Posted in PGCAP Blogs, PhD Blog

Professional Conversation – Joining the dots….

This final blog is based on reflections facilitated a discussion with the PGCAP tutors as part of the professional conversation element of the course. The focus for the professional conversation was the lego model I had been asked to design for this session. I designed the model to represent my learning and experience from participating in the PGCAP course. As a learning device, I have found making the lego model and then expressing the ideas behind the symbolism of the features of the model has helped me to join the dots between the theory and concepts introduced during the PGCAP sessions and their relevance to my own teaching practice and future professional development as a lecturer.


To start with, Ramsden’s (2003) explanation of surface and deep approaches to learning has helped me to appreciate the difference between ‘learning to understand’ and ‘learning only to complete course requirements’. As lecturer, I need to encourage and prepare students to adopt a deep approach to learning. Without a deep approach to learning students are unlikely to meet the expectations of the Health and Care Professions Council practice standards (2016) nor the College of Occupational Therapists professional standards (2017), which demand that students are able to understand and express the theory and concepts of their clinical and professional practice.

As well as intrinsic factors such as personality traits, Salamonson et al (2012) suggests there are external factors which can help to influence whether a student takes a surface or deep approach to learning, including the role of the teacher. In one of the PGCAP sessions, we discussed Biggs and Tang (2011) ‘levels of teaching according to how students learn’ and how this can explain the role of the teacher in the learning environment. In summary, the role of a level 1 teacher is to ‘transmit knowledge’ (Biggs and Tang 2011). At level 2 the role continues to be about transmitting knowledge, however the focus is on transmitting information about ‘concepts and understanding’ (Biggs and Tang 2011). Finally, at level 3, the role of the teacher is concerned with identifying what the students need to learn, thinking about how they will know the student have learnt, and delivering the learning in the most effective way.

On reflection, prior to starting the PGCAP I feel my particular strength as the teacher was my ability to use 20 years of clinical practice to put the learning material in the context of the real world. However, in terms of my approach to teaching I was only operating between a level 1 and a level 2 teacher. If I am to encourage students to adopt a deep approach to learning then my role has to facilitate a learning environment that encourages it. Given Ramsden (2003) previous description of what a deep approach to learning ‘looks like’, I am more likely to support students to take a deep approach to learning if my teaching role enables me to operate as a level 3 teacher. I feel I have begun the transition from level 2 to level 3. This change has resulted because I am now considering ‘what it means for students to understand’ the content that I am teaching (Biggs and Tang 2011), particularly using the intended learning outcomes to ensure that I do this.

Intended learning outcomes (ILO) have their critics. For example, in a Times Higher Education (THE) blog, the author describes how they have a negative effect on teacher student relationship, interfere with the ‘art’ of teaching, and fosters a ‘culture of cynicism’ (THE 2012). Despite these criticisms, as a novice teacher I initially found ILOs a useful tool for monitoring and auditing whether the learning material I designed aligned with what I thought I needed to teach. However, Hussey and Smith (2003) advise against this approach as the ILOs developed in this way do not focus learning experience from the student perspective. Instead, Biggs and Tang (2011) suggest to writing the ILO’s should be written from the student’s perspective, in particular they should reflect what the students are expected to understand or do ‘as a result of engaging in the learning experience’. To write ILO’s from the student perspective, I am now choosing from Blooms Taxonomy that are more specific to understanding and performance from the student’s perspectives. Hopefully, the difference in the way I now approach writing ILOs can be seen from the table below, which compare my ILO pre and post the PGCAP session on learning outcomes.

ILO Pre-PGCAP ILO Post-PGAP session on ILO
Objectives of this session are:

• Identify why occupational therapists need to use a process in professional practice.

•       Consider the elements contained in the OTIPM.

•       Consider how the OTIPM supports professional practice.


By the end of this session you should be able to demonstrate you can :

·         Explain why occupational therapists need to use a process in professional practice.

·         List the elements contained in the OTIPM.

