Real learning in a virtual world

Virtual Physiotherapy UK 2020: how to make the most of this year’s virtual physiotherapy conference

Physiotherapy UK 2020:Real learning in a virtual world by Nina Paterson and Fran Fitch

For those of you who know me, either through these articles or as part of my day job as CSP education adviser, you’ll know how much I like to try new things. In organisation-speak it’s fair to say I’m an innovator or early adopter (most of the time at least). I like to shake things up, find new ways to do things.  

In terms of my job, enthusiasm and creativity are strengths when I’m leading projects like sourcing a new ePortfolio for you our members (although it’s not so new now) or introducing a consistent approach to knowledge management across the CSP, or even reviewing our processes to see if we can either find efficiencies or achieve multiple goals through a single action. 

During the pandemic, I’ve been comfortable throwing out our rulebook and figuring out how to get the most out of our changed ways of working. Or rather – find ways to achieve more than we were doing before. Those of you who have followed this series of Frontline articles will know that we’ve explored change management and I’ve shared my personal strategies on managing change in the workplace on a number of occasions previously.   

So when CSP came to the difficult decision that Physiotherapy UK should become a virtual conference (VPUK), as one of the eight CSP staff theme leads involved I wasn’t particularly fazed.  In fact, I was excited to try something so different.   

I am however aware of the downsides that being an innovator/early adopter can bring so I usually try to moderate myself by stepping back to take a critical look at what’s being proposed.  

I’d hate for my innate curiosity to blind me to legitimate issues, obstacles or barriers that occur when change happens. That way, when I commit to something it is always informed and measured.  

So for this article I’m going to attempt to both convey my enthusiasm but also I’ll be stepping back to take a grounded look at VPUK. I teamed up with my colleague Fran Fitch to draw this article together. Fran is programme lead for the conference and has been working hard with a team of colleagues who have been monitoring the pandemic to ensure that we have just as great an experience as if we were there in person. And because of her role she has a really good understanding of the feedback we’ve received so far. 

It’s virtual 

We’ve had the full range of comments coming in about the switch to virtual. I – personally – have been thrilled by how so many of you are genuinely excited about the prospect. If you haven’t seen the demo, it is worth checking out

And it’s worth saying – this isn’t two days of sitting in front of your computer on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. It really is a fully interactive experience. You’ll get to create a mini virtual-you, network with everyone else there as much or possibly more than you would if we were at Birmingham or Liverpool.  

The world – and it is a world complete with beach and outside spaces – has been set up with great care to make sure there are places for you to stop, sit, chat with friends and colleagues. There are even areas for you to talk in private, so while people may be walking nearby you won’t be overheard. That’s even better than the real thing.  

The students will still be there on their stand in the exhibition hall, our associate members will be having meetings with my colleague Claire Fordham, the CSP professional adviser who supports our support workers.  

I’ve seen colleagues who are usually quite serious bouncing in their seats as they described sneaking in for an early look around, only to discover the beach. I’ve heard others enthusing about mastering the ability to make their avatar walk backwards in circles. I didn’t ask why that appealed but I was tickled they were so thrilled at their newfound skill. And I’m no better – I’ve discovered heels that I can walk in all day without hurting my feet. For those who know me I’m normally a trainers-girl so virtual heels are novel. 

It’s still a scientific conference 

While the VPUK team have taken care to recreate an experience that includes the networking and fun elements that we all appreciate, the programme itself is stellar. The quality of the abstracts is excellent. The content, including the focused symposia, selected in partnership with our professional networks, is amazing.  

As theme lead for Leading for Change, I’m genuinely excited by the programme. The sessions around disruptive leadership, embracing change, primary care workforce fit for the future and innovations in practice-based learning are going to be excellent.  

I’ve mentioned before that I had to give up my place last year because the conference was oversubscribed. This year I was determined not to miss out. As theme lead I’ll be up front, supporting the presenters and facilitators, and because my FOMO (fear of missing out) was riding high this year, I’m even speaking on Friday along with my colleague Jane Mitchell CSP professional adviser, and two amazing members in the networking session digital physiotherapy – from undergraduate to expert. 

