Thursday, November 13, 2008

Reflections on the first year of online seminars for midwives

As we rapidly approach the end of 2008, I thought it would be a good time to reflect back on the program of free online seminars I have been offering midwives this year.

What inspired the program
The idea came about as a response to the free online seminars that MIDIRS offers in the UK. The problem for us in the southern hemisphere is that the time zones never match, although you can access the seminar recordings at any time. So I thought it would be good to offer a similar program for us, focusing on midwives in New Zealand and Australia.

I also hoped the program would support the midwives who were not able to physically go to the ICM conference back in May, that was held in Glasgow, especially the midwives in developing countries like Pakistan who could not afford to go. I had hoped that people who presented in Glasgow would replicate their presentations online for the benefit of those of us who could not go to the conference. This hasn't happened, and I think that is because there is still a lack of understanding and interest in online education and professional development. I also wonder if there is a concern about the 'academic value' of online presentations compared to face-to-face conferences - do online presentations have the same credibility and gain the same academic 'brownie points' as face-to-face presentations? What do you think?

I decided to use Elluminate as I have access to it via my employer, Otago Polytechnic. However, the program is my own individual responsibility, and not necessarily endorsed by the Otago Polytechnic School of Midwifery.

There may come a time when I utilise a different conferencing platform such as WiZiQ or DimDim, but for the time being I'll stick with Elluminate because it can be used fairly easily by people with dial-up Internet access. I am looking for feedback on WiZiQ - have you used it and if so, how did you find it?

The speakers were mostly colleagues whose arms I was able to twist. I deliberately chose more clinically focused subjects because experience has shown me that this is what interests midwives, as opposed to more theoretical subjects. I found during the year that there was a lot of interest in being a speaker, but it was difficult to pin people down to actually doing it.

So if you'd like to present a session next year, please let me know. You can present a specific clinical topic, or a more general topic that will not only be of interest to midwives, but also women and health consumers interested in pregnancy and childbirth.

We had a total of five seminars all together looking at subjects ranging from midwifery in Pakistan to breastfeeding. I have recorded all the meetings and archived them on the wiki I have been using to manage the program. The last two seminars planned for October and November had to be canceled for various reasons.

The first session was attended by one person other than immediate colleagues. And the final session was attended by 16 people. This does not sound like a large audience, but it has been very encouraging to see a steady growth of numbers. I was also very interested to see that a good number of non-midwives have attended. I love the idea of joint sessions between midwives and health consumers. To me, this is real partnership, and I believe this will lead to collaborations and synergies that may not otherwise happen. I have had attendees from New Zealand, Canada, UK, Pakistan and Australia. I have also had a number of private emails from people, mostly health consumers, wanting to go on a 'mailing list' and be notified about future presentations.

I have developed a wiki to support this program with the aim that people could use it for information and to volunteer their services. But the impression I have receieved is that people do not really understand how a wiki works. In particular, the speakers have not understood that they can add their own information. This has not been a problem because I have been able to do it for them. But my vision that the wiki will be a collecting point for speakers to volunteer their services, and reduce my work load has not been realized.

Changes for next year
  • Formally evaluate each session so I have concrete data which can be written up and published.
  • Need to work out a way of keeping track of how many people access the recordings.
  • Make the recordings into an audio podcast.
  • Be a lot more organized about how I advertise the sessions. I have regular places I use to advertise such as the midwifery research discussion list and various Facebook groups. But I am not very consistent. And I have had a number of people ask to be notified about sessions. So I think I need to make a simple database with email addresses and contact details which will ensure that everyone who is interested in the sessions gets notified on a regular basis.
  • Have a back up plan if speakers are unable to attend. But at the same time, I think I have to emphasize that a commitment to being a speaker is the same as committing to present at a face-to-face conference. It is very difficult to disseminate the news that a session has been canceled because I have no idea how far afield my advertising has gone.
  • Work on helping people to understand how they can use the wiki.
Future plans
I am very pleased with how this 'experiment' has gone this year, and look forward to developing a full program for 2009. I believe there is a huge need for online synchronous events to happen, both in midwifery and health generally. And I think we shouldn't be afraid to open up to health consumers as well as other health professionals. For example, I would dearly like to replicate the very positive experience I had at the aged and community care conference I attended last week in an online environment.