·         Describe how the OTIPM process supports professional practice.

Hussey and Smith (2003) identify the importance of ensuring congruence between the ILO’s and the learning activities employed in the learning environment. Ramsden (2003) and Biggs and Tang (2011) suggest alongside ILO, the right type of learning activity can enable a level 3 approach to teaching. I am fortunate to work in a department where the programme has been designed to support the use of learning activities that promote a level 3 approach. In particular, problem based learning is used. Understanding learning through the lens of constructivist theory I can now see how problem based learning and the tools we employ in the learning environment has the potential to change the way students ‘see the world’ (Biggs and Tang 2011). However, despite the benefits of problem based learning discussed in my first blog, I have been critical of the use of this approach following feedback from students reporting they did not value the experience provided by this form of learning. On reflection, I think the feedback from students is symptomatic of a number of issues within the wider teaching environment, which influences the my ability to operate as a level 3 teacher. The remainder of this blog focuses on these issues.

Having discussed the importance of ILOs, Savin-Baden and Major (2003) discuss the role they play in ensuring students have an understanding of how activities used to support problem based learning (PBL)  informs their learning. However, informal student feedback from when I facilitate PBL feedback sessions indicates that students do not always see the relevance of what they are doing. On reflection, the cause of this issue tends to lie with those teachers supporting the feedback of the PBL activity. More often than not, the teacher who is involved in briefing the students at the beginning is only able to facilitate the feedback of one group. The remainder of the groups are facilitated by other teaching staff, and like myself, they are not always fully briefed as to what the ILO are and how they should approach the feedback, as recommended by Savery (2007). Whilst I can take action to ensure I make the link between the ILO and the PBL activity, I do not have influence over what other teaching staff do, which is a problem because different students potentially will then have different learning experiences.

Another issue with PBL, as well as other teaching methods we use in the programme, is the university environment. It has been identified that the design of the teaching environment influences a student’s engagement in the learning experience (Scott-Webber et al 2007). To engage in group activities (which we frequently use as part of PBL and other aspects of teaching) it is recommended the environment facilitates students being able to position themselves to be able to participate a member of the group (Tiberius 1999). Unfortunately, the rooms allocated for these session are not always appropriate for facilitating group work, thus there is a danger the environment does not promote student learning and engagement.

Furthermore, whilst universities and other higher educational institutions are being encourage to ensure teaching and assessments cater for a diverse student population (HEA 2012); this is not always possible on the occupational therapy programme I teach on. Whilst we actively support students with educational, physical, and mental health needs, the timetabling process often creates a barrier for a significant number of our students, who are predominately female, have young families, and work part-time. Because of managing the increasing number of students and courses, module leaders have to accept timetabling decisions that do not meet the needs of this group of students. For this reason, students attending evening teaching sessions are often unhappy about this situation and it could be argued that their frame of mind is a barrier to learning.

Although the problems discussed above could act as potential barriers to achieving a level 3 approach to teaching, Jackson (2005) appears to suggest creativity in higher education is a potential solution. For Jackson (2005) creativity is a method for encouraging deep approach to learning. At an individual level, Jackson (2005) identifies how teachers can facilitate their own creativity in the learning environment. From Jackson’s list, I am demonstrating my own creativity in the learning environment in the following ways:

  • The PGCAP course and the use of the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education is helping me to reflect on my own practice and I am taking positive action to improve my teaching.
  • I use my previous clinical skills to ‘reveal something of [myself] in the teaching process’.

Jackson (2005) also identifies how there is a need to introduce creativity at a curriculum and programme level. Applying this to my situation, as the issues with the teaching environment and timetabling is because of the current structure of the programme and modules, I can see how Jackson’s suggestion of allowing ‘students to work in new and interesting ways’, could be an opportunity to re-think what we currently do. For example, I could see how the theory of flip learning, where students undertake individual learning before moving into the group situation for in-depth exploration of the learning material (Flipped Learning Network 2017), would better frame the learning we are trying to achieve through PBL. Furthermore, through the ‘flipped classroom’ we could make better use of on-line resources, reducing the demands we currently place on campus facilities. However, as with all new approaches to learning, flipped learning has its challenges such as students being able and then motivated to access the learning material, and teachers ability to develop the resources to implement this method of teaching (Mull 2012).

