All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE), AISHE-C 2008: Encouraging Student Engagement

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Engaging students and community in the education process - an innovative example from Occupational Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy at the National University of Ireland Galway.
Ruth Mc Menamin, Margaret McGrath

Last modified: 2008-05-16


The undergraduate four year degree programmes in Occupational Therapy (OT) and Speech and Language Therapy (SLT) at the National University of Ireland Galway use a variety of teaching methodologies to facilitate students to become life long independent learners. Service learning (SL) also known as community based learning is an innovative pedagogy which aims to integrate service to the community with academic study1.

Research from the United States suggests that students engaging in SL become actively involved in the learning process and show improved performance in a variety of domains including critical thinking and reflective practice2. However currently there is a paucity of research on the use of SL in Higher Education in Europe.

The introduction of SL into the OT and SLT curricula involved key steps including; identification of learning outcomes, collaboration with community partners, matching students with community partners, provision of service by students and an evaluation of the process by all stakeholders.

OT students focused on emerging areas of practice. Working in groups students collaborated with community partners to complete comprehensive occupational therapy needs assessments. SLT students were trained as conversation partners and matched with people with aphasia. Students' weekly conversational visits linked community service with academic study and resulted in a new model of service delivery.
Evaluation of the initial implementation of SL modules has been very positive. Students have reported that the skills developed during SL will benefit their clinical skills across client groups and settings. Community partners are excited by the opportunity to access student resources and influence the curricula. Academic staff support the embedding of SL as a core component in both curricula. This paper will be of interest to institutions who are concerned with fostering active involvement of students in higher education and for educators who are interested in innovative teaching pedagogies.

1Reynolds PJ. (2006) Guest editorial. Commentary and introduction: service learning and community-engaged scholarship. Journal of Physical Therapy Education.
20(3): 3-7.

2Eyler, J. & Giles, D. E., (1999). Where's the learning in service-learning? San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


service learning; community based learning