As good as it gets: Reflections on 2012 NSS in Clinical Language Sciences by Dr Tom Loucas and Carol Fairfield

Having students say they are 100% satisfied with what we offer is not an everyday occurrence.  This is what happened in Clinical Language Sciences in the 2012 NSS.  All of the students who responded said they definitely agreed with the statement: “Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course”.  We were obviously extremely pleased, but wanted to reflect on what we do that might have led to this feedback and share our thoughts with colleagues at Reading.  Looking through students’ comments we picked out three themes in what our students had to say.

Teaching and learning

“…Standards of learning are high, we are challenged appropriately and I feel I am beginning to reach my potential.”

While we are a small department there is a broad range of specialism across the academic staff.  Having research active staff helps bring real enthusiasm to the subject which students experience, but this is not unique to CLS.   In addition, the  majority of academic staff are also speech are language therapists whose engagement in research creates a culture of evidence-based practice which translates into an increasing emphasis on inquiry-based learning.  This approach is well aligned to the aim of the programme which is to produce independent critically evaluative evidence-based practitioners.  Applying new knowledge in this way is not easy and our students clearly enjoy rising to this challenge.  For several years the clinical teaching team has used away-days  in the summer to review clinical and professional modules. Following the positive experience of this informal process to developing our programme, a departmental away day last year included colleagues teaching on non-clinical modules where we were able to discuss how to better integrate academic and clinical modules to facilitate the students’ development as evidence-based practitioners.

Departmental culture

“Passionate clinical staff … very supportive academic and administrative staff.” “Staff treat you with respect and value your opinions.”

CLS is a small and closely knit department which fosters a collegiate atmosphere.  Academic staff, the experienced therapists who act as clinical tutors, and administrative staff work closely together to deliver the programme. We recognise each other’s complementary skills and knowledge; this mutual respect is embraced by the students.  Students experience this in the Student-Staff Liaison Committee where they see they are listened to and their views are acted upon.  Our relatively small numbers of students offer a lot of opportunity for group work which we readily seize to develop a critical dialogue with them about their practice, offer them the opportunity to try out their clinical problem-solving and provide evidence-based rationales for clinical decisions. These are essential clinical skills and over time we can see students growing into professionals in this space we provide for them to develop as independent practitioners. It is reflected in how they see themselves and how they see us.

Experience of clinical placements

“Placements have been varied and interesting with the university giving us ample opportunity to feedback.” “Also, a lot of hard work has gone into arranging placement, they are very varied.”

Clinical placements are a key aspect of the programme and probably the most significant aspect of the student experience.  Sourcing and supporting high quality clinical placements requires commitment from the clinical teaching team and experienced administrator/s.  Effective placement experience also requires good communication between the University clinical tutor, the placement educator outside the university, and the student as equal partners in the student’s learning.  This is achieved by good initial educator training, on-going dialogue, and prompt action if issues arise. The quality and variety of our clinical placements has been achieved over many years of consistent collaborative working with partners in the NHS.  A key process over the last five years has been the placement educator development ladder which offers a programme of Continuous Professional Development for all speech and language therapists that take our students on placement.   The ladder offers training for different levels of experience and expertise. Feedback on our training has been very positive and training has been requested by whole-services.  Developing the educators’ skills has increased availability, variety and quality of placements.  This provides enhanced placement learning for our students and this very positive experience of placement is evidenced in NSS.

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