“There is no doubt in my mind as to the positive impact Plus [online courses] has had on the structure of our teachings, the confidence of our students, and a ripple effect to our supervising clinicians and fellow rehabilitation professionals.”
Healthcare infrastructure in Pakistan has developed extensively in recent decades in response to a growing population and a need for equal access to care. Rehabilitation services in particular, have been identified as an area of increasing significance, as there is a national awareness of a right to an independent life for all.
In support of the national attentiveness towards investing in rehabilitation services in Pakistan, educational institutions are engaged in forming highly trained Physical Therapy (PT) and Occupational Therapy (OT) students. One such institution leading the way is Ziauddin University in Karachi, which has turned to integrating online learning into their curriculum for OT students.
As Neelum Zehra, an Occupational Therapist and Professor at Ziauddin University explains, “we are giving the students an opportunity to supplement their learning with internationally trusted online courses and resources. The Plus rehabilitation courses are being integrated into our curriculum as required course material and preparatory work for their clinical placements”.
The USAID-funded ReLAB-HS activity has provided organisations in Pakistan, like Ziauddin University, free access to the Physiopedia Plus (Plus) online learning and professional development platform. The rehabilitation-related online courses and resources provided by this platform can be used by organisations to supplement any education or training programme.
Ziauddin University is a modern private university that responds to the growing need for rehabilitation by providing training programmes in PT and OT. Until recently, teaching has followed the traditional synchronous didactic model of in-person lectures and tutorials on campus. However, the opportunity to use Plus to support the existing curricula has provided an opportunity to supplement the existing teaching provision.
“Plus has given us the opportunity to be organised and more structured with how we deliver our teachings. We have had the chance to talk to the management team of the university and to demonstrate how courses can be developed in a better way” says Neelum; she elaborates by explaining that “integrating Plus rehabilitation courses into our curriculum has been a great supplement to our existing teaching strategies and has given the students confidence while on their practical clinical placements.”
Students from the OT programme have been using Plus to complement their learning since May 2022. The faculty of the OT programme identified courses which linked to their educational goals, and added them as required learning activities to their courses. OT students are now receiving assigned homework and learning activities on the Plus platform from their professors and must complete the final quizzes to add to their school credits. They have already participated in The Spinal Cord Injury Programme, Strategy for the Hip and the The ICF programme and have been encouraged to develop LinkedIn profiles to share their successes and learning activities.
“We are using Plus content for our courses, but also as required readings and learning activities before practical clinical placements”, adds Neelum. For example, as students have to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the ICF model through clinical cases, the ICF programme has been integrated into clinical manuals. “Because of the student’s participation in webinars and online courses, we are seeing our students bloom and becoming more confident as junior clinicians”.
A positive effect of using Plus courses for clinical placements is the interest from the older generation of clinicians in Pakistan. “We have an older-school generation of clinicians that can be resistant to change and technology. But, they are seeing the differences with the students and are interested in learning more about online content,” describes Neelum. The students have become the teachers in the sense that they are showing the experienced clinicians how they can use Plus for professional development and staying up to date with the latest evidence. “Plus has had a cross-generational effect through the students. It is nice to see the shared learning in a clinical space”.
Another encouraging development is the interest from associated faculties, such as the PT programme to also use Plus in their teaching strategies. Neelum elaborates by explaining that her rehabilitation colleagues are noticing the empowerment of the OT students and are interested in exploring how online content can enhance the learning and engagement of their students as well. Neelum and her co-professors have shared their successes with other departments during planning meetings and are encouraged by the interests of their colleagues. Neelum will be sharing how they integrated Plus into their curriculum and how the online courses add to their in-person teachings. “We are developing links with the clinical psychology, speech and language, nursing and paediatric programmes at the university. We all identify as rehabilitation professionals, and we are all pulling in the same direction,” commented Neelum.
The students themselves appreciate the access to Plus, with one student expressing, “It is great to be able to explore topics more on my own. It is like having access to a free online book, in real-time”. The students enjoy the ease of navigating the platform and also having multiple attempts at the course quizzes. The best three final quiz scores from the assigned courses are added to their final grading at the university. Neelum has had several conversations with her students about broadening their horizons and developing their competencies as clinicians. One student adds “…that it is more important than ever to have a global perspective and international integration of rehabilitation professions”. When asked how Neelum understood the impact Plus has had on her students, she thoughtfully commented, “It’s all in the confidence. They have trust in the learning, they are more knowledgeable and up-to-date with current practices and interacting online has given them international confidence… there is no doubt in my mind as to the impact Plus has had on the structure of our teachings, the confidence of our students, and a ripple effect to our supervising clinicians and fellow rehabilitation professionals.”
This work is supported by the USAID funded Learning Acting Building for Rehabilitation in Health Systems (ReLAB-HS) project and is not possible without the generous and committed contribution of the Leahy War Victims fund.
ReLAB-HS is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and is implemented under cooperative agreement number 7200AA20CA00033. The consortium is managed by prime recipient, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.