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This project aimed to investigate what the effect of activities to promote awareness of graduate attributes development introduced during 2014/15 would be on the quality of reflection displayed in student pharmacy technicians’ workplacement blogs. The project was undertaken in response to a deficit in critical reflection shown in earlier years. The work-placement blogs from 2013/14 were used as a comparison for this study. The theoretical perspective included a constructivist ontological position and an interpretivist epistemological position. The methodology was participatory action research involving the Pharmacy Technician students as co-researchers. The cycles of action and research aligned to three research objectives, namely student knowledge development about graduate attributes, prioritisation of graduate attributes for the pharmacy technician programme based on stakeholder input, and analysis of reflective writing through coding of work-placement blog assessments using NVivo. The findings revealed that the students’ baseline knowledge and confidence in general about graduate attributes was initially quite low, however the activities to develop their knowledge were successful. Following an online survey of pharmacy stakeholders a set of graduate attributes was prioritised. Based on these a range of activities was identified for the students to complete, and included a bespoke ethical debate and online self-evaluations. The influence of the participatory action research activities on the quality of student reflective writing in their work-placement blogs was determined through analysis of the coded data. This found clear evidence that the incidences of reflection on graduate attributes had increased compared to the previous year. Furthermore, data queries also showed that the explicit articulation of graduate attributes was directly linked to higher order critical reflection. The study has been successful in demonstrating that work-placement reflection can be expanded and improved through highlighting graduate attributes, and this approach would be readily transferable to other programmes involving work-placement. However, research indicates that a more holistic programme wide approach to graduate attributes development and assessment is required. This will further allow students to better articulate and evidence their skills and consequently improve their employability. Introduction of an ePortfolio to document student development should be considered in future curriculum review. Likewise, the integration and quality assurance of career management and civic engagement in the curriculum would be valuable. The role of support services within such a curriculum, along with resource implications, could be considered at Institute level.
Dunne, J. (2015) Participatory Action Research: Effect of Emphasising Graduate Attributes on Work-Placement Reflection. Dissertation submitted to Dublin Institute of Technology in partial fulfilment of MA in Higher Education, 2015.