When face-to-face placements were hit by COVID-19 restrictions last year, we flexed some creative muscle to move the Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science practicum quickly to an online Telepractice Clinic model. With expert supervisors, we were able to meet external subject and course accreditation requirements, saw great results and feedback, and made sure our students would still be able to graduate on time. 

Preparing pathways for careers in sport and exercise science 

In the Bachelor of Sport and Exercise Science practicum, students must complete 140 practicum hours to satisfy external accreditation requirements for Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) and become Accredited Exercise Scientists (AES). These hours focus on the development of exercise assessment, prescription and delivery skills with apparently healthy clients. 

Students usually complete this via UTS-organised placement across four concurrent blockwork sites. Last year, the planned sites were a local retirement village, health screening at UTS main campus, sports club testing and range of school visits to our Moore Park Campus.

4-part diagram showing the 4 placement sites and related activities

We had 11 supervisors, 5 support staff, 4 sites and 108 students ready to start placements on Wednesday, 18 March. On Monday, 16 March, we were sent into lockdown and everything ground to a halt. 

Authentic placement experience, from a distance

The undergraduate Work Integrated Learning (WIL) team worked quickly to re-design the practicum as a 6-week Telepractice program, with two main aims in mind: 

  1. Ensure all students are able to complete suitable practicum hours (ESSA also responded to the pandemic by introducing a provisional accreditation tier and reducing practicum requirements from 140 to 80 hours).
  2. Keep a strong practical focus, ensuring students could undertake real experiences with real clients. This keeps students invested in learning experiences and outcomes because of the consequences that their decisions can have on real people, rather than in simulated scenarios.

Under the supervision of accredited practitioners, students assessed, prescribed and delivered exercise programs weekly, specific to different clients. In weeks 1-4 they worked asynchronously on clients from elderly, general population, young people and athlete demographics. In week 5 whilst still under lockdown restrictions, students engaged with a client from within their own home environment, and in week 6 undertook an online viva assessment. 

Image showing the 6-week Telepractice in stages

Online, students met virtually and individually each week with a different supervisor. They discussed client information and exercise programming, as well as research to support evidence-based decision-making. Exercise programs and student-led exercise delivery videos were then provided to clients through program supervisors.

An important feature of the program was that students kept the same supervisor for weeks 4, 5 and 6. This meant that the supervisor had more time to understand individual student strengths and weaknesses and areas for future improvement. Supervisors had time to assess student portfolios from their group across all weeks, and then assign individually relevant Viva assessment questions drawn directly from the work that students had produced during the clinic.  

Assessing Impact

The program was highly successful and exceeded set outcomes; 50 practicum hours were completed, and the process provided a strong progressive scaffold under effective supervision for students to ‘…consolidate their learning, [apply their knowledge] and develop their practical skills relevant to future work as an entry level practitioner’ (ESSA Practicum Guide, 2020).

Delivering the program this way shows us that adopting an online learning approach using a bespoke Telepractice platform is equally effective within the practicum environment. This new way of working enabled us to increase the UTS-organised practicum hours offered to students, whilst maintaining high standards and integrity in practical skill development. 

Student satisfaction in this mode of learning also increased compared to previous face-to-face versions of blockwork. Some of their feedback is included below:

The assessments were extremely engaging and useful for me and I’m sure countless others as they have helped me learn a bit more about certain scenarios and conditions. The way the supervisors have been incorporated and the really engaging conversations that have come from that have been amazing! I have thoroughly enjoyed this practicum semester so far and look forward to completing face to face practical hours soon.

I like how we are completing different types of case studies every week. This forces us to think differently like we would in the real-world, with limited amount of time to do so.

It really helped me to learn how to apply my theoretical knowledge in a practical setting a lot better and plan evidence-based programs.

What’s next?

Following an evaluation of our new ways of working and learning online, the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation WIL team launched their own UTS Telepractice Clinic in Autumn 2021. Currently we have 145 students working with 125 clients via Zoom to deliver weekly individual health and fitness sessions for each of our clients. The 6-week program is free for clients, and helps our students to apply and refine their professional exercise science skills in real time, with real clients. Many UTS staff are also supporting the Clinic as clients, and anecdotal feedback to date has been overwhelmingly positive! 

Whilst the Clinic for this semester is nearly finished, we encourage everyone to keep their eye out for future clinic advertising in Autumn 2022. It’s a fantastic teaching and learning process with a product that we are very proud of, and we really value your continued support.

This topic was originally shared as a 10-minute presentation by the author at the 2020 UTS Learning and Teaching Forum under the theme of ‘Work-integrated learning’. Work-integrated learning was one of six themes at the Forum, which focussed on connecting current practice with future directions at UTS. 

Feature image by Charlotte Curd

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