Marie Buckleygray is a mature student doing her first year in Midwifery at RGU. She writes about how blended learning has helped her balance family life and education during this difficult time.
In this dreich (dull and gloomy in Doric) weather, I send this to you as a blether and bosie (chat and hug). I want to begin by acknowledging what this pandemic has brought. Sleepless nights due to uncertainty, lack of lockdown childcare, unexpected home education, keeping our families healthy, grinding economic pain, profound grief for loved ones and previous lives lost and so much more. This difficult lockdown landscape has been part of my personal path too, as it has been for many. But that is not what I write to you about. I’d like to guide you on a tour of how education is adapting and thriving from my own wee perspective as a first year mature student midwife at RGU.
In serving 16,000 students, Robert Gordon University has gained several prestigious accolades including 1st in the UK for Health Professions (Guardian University Guide 2021). Across three NHS Trusts, from the south of Tayside up to the north of Shetland, from the east coast of the North Sea at Aberdeen to the Western Isles on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, we are offered connections and placements in varied urban and rural settings.
During my first week, I remember my astonishment at the scale of modern architecture of the campus. In the past, as a postgraduate, I was based in what was essentially an old cottage in St Andrews. So RGU was quite the culture shock for me.Marie Buckleygray, first-year Midwifery student at RGU
Studying Midwifery during COVID-19
COVID-19 restrictions led the university to switch to blended learning. All of our theory was predominantly taught online at the beginning of the year. Placements were in the second half of the year. This flexible course offered breaks within placement time, thereby being family friendly.Marie Buckleygray, first-year Midwifery student at RGU
I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for the lecturers to write a new BSc. course (incorporating the new NMC standards for education) whilst trying to take the Midwifery course online in an engaging and accessible way. Relaxation sessions were organised through the midwifery society and additional personal tutor sessions made available. The international student midwifery project and the innovation programme contributed to bring a creative learning environment within the course.
Online learning was not always easy. We had the inevitable children and pet appearances alongside microphones. Speakers and laptops becoming faulty. CampusMoodle, Menti, TURAS, clinical skills.net, iLearn, safe medicate, Zoom and BadgerNet systems were new territory to navigate for me. Microsoft Teams was a revelation to use during group work. We could edit documents during video calls, thereby democratising and speeding up the process of teamwork.
To put this experience into perspective, in my first degree, I remember researching in the library, saving essays onto floppy discs and trudging back to digs at night. My experience at RGU was totally different. You can perhaps get a sense of the toe curling elation at suddenly having access to all of the digital research journals and titles via the RGU library from the comfort of home.Marie Buckleygray, first-year Midwifery student at RGU
It was heavenly to be able to research in this unrestricted way. As I have young children, daytime is not particularly suitable for me to study. Late nights are the time when I put my head down and learn the concepts of midwifery.
Bonding as a cohort
You might wonder how we came to function as a cohort when we haven’t been within the walls of the campus together. We promptly formed a Facebook group. It is not unusual for the discourse to move at a rate of more than 100 messages a day. We marvelled at the fact that lectures were just a click away, reducing the time and costs of the logistics. With the time saved, it was possible to attend additional conferences organised by Royal College Of Midwives (RCM) and the Association of Radical Midwives (ARM).
It was also a moment of great pride for me to help organise and be part of the RGU contingent at the UNICEF Baby Friendly conference.Marie Buckleygray, first-year Midwifery student at RGU
I co-ordinated regular informal zoom gatherings to make up for the missing blethers and bosies we would have had in person. We have developed meaningful friendships and cohesion even with geographical distances.
Charting a way forward
I can only hope that after all of this, we will become a fresh wave of safe hands and warm hearts to welcome the families of tomorrow.Marie Buckleygray, first-year Midwifery student at RGU
I’m thrilled to see how we develop in our careers. I anticipate that our profession will be rich in the future because locational barriers are no longer a hurdle. More and more mature students, like me, will be able to apply.