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A graphical representation of the medical interventions considered by a health technology assessment

The Importance of Utilising the Expertise from the Department When Creating Online Courses

As a civic university, it is essential that our researchers reach out to the public and engage them in their research – to break out of the ‘ivory tower’ of academia they have to show the public who they really are and the difference their research makes to our lives.

One of the key opportunities that developing an open online course therefore offers to the schools and departments within the university is the chance to showcase the diverse range of skills and talents of our research staff. Health Technology Assessment is a highly multi-disciplinary research method, and so it offered the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) a unique showcase for the cutting-edge knowledge and expertise that our researchers can offer at each stage of the research process.

As a learner, the benefits of involving a wide range of research staff in our online courses are huge. Not only do they benefit from this wide range of expertise, but they also get to see our researchers explain what they do and why they do it, in a way that demonstrates their enthusiasm for the real-world impact of what they do. For instance, in week 2 of Health Technology Assessment, Prof. Alan Brennan talked animatedly about his passion for economic modelling.This subject might seem rather dry and academic to many, but is important because it allows him to see the direct results of what he does in the decisions that are made about how our finite healthcare resources are used.

Of course, getting a large, diverse and very busy group of researchers on board is not easy: finding time in diaries, explaining what is required, and persuading people to step in front of the camera are all big asks. But our staff have been incredibly supportive and keen to be involved, and the Online Learning Team are brilliant at putting staff at ease and making sure everyone involved gets the most out of the experience. Rather than asking our staff to read from a script, it makes much more sense to simply ask questions about what they do and allow them to talk freely about  their research and expertise. This approach has resulted in some fantastic footage that shows our researchers at their best: telling the story of their research in their own terms.

Students in the lab

Of course it’s not just our research staff who have expertise who can benefit our courses. Our learning technologists have made a fantastic contribution to our course, enabling use to produce versions of academic reports that are much more user-friendly, accessible and interactive. They are brilliant at finding ways in which technology can help to make research more accessible and meaningful; our interactive HTA report and forest plot are great examples of this in action. This can make  something highly academic and complex come to life for our students, both at the university as well as the learners on the online course.

Though its takes time and effort to put together an online course that incorporates all this expertise and still remains coherent and accessible, it’s an opportunity not to be missed for any department that wants to shine a light on its bright and brilliant staff.

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About Claire Beecroft

Claire Beecroft
Claire is the Lead Educator on the Health Technology Assessment Course. She joined the University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research in 2003. In January 2010 she became a University Teacher/Information Specialist and is currently teaching on a variety of courses. Her key research interests include e-learning, e-Health, applications of web2.0 to healthcare, teaching of health informatics and information skills, and support for NHS Librarians and staff to develop key informatics skills.

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