Vignette of Practice: Enhancing the student experience in occupational therapy and physiotherapy practice placement modules

Enhancing the student experience in occupational therapy and physiotherapy practice placement modules

Annabel Heaslop, School of Allied Health and Community


As part of the BSc Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy courses, students are required to complete over 1000 hours of successful practice placement for students to register with the HCPC as Occupational Therapists and Physiotherapists following graduation. While students generally provided positive feedback regarding the practice placements themselves, historically, practice placement modules (in which placement occurs) have not received high levels of student satisfaction on modules evaluations.

When planning to deliver my second-year practice placement module for Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy students and associated learning, I reviewed student feedback from the preceding module. I used this feedback to implement changes to my existing module and improve student experience.

Module feedback indicated that students found existing coaching for practice groups challenging. Students were unsure of how coaching skills would assist their achievement on placement, and students also wanted more support with the skills required for the practice placement assignment. I adapted coaching sessions to increase academic support relating to reflective writing, a skill required of the placement assignment (K2). I provided increased scaffolding around reflective writing, placement topics and practice of coaching techniques. I developed coaching guidance sheets on the principles of coaching, as well as coaching style questions students could use on placement, to make the links between coaching groups and achievement on placement clear. This then enabled students to practice coaching techniques in class with peers, as well as on placement, by transferring these coaching style questions to different environments. To help students develop critical thinking skills as required both for placement and the assignment, I developed prompts for students when reviewing articles and when writing reflections (A1, A2). I facilitated verbal discussion of this within the coaching groups and used videos to help facilitate reflection. By providing this range of learning opportunities, I helped to cater for different learning styles and enabled students to transfer skills developed within coaching to their practice placements. In addition to this, drop-in sessions were also offered to provide individual, small or larger group support to cater for different learning styles (V1, A4).

When considering ways to enhance the student experience, I examined my own teaching methods to support diversity of learners, I conducted a review of Universal Design for Learning approach of sessions (A4), which included coaching for practice, to foster inclusivity within my teaching. I identified specific strategies such as adapting environments and my own teaching to better support all students. I then have shared this with colleagues and as such supported diversity both on an individual and a wider departmental level.

Module evaluations (K5) have demonstrated the excellence within student support, both related to feeling supported and support within assessment, reflecting the success of my changes to the coaching for practice groups and the fostering of learning communities. When asked what students most liked about this module, module feedback included: “helpful formative feedback” (A2, K2), “helped me develop my critical skills” (A2, K2), “the drop-in opportunities” (A2, A4, K2), “I enjoyed discussing in our coaching groups, various scenarios from placement and hearing advise (sic) and support from others” (A4). Module satisfaction increased 42% when comparing the previous placement module with the one in which I implemented changes, demonstrating the success of the changes I implemented.

With new staff members in the team, going forward, I will share my experiences and consider ways in which practice educator support has impacted on student teaching and quality practice placements. Furthermore, I will request feedback regarding the support that has been provided to ensure continual improvement in our practice on these courses.

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