interests are focused on game-based learning and using emerging technologies to foster cross-cultural interaction, learning and engagement in higher education. During the past seven years, Simone has taught undergraduate and postgraduate students and she has a growing number of Masters and PhD students who are under her supervision. Her current portfolio involves developing teaching and learning strategies in health science and interprofessional education. She has been the recipient of, amongst others; the South African and Netherlands Programme for Advanced Development (SANPAD), AESOP Mobility to the University College of Dublin and has been awarded grant funding for various other projects.

You can find out more about Simone’s work at her ResearchGate and Google Scholar profiles.

Resources

Titus, S. & Ng’ambi, D. (2014). Exploring the use of digital gaming to improve student engagement at a resource poor institution in South Africa. Academic Conferences International.

#6 – A humanistic pedagogy for student support

In this episode, I talk to Dr Mpho Jama about how a humanistic pedagogy could be key to facilitating student success through enhanced support. She suggests that it is in the human relationships between teachers and students that we must look to provide higher, more subtle levels of support for students.

Dr Jama is the head of the Division of Student Learning and Development in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State. Mpho does research on student retention, Humanistic pedagogy and Qualitative Social Research. Her PhD thesis is entitled: Designing an academic support and development programme to combat attrition among non-traditional medical undergraduates.

Resources for this conversation

Jama, M. (2017). Applying a humanistic pedagogy to advance and integrate humane values in a medical school environment. Perspectives in Education, 35(1):28-39.

Jama, M. (2016). Academic Guidance for Undergraduate Students in a South African Medical School: Can we guide them all? Journal of Student Affairs in Africa, 4(2):13-24.

Jama, M. (2010). Designing an academic support and development programme to combat attrition. PhD thesis. 10.13140/RG.2.1.1882.5120.

Jama, M., Monnapula-Mapesela, M & Beylefeld, A.A. (2008). Theoretical perspectives on factors affecting the academic performance of students. South African Journal of Higher Education, 22(5).

Jama, M. & Beylefeld, A.A. (2007). “Thou shallt know thy student”. What pre-university attributes characterised the first-year medical students that were denied examination access in 2007, and what competencies did they lack? Poster presentation.

More of Dr Jama’s work can be found on her ResearchGate profile.

#5 – A critical pedagogy for online learning, with Michael Rowe

In order to graduate physiotherapy students who are able to thrive in increasingly complex health systems, professional educators must move away from instrumental, positivist ideologies that disempower both students and lecturers. While the potential for pedagogical transformation via the integration of digital technology is significant, we must be critical of the idea that technology is neutral and be aware that our choices concerning tools and platforms have important implications for practice.

Earlier this year the Critical Physiotherapy Network published Manipulating practices: A critical physiotherapy reader. The book is a collection of critical writing from a variety of authors dealing with a range of topics related to physiotherapy practice and education.  One of the interesting features of this collection is that it is completely open access, which means that the authors, and not the publishers, have the intellectual property rights to make choices about what is permissable to do with the content of the book. While the entire book is available in different formats, including PDF, HTML, EPUB and XML, there is no audio version.

This SAAHE podcast is a recording of one chapter in the collection, entitled “A critical pedagogy for online learning in physiotherapy education“. We are using the SAAHE blog to experiment with sharing content in different formats, and would love to hear your feedback on whether or not this is something you would like to see more of.


In order to graduate physiotherapy students who are able to thrive in increasingly complex health systems, professional educators must move away from instrumental, positivist ideologies that disempower both students and lecturers. Certain forms of knowledge are presented as objective, value-free, and legitimate, while others – including the personal lives and experiences of students – are moved to the periphery and regarded as irrelevant for professional education. This has the effect of silencing students’ voices and sending the message that they are not in control of their own learning. While the integration of digital technology has been suggested as a means for developing transformative teaching and learning practices, it is more commonly used to control students through surveillance and measurement. This dominant use of technology does little more than increase the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of information delivery, while also reinforcing the rigid structures of the classroom. Physiotherapy educators who adopt a critical pedagogy may use it to create personal learning environments (PLEs) that enable students to inform their own learning based on meaningful clinical experiences, democratic approaches to learning, and interaction with others beyond the professional programme. These PLEs enable exploration, inquiry and creation as part of the curriculum, and play a role in preparing students to engage with the complex and networked systems of the early 21st century. While the potential for pedagogical transformation via the integration of digital technology is significant, we must be critical of the idea that technology is neutral and be aware that our choices concerning tools and platforms have important implications for practice.

