Collaborative Learning Initiative

One of the major roles of the Centre is to promote interdisciplinary teaching and learning between different disciplines, which includes the perspectives of mental health service users and cares. The following narrative outlines how the Centre of Excellence and Interdisciplinary Mental Health, along with the School of Health Sciences and the Institute of Applied Social Studies at the University of Birmingham, got together to develop a joint teaching initiative for both social workers and mental health nurses.  The purpose of this short video is to outline some of the outcomes and lessons we’ve learnt over the past 18 months. 

What did CEIMH provide? 

One of the first things the Centre provided in development of this initiative was to act as an introductory agency between the two Schools, of sciences and social sciences. This then provided a forum to discuss ideas in. The second major thing that the Centre did in developing this project was to provide seed funding so that when we knew we had the funding in place, we knew we could afford to have a high degree of service user and carer input. 

I think what the Centre has provided is a neutral and friendly meeting space, a place where service users and carers feel at home, they can make themselves at the very basic level, they can make themselves cups of tea, sit down, take time out and so on.  It is a comfortable space.  I think a lot of the time we invite service users and carers to come into an institution which feels hostile and alien and uncomfortable and so the first part of what you’re trying to do is to put people at their ease.  I think this place works very well, that people are at their ease. 

In addition to the Centre being a good meeting space for service users and carers, it’s also an impressive teaching space for students, no matter what profession or background they’re from.  The provision of the social space is an excellent area for students to meet and talk to each other. 

It also works well because it’s not located within any particular department, so there is no overall bias. So people from different professional backgrounds again feel that they’re meeting very much as equals and I think that’s been a feature of how we have planned and delivered this module all the way through, that it has been a team approach and therein a team of equals rather than a team of ‘the natural dominant players and everybody else follows on’ sort of way of doing things. 

Mental Health Service User and Carer Input 

One of the major aims of the Centre is to ensure that there is mental health service user and carer input in all aspects of our work. 

As service users and carers we have been fully involved in the designing of the course, the teaching of the course and the assessment of the course. 

With this module we have had a level of intensity of service user and carer involvement which is unusual I think within the university as a whole. 

I think the service user involvement within the design of the course has been excellent. We’ve had several meetings over a period of months and months really, devising sort of the material as well as the exercises. It’s been really important. 

We’ve had a large team of people with different ideas and perspectives being involved in developing the material and in delivering the material, so it’s not just one or two people that may have particular perspectives and may not necessarily represent other perspectives. This obviously has financial implications and I think it would have been very hard for the Schools participating in this project to come up with the level of funding to do it this way and I think we are very much indebted to the Teaching and Learning Fund from the Centre here in terms of making this possible. 

Amongst the lessons that I’ve learnt about sustaining this type of project, are that there needs to be clarity about the financial implications of having service users and carers involved to such a depth. This was achieved firstly by seed funding provided by the Centre, as I’ve already said. Secondly, there was a commitment from the two participating Schools about matching the funding between each other. The Schools obviously saw an opportunity to develop good practice. My third point is in the informal feedback from students, they greatly benefited from having service user and carer input into their teaching. I think this is because of its emotive context and the impact of another reality and an informal teaching situation. 

Brief student and mental health carer feedback on interdisciplinary teaching sessions 

I found having carers and users involved really helped me to understand from the carer’s point of view what they have to go through as a carer and how much stress it is and strain and, you know, as well how they’d like to be treated because before, obviously you treat people with respect but your main focus is on the service user and I think the carer gets left out a little bit.  So having their point of view said in this course has been really helpful in the future to think I must ask how the family are as well, how are they getting on, do they need any help with anything, you know, as much as you could help them really. 


I found it very, very emotive when the carers spoke and it’s things that maybe I wouldn’t have taken on board as much previously.  But I do think it’s opened my eyes as well that the carers involvement and how they need to be involved. I mean I think we all like to think that we’re doing that but clearly, from hearing them speak, it’s not being done adequately. 


It’s good to get a kind of more, well I say subjective or objective point of view, whichever way. It’s subjective on the point of the carer or service user but it’s also some kind of safety mechanism to have that perspective fed back to you so you can say well hang on a minute, are we doing things the right way, and we’re not just going in and not taking that feedback on when we could be doing something wrong. 


So in terms of reflective practice, it’s a great experience. 

Yeah. I think it makes it a bit more real as well, the learning a bit more real. 

Yeah. And the fact that there’s people actually saying these things and you’re not reading it in a book or you’re not reading it in a newspaper, it’s someone there talking in front of you. 

Yeah, yeah. 

And really baring their souls. So it was, I found it really emotional. 

Yeah.  I think it’s the same as well for the service users as well, you know, people that have gone through the experience  and learning from them has been useful too because, you know, in a way that lecturers, as great as they are, can’t give you that experience, they can’t say ‘this is what I’ve been through’. 

It is a real life-changing experience for us as well because we now know that we are listened to at this level and hopefully in the future, as the nurses and social workers go out, they will have a very different approach to the ones that I’ve known over many years. 

Technology enhanced teaching and learning 

The Centre seeks to provide innovative ways of overcoming some of the more traditional barriers to inter disciplinary teaching and learning within higher education institutions.  One of the ways we’ve sought to do this has been to use digital learning technologies within blended learning designs. 

Another resource that has been very helpful in devising how we’ve been ale to deliver to module is the flexibility of being able to use other modes of teaching and learning other than just being in the same room, which I thin is very important.  When we were trying to get over information about different theoretical perspectives on mental distress and how they might inter-relate with each other, what we decided to do was to do that largely by preparatory work through a workbook and through video material and this actually allowed us to get some of the top people nationally to contribute their perspective on cutting edge approaches in medical and critical medical approaches and cognitive behavioural approaches. We did a slightly unusual take on that in terms of actually having the professionals interviewed by a service user or carer so that it became more of a dialogue rather than a pontification from on high. This was possible through the Centre having the resources to the videoing and the editing so that we were then able to come up with quite substantial pieces of material that students could view before coming to stimulate their understanding of different perspectives and how they did, or did not, fit together. 

Lessons from the first delivery 

So, what are the lessons we’ve learned from the first delivery of this teaching initiative? Well, firstly the amount of time needed to start this initiative off must not be underestimated.  Secondly, the project actually worked.  Now, we managed to create a teaching environment for both student nurses and student social workers.  Eighteen months ago when we first started out on this journey, I think we were deliberately optimistic in what we wanted to achieve. We wanted service user and carer input. We wanted the blend of face to face and technology enhanced learning, but most of all we wanted students from different disciplines learning together for the benefit of mental health service users. I think we achieved all of these.