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Core Pedagogical Approaches

The Duquesne University Occupational Therapy curriculum is designed to enable our students to achieve the knowledge, skills, attitudes and habits of a practice scholar through an active, engaging, broad, well balanced, and fully integrated curriculum. Learning events within our curriculum are specifically designed to promote students' engagement in the learning process in ways that can support transformative learning and professional identity development.

Engaged Learning

Engaged learning or ‘civic learning in the natural context' actively integrates three types of thinking: 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 engaged learning activities to nurture student's problem solving capacities 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 new, broader perspectives. These perspectives reflect attention to ethical leadership, social and occupational 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. The primary outcome for transformative learning is to provide an experiential foundation for students 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 apprenticeships of professional identify formation ‘also called ‘apprenticeships of professionalism.' Professional identity formation is situated. Professional development occurs through 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 therapy practice scholar facilitate student identity formation throughout our 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 primary outcome of professional identity formation is to create practice scholars who think, perform and conduct themselves like responsible professionals (that is to act morally and ethically) (Hamilton, 2008).

These core pedagogical approaches of the Department of Occupational Therapy guide key instructional key practices within our curriculum. These include:

1. an intentional use of engaged, active learning educational pedagogies that embeds learning in context and seeks to establish opportunities for transformative learning experiences that promote critical thinking and reflection.

2. concentration on professional identity formation as a practice scholar with the values, ethics, and professional behaviors associated with being an occupational therapist.

3. a graded developmental approach to acquiring the knowledge, skills and attitudes to be a practice scholar who reflects on and engages in the scholarly application of occupational
therapy and has a skill set to deliver person-centered, evidence- based occupational therapy.

4. a central focus on occupation, on humans as occupational beings, and on the complex processes by which people find meaning and health through the interactive person-environment process of ʻdoingʼ or engagement in occupations. 


5. a comprehensive understanding of both personal factors and context or environmental influences on occupational performance and function in the areas of occupation.