#4 – Case based learning, with Corne Postma

In this episode I speak to Corné Postma from the University of Pretoria. We discuss his PhD research where he looked at the use of case-based learning to develop clinical reasoning in undergraduate Dentistry students. Corné used both quantitative and qualitative data to determine that students’ clinical reasoning ability improved after using a case-based approach to learning.

Corné is an Associate Professor in the Department of Dental Management Sciences, School of Dentistry, at the University of Pretoria. He is a specialist in Community Dentistry by training and his primary teaching responsibility lies in the domain of Comprehensive Patient Care, which includes patient communication, patient administration, clinical reasoning and patient management. He is also involved in developing other non-clinical skills such as self-awareness, ethics, professionalism, leadership, team work and health advocacy skills in dental students.

Corné has a very broad clinical research interest, which correlates with the generalist requirement of Comprehensive Patient Care. He has a particular affinity for health professions education research, which is closely linked to the development of different kinds of soft skills in students. His research outputs can be viewed on Google Scholar. Corné is a SAFRI (Sub-Saharan African Foundation for the Advancement of International Medical Education and Research Regional Institute) as well as a TAU (Teaching Advancement at University) fellow.

Resources for this conversation

#3 – Standard setting, with Scarpa Schoeman

In this episode of the SAAHE podcast I speak to Prof. Scarpa Schoeman, Director of Undergraduate Medical Education at the Wits Medical School, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, where he leads and directs the Graduate Entry Medical Programme. Scarpa and I talk about the (almost) universal pass mark (cut score) of 50% and the problems with this as a standard. We also discuss possible alternatives to standard setting that take into account the validity and reliability of the assessment scores, as well the difficulty of the test.

Scarpa has published a variety of peer-reviewed articles and presented at international conferences on the topic of medical education and assessment. His research interests include assessment and standard setting (the Cohen method in particular), as well as the educational environment for medical students. His clinical interests and practice focuses on Emergency Medicine. He also acts as Assessment consultant to the Colleges of Physicians, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Paediatricians and Anaesthetists of South Africa. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in the United Kingdom and is a part-time tutor in Assessment and Standard setting for the CME at Dundee University.

Resources for this conversation

#2: Mapping exit-level assessment, with Christina Tan

I recently spoke with Christina Tan, a PhD graduate from the University of Stellenbosch, who conducted research into the validity of assessing exit-level outcomes in an undergraduate medical programme at three medical schools.

This is the second in our podcast series on research in health professions education. If you have any suggestions for future conversations, please let us know in the comments.

If you’d like to read more about Christina’s work, here is one of her recent papers: Tan, C., van Schalkwyk, S., Bezuidenhout, J. & Cilliers, F. (2016). Mapping undergraduate exit-level assessment in a medical programme: A blueprint for clinical competence? African Journal of Health Professions Education 8(1):45-49. DOI:10.7196/AJHPE.2016.v8i1.546


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#1: Patient-centredness, with Elize Archer

Welcome to a new SAAHE initiative where we have conversations with people doing interesting work in health professions education. In this conversation, I talk to Elize Archer, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Stellenbosch. Elize conducted her research on patient-centred approaches to clinical practice among medical students. In our conversation, we discuss different aspects of patient-centred practice, how to think about developing this mindset in students, and some of the challenges to its implementation.

You can read more about Elize’s work here: Archer, E. & van Heerden, B. (2016). Undergraduate medical students’ attitudes towards patient-centredness: a longitudinal study. DOI: https://doi.org/10.15694/mep.2017.000161.

We hope that this is the first of many such conversations and your comments and feedback are welcome. In particular, we’d love to hear your suggestions about PhD and group research projects that have the potential to change practice. If you know of anyone doing work that you think would be valuable to be shared more widely, please do let us know. I apologise for the audio quality at times during the recording. This is something that we’ll work on improving in the future. The conversation is just short of 50 minutes. I hope that you enjoy it.