My big plan for next year? Well, I would like to organize a 24 hour online event for midwives and health professionals so that whatever time zone you are in, you will have the opportunity to attend at least one event. So if you have any ideas, or would like to work with me to organize this, please let me know.


Anonymous said...

I'll still do my little spiel should anyone want to listen to me in the New Year.
Hey, I did all the work before, just need to gather it all up again. I'm about halfway there now.
non midwives really enjoy it too!

Sarah Stewart said...

Will definitely like to book you in for next year. Possibly March? How would that suit you?

Kevin Micalizzi, Dimdim Community Manager said...

Sarah, great initiative in creating and offering your own free online seminars. Unfortunately many groups still don't see the power in recording their sessions for people to view later.

If you decide to give Dimdim a try, let me know.

DaveB said...

Oh I think OP would endorse the seminar series if asked. Actually - its a perfect fit in every way.

What your doing is great.

I agree that online seminars don't have the same academic credibility as a peer reviewed conference presentation. But they still have merit as a contribution to your community and industry.

This type of PD takes a number of things: awareness that it exists, interest, effort and time. We're at the stage where the vast majority of people in all areas aren't aware of the existence and benefit of sitting in on something like this. But the remaining things will always lead to lower numbers - time and energy are short when you have a full day's work to get through.

But for those who can manage, seminars like this are extremely valuable. Especially if you manage to merge top/best practice with academic substance. There's no shortage of light opinion pieces on the 'net - if I'm sitting in on a 30-50min talk then I really want to hear something substantial, ideally from a leader in the field. Gosh that would scare people off presenting - but giving interesting and substantial seminars is one part of becoming a leader.

what I'm trying to say in far too many words is "good on ya"

Sarah Stewart said...

@Dave Thanks , Dave , for that. I have to admit that it is quite time-consuming but I have been able to do it in my own time because I have only been part time this year. I'm not so sure how it will pan out next year when I am working full time.

@Kevin I am excited about DimDim, but I have to say that it wasn't as intuitive when I tried it out, as Elluminate is - I must give it another 'go'. What I need is a program that can be used by people on dial up, especially in rural/remote areas. How does DimDim run on dial up?

Carolyn said...

I have a profile in a WIZIQ. have not used it yet for a meeting but I have to say I like to look of it, and what I have seen so far seems reasonably intuitive.

Lisa Barrett said...

This project sounds very interesting. Will be keeping up to date with progress. I just have to be at home and on the computer after 9am and before midnight and I can join in too.

Sarah Stewart said...

@Carolyn We must have more of a play with DimDim and WIZIQ - maybe in the summer holidays when we've got nothing better to do :)

@Lisa I'll keep you informed of the program for next year. Feel free to volunteer to be a speaker if you'd like hint, hint!

Sarah Stewart said...

Lisa: I'm an idiot, I just realised you're talking about the 24 hour project. Well, have a think about how we could do it, where, when and what, and lets talk in a little while. To be honest, I probably wont't think too seriously until the beginning of next year. But it will be good to have it in the back of our minds.

Lisa Barrett said...

You have me thinking though, I could volunteer. I'm always a bit nervous about putting myself up for things because I attend births so regularly. Maybe if there was a back up talk in case of that.

I have had 3 talks cancelled this year and of course I had to fly back from the Blue Mountains. I was supposed to speak twice over two days. At least I made one talk which was the breech talk. Then a client was in early labour so I flew home. Ahhh, the life of a midwife.

Sarah Stewart said...

You're right Lisa, it is very difficult when you're a midwife. Maybe, I could get your support in other ways. Let's keep thinking and keep in touch. cheers.