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Glasgow Caledonian University - online simulated placements with retired professionals

Online simulated placement using retired Occupational therapists/ professional from across the UK.

What was the main aim/problem?

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a shortage of practice-based learning opportunities, challenging higher education to develop innovative solutions (RCOT 2020).  The occupational therapy programmes at Glasgow Caledonian University in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Sydney have responded to this shortage by developing an online simulated placement for the level 2 undergraduate students. This draws on the experience of implementing both face to face and online simulated placements by the University of Sydney and the growing evidence base for simulation as part of the portfolio of placement experiences (Imms, Froude Chu et al 2018).

What was the solution?

Utilising a design-based research approach (Barab and Squire 2004), a model of online simulated learning was developed providing the student with a peer-assisted learning experience to gain the practical skill required of professional settings. Small student groups used breakout rooms online and worked with a minimum of 2 “service users” following the normal stages of the occupational therapy process e.g., they received a referral, had to plan and lead an assessment, set collaborative goals and make recommendations and document service user contact.  Due to resource constraints, medical actors were not accessible and to maintain the real-world experience of the placement, retired occupational therapists and other professionals were recruited to “act” as the simulated service users. These were volunteers who were recruited through local networks and social media leading to a number of retired health professionals volunteering from across the UK. Working with each volunteer, a case study was co-created to ensure authenticity, drawing on the volunteers own personal and/or professional experience. 

What were the challenges?

  • Utilising the online platform and navigating breakout rooms required support and time to ensure volunteers were proficient. Also, being mindful of the time spent online during the session was a noted challenge to manage digital wellbeing.

What were the results?

The retired volunteers reported they were motivated and pleased to contribute to student education particularly during the pandemic. The volunteers, although somewhat unsure regarding how an online simulation would work to support student education were surprised at the authenticity and how well communication skills were able to be developed in an online platform by students commensurate with their level of training.  Volunteers also noted this was valuable learning for them to experience what it felt like to be in a service user’s shoes. 

What were the learning points?

The recognition of the time online for volunteers and emotional energy to “act” as a simulated service user with recognition of the need to grow the pool of volunteers to support this innovation. The value in developing simulated learning experience as part of the portfolio of placement innovations to support student education providing valuable learning for students and volunteers. 

Next steps?

To continue to grow the group of volunteers to support future developments of the online simulated placement. 

Contact for more information

Please contact Dr Emma Green if you would like to to know more, Emma.green@gcu.ac.uk


Barab, S. & Squire, K. (2004) Design-Based Research: Putting a Stake in the Ground, Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13:1, 1-14, DOI: 10.1207/s15327809jls1301_1

Imms, C., Froude, E., Chu, E.M.Y., Sheppard, L., Darzins, S., Guinea, S., Gospodarevskaya, E., Carter, R., Symmons, M.A., Penman, M. Nicola-Richmond, K., Gilbert-Hunt, S., Gribble, N., Ashby, S., Mathieu, E. (2018). Simulated versus traditional occupational therapy placements: A randomised controlled trial. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal, 65, 556-564. doi:10.1111/1440-1630.12513

RCOT (2020) Practice placements crucial for sustaining the workforce supply pipeline RCOT London