Global Health at QMUL: the BSc in Global Health and the placement module

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Dr Andrew Harmer introduces QMUL's BSc in Global Health and tells us a bit more about the placement module.

In the above video, Dr Andrew Harmer introduces the BSc in Global Health at QMUL. The following interview focuses on the Placement module, which takes place in the third year of the programme.

Introduction

The Placement in Global Health is a compulsory Level 6 module that our students take in the final year of their Global Health degree. The Global Health Unit, which is a Unit within the Centre for Global Public Health, has been running the Placement module for three years as an opportunity for our students to develop work-related knowledge, skills, and capabilities, setting them up to pursue further work opportunities in and around Global Health when they graduate.

Through immersion in a variety of local public health charities, local authorities, non-government organisations, and health related organisations, our students put into practice, in a professional environment, the skills and knowledge they have gained across the previous years of the degree.

The aim of the Placement is to enhance our students’ understanding of the Global Health environment, organisational structures, and working practices. During their 80hrs of placement ‘contact time’, our students compile an online portfolio of placement-related documentation, write a daily diary, which they then use to support a written reflection on their experiences, and participate in a range of activities at the host organisation (shadowing, working on discrete projects, conducting desk-based research, etc.).

Uncharted territory

The idea of placement-based learning (PBL) is innovative but remains very much in the shadow of the more familiar work-based approach to vocational learning (WBL). We conducted a literature review as part of an ongoing internal evaluation of the module which highlighted that there was very little research on PBL. Consequently, when designing our module, we were charting relatively unexplored terrain in terms of content and assessment design.

How we assess the placement

Our review of the WBL literature highlighted the importance of portfolios as a tool for learning, but also the use of reflective reports as a complementary assessment. Southampton Solent University, for example, has developed materials for designing and assessing WBL, which we drew on when designing the assessment for our module.

Our students are assessed through two pieces of assessment: the compilation of a portfolio of evidence and a 2000 words reflective report (each given a 50% weighting).

The portfolio of evidence is a collection of evidence that the student compiles during their placement. The portfolio allows us to assess the students’ personal engagement with the placement. Each piece of evidence that a student select for their portfolio is uploaded to QM Hub. The Reflective Report is different from the portfolio in that it provides an opportunity for the student to reflect on their own personal development and learning during the placement.

Both assessments are mapped onto the learning objectives of the module, and students are required to demonstrate evidence of each in their assessments.

We have presented our experiences of the module to colleagues within the University, conducted an internal SWOT analysis of the sustainability of the module, particularly in relation to scaling-up the module to increasing numbers of students, and are in the process of arranging an external evaluation conducted by Queen Mary’s Educational Development Team.

Discussion

The Placement module presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges in terms of pedagogy and administration. From a pedagogic perspective, the module combines classroom workshops with ‘learning as doing’. Students are encouraged to take ownership of the management of their placement from their initial induction meeting and are responsible for managing the 80hrs of contact time. This is a new skill for most of students, and is the most common issue raised in the module feedback. We review the assessments each year.

In the first year, we did not assess the compilation of the online portfolio as a discrete activity, but did so in the second year in response to feedback. Year two student feedback has suggested a need to include feedback from the host organization as part of the assessment, and we are looking into that. Feedback from our presentation to colleagues from the Educational Department suggested that we could design our assessments so that students could apply key global health concepts – power for example – that they had learned during the program to their placement. Asking questions such as: ‘Where does power lie in my placement institution”.

Reflection lies at the heart of the 2nd assessment, and students are invited to reflect on how they found their placement experience, which is not always positive! Nevertheless, the feedback we receive suggest that our students are able to use the module to consolidate their learning. For example, one student wrote: “The module was an excellent opportunity to get real world experience and apply what I have learnt so far in the program to the workplace”.

From an administrative perspective, providing support for 17 students was logistically challenging, and we are currently securing placements for 24 students. As student numbers grow, we are facing capacity issues. Consequently, the question now is how to provide a placement experience at scale.

Conclusion

We believe that a learning based placement adds significant value to our program, and is of value to both our students and our placement ‘partners’. The module is strongly aligned with the University’s Model ethos, providing excellent networking opportunities as well as an opportunity for the student to observe innovation at work in the public health sphere, and experience international and global health in a local setting. Pedagogically, PBL is an undiscovered country, but we would flag the importance of research in the area of assessment. We continue to develop the module and are particularly focused on scaling up as our student numbers grow.