The Discipline of Occupational Therapy has been involved in shared learning experiences since 1995. This was initially as part of an EU Horizon part funded project with St. John of God Carmona Services, and developed into a multi agency partnership in sharing learning opportunities. The underlying theme is that ‘We are all learners and we are all teachers'. In this way some staff and all students have developed ways of learning together with people with disabilities and disadvantage in a variety of settings. The shared learners in this process include people with intellectual disabilities, people with significant mental health difficulties, women who are in prison, people who are homeless, and children with autism and behavioural difficulties in schools. There are clearly stated learning objectives for all service learning. The modules are integral to the curriculum, and contribute to end of year assessment.
All first and second year Freshman students are involved in shared learning as part of a taught module on ‘The Study of Occupation' (10 Credits). In first year this includes a practice component of 56 contact hours- 2 hours per week for 2 semesters in the community and 8hours of structured review in College-based workshops). Building on this, second year Freshman students undertake 96hours of practice and 48 hours of review (5 Credits). Assessment requires the integration of theory and reflection on their engagement with others. Students are required to present on the integration of their academic learning and their practical experience. Senior Freshman students also complete mandatory worksheets which are not assessed but submission of same is required in order for a student to pass. Some of our Junior Sophister students are also involved in service learning as part of their Peer Education and Group Work Skills module. Each year some SS students' research projects report on participative and collaborative work with others as part of this service learning.
Partners and projects change from time to time. Project outcomes have included the development of NCVA Foundation level modules accessible to learners with intellectual disabilities, the publication of a poster series on Advocacy (see Citizens' Information Board article) by the I AM network of agencies, and the funding by Comhairle (Citizens' Information Board) of a two year project on developing the ACT Advocacy Champion Training course for and by people with intellectual disabilities.
Service learning delivers unique experiences and skills for supporting active citizenship for people with disabilities and of social disadvantage, and occupational therapy students develop values and skills in working collaboratively with others.
-Siobhan Mac Cobb