This first blog is my educational autobiography and it has the purpose of helping me to reflect on my own experience of education. Although my education began at the age of four, the starting point for this autobiography is 1994 when I left Coventry Polytechnic having completed my undergraduate degree in occupational therapy. I would say this course equipped me with the technical skills to be able to do the job of an occupational therapist but not the language to be able to express and explain the concepts underpinning what I did. However, this slowly changed. After being qualified for a couple of years I began to have students working alongside me as part of their clinical training. These students asked questions about why I was doing what I was doing. This questioning motivated me to reach for the text books and journal articles to explore the theory behind my practice. Through this self-directed learning, I began to develop and be able to express a deeper theoretical understanding of occupational therapy practice. Completing an MSc in Accessibility and Inclusive Design, in 2011, and a Ph.D in 2016, has been a further way of developing a deeper theoretical understanding of my practice.
In attempting to understand the above narrative, I would argue that my initial undergraduate training was based on a type of folk theory of learning (Beretier and Scardamalia 1996), where the student’s mind is viewed as a ‘container’ which needs to be filled by the lecturer with the traditions and ideologies, in this case those of the occupational therapy profession. Furthermore, folk theory of learning explains why as students we were never encouraged, or even thought it necessary, to question the knowledge we were being ‘filled’ with. Whilst this approach to teaching was effective in giving me the practical skills necessary to do the job, my level of knowledge was not sufficient when called upon to explain the concepts of what I did as an occupational therapist.
It could be argued that my reaction to my difficulty in coping with answering student’s questions about the theory behind the skills I was using in clinical practice was an internal trigger to conduct problem based learning. A problem based approach to learning ‘empowers a learner to conduct research, integrate theory and practice, and apply knowledge and skills to develop a viable solution to a defined problem’ (Savery 2006). Educational constructivist theorists would explain that learning occurs through this approach to teaching because students experience a conceptual change to the way they view the world (Biggs and Tang 2011). In my situation, this conceptual change resulted in my being able to understand and explain the theory behind why my practice skills change the health and well-being of the people I treated.
It is no longer sufficient for occupational therapy education to be about students acquiring the skills to do the job of a therapist. As the college of Occupational Therapists (2017) makes clear, in a political climate where it is necessary to show the economic value of any health and social care interventions there is an expectation that students and practitioners are able to explain and express how the unique skills of the profession can contribute to the health economy of the UK. Therefore, Boniface (2008) suggests occupational therapy training has to be a process whereby practical skills are gained alongside an ability to articulate the theory of why the profession improves health and well-being through interventions that change occupational performance and participation.
From this reflection I have identify the following action to develop my own role and skills as a teaching in higher education – the letters in brackets demonstrates how this action links to dimensions in the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education:
- Identify if my current use of self in the teaching environment appropriate? (A1, A2, V1)
- Improve my ability to assess student learning after each session I teach (A3, K5, K4).
- Improve my ability to give formative feedback to support and enhance the learning experience of students (V1, A3).
- Improve my knowledge of how students learn about challenging concepts? (K3)
Bereiter, C., & Scardamalia, M. (1996). Rethinking learning. In D.R. Olson, & N. Torrance (Eds.),The Handbook of education and human development: New models of learning, teaching andschooling (pp 485-513). Cambridge, MA:Basil Blackwell.4
Biggs, J.B., Tang, C., 2011. Teaching for quality learning at university. London: McGraw-Hill Education.
Boniface, G., Fedden, T., Hurst, H., Mason, M., Phelps, C., Reagon, C. and Waygood, S., 2008. Using theory to underpin an integrated occupational therapy service through the Canadian Model of Occupational Performance. The British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 71(12), pp.531-539.
COT Improving Lives. (2017). About the campaign: Improving Lives, Saving Money – COT Improving Lives. [online] Available at: http://cotimprovinglives.com/about/ [Accessed 11 Jan. 2017].
Heacademy.ac.uk. (2017). UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) | Higher Education Academy. [online] Available at: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf [Accessed 10 November 2016].