The professional conversation was a positive experience because it has helped me to see the connections between teaching, learning, assessment, feedback, learning activities and what I bring to the teaching role. Based on this reflection and what I have learnt from the reading material discussed above, I have identify the following action to develop my own role and skills as a teacher in higher education – the letters in brackets demonstrates how this action links to dimensions in the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education:

  • I will continue to implement the action points identified in the previous shorter blogs (A5).
  • I will use the second module of the PGCAP to explore online, and other digital tools, to evaluate ways technology can be used to creatively design, implement, and enhance the student learning experience (A2, K2, K4).
  • I will use my monthly meetings with my mentor to ensure my ILO and other areas of teaching practice support a level 3 approach to learning. This will also support my on-going learning (A5, K5).
  • Before using pre-existing learning material, developed by other staff members, I will take time to evaluate the materials to ensure I have a full understanding of the ILO’s (A1, K6).
  • Before using pre-existing learning material, developed by other staff members, I will take time to evaluate the materials and adapt it to ensure the learning activities are congruent with the ILOs (A1, K5).
  • In the programme development days, which occur each semester, I will positively challenge the delivery of the programme in order that we provide an environment that supports student learning (V4).



Biggs, J.B., Tang, C., 2011. Teaching for quality learning at university. London: McGraw-Hill Education.

College of Occupational Therapists., 2017. Professional Standards for Occupational Therapy Practice. London: College of Occupational Therapists.

Flipped Learning Network Hub., 2017. Definition of Flipped Learning – Flipped Learning Network Hub. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Jan. 2017].

Health and Care Professional Council., 2017. HCPC – Health and Care Professions Council – Standards of proficiency. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18 Jan. 2017].

Higher Education Academey,. 2012. A Marked Improvement A Marked Improvement | Higher Education Academy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 5 Jan. 2017].

Higher Education Academey,. 2011. UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) | Higher Education Academy. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10 November 2016].

Hussey, T. and Smith, P., 2003. The uses of learning outcomes. Teaching in higher education8(3), pp.357-368.

Jackson, N., 2005. Making higher education a more creative place. Journal for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching.

Mull, B., (2012). Flipped Learning: A response to 5 Criticisms -What’s Flipped Learning?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

Ramsden, P., 2003. Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.

Savery, J.R., 2006. Overview of problem-based learning: Definitions and distinctions. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(1), p.3.

Salamonson, Y., Weaver, R., Chang, S., Koch, J., Bhathal, R., Khoo, C. and Wilson, I., 2013. Learning approaches as predictors of academic performance in first year health and science students. Nurse Education Today, 33(7), pp.729-733.

Savin-Baden, M., 2003. Facilitating Problem-Based Learning. UK: McGraw-Hill Education

Scott-Webber, L., Strickland, A. and Kapitula, L.R., 2013. Built environments impact behaviors: Results of an active learning post-occupancy evaluation. Planning for Higher Education, 42(1), p.28.

Times Higher Education (THE). (2012). The unhappiness principle. [online] Available at: [Accessed 6 Jan. 2017].

Tiberius, R.G., 2013. Small group teaching: A trouble-shooting guide. London: Routledge.




I am an Occupational Therapist and my main passion is the using the built environment to support people's occupational performance (basically ensuring people are able to do the things they want, need and have to do in their everyday lives without being hindered by the built environment). Having completed an MSc in Accessibility and Inclusive Design I was given an opportunity to complete a PhD, which I did in July 2016. Currently I am based in the School of Health Sciences at University of Salford. My research interest is in the process used by occupational therapists to modify home environments.

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