Issues around degrees of openness in digital education have interested me in a number of professional roles and throughout the MSc. For the past two years or so they have also complemented my role as Head of elearning for the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM). The dissertation has two core aims related to questions of openness and digital education; firstly it will explore if Free Open Access Medical Education (FOAMed) resources – primarily podcasts and blogs – should be incorporated into official academic artefacts such as curricula in order to authenticate them. Secondly it will exam how (if at all) a reflective learning portfolio could be developed so users can demonstrate sustained metacognitive engagement with FOAMed resources.
FOAMed is part of the overarching Open Educational Resource (OER) movement and it is inherently dialogic in nature. It consistently looks to highlight the ‘interplays of differences’ in clinical reasoning, medical education and evidence-based medicine (Foucault, 1997, p 37). This research is motivated by the interplays of differences between divergent cultural, pedagogical and theoretical paradigms including; the rising significance of OERs, the attempt of an established royal college (traditionally conservative institutions) to respond to these changes, and the influence of dialogic theories of education on emerging pedagogies. The work of Wegerif (2013) has been especially significant in this regard. Dialogic theory is crucial to accounting for the FOAMed movement as it is opening new dialogic spaces between learners and the resources they use, between an institution and its stakeholders, and between the strategic and operational ways an institution seeks to support the development of emerging educational cultures and practices.
Data collection employed a mixed methods approach that attempted to initiate a dialogue between educators and learners. A brief online questionnaire comprised of closed and open-ended questions was disseminated to the Emergency Medicine (EM) community via Twitter. Responses from the questionnaire were triangulated into a series of in-depth interviews with leading educationalists from the RCEM and the RCEM FOAMed Network (RCFN), its FOAMed site; purposive sampling was used to select interviewees, and thematic analysis was employed to interrogate the responses. The combined approach to data collection was important to maintain a dialogic ethos, especially to gauge learners’ perceptions of FOAMed; this is significant as it’s an under-researched area which contrasts with the enormous popularity of the resources themselves. In keeping with the dissertation’s dialogic ethos I incorporated key findings from the questionnaire about curriculum formation and reflective learning and presented them to leading EM educationalists in five semi-structured in-depth interviews. The interviews represent a new dialogic space between learners, RCEM governance figures and individuals responsible for creating FOAMed resources. The interviews are presented here as embedded audio files which aligns with FOAMed’s commitment to making knowledge accessible.
The data confirmed that learners do want FOAMed activity to be recognised somehow in dedicated reflective spaces. However it also uncovered a paradox in how individuals and institutions react to FOAMed. For the most part individual learners come to FOAM because they are highly motivated self-directed learners who are looking to critique, question and at times endorse established clinical practice; crucially the data problematized how the institution defines self-directed learning and what constitutes an educated subject. The data confirms learners are not using FOAMed for tangible proof of assessment or completion, but irrespective of professional grade they are operating in environments that demand proof of completion and credentialised learning. Including FOAMed resources in curricula would help, but delivering a flexible reflective portfolio is perhaps more pressing. The data revealed that my initial assumptions about the relationship between FOAMed and curriculum development were over-determined; curricula can certainly become more multi-modal to reflect the organisation’s learning cultures but the notion of ‘authenticating’ resources is problematic. The research questions sought to gauge learners’ attitudes to so the organisation could begin to see how FOAMed could be formalised within its elearning portfolio and overarching educational strategy. Further research is needed into the efficacy of FOAMed in order to embed it into the cultural practices and dialogic spaces of EM education.