The Occupational Therapy Assistant Program Faculty's beliefs about education reflect the humanistic philosophy of the School of Health Related Professions. Humanism is “concerned with rights, autonomy, and dignity of human beings and a belief that learning is motivated by a desire for personal growth and fulfillment” (Iwasiw, Goldenberg, & Andrusyszyn, 2009, p. 177).
Within the Department of Psychiatric Rehabilitation and Counseling Professions, students are expected to maintain high standards of personal and professional integrity, a caring attitude, and a motivation to learn and succeed. Students are expected to participate as active learners in the educational process. The department defines an active learner as someone who:
- Takes advantage of learning opportunities
- Dedicates time and energy to studies
- Accepts responsibility for learning, and for seeking clarification, assistance, and resources to address learning difficulties
- Contributes to one’s own learning and that of other students
- Builds an enduring base of knowledge and skill
The Occupational Therapy Assistant Program faculty assume that each student enrolled in the program is interested in exploring and developing skills in occupational therapy, and that the life of each student will be shaped by the process of education and professional socialization.
Students are expected to assume responsibility for study and practice, while the faculty provide developmentally appropriate content, mentorship, and opportunities for the student to master key competencies.
Constructivism and Contextual Learning are educational theories which underpin the design of the Occupational Therapy Assistant curriculum at UMDNJ. Constructivism, grounded in the learning theories of Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bruner, is defined as an “active construction of new knowledge based on a learner’s prior experience” (Koohan, Riley, & Smith, 2009, p. 92). Contextual learning theory is an instructional process rooted in constructivism. According to constructivism, learning occurs through social interaction and collaborative problem solving within the complexity of real-life and virtual contexts. Previous knowledge, beliefs and attitudes are understood as critical to ongoing learning and professional development.
Constructivism posits an interaction between the learner and the environment whereby the learner actively forms a mental schema or model to assemble and reflect upon new information. Each student enters the professional OTA program with an existing mental framework comprised of knowledge garnered during previous coursework and a unique world view from life experiences. Each student is thus encouraged to organize information from pre-professional coursework within the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework- II (2008). Understanding and using this new model requires reading, discussion, review, practice, and application.
Social interactions and relationships can strengthen learning according to constructivism. The OTA Program faculty establishes a collaborative educational environment, while working with each individual student to establish goals and guide learning. Students work together in small groups to review curricular materials, problem solve OT interventions for case related situations, simulate practice situations, and to develop and practice techniques and skills. Through these interactions, students become more aware of their own values, beliefs, and tacit knowledge, and learn practical application.
Contextual Learning Theory (CLT) is an instructional process rooted in constructivism that focuses on the gradual development of experience and competence in a practice domain. Contexts in CLT include the student’s conceptual knowledge and interpretation of instructional goals (Schell & Schell, 2008, p. 260). OTA faculty use methodology in accordance with CLT including (Schell & Schell, 2008):
- Begin with student’s existing conceptual knowledge and past experiences
- Engage students with knowledge and skills directly related to professional practice with gradually increasing demands- begin global and move to specific
- Clarify instructional goals to ensure they are meaningful for each individual student
- Provide practical experiences in relevant simulated or real-life contexts to actively engage students
- Present domain knowledge and skills with modeling, guided practice, coaching, cueing, gradually requiring articulation and reflection
- Use inter-disciplinary and inter-professional experiences
- Promote transfer of learning by guiding the student to recognize similarities across practice settings- class, lab/simulation, home, community, or practice environments
- Provide meaningful methods for reflection including discussion and portfolio development
The OTA faculty has considered the tenets of constructivist and contextual learning theories in sequencing the courses and selecting instructional methodology. Courses are grouped into four segments ; each equivalent to one full-time semester to accommodate both full and part-time study. This ensures that foundational content supports more advanced coursework, that Level I fieldwork integrates essential content, and that knowledge and skills are progressively developed and advanced.
Each professional course exposes the student to content necessary for practice, gradually building on essential practical skills and specific applications in real-world practice contexts. Coursework is bound together by Level I fieldwork (A, B, C) providing students with multiple opportunities to observe occupational therapy practice, engage clients, solve practice related problems, and develop and refine interpersonal skills, including therapeutic use of self. The curriculum uses face-to-face classroom instruction that is enhanced with web-based content, and a professional development seminar that is concurrent with Level II fieldwork education and entirely web-based. Level II fieldwork education requires 16 weeks of direct application with different populations/practice settings. These experiences serve to reinforce and evaluate the required competencies of an entry-level OTA.
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