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Keeping Experts by Experience Involved During COVID-19

EBEs – or Experts by Experience – are service users and carers who are fundamental to both the admissions process and delivery of many of the courses in the Faculty of Health, Education and Life Sciences at Birmingham City University. The current coronavirus pandemic has been challenging for everyone, not least our EBEs, who come from all walks of life. Many of them shy away from computer systems, and a number of them have had to self-isolate since middle of March due to their own age and/or either their own health or that of those people they care for.

We spoke to Reshma Patel, Expert by Experience Consultant from our Social Work Department, to find out how we’ve stayed in touch with our EBEs during the lockdown and why it’s so important.

“As a team we’ve always strived to breakdown perceived barriers and ensure coproduction exists throughout all Social Work Programmes by working with Experts by Experience, but COVID-19 is indiscriminate and has impacted on everyone’s lives that not a single human being has been living their previous lifestyle. It has highlighted both the commonality between all of us and how we have experienced this pandemic in different ways. Everyone has had to adjust to this new norm and I really was not expecting to still be working while not on campus (wishful thinking!)

“In early March I was away on holiday in India but was managing to keep an eye on emails and I became quite concerned about the impact that COvID-19 was going to have on the EBEs. When I arrived back in the UK I had an email from the Head of Department, David Childs, advising our Social Work EBEs that I would be in contact with them on my return. David and I quickly had a conversation about how we could ensure we continued to support our Social Work EBEs.

“While David, the team and I were gathering our thoughts, I began to contact Social Work EBEs and assisting and enabling them to access the University’s computer systems. This in itself was a task but six weeks on we now have:

· 14 of our EBEs using Microsoft Teams confidently

· Five of our EBEs are able to navigate around Moodle, enabling them to moderate online teaching forums

· Four EBEs have been able to keep acting as panel members on applicant interviews alongside academic staff

· At least six EBEs are working on online skills simulation assessments for our first year BSc (Hons) Social Work students, and so ensuring that students will be able to go on to their second-year studies

· Our staff team is also thinking about case studies that EBEs can write for modules next year.

“In addition, six EBEs have kept diaries about their COVID-19 isolation and the impact of lockdown on themselves personally.

“Why is all of this important? We understand that other staff who may be feeling anxious about continued engagement of EBEs but we in Social Work believe that they’re core to our learning and teaching strategies and that we must find a way to ensure we continue what we started despite no longer being able to engage with EBEs in person. Our approach to continued involvement of EBEs has shown that it is possible to get the perspective of life experiences through continued online engagement.

“We have challenged some of the assumptions when we were working with our EBEs face-to-face as our EBEs come from diverse backgrounds of experiencing services, range from 18 to 80 years old, and only two experts were previously ‘computer savvy’.

“Experts by Experience have reported that they have really valued how we’ve engaged with them, are proud that they have broken their own fears of computer systems and that this has helped them retain their sense of belonging as a genuine member of the Social Work team.

“For me personally, I’m really proud of being a staff member on the Social Work team as we’ve been able to ensure people’s wellbeing and maintain regular contact with our EBEs. I have learnt how to navigate Moodle and iCity to better standard and I’m learning more every day.”

To find out more details about how Birmingham City University have engaged with EBEs, please contact Sally Andrews (sally.andrews@bcu.ac.uk) and Reshma Patel (Reshma.patel@bcu.ac.uk) who jointly coordinate and support EBEs in Social Work at BCU.

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© 2019 by The West Midlands Social Work Teaching Partnership