This really isn’t just a videoconference. You’ll be able to take a seat, talk to those beside you, listen to the presenters, ask questions, take part in discussions and even clap to show your appreciation after being inspired by Sallie Lamb and Phil Glasgow as they open and close the conference during the plenary sessions. Not forgetting Suzanne Rastrick chief allied health professions officer at NHS England joining Professor Lamb at the opening plenary. 

So what does all of this mean?  

Firstly, it means if you haven’t signed up, do it quick. For £99 (students, support workers and non-waged, it’s cheaper still) you’ll be attending a conference that normally costs much more. You’ll save on travel and hotel costs this year as well. (Unless of course you plan to follow in the footsteps of another of my colleagues who is booking herself into a local hotel for a couple of nights away with what she’s saving. At the conference by day, then a queen-sized bed and remote control to herself at night. Lockdowns permitting.) 

And secondly it might mean taking a chance on a technology you haven’t used before.  

If I’d been writing this article seven or eight months ago this article would have been solely focused on reassuring you that it was easy, safe and that your IT skills were up to the job. The one thing I do know (and it’s a good thing for the implementation of the NHS Long Term Plan), is that we’re all now in a different place with technology. 

Unless you were in a role like mine eight months ago, few people had heard of Zoom. Now technologies underpin much of our working lives: students attending virtual lectures, remote consultations for patients, attending virtual staff/team meetings. And very probably it underpins much of our home lives too with virtual parties, weddings, and concerts.  

With what seems like a snap of the fingers, our world has changed – very different but still connected. It’s unlikely to go back any time soon. When my 73-year old technophobe mum has switched to virtual then everyone has. She keeps in touch with her Slimming World group via Zoom and WhatsApp, she’s upgraded her phone and internet so she can have better quality experiences. She’s thrilled to get an appointment with her GP, her diabetes nurse and the hospital within reasonable timeframes, all because they’ve switched to virtual consultations. With her only needing to travel when she actually needs to be tested.  

So with such a shift happening across society at large I’m hoping that you won’t need persuading, but just in case you’re worried that you’re IT skills aren’t up to it, I’d encourage you to see it as an opportunity to learn something new. Given the focus on digital within the NHS Long Term Plan, attending a virtual conference is great not just because of what you’ll learn clinically or as a leader or manager but this year you’ll also get to combine this with an opportunity to evidence and consolidate your digital skills. 

This conference is going to be different. You may well walk backwards in circles, unintentionally, once or twice while we’re getting to grips with your virtual self. But learning is at its best when it is in a safe environment and fun. I hope that being surrounded by colleagues who are also working out how to wave, clap or head bop (yes you can even dance at VPUK), you’ll feel safe to relax and let your virtual hair down as part of a physiotherapy community who are able to laugh and learn together.  

And finally whether it’s the plenaries that inspire you, the posters that inform your practice, the presentation skills you develop as speaker, a contact you make near the lighthouse, or the digital skills you pick up as a delegate or exhibitor, don’t forget to actively pursue your own development. Even in the virtual world it’s important to stop, reflect, connect your ideas, and capture all of your ideas, plans, actions. 

CSP ePortfolio 

The CSP ePortfolio is always there as a resource, complete with journal functions, templates with action plans, SWOT analysis, prompts for reflection etc. but if you fancy some downtime from the virtual world, a pen and paper for your notes works just as well. 

    Just in case you see all the CSP staff gliding around looking like pros, know we’ve had a little time to practice so that we can be there to make the experience more comfortable for you. We’ve had to learn too. If you haven’t seen Fran and Steve Mann’s VPUK outtakes on CSP Twitter account. I highly recommend watching it for calming your nerves. 

    You can find out more from our online resources 

    Number of subscribers: 1

    Log in to comment and read comments that have been added