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Centre for Online and Distance Education

Supporting Student Success: From Students to Professionals


Written by
Clare Sansom

This year’s Supporting Student Success workshop organised by CODE took as it’s theme: Fulfilling the potential of Online and Distance Education. The first of four parallel sessions looked at different aspects of education for professions and for the workplace, and how best practice changes with a flexible, open approach. 

Firstly, two senior careers consultants from the London University Careers Service, Liz Wilkinson and Laura Brammar, explained how they use a Career Stage Framework to support students at all stages of their careers; then, CODE Fellow Luke Woodham from St George’s, University of London, described the particular opportunities and challenges presented by an open and distance-based approach to teaching medicine and other practical health sciences.  Each presentation was followed by a lively discussion, ably chaired by Gwyneth Hughes from the UCL Institute of Education.

The Career Stage Framework: Supporting students in their employability journey

Laura Brammar introduced herself and her colleague, saying that they together had over 50 years’ experience of work in the careers sector. The approach they have developed there helps students to take a proactive approach to career planning throughout their working lives. Today’s 45,000-odd students at London University are very diverse, not only in terms of culture and geographical location but also in terms of their experience of work, and students at different stages will have different career development needs even if they are taking the same course.  
The Career Stage Framework has been developed with these needs in mind, and it segments students into three large groups:

  • Career Starters are the ‘traditional’ students towards the beginning of their adult lives, who have limited work experience and are using their studies to launch their careers.
  • Career Developers are more experienced professionals who are studying in order to enhance their current career, working towards promotion, or, perhaps, a more prestigious job in a larger organisation
  • Career Changers are just that: people who have chosen to study in order to change career direction.

These three sets of students will have different needs when, for example, attending a careers event: career developers, for example, will be frustrated if they are assumed to have very little knowledge of graduate employment in their sectors. Career changers may have deep general knowledge and experience but know little about areas of interest that are new to them.  Bremmar, Wilkinson and their colleagues actively encourage the students who engage with them to self-identify as members of one of these groups: or perhaps, over the course of their studies, of more than one. 

Liz Wilkinson explained the various ways in which the Careers Service uses the framework, developing interventions that are targeted to students at different stages while making sure that they don’t feel that they have been put in boxes. One seminar that is popular with students at all stages is simply called ‘Enhancing your Career Stage’. Some material is very specifically targeted to, for example, law students or students in some of the health sciences, and other sessions are much more general. Where appropriate, they provide information about professional cultures and job markets throughout the world, in the knowledge that many London students will be based in, or will be looking to move to, the Americas or Asia. 

Finally, Brammar described plans for future developments in the Careers Service. They have been working closely with a cohort of students to get some detailed feedback about the framework and are thinking of expanding their workshop series. Future topics are likely to include identifying assessment criteria in interviews, CV writing and explaining gaps in work histories. Small group and even 1:1 sessions are proving popular.

Delivering ODL in Medicine and Healthcare Education: Opportunities and Challenges

Luke Woodham gave an overview of open and distance education in St George’s, a University of London college that specialises in medicine and closely allied subjects. Woodham introduced himself as ‘a technologist, not a medic’ and explained that he would be talking about how educational technology is being applied there in these specialised areas. Medical education is, necessarily, practice-based and it has been at the forefront of innovation in both technology (through, for example, virtual reality simulations) and pedagogy (through problem-based learning). Even the OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination) exercises that are used to test clinical skills can often, although not always, be redesigned to run virtually.

Much of the problem-based learning at St George’s focuses around the concept of the virtual patient, which has been in use since about 2006. This involves a computer simulation of a real-life clinical scenario, which may – but need not – involve high fidelity graphics. Virtual patient scenarios employ the technology of serious games to provide realistic simulations of the results of clinical decisions. Woodham remembered one example in paediatrics that involved treating a baby, and as a result of the decisions taken the virtual baby died. That experience led the team to develop further examples of virtual patient narratives in areas such as medical errors and how to resolve them.

The move to almost 100% online learning during the pandemic forced Woodham and his colleagues to think more about who their learners are. They are not just medical students, and they are not all based in London. Working doctors and those trained in allied professions are required – in the UK, often through the Royal Colleges – to engage regularly with continued professional development (CPD) activities. The learners who are taking courses at St George’s today come from all over the world and represent a wide range of backgrounds, professions and career stages. Their more traditional undergraduate learners are becoming used to flexible and online learning, so there can be a significant overlap between initial training and CPD courses. The college has partnered with FutureLearn to offer MOOCs in areas such as medical genomics and non-invasive prenatal testing; these free courses can be taken by the general public as well as students and professionals, but since the pandemic these have been used in more formal education.

The Topol review, commissioned by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and published in 2019, set out how the NHS workforce should be prepared to ‘deliver the digital future’ of healthcare. St George’s responded to this by developing a framework for the delivery of further online courses. Woodham presented a series of recommendations for a wider portfolio of courses, both synchronous and asynchronous and at different scales, that are designed for an even wider range of formal and informal learners.