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Philosophical Frame for Learning

Professional education ensures critical reflection on physical, cognitive, social and psychological components that influence a person’s capacity for occupational performance as well as dimensions related to meaning and personal importance that people attach to their engagement in occupation.  The curriculum is designed to enable Duquesne University occupational therapy students to achieve the above knowledge and skills and attitudes through an active, engaging, broad, well balanced, and fully integrated curriculum.  The faculty routinely integrates assignments across classes to promote engaged, transformative learning, whereby students are expected to go beyond gaining factual knowledge they are expected to question and consider multiple points of view in order to form a professional identity as an occupational therapy practitioner.

Engaged Learning

Engaged learning or ‘civic learning in the natural context’ actively integrates three types of thinking outcomes from educational processes: critical thinking – to compare, analyze and evaluate; creative thinking – to design new forms, styles or programs, interpret old work into new ways of doing; and practical / applied thinking – to learn how to answer questions, make decisions and solve problems (Fink, 2003, pp. 40-42).  The faculty implement learning activities to encourage student’s development in using problem solving during real life situations to fully develop these three ways of thinking.  The primary outcome from engaged learning is to create individuals capable of making significant ethical and value-laden contributions to the community, practice and professional knowledge (Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski & Rasmussen, 1994).

Transformative Learning

Transformational learning is a process of being changed by what one learns in some meaningful way.  Assumptions, beliefs values and differing views are questioned while always seeking to verify reasoning.  Critical reflection on one’s experiences leads to a transformed perspective, which is more inclusive, discriminating and integrative than prior thinking (Mezirow, 2000).  Reflecting the Spiritan traditions regarding Catholic social thought and our curriculum philosophy, learning activities are specifically crafted and integrated into the curriculum to assist students to transform (change, add to or integrate) prior ideas or learning with their current educational experience in the classroom and community into a new, broader perspective.  This perspective reflects attention to ethical leadership, social justice, and engaged citizenship. Through reflective instructional activities, guided experiential debriefing to promote discernment and instituting mini-learning communities through class activities, the students are provided transformational learning across the curriculum. This learning gives a new meaning to student experience providing an experiential foundation to make more sophisticated choices based on a deeper understanding or perspective as the basis for their future actions.

Professional Identity Formation

Closely related to transformational learning is interest apprenticeships of professional identify formation ‘also called ‘apprenticeships of professionalism.’ The primary goal of professional education is to create novice practitioners who think, perform and conduct themselves like responsible professionals (that is to act morally and ethically) (Hamilton, 2008).  Professional formation looks at situated professional development using the transactional nature of both the individual and the community being shaped and transformed through experience with each other.  These transactional encounters transform individual professional formation, community context and related interpersonal engagement resulting in professional identity formation.  Translated for occupational therapy, the Carnegie Foundation names three different foci that apprenticeships serve in professional identity formation:  1. intellectual, cognitive and analytic (helping to think like an occupational therapist) ; 2.  skill acquisition, practice, clinical (fundamental skill acquisition for practice);  and 3. roles, professional identity (the meaning of being an occupational therapist) (Hamilton, 2008).   The values, ethics and professional behaviors associated with being an occupational therapist facilitate student identity formation throughout the curriculum. Specific to our mission and vision our graduates  are expected to develop and demonstrate actions that exemplify responsibility, civility, integrity, accountability, empathy and compassion .

The curriculum provides multiple learning opportunities for professional identify formation with the capstone experiences being service learning and fieldwork education. The guide for designing instruction for professional socialization is through learning activities that encourage the development of a shared or mutual sense of identity central to the profession (sense of continuity); a desire for belonging (sense of affiliation) and a sense of professional uniqueness or purpose differentiating occupational therapy from other professions. 

From Philosophy to Implementation

To engage our philosophy and ensure that our curriculum is contemporary, faculty meets formally every semester for a curriculum review process to ensure our learning philosophy and the appropriate content for practice is included in the curriculum.  Informal conversations occur throughout each semester during regular department meetings and faculty collaborations.  Discussions focus on outcomes assessment evidence from the following primary reports: University-required student learning outcomes, fieldwork performance and feedback, certification results, employer and alumna surveys, student performance across the curriculum and environmental scanning. From these discussions, curriculum content and the developmental sequencing of learning and learning activities are negotiated, adapted or removed through faculty consensus. In addition, faculty are expected to engage in internal and external servant leadership to acquire and share content considerations related to our curriculum processes and outcomes.  Further, local expert occupational therapy practitioners regularly contribute to courses or facilitate course-specific learning opportunities for students that provide contemporary practice perspectives and also create a partnership with faculty to filter in new developments in practice.