Taking the plunge into online teaching

This week Professor Dawn Brooker provides an insight into our online Postgraduate Certificate, so over to Dawn…

Why we took the plunge in providing a fully online postgraduate level qualification in person-centred dementia care

In January 2020, I commenced my role as Module Lead for the fully online Person-Centred Leadership in Dementia: the VIPS Approach 12 week course. This module is the mandatory module for people who want to gain the qualification of the Postgraduate Certificate in Person-Centred Dementia Studies at the University of Worcester. During most of 2019, my team at the Association for Dementia Studies and other colleagues at Worcester spent considerable time and energy in planning and designing this course. I am pleased to say that it was all worth it! Although we are living through unprecedented times and Covid-19 has made the last few months very difficult, I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to do this work. In this blog I explain some of my reasons for leading a fully online course in this area, and the features of our courses.

Our approach in our face-to-face teaching

Since 2009 the Association for Dementia Studies have worked directly with almost 100 care providers to improve their dementia care, providing dementia care education programmes to around 6,000 health, care and housing professionals from across the world. Our programmes mainly focus on those in leadership and management roles and those in front-line leadership roles such as dementia champions. All these courses were delivered face-to-face, usually in groups of less than 20, often with two expert tutors meeting together over a period of a few months in an action learning set style, to help this diverse workforce to develop competency in person-centred care delivery.

This experience taught us a number of things that inform all our teaching. Firstly, this is an experienced and intelligent work force but the lack of knowledge and confidence in caring for people with dementia, even at senior levels, is serious. Our aim is to support staff to operate with clarity, creativity, and resilience and rather than with insecurity and defensiveness. There is a wealth of information and materials about good practice in dementia but staff delivering care and support do not regularly access this. There is an active dynamic between building confidence and knowledge acquisition. Primarily at this level, we need to be equipping staff to make good decisions and seek answers, rather than thinking that there is an instruction to follow.

People attending our courses develop a deep appreciation of their role in promoting a positive care culture. They learn to recognise that changing the culture of care is about people’s hearts and minds. This is a people service; tools need to be well cared for, staff need to feel valued for a job well done. We promote a sense of autonomy, mastery and purpose in leaders, who in turn promote this in their staff teams, who in turn provide an excellent quality of care for those they support on a day-to-day basis.

Why we decided to translate this into an online offer

We were dubious that we could transfer all this passion and skills acquisition into an online course. On the other hand, only a tiny percentage of care practitioners have the luxury of attending a 6-day course. The most obvious motivation is that we want this way of working to reach as many people as possible. From our research and networking, we know that practitioners and professionals worldwide face similar challenges in delivering great quality dementia care.

This really came home to me when I was doing a study tour in Australia in 2018, organised by a long-term colleague of mine Dr Sam Davis.  Sam is an Associate Professor at Flinders University in South Australia and she has over twenty years’ experience of designing and delivering online higher education courses to health and social care professionals. Since 2010, she has been the course coordinator for the Applied Gerontology Postgraduate Program, at Flinders University. Her work included large-scale online rollout of the Dementia Dynamics Toolkit to all Australian residential care homes. This was aimed at care home managers across the whole of Australia. In the course she used our Association for Dementia Studies materials on the VIPS approach to person centred dementia. Sam persuaded me that our materials would work online, IF (and it’s a big IF) we paid close attention to really making it work for our students.

Sam spent a 3-month sabbatical with us from January to April 2019 to help us assess the potential for online delivery. We learnt a great deal from Sam. She challenged our assumptions and helped us to see how our curricula and our values around working in a person-centred (and hence student-centred way) could translate into an online delivery. We used our collaboration to inform the design of our fully online delivery of a Postgraduate Certificate in Person-Centred Dementia Studies and Postgraduate Award in Expert Practice which commenced in January 2020. We plan to follow this with a full Masters programme provision from 2021-22.

To find out more about our online courses, please visit our website. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch with us at dementia@worc.ac.uk

Connect with ADS on twitter @DementiaStudies and on Facebook @adsuow

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