Mary Clark


My work in the online programs began while I was working towards my Masters in Distance Education. To meet the requirements of one course, I evaluated the learner support in the Graduate Certificate in Rehabilitation program, which, by the way, was very good, and explained why the retention rates were so much higher than in other graduate programs delivered by distance.

I was so impressed that when it came time to choose my research topic, I returned to the program and requested permission to study the factors influencing critical thinking in online discussions. I wondered: if this program excelled at learner support, was it also good at developing the higher order thinking skills necessary for successful graduate work? And, more importantly, could it foster the thinking needed for solving the complexity of problems faced by health professionals in rehabilitation practice? Big topic — we are still working on the answer — with some interesting impact research underway. For my master’s thesis research I narrowed it down to factors influencing critical thinking skills during the online discussions in one course: RHSC 503: Reasoning and Decision Making. The results indicated that participating in online peer discussion fostered the development of critical thinking by encouraging structured reflection focused on clinical cases, and increased understanding through the thoughtful exchange of written communication.

Equipped with my shiny new Masters in May 2005, I was given the incredible opportunity to take on the role of interim coordinator of the UBC Rehabilitation Science Online Programs while Sue Stanton was on sabbatical. At the same time, I authored RHSC 581: Writing to Enhance Practice. Total immersion is a good thing, I told myself, but it meant breaking ties with work that I had done for many years. This included my role as managing editor of Occupational Therapy Now and other communications work for the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT).  

Writing and collaborating online have been steady occupations of mine since 1987 when I moved to Vancouver and started my marketing communications company, Westprint Communications. Starting as a sideline to my occupational therapy practice in 1984, over the years it has grown from providing primarily graphic design, writing and editing services to include the development and delivery of print and online training/educational materials, a direct result of my Master’s studies. I continue to consult for various small businesses, not-for-profit and health professional organizations.

So where to now? Words are important; they are the main ingredients in written communication, and I believe there are important connections among professional language use, theory and clinical decision making that are worth exploring. If words are proxies of our thinking, do we pay enough attention to what we use in our day-to-day practice? By making our thinking more explicit can we demonstrate our competence to colleagues and the public? By doing so will it improve how we self monitor our competence? There lies a few budding research projects of mine, along with continued interest in learner support. My present research project is exploring role balance to understand learners’ adjustments and retention.