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Enabling a community of change makers

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As Director of Education and Training at HETI Higher Education, Dr Silke O’Callaghan is responsible for supporting and engaging students in quality learning. Her work is focused on the design and quality of HETI’s postgraduate mental health courses, and ensuring HETI places our students at the centre of everything.

I’m excited by the innovation and passion I see every day at HETI. It comes from students and teachers who share a vision to make a real difference in the lives of the people they work with and support. A key contributor is the recovery-oriented framework, which underlies everything we teach at HETI.

A recovery-oriented approach isn’t about pretending that the sun will shine again – it’s not always possible. Instead, it is about trying to turn a grey sky into a sky with a few less clouds. It’s about a collaborative approach with the individuals experiencing mental health issues and a team of health professionals, to devise care plans that are designed  to help achieve the individual’s goals, according to what matters to them.

This recovery-led approach is so instrumental to how we teach at HETI, that we are developing an in-depth, short course for students who haven’t worked within a recovery-oriented framework previously, and wish to apply for advanced standing. This course will help to fill in any knowledge gaps, and provide a deep understanding of recovery-oriented mental health care, which is an essential underpinning for anyone studying HETI’s higher education courses.

How can we provide you with the most powerful education?

We pride ourselves on taking a student-centred approach to learning which starts with ensuring administrative instructions are easy to navigate for students; through to demonstrating an in-depth understanding of why students enrol with us. So it’s important to ask ourselves - how can what we're teaching at HETI impact you as a health professional or others with an interest in mental health and how can we provide you with the most powerful education?

This approach is also evidenced in how we provide access to learning experiences; whether it’s in the classroom or via our online platform called MyHETI.

Our focus is on delivering effective and engaging education to our students, however they like/want to receive it.

An area of focus for me is involving our students as much as we can in the course design process. At the heart of this is a desire to discover effective engagement strategies that also accommodate their busy lives. Many of our students are busy professionals who juggle life, studies, family, and work – and we take this into consideration when designing course delivery.

This isn’t always easy from an administrative perspective, but it is about recognising that our students are committed people, who do very important work. We want to offer them that flexibility.

Online engagement leads the way

Something I’m passionate about as an educator is creating online engagement with students. I’ve worked extensively in this space and it’s where I see the future of education - there’s enormous opportunity.

We have an environment that offers amazing flexibility for our students so they can access their course material when it's convenient for them – when they can fit it in with all their other commitments in life, as well as their day-to-day patient care.

A community of learners in practice

One way we offer such flexibility is through multiple learning pathways. For example, one week, a student may make it to class on campus – if their course is face-to-face – or if they’re running out of time and can’t make the class, they can jump online and still have that live, face-to-face interaction with the facilitator or teacher.

Alternatively, they can catch up later by watching the class recordings, which have an intuitive audio component to clearly relay what the lecturer says in a lecture hall, regardless of where they are standing.

Embedded learning technology

We also use Zoom technology for video conferencing, so that students can have an immediate connection with the online tutor or coordinator. It enhances our students’ experience, because they get to see the teacher and have the opportunity to connect with them. They can also use that technology to connect with other students in the course, and really create a community of learners.

We run live sessions as well, to facilitate flexible learning. For example, in our Applied Mental Health Studies, our coordinators run ‘application to practice’ sessions, to generate useful discussion around how theory can be applied into practice. Together our students and teaching staff can reflect on their diverse workplace experiences, to apply their course material in a way that can directly improve their performance as a practitioner or clinician.

Students can also participate in online forums, which are facilitated by a coordinator and allow students to really engage in critical thinking and connect the dots. Through these forums, students can ask themselves – and each other – how what is being taught in the unit relates to what they're doing in their workplace.

A community that connects students

We’re effectively creating a community that connects students with leading experts from within the mental health sector . We do this by tapping into innovative, cutting-edge practitioners and exposing our students to innovative health care strategies that are taking place within NSW Health and look beyond it as well to other innovations in a range of settings.

Rather than the top-down dynamic – traditionally found in educational institutes – we recognise our students have chosen to study with us, and we want to engage with them.

Student involvement is critical in everything we do at HETI. We value the close relationships we have with our students, and we encourage a strong student voice to guide our decisions. This is why we invite students to participate in our teaching and learning committee, for example, so when we make decisions and discuss future development, our student voice is represented.

Another example of this is how we regularly review our student support materials on our learning management site. We do this to ensure that what we develop is helpful and relevant, and we run student focus groups to ask questions like: "Tell us about your current experience with the support material. What are the gaps?”, Or, “What would you like to see done differently?” Or, “What can we improve?”

This way the results will be something students use and find helpful, given it was co-created. This student-centred approach is how all progressive educational experiences should be, with collaboration and shared learning at the very centre.

HETI Higher Education postgraduate mental health courses