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Brief Report
Issue Date: September 01, 2014
Published Online: October 23, 2014
Updated: January 01, 2019
Scholarship and Research in Occupational Therapy Education
Author Affiliations
  • Jyothi Gupta, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is Professor, Henrietta Schmoll School of Health, St. Catherine University, 601 25th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55454; jgupta@stkate.edu
  • Andrea Bilics, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is Professor, Occupational Therapy, and Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Worcester State University, Worcester, MA
Article Information
Education of OTs and OTAs / Departments / Brief Report
Brief Report   |   September 01, 2014
Scholarship and Research in Occupational Therapy Education
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, September/October 2014, Vol. 68, S87-S92. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.012880
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, September/October 2014, Vol. 68, S87-S92. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.012880
Abstract

OBJECTIVE. The purpose of this study was to identify a baseline or benchmark for faculty engagement and productivity in occupational therapy education scholarship and research.

METHOD. A custom-designed survey was emailed to 2,225 faculty members. The survey included questions on basic demographic information and education scholarship (e.g., use of evidence to inform teaching, frequency and nature of involvement in education scholarship.

RESULTS. A total of 520 faculty members (23%) completed the survey. Of these, 450 (86.5%) identified themselves as full-time core faculty, and only their responses were analyzed. Although 90% of the faculty respondents engaged in scholarly teaching, only 34% identified education as an area of content expertise, and only 16% reported frequent involvement with education scholarship. Instructional methods were the primary area of study.

CONCLUSION. A need exists to build research capacity for education research and more diversification of education research topics, including professional socialization and competencies.

In 2012, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Future of Education Ad Hoc Committee, appointed by President Florence Clarke, established a Task Group on Scholarship and Research in Education. This group was charged with answering the following questions:
  • How do we develop the profession’s capacity for scholarship and research in education?

  • What should be the venues to support scholarship in teaching and learning research in occupational therapy education?

Early on, the committee realized the need for baseline data on the current status of education research to even begin to answer these questions. This article reports on the results of the faculty survey that was conducted to determine the current status of occupational therapy education research.
Literature Review
At a time of increased accountability in higher education and health care alike, it behooves occupational therapy educators to be concerned with whether their teaching approaches are efficacious, to understand why some instructional methods work better than others to communicate certain concepts or values and, most important, to know whether students are achieving the expected learning outcomes and competencies for practice. Similar concerns over U.S. science and engineering students’ preparedness to participate in an increasingly competitive global economy led the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a 30-mo study on discipline-based education research (DBER; Singer, Nielsen, & Schweingruber, 2012). This rigorous emerging area of scholarship combines the expertise of discipline-specific content, teaching and learning challenges, and the science of teaching and learning (Singer et al., 2012).
The bottom-line finding that emerged from the NRC study (Singer et al., 2012) was that the use of evidence-based teaching practices by current and future faculty would lead to improved student learning outcomes. The importance and legitimacy of DBER as scholarship is underscored by its recognition in tenure and promotion of faculty (Singer et al., 2012). The scientific rigor that is expected in disciplinary research in the sciences also guides DBER; it is theory based, uses appropriate protocols to collect and analyze data, and yields generalizable results (Bunce & Robinson, 1997).
Scholarship is a relatively novel activity for allied health faculty compared with faculty in fundamental disciplines, and it has typically received less attention and importance than teaching. As a result, scholarship productivity is relatively low for this group. Lapin and Lyons (2003)  attempted to establish a benchmark for faculty scholarship productivity in the allied health professions, and their results showed some interesting commonalities across allied health profession faculty as well as important differences when compared with non–allied health faculty. The most salient differences were that scholarship productivity in non–allied health faculty was more consistent across disciplines