At this year’s Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards Ceremony, Dr Anthony Nasser was recognised for his AAUT citation for outstanding contributions to student learning. We had the pleasure of chatting with Anthony about the award and his approach to teaching physiotherapy.

Dr Anthony Nasser and Andrew Parfitt, Vice-Chancellor and President of UTS at the award ceremony.

Congratulations on your AAUT citation. Tell us a little about the work you were recognised for…

The award was for inspiring clinical excellence in physiotherapy students through authentic and active learning experiences. It was an honour to receive the recognition. I started at UTS in the first year the Master of Physiotherapy program was offered, which was back in 2017. Over this time, I have felt very privileged to have a significant role in shaping the course program and content, and through this have a small influence on the future of our health profession. 

Observing different colleagues teaching, particularly early in my teaching career, and reflecting on challenges, both as a student and a clinician, has had a significant influence in shaping my approach to teaching. My teaching approach focuses on developing reflective and caring practitioners who are equipped to excel as leaders in clinical practice. 

To achieve this, I have developed engaging learning activities that immerse students in the clinical world by using a case-based framework. This means we are following real patient cases from the first week. This is critical for building confidence as it allows students to, from the very beginning of the course, play the role of the clinician and start to develop skills that will be used in practice. 

What are some of the ways you encourage your students to become confident leaders in physiotherapy?  

I am passionate about developing confident future leaders in our profession. I try and achieve this in a variety of ways. In the classroom, I strive to create a welcoming space where different perspectives are heard, and students feel comfortable asking questions and expressing their thoughts. Part of my teaching practice is to regularly share clinical reflections with students to create an environment where learning from experience and valuing improvement are celebrated. This promotes a positive culture of reflective learning that extends beyond the classroom. 

A contribution I am proud of was my role in the development of clinical simulation. This journey began following a survey of clinical educators regarding student knowledge gaps on clinical placement. This identified confidence and clinical reasoning as key learning targets. The authentic peer-led simulation program developed targeted these specific gaps and was met with overwhelmingly positive feedback. 

I also share with students the uncertainties and challenges that clinicians are met with. For example, sharing that we don’t always have all the answers. Instead, the focus is on being the best clinician you can be and being able to reflect and learn from experiences. 

Another focus has included translating research to clinical educators teaching UTS physiotherapy students on placements. One example was publishing a regular blog that focused on developing work readiness. For example, summarising research findings that discussed differences in communication skills between expert and novice (student) physiotherapists. 

What do active and authentic learning experiences look like in your class?  

A challenge faced by physiotherapy students starting their degree is experiencing adequate clinical context in the classroom whilst they develop foundational knowledge. My clinical experience as a physiotherapist has included years of working in a range of environments. This gives me plenty of real-world examples that I can draw on that students can relate to. I built an engaging, research-inspired course that integrates team-based learning using simulated cases each week. For example, each Friday, a relevant clinical case is uploaded on the student discussion board. In subsequent tutorials, students answer questions in groups and act out scenarios (e.g., patient/practitioner roleplays). This is followed by a tutor-led consolidation discussion (e.g., a case study of a 70-year-old who developed hip osteoarthritis). Other activities include consolidation quizzes, student-led appraisal of tutor demonstrations and the use of a Clinical Reasoning Guide to scaffold students’ learning through diagnostic and treatment decisions. 

How did your students respond to your approach? 

The response from students has been overwhelmingly positive. Through exposure to authentic learning experiences (case studies) and creating a safe environment where learning from experience is valued, students have demonstrated increased confidence, motivation, and competence in their performance of physiotherapy skills. Students have shown a greater ability to apply theoretical concepts to clinical scenarios, resulting in enhanced critical thinking skills. Pleasingly, we have received feedback that our students have excelled on clinical placements and in the workforce. 

Do you have any advice for academics who might wish to try similar ideas in their subjects? 

In my view, one of the most important aspects is fostering an inclusive environment where students are confident to contribute and ask questions. As academics, we have the opportunity to set the tone of the learning environment. In my case sharing experiences, challenges or failures as a practitioner helps create a safe teaching space where students feel confident to approach staff and ask questions.  

It is important to occasionally step back and think about the ‘big picture’ to prioritise the holistic development of students, promoting not only academic excellence but also professional skills and personal growth.  

Finally, try and create real-world context around each learning activity so students can easily place themselves into their roles in the workplace. This not only increases engagement but sets students up to more easily transition from university to work and develop as confident and proficient practitioners. 

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