Student approaches to learning

Summary of Week 1 of Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FutureLearn – UNSW Sydney)

There are many theories on how students learn. The key theories and educational approaches that shape this course are:

  • Constructivism. The process where students learn by constructing knowledge and meaning from their experiences.
  • Student-centred learning is a basic principle of constructivism where the students’ needs and interests are the starting point. Students have an active role and responsibility for learning while teachers facilitate.
  • Deep, surface and strategic approaches. Students who adopt a deep approach to learning will seek to understand meaning, while students who adopt a surface approach see learning as coping with tasks in order to pass assessment. Strategic learners use both approaches to achieve their goals.
  • Experiential and work-integrated learning. Experiential learning is an ongoing process where experience is generated through our ongoing engagement with the world. It is one of the foundations of work-integrated learning programs, where theory and practical knowledge is intentionally integrated.
  • Reflective practice. There is no agreed definition, but one is deliberately thinking about action with a view to its improvement.

Introduction to R

Summary of Week 1 of the FutureLearn course on Introduction to R for Data Science (Purdue University).

I used R to analyse the data for my dissertation but I have gone rusty since then (as I found out when doing the data analysis MOOC) and this is my attempt to keep my skills sharp! 

Why R? R is an industry-standard tool in the field of data science, and allows for robust data analysis. Week 1 went through the basics of importing data in R, extracting the head and tail of a data set, creating subsets, and identifying properties of the data set.


How will we respond to humanitarian health needs in the future?

Summary of Week 3 of the FutureLearn course on Health in Humanitarian Crises (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Week 3 considers changing needs and trends, and explores innovations in health for emergencies.

New and continuing challenges

The history of humanitarian in conflict began with the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars between 1793 and 1814. Humanitarian aid began formally in the 19th century, when state, religious, commercial and philanthropic actors became involved in famine and relief efforts. Since then, every large crisis has been crucial for developing parts of the humanitarian system, such as the Second Italian War of Independence (leading to the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross), first world war, Nigerian Civil War and so on.

Global trends in humanitarian crises include the rise of intrastate conflict, the increase in urban crises, responding in middle-income settings, the upward trend in natural disasters, and emerging infectious diseases. These pose different challenges in the way humanitarian actors respond.

Over the past century, there has been an epidemiological shift from infectious diseases to non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Other health burdens such as mental health and reproductive issues have begun to gain attention.

The future of humanitarianism

The Humanitarian Policy Group argues the the humanitarian system is facing a crisis of legitimacy, partly because it has been operating in the same way since the end of the Second World War. Therefore it is time for the humanitarian system to let go of: power and control; perverse incentives, and; unhelpful divisions.

Other stakeholders discussed included the private sector, civil society organisations and local responders. There is a need to build the capacity of individual humanitarians. In humanitarian response, parallel health systems should be avoided and countries’ development plans should be built upon. More attention is being paid to cash-based transfers while the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been neglected.

Innovation and technology

It is essential to develop innovative processes, protocols and tools to adapt to this new reality. Humanitarian innovation is a means of adaptation and improvement through finding and scaling solutions to problems, in the form of products, processes or wider business models… these may include technology but is not reducible to it (OCHA).


How can we deliver effective health interventions in humanitarian settings?

Summary of Week 2 of the FutureLearn course on Health in Humanitarian Crises (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

Week 2 looks at developing evidence-informed responses to humanitarian health needs, highlighting key mechanisms in place for conducting humanitarian aid and the practical challenges of delivering care.

Practicalities of working in humanitarian settings

Work in humanitarian settings is guided the four humanitarian principles (humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence), international humanitarian law (IHL) largely enshrined in the four Geneva conventions, and The Sphere Project (describing minimum standards for humanitarian response). Other codes include Good Humanitarian Donorship and the HAP International Principles of Accountability. Unfortunately, even though the majority of nations have ratified IHL and the Geneva Conventions, there have been many violations, including in Afghanistan and Syria.

Responses by humanitarian actors may be coordinated through the OCHA and clusters, based on the humanitarian programme cycle (see figure below) and may be financed through pooled humanitarian financing (e.g. Central Emergency Response Fund).

Humanitarian programme cycle (Source:

Planning and priority setting

Planning and coordinating an effective response is highly complex and time-sensitive. Rapid and appropriate action is critical to reduce avoidable illness and death.

Emergency preparedness and response plans (EPREPs), if available in the country and among agencies, help speed up response time. Data collection starts immediate to help with inform key priorities and decisions in the first few hours and days. Ways to collect data in humanitarian settings include the country’s health management and information system (HMIS), the early warning and alert response system (EWARS), health resource availability mapping system (HeRAMS), OCHA’s 4W tool (who, what, where, when) and multi-cluster initial and rapid assessments (MIRA), as well as community-based surveillance.

Guidelines can assist humanitarian agencies in prioritising their interventions. In emergency settings the main aim of healthcare is to reduce excess mortality and morbidity, after which a more comprehensive healthcare package can be offered

Key challenges in healthcare delivery

Numerous challenges can be faced when delivering healthcare, particularly in conflict scenarios. Sector-specific challenges include infectious disease, non-communicable diseases, mental health, nutrition and sexual and reproductive health.

Building evidence

Research is necessary to inform and advocate for humanitarian response. Fundamentally, it is about understanding the context and building a sense of security and trust during humanitarian response. Evidence is also gathered to improve interventions in the future. In 2015, an evidence review of health interventions in humanitarian crises described our existing knowledge and key gaps. For example, there is very little evidence available on water, supply and hygiene (WASH) interventions.

What are the key health needs in a humanitarian crisis?

Summary of Week 1 of the FutureLearn course on Health in Humanitarian Crises (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)

What are humanitarian crises?

There is no universally recognised definition for humanitarian crises, but the course defined a humanitarian crisis as ‘an event or series of events that represent a critical threat to the health, safety, security, or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people, usually over a wide area’.

Humanitarian crises can be man-made, natural or complex, where complex emergencies are typically conflict-related and ‘requires an international response that goes beyond the mandate or capacity of any single agency, and which has been assessed to require intensive and extensive political and management coordination’ (Inter-Agency Standing Committee).

The crises can impact all levels of society, from individuals and families to economic and structure components, with vast and far-reaching consequences.

Crises and health

Mortality is probably the most important indicator of health needs in a humanitarian crises, and of the effectiveness of health response. Other key health outcomes include non-communicable diseases, mental health, sexual and reproductive health, and nutrition.

Humanitarian crises can have a major effect on the infrastructure and human resources of healthcare systems. Healthcare systems can be viewed in terms of 6 building blocks: health services; health workforce; health information system; medical products and technologies; health financing, and; leadership and governance (World Health Organisation (WHO) Health Systems Framework).

Cross-cutting issues such as disability, being elderly and gender have an impact on every aspect of health because they are more vulnerable in a humanitarian crisis. And challenges that affect the delivery of healthcare include: health financing, policy and donor priorities; safety and security, and; logistics.