The links below take you to each of the frequently asked questions contained within the modules. You may have already listened to or watched these as you worked your way through the training package, but they are listed here for your convenience. 

Clicking on the relevant question will bring up the appropriate answer, which you can listen to or read the full transcript. 

How do I prepare for a student?

Chrisdell
Practice Educator 

 

 

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I remember feeling a little daunted before my first student arrived. I really wanted them to get the most out of the placement and I hadn't used the SPEF-R© before. I decided to attend a workshop with other "first time" practice educators. It was fantastic. It was so helpful, as we were walked through the process of setting up a placement and I came away with some really practical ideas. And of course I read the SPEF© User Manual. I was a bit surprised because it explained not just how to use the SPEF© to evaluate, but also how to use it to plan and individualise the placement for the student. It was a quick read, and I came away feeling confident about which stream to use, I knew how to customise each item for my workplace, and how to flag what type of evidence I would be looking for when I was rating the student. I also identified a few items that I decided would not be applicable for the student. The user manual had really helpful boxes summarizing the most important points to remember, as well as a summary of key points at the end- so I could check off what I had done, and what I still needed to do. If you are watching this, you have obviously discovered the web based training package- so you're well on the way to being prepared, not just in using the SPEF© but also in understanding more about the most effective ways to engage students in the feedback process.

Which stream should I use in my workplace?

Judy
Practice Educator

 

 

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One of the first things I had to decide when using the SPEF-R© was what stream to use. For the majority of the areas covered, everyone uses the same item banks, but when you're rating parts of communication, and the information gathering and service provision areas, you have to make a choice. In the end it was pretty easy for me. I work as a case manager in a mental health team so that fitted well with Stream A. Stream A is about direct service provision, where you tend to have face to face contact with your service user. For me, as a case manager, I tend to co-ordinate and support the other services they might receive, but you would also use stream A if you were providing the therapy services yourself.

Stream B is used by therapists who provide project management or consultancy services, and even by those who are involved in research. I've just had a student whose SPEF© evaluation included Stream B. She had completed a placement in a service that provided assessment and advice to workplaces about safe work practices. They also delivered quite a lot of training to staff.

Because we ask students to complete a small project when they're here, at first I wasn't sure if I was supposed to assess that small project, using Stream B, but when I read the user manual, I realised that wasn't what Stream B was about. My students present a lit review to a staff meeting. I found the item in co-worker communication, about explaining information to others fitted really well, so I used that.

How do I score an item if I haven’t observed the behaviour enough (and how many times is enough)?

Cate Fitzgerald
Clinical Education Liaison Manager, Division of Occupational Therapy,
The University of Queensland


 

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The SPEF-R© has been designed so that students are not unfairly penalized if the placement has been unable to provide sufficient relevant opportunities for the student to demonstrate competence. So therefore a rating of insufficient observation is considered a pass.

The practice educator has to decide if they have sufficient evidence to make a judgment about whether the student is passing or failing an item. If they are unable to rate the student as passing or failing they are able to use the rating of insufficient observation I/O or non applicable N/A. Which to use will be based on the relative importance of each item to the workplace.

Where the practice educator isn't convinced they have sufficient evidence to make a judgment about the student passing or failing an item but are concerned about the student's performance they may choose to rate the item as I/O but ensure they give very specific feedback about their concerns.

The key is to plan. A rating of I/O at half way is a cue to plan how to provide relevant learning experiences in the next half of the placement with the aim of enabling the practice educator to rate the item as passing or failing.

A situation that should be avoided is where a student has failed an item at half way and has had limited or no opportunity to demonstrate their competence in the second half of the placement. In this case practice educators who do not have sufficient evidence to make a judgment would be in a difficult position because a rating of I/O on this item at final evaluation would be equivalent to a pass. Once again the key is to plan ahead.

How do I let my student know that I have noticed her improvement, even though I couldn’t always give her a higher score?

Judy
Practice Educator

 

 

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The most important thing from my experience is to give students clear and specific feedback on their performance. I have always thought it was important as a practice educator, to be encouraging and to let my students know that I have noticed when they are doing things better. Students I think tend to focus on their rating, so it can be difficult when they have improved, but you don't think they have met the criteria for a higher rating.

