Case study 09: MSc Psychology of Sport at the University of Stirling
The MSc Psychology of Sport at the University of Stirling adopts a ‘teaching hospital’ model to help ensure students learn to work at and beyond Master’s level. Drawing upon the unique integrated approach of the School of Sport and the Sports Development Service, students engage in postgraduate-level professional practice and development opportunities in relevant work environments. Our teaching hospital model is underpinned by a philosophy that students need to learn their skills in an environment where they can both achieve and reflect upon mistakes alongside more experienced practitioners.
Professional practice, Development, Integrated practice, Mastersness, Master’s study, Elite
Describe, briefly, the activity/initiative/practice
The MSc Psychology of Sport embeds opportunities for students to gain the experience that employers desire. Our teaching hospital approach to learning is embedded throughout the MSc Psychology of Sport, and is led through a dedicated 30-credit Professional Practice and Development module in which students engage in postgraduate-level workplace experience, through which they learn to operate at and beyond Master’s level. The module provides students with opportunities to analyse and reflect on professional practice and development, and topics include self-analysis, reflective practice, action planning and ethics, and professional standards. The assessments for the module comprise a written essay and portfolio of practice based on professional practice and development experiences, and a postgraduate-level job application and interview.
What is the background/context to the activity/initiative/practice?
At the University of Stirling, the academic School of Sport is completely integrated with the provision of sport at the University through the Sports Development Service. This unique integration enables us to provide a high-level teaching hospital model to our postgraduate students whereby they acquire the academic underpinning to their studies and knowledge development alongside acquiring professional experience in postgraduate-level job placements. Our industry partners and employers have told us they seek individuals with knowledge and experience, and our teaching hospital approach provides our students with both of these key elements. Employability, following postgraduate studies, is a key driver for the teaching hospital model that we employ.
What makes it “Master’s” level?
The job placements are of postgraduate-level and are focussed upon a specialised area of knowledge, the psychology of sport. Through the distinctiveness we mentioned earlier of an integrated academic and sport service facilities approach, we are able to provide postgraduate students with access to high-level sport psychology experiences. This means students have the opportunity to acquire their knowledge and demonstrate subject-specific (sport psychology) skills with elite athletes who compete very close to or at the highest levels in sport. In other words, acquiring and developing subject-specific attributes (sport psychology) and working with elite clients leads to the development of ‘Mastersness’ knowledge and experience. Students have access to the University’s Golf Centre, Tennis Centre and Swimming facilities, together with studying in an outstanding environment with supportive staff.
As part of the 30-credit Applications of Sport Psychology module, for example, students engaged in a practical session at the Golf Centre, providing them with an opportunity to test their knowledge. Developing further, as part of the 30-credit Professional Practice and Development module, some students have placements at the Golf Centre. Within these placements they work alongside experienced practitioners in an environment where they can both achieve and reflect upon mistakes, developing their knowledge and experiences with elite athletes. They have opportunity to use their initiative and take responsibility, solve problems in creative and innovative ways, make decisions in challenging situations, and develop professionally. One of the current students working at the Golf Centre said,
“At the Golf Centre I am given a chance to practice my skills and the knowledge I have learned throughout the programme with elite athletes. Because the Professional Practice and Development module runs throughout the nine-month programme, this reflective and integrated process of putting theory into practice is on-going; it’s excellent.”
The Performance Golf Coach, Dean Robertson, at the Golf Centre also commented,
“The students from the MSc Psychology of Sport work with our elite golfers within a safe and supervised environment. Because of the level of the athletes we work with, it’s essential that we provide an equally high level of ‘knowledge’ in our service. These placements, therefore, are only suitable for postgraduate-level students and beyond.”
Specific, tailored postgraduate level professional practice and development opportunities, through our teaching hospital model, provides graduates on the MSc Psychology of Sport with the skills to move into a broad range of postgraduate career opportunities, including a number of sport and health professions, posts within a number of fields in the science industry, to careers within the civil service and government.
What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?
Students need to be operating towards postgraduate level to begin to engage effectively and appropriately with postgraduate professional practice and development opportunities. There is a steep learning curve for students to undertake and close supervision, guidance and availability by staff is essential to mentor the students into and beyond ‘mastersness’. Postgraduate students need time with staff and experienced practitioners to learn.
Where to next?
The teaching hospital is embedded across all of our taught postgraduate provision in the School of Sport. The focus upon employability in post-graduate study is central to developing our taught postgraduate programmes and central to students’ experiences.
HEA (2011) Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey PTES 2011 report
QAA (2010) Master’s degree characterists
MSc Psychology of Sport, University of Stirling, http://stir.ac.uk/7n
Dr Pete Coffee and Prof David Lavallee, School of Sport, University of Stirling, Stirling FK9 4LA