Students Staff

7 April 2014

Educating future professionals: a collegiate approach to course design, delivery and development.

 In Practice interviews Katie Moore (Lecturer, Health and Human Sciences), and Roísín-Aine Reade (Service Lead, Early Supported Discharge Team for Stroke, Anglian Community Enterprise) about their collaborative working relationship on the  Masters in Speech and Language Therapy at the University of Essex.

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IP:   Like many programmes in Health and Human Sciences, the Masters in Speech and Language Therapy is a highly collaborative affair, with considerable involvement from clinical colleagues, service users and students. How did that approach come about?

Katie:   The Masters in Speech and Language therapy is a two-year fast-track programme that was commissioned by the health authority in 2006. They wanted to produce clinicians who would be ready for practice in the local region. When the programme was first set up there was a lot of consultation with the regional speech and language therapy managers. They had a big input into how the programme was structured. For each module there is an academic component and a practice component. The students are assessed on placement and the grades are linked to our modules so it is integral to their progression through the programme. The practice educators take the lead in the assessment of the placement, since they are the ones overseeing the students in the clinical setting. The lecturers are there to provide support if needed.

IP:   This must require a considerable amount of liaison. How do you maintain good communication between academic staff and clinical colleagues?

Roísín:   The Speech and Language Therapy department at the University run a practice educator day where new practice educators can input into how the students are assessed.

Katie:   This gives us an opportunity to share our expectations. We also have regular meetings with practice educators and service managers, and try to integrate any feedback they give.


IP:   As well as working closely with practice educators, you also work closely with service users; in this case, those who have accessed or received speech and language therapy. 

Katie:   That’s right. For example, in the next couple of weeks a parent of a child with autism is coming in to speak with students.

IP:   To what extent are clinical colleagues and service users involved in the ongoing development of the course?

Katie:   We have a programme committee that makes recommendations on all aspects of the course; academic content, assessment strategies, placement strategy. It can be difficult, logistically, to get everyone together so we have a large membership pool. This ensures representation from service users, clinical colleagues and the staff team. Our student representatives from both years are also invited as a matter of course.


IP:   And how often do these meetings take place?

Katie:   Every three months.

IP:   During these discussions, who takes ultimate ownership of the programme?

Katie:   It tends to be a very level playing field. It’s always chaired by our programme lead so he’ll set the agenda, however, in terms of the discussion it’s very equal. We value the suggestions that come in from practice educators, service users and students and very much try to build those into what we’re doing.

IP:   Is it a challenge to reach consensus among such a varied group of stakeholders? 

Roísín:   I think we’re open-minded so it’s not such an obstacle. It’s only if you’re determined that your way will be the only way that it becomes challenging.

IP:   Are there any other ways in which the representatives from these different groups are involved?

Roísín:   Yes, in the course application and selection process.

Katie:   We have a group interview where we have a service user, a student and a member of university staff. There is strong involvement from the students and the service users. The applicants will also have an individual interview where they are interviewed by a speech and language therapist from practice and a university member of staff. At this stage, we’re trying to recruit applicants who have the right ethos and will fit into the profession. We have a very low attrition rate so hopefully this does help us to achieve a good match between what we’re offering and the students’ expectations.

Roísín:   The Speech and Language Therapy Department have a good history of graduate employment compared with some other universities.

Katie:   A lot of local teams who work with us on placements go on to employ our graduates.

Roísín:   Yes, I’ve got three speech therapists in my team who are Essex graduates.

Katie:   Pretty much everybody finds employment and quite rapidly. The current job market in healthcare is pretty challenging so we’re doing well.

IP:   Has working with clinical colleagues and service users impacted on how you deliver the academic component of the course?

Katie:   Yes, we try to make it as practical as possible. Even in lecture sessions, we might introduce the basics of the theory but then we open it out into a workshop, creating an experience that mirrors the clinical reasoning skills they carry into practice. For example, the students might be given a task that they have to solve and report back on. We’re trying to develop independent working and problem solving in our students. As speech therapists, they will need to make decisions independently early on in their career. My previous view of teaching was more traditional, with the lecturer giving knowledge to the students rather than sharing and exploring and developing knowledge, which is what we try to do now. The student-lecturer relationships we foster mirror those found in speech therapy teams. It’s very much a collegiate relationship.  We don’t see our students as students. From the start we are looking to recruit students onto the programme with whom we could work professionally afterwards.

Roísín:   I think that’s mimicked in the placements. The students are expected to look things up, think about them and then discuss them, rather than being spoon-fed.

IP:   Do the students adapt quickly to their role as colleagues or does it take time?

Katie:   We set that expectation right from the interview stage. We discuss the way in which we work with our students as a colleague group. This is a different way of working so some of them take a while to adapt, but on the whole they make that change pretty quickly. Because it’s a two-year fast-track course it is very intensive. It can be academically challenging and personally challenging.  We recognise that part of becoming a successful therapist is professional and personal development and we support that. Our colleagues who oversee placements are good at recognising that as well and our students come back with more confidence.

IP:   You’ve used the term ‘clinical reasoning’. How does that differ from academic skills?

Roísín:   I think it comes with experience. No two patients are the same. You can know the theory but when you’re in the real working environment there are emotional factors and a range of variables that aren’t taught in the textbook. That’s when experience comes in. You need to be flexible in adapting the theory to each individual situation.

Katie:   Our assessment strategy tries to mirror the skills our students will need in practice. They look at a client’s journey through the course of therapy, evaluating its effectiveness. I remember from the research I did as part of the PG CHEP programme that medical students retain something like twenty percent of the material they study for exams. I think our students retain far more information if it’s based in practice.

IP:   Given the more general learning benefits, if another department were looking to adapt this collegiate model in their own subject area — that is to say, involving professional colleagues, service users, and students more fully in programme design and delivery — how would you advise them?

Katie:   It’s important to be prepared to listen to, and act on, feedback, even if this takes you away from your original agenda. We have dramatically changed some of the teaching content within our modules following feedback from our students and our placement providers. You have to trust that this will provide a better experience for your students in the longer term and will help them to build professional relationships that will benefit them now and in the future.

Katie Moore

School of Health and Human Sciences

University of Essex



Roísín-Aine Reade

Early Supported Discharge Team for Stroke

Anglian Community Enterprise

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