It can be tempting to rate "conservatively" at halfway, to give them room to move. That can lead to problems when you're giving feedback, telling them they have done something well, and that it's a strength and yet their rating doesn't really appear to back that up. For me it is essential to give them the rating they deserve. It is fairer and it makes more sense to them. The best way to do this is to make sure I am looking at the rating scale descriptors and sticking to them. That way my feedback matches the rating. It also makes inter-rater reliability more likely, so that students feel their rating is more consistent from one placement to another.

Regardless of whether the students rating has changed or not I make sure I use the feedback section to highlight their learning. My advice is to use feedback to help students value progress they have made.

What do I do if a student performs very differently in group versus individual contexts?

Frances Millar
Clinical Education Liaison Manager, Division of Occupational Therapy,
The University of Queensland

 

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When you are rating each item of the SPEF©, you are generally considering all the occasions you have observed the student displaying the relevant skills and making an overall decision on that performance. Often a single item will incorporate a range of skills and behaviours, which in the end need to be summarised as a single score with some explanatory feedback. Students may well have displayed some strengths and weaknesses within the parameters of a single item.

The student who performs quite differently in individual and group contexts is a case in point. Many items relate to elements of direct service provision, and may be relevant to both individual and group settings. As the practice educator you need to consider the student's overall performance when deciding a final rating for each relevant item. It will then be really important to use the feedback/recommendations section to summarise what you have observed, highlighting strengths and emerging skills. It may also be possible to assist students to have increased learning opportunities in the context they are finding challenging.

What do I do if I think the student may fail?

Anne
Practice Educator

 

 

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Having a student is always a challenge. But having a student who is experiencing difficulties is potentially very stressful for all concerned. In my situation it was evident early on the student was at risk of not getting through. She was really struggling with elements of her communication and was tending to withdraw as a method of coping. She didn't seem aware of her difficulties, bringing almost nothing to the supervision process and despite feedback showed no improvement during the first 2 weeks. I looked at the SPEF© and identified at least 3 core skills she was at risk of failing. The process of going through the SPEF© was really helpful, as it helped me to be objective, and to clearly articulate what my concerns were. At that point I decided I would contact the university, rather than waiting until the halfway evaluation. I faxed through a "Concerns Exist Form". Looking back I am so glad I told them early. They provided support both to me and to my student. And it gave her as much time as possible to work on her difficulties. I would always recommend asking the uni for help, and asking them as soon as you know there is an issue.

How do I use the Student Review of Placement?

Melody
Practice Educator

 

 

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I always ask my students to give me feedback along the way - whether they feel they're getting enough support, if they feel comfortable coming to me with questions, that type of thing. I think though it can be really valuable to have a more structured way of asking for that information. Some students I think can feel a bit intimidated giving this type of feedback face to face, without having had time to think it through. I always ask my students to fill out the Student Review of Placement from the SPEF© Package at halfway and at the end of the placement. We talk about what they've said, and try to make any changes to help make the most of the placement. Of course there are some things that are a bit hard to change, but I do my best where I can, and at least I can explain why things might be done the way they are. I find it really helpful too, in planning future placements, cos I have a better understanding of what went well, and what other things I could perhaps include next time.

I did have one experience where the student had had a pretty rocky time here, so I gave her the choice of whether she wanted to discuss her comments, or just leave them with me. I thought she may feel more able to be honest if she didn't have to talk directly to me about it. She chose to just leave them with me. I guess I would always prefer to talk about them, but I think this worked well for this situation.

How do I match the terminology of the SPEF-R© with my workplace?

Clara
Practice Educator

 

 

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When I first looked at the SPEF-R© I struggled a little with the terminology. The generic terminology is different from the specific terms we use at work. Once I read the user manual it was pretty clear what each term meant but it took some getting used to. We don't use the term "service user" but still use the word client. I would say I was doing an "assessment" rather than "information gathering", and we would call service provision, "intervention". I still think of myself as a "clinical supervisor" rather than a practice educator. I am glad that as long as you understand the terms used in the SPEF© you won't have any difficulties. You are still encouraged to use your own workplace terminology in your discussions with students and in your feedback. I think it is just a matter of getting used to it.

We have more than one practice educator contributing to the evaluation - do we do anything differently?

Cate Fitzgerald
Clinical Education Liaison Manager, Division of Occupational Therapy,
The University of Queensland

 

 
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There is no one answer to this question. Different settings will need to develop their own processes to make this work for them. So here are some of the challenges you might need to think about.

First you need to make sure you are giving consistent messages to the student and that the information and expectations you all have are clear and consistent.

