Fiji ‘virtual’ study abroad speech pathology research may offer many benefits

10 AUGUST 2022

Fiji ‘virtual’ study abroad speech pathology research may offer many benefits

A Charles Sturt University-led speech pathology research team is creating a world worth living in through their evaluation of student experiences and competency development outcomes in a ‘virtual’ work-integrated learning (WIL) clinic in Fiji.

  • Charles Sturt University speech pathology research team will examine what is thought to be the first international student-led telepractice clinic operating from an Australian university
  • The research will investigate the transition to, and effectiveness of, online clinical education and international telesupervision of students by academics during a virtual study abroad program in Fiji
  • Research results are expected to inform institutional practices and translate to other national and international contexts

A Charles Sturt University-led speech pathology research team is creating a world worth living in through their evaluation of student experiences and competency development outcomes in a ‘virtual’ work-integrated learning (WIL) clinic in Fiji.

The Project Lead Investigator is Dr Suzanne Hopf (pictured), Discipline Lead in the Speech Pathology Program in the Charles Sturt School of Allied Health, Exercise and Sport Sciences. Dr Hopf coordinates the online Charles Sturt Master of Speech Pathology program from her home in Nadi, Fiji.

“This first evaluation of an international student-led telepractice clinic operating from an Australian university aims to meet a desperate need for speech pathology services in Fiji while supporting our students to become culturally responsive practitioners. It’s a win-win for Fiji and for Charles Sturt University,” Dr Hopf said.

“The virtual study abroad placement will provide opportunities for Australian speech pathology students to learn about one of their closest international neighbours and adapt best-practice guidelines for international student placement to the telepractice mode of service delivery.”

Dr Hopf said the research project will investigate the transition to, and effectiveness of, online clinical education and international telesupervision of students by academics during a virtual study abroad program in Fiji.

“As leaders in innovative online education, and working with a research colleague at Victoria University, the researchers want to understand student experiences and perspectives of online clinical education so that they can build on the experiences and outcomes for future students,” she said.

“Online education offers opportunities to address disparities in access to health professional education and services, however the research and scholarship required to demonstrate the effectiveness of online education is in its infancy.”

Dr Hopf explained that the research is course-related, with the requirement for Master of Speech Pathology students to do work-integrated learning (WIL), which usually involves students travelling to placement sites across Australia.

For several years, the speech pathology student-led clinic at the Community Engagement and Wellness Centre (CEW) at the University in Albury-Wodonga has successfully provided services via telepractice to rural and remote clients who are unable to travel long distances for appointments. During the pandemic all local clients moved to telepractice. This project is the first time we’ve expanded that service to international clients,” Dr Hopf said.

Student feedback to date identified provision of WIL via telepractice as a safe, convenient, and cost-efficient placement method for the University and the Master of Speech Pathology students who are located across Australia and internationally.”

Dr Hopf said the researchers are particularly interested in the use of international telepractice as a mode for development of students’ cultural competence and global citizenship.

“This is important in understanding whether virtual study abroad opportunities provide similar benefits as traditional in-person study abroad placements that we’ve offered for students in the past and equivalency for local virtual placements,” she said.

This project compares the outcomes of students’ experience of a virtual work-integrated learning experience that is either a ‘standard virtual placement’ (student, clinician, and client all within Australia) or a ‘virtual study abroad placement’ (student + clinician in Australia, client in Fiji).

The research team hypothesises that pre-WIL experience students in either placement group will have similar global citizenship attributes.

However, post-WIL experience students who attended a virtual study abroad may display more global citizenship attributes than those students who attended a standard virtual placement experience.

Dr Hopf said this research seeks to enhance the current evidence-base for telesupervision of students during both standard virtual placements and virtual study abroad placements by examining student experiences of, and learning outcomes from, flexible online mobility learning opportunities.

“Results from this research are expected to inform institutional practices and translate to other contexts both nationally and internationally,” she said. “Extending telesupervision opportunities to the international arena provides an opportunity to meet student learning needs and support service development in underserviced regions of the world.”

Depending on outcomes from this pilot, a cross-University study to evaluate online virtual study abroad placements internationally is planned, and the outcomes may be used for future university course planning and teaching in speech pathology courses.


Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Suzanne Hopf contact Bruce Andrews at Charles Sturt Media on mobile 0418 669 362 or via news@csu.edu.au

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