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6.1 Incorporating the student voice

Each HEI was asked for the names of cohort representatives and they were invited to a student conference, held on 31st October 2012 and facilitated by the Project Manager. Twenty-six students from 9 out of the 10 HEIs attended. They included representatives from both Postgraduate Diploma and BSc (Hons) programmes. 

6.2 Student conference programme

The day began with a Claims, concerns and issues13 session in which individuals are asked to consider their personal views and feelings and then share it with others to identify areas of agreement that can be worked on. Claims, concerns and issues is a tool for practice development and its purpose is to: obtain feedback from stakeholders, celebrate successes, evaluate progress, identify questions that need addressing, develop an agenda and create an action plan.  

The purpose was to give the student representatives an open opportunity to discuss placement learning experiences in a structured way prior to sharing the project’s main findings with them. In this way it was hoped to avoid any undue influence. 

This session was followed by a presentation of the audit findings and emerging themes (5.1 above) with group discussions and feedback, and a final plenary session to obtain the students’ responses to the draft recommendations in 5.3 above. A summary of the outcomes was returned to the participants for validation. A number of students responded, having circulated the summary to their cohorts, and the final document is at Appendix 7.

6.3 Analysis and discussion

6.3.1 Claims, concerns, issues

The claims feedback is a heartening endorsement of the overall process of learning and development involved in becoming a therapeutic radiographer. However, it is interesting to note that the list of concerns about placement learning is longer than the claims. These are grouped into four categories; practical concerns about finance, transport and accommodation costs and the lack of a university experience, the structure of placement learning and quality of learning opportunities, the variability of arrangements for student support and assessment, and bullying and marginalisation. The practical concerns related to finance are outside the scope of the project. However, they should be noted by commissioners as a cause for concern and a contributor to student attrition.

The students’ list of issues/questions reveals a desire for consistency and greater standardisation, based on evidence about best practice. For example, ‘What is the best placement plan?’ and ‘Why aren’t courses more standardised?’ They seem to understand that differences in practice may be positive, but want more clarity about the rationale for these and also the skills to manage them when they move between placements. The question, ‘What is the hospital’s/ university’s investment in students?’ suggests an awareness of the strategic importance of students to both partners. Taken together, the matters raised and discussed in the Claims, concerns and issues session align closely with the project rationale and the perspectives of RSMs, practitioners and educators.

6.3.2 Students’ response to audit findings and draft recommendations

The students’ views of the audit outcomes corroborate the findings and provide useful insights from their perspective (see Appendix 7). In particular, they are aware of the effects of placement capacity problems on their learning and highlight in particular the lack of imaging and other pre-treatment experiences, including dosimetry and planning. Given the direction of service development in radiotherapy and the strategic importance of Intensity Modulated and Image Guided Radiotherapy (IMRT, IGRT), this is a significant concern.

The students also perceive the need for better collaboration and communication between the HEI and placement providers at every level. The need to make placement requirements more obvious is referred to and there is a suggestion for work instructions for student learning to be developed.

Students are highly critical of the lack of standardisation and consistency in relation to arrangements for student support and assessment. They point out some staff’s lack of knowledge of student education, stating that the quality of learning ‘completely depends on which radiographers you are working with’. They were surprised to learn of the disparity between programmes, especially in clinical contact time. Issues relating to selection are well understood and the students provided some good ideas for improving this process in the belief that greater honesty and transparency are needed.     

The specific theme of bullying and harassment was raised by the students early in the day and was prevalent throughout. It emerged again following the post-conference consultation period. They believe there is a direct causal relationship between bullying behaviours and attrition, and wish it to be acknowledged explicitly and managed actively. It is interesting to note that this strength of feeling is not readily acknowledged by service or HEIs.

In the final session of the day, the 15 draft recommendations in 5.4 above were discussed in plenary and students were invited to express their views and assist in re-drafting. During this process, they strongly affirmed the project’s aspirations, emerging themes and recommendations as important steps in improving the student experience in placement learning and reducing attrition. 

To assist with understanding the student experience of placement learning, an adapted version of the Senses Framework14 is offered at Appendix 8. The framework was developed for student nurses on placement in an older person care setting but its findings resonate with many of the themes in this project.

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