Second you might have students working in a range of areas, perhaps even in different workplaces or maybe they are working in the same area with part-time educators. So then communication between practice educators could become a challenge.

Thirdly different educators might see different patterns of performance in a student and they will need to think through why this is happening. This might be related to variations in the student's performance or perhaps differences in what different practice educators notice and focus on.

A fourth thing to consider is that a student may respond to one practice educators teaching style more than another. All educators could use this to learn about what might work best for that student.

Finally you need to have a plan for dealing with any disagreement or differences in the way educators evaluate the students' performance.

A lot of these issues are best thought through prior to the student starting placement. Collaboration is the key with one practice educator accepting the primary responsibility for coordinating the process.

Should I have higher expectations of final year students?

Nick
Practice Educator

 

 

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At first I thought it went without saying that I was entitled to expect more of students in their later pracs. I thought that with all their previous experience I shouldn't have to give them as much information or support. That they would be ready to stand on their own two feet and just "go for it". When I really thought about it though, I realised how potentially different each placement can be. So much of what I do and the knowledge I have developed is very specific to my area, and even my workplace. When I first started here I was given time to settle in, and extra support during my induction, and I was an experienced therapist. When I look back I realise how much I have learned since I started, and how long it took me to feel really settled in. I guess that there are some skills that students may find "transfer" to some extent from one placement to another-professional behaviours, self-management skills and communication skills that perhaps could be built on from placement to placement. But having said that, a new or confronting context may demand new things of you even in areas you thought you were quite competent in.

Should I ask the student to self evaluate using the SPEF-R©?

Natasha
Occupational Therapy Student

 

 

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My practice educator asked me to fill out a SPEF-R© on myself. At first it was really uncomfortable, because I was worried that what I said mightn't match what they thought. I didn't want to look as though I was full of myself if I gave myself a 4 or a 5, but I didn't want to put myself down either. I think though, once I started, it helped me to discover for myself, what my strengths were, and what I wasn't feeling so confident with. I used the rating descriptors when I marked myself, and that helped me be more objective. And I wrote lots of examples and comments in the feedback section, and that helped clarify any issues that came up. I felt really well prepared for when my practice educator gave me my results. I think I had already come to pretty similar conclusions.

When I first did it at halfway, I was able to explain what I thought I needed to do more of before I finished. My practice educator was really good and helped me organise some particular opportunities around those goals.

I think having to self-evaluate also helped me to understand the SPEF© better. You understand the sort of things practice educators are looking for. It helped me think about all the different skills and steps along the way to becoming a better therapist. It helped me "get" what it was I needed to be doing- a sort of prompt of things to think about.

Should I ask other co-workers about the student’s performance?

Helen
Practice Educator

 

 

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I have found it really useful to ask co-workers for feedback about students I've had. The way things work here, students have considerable contact with other members of the team, and I feel their feedback is valuable. It helps me gain a more comprehensive picture of their overall performance. I do make sure though, that I ask for examples of what the students have done or said, rather than just ask for general impressions. That way I can substantiate any feedback I pass on. I think it is fairer too, to flag at the beginning of the placement that other people will be contributing their feedback- that way students know what to expect, and the range of methods that may be used in the gathering evidence during the evaluation process.

Teamwork is a big part of our workgroup. How can I make sure this is reflected in the evaluation?

Anne
Practice Educator

 

 

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I work in a pediatric setting where teamwork is an integral part of how we operate. When I first used the SPEF-R© I noticed that the idea of collaboration is used throughout rather than the term teamwork. Because in this organization we work in teams a lot I felt it was important that this was reflected in their evaluation more explicitly. So I kept teamwork in mind when I customized the items.

It comes up mostly in co-worker communication. It also seemed to fit in particular items from Professional behavior and Self Management skills. So item 4 from professional behavior already has the example of adapting workplace culture and engaging appropriately in meetings and managing shared resources and I gave the student an idea of how this works in our team and emphasized the need for them to take it on board.

In Self management skills item 3 which is about demonstrating initiative and taking responsibility for actions I noted the example relating to following through on agreed actions and I specified how this might relate to being a reliable team member like offering to do things and making sure you do them.

I think if teamwork is inherent in your workplace it will influence how you rate items in some of the later domains such as information gathering and service provision. Even though teamwork is not as explicit in those item banks if students are not working well in a team generally they will not be as effective at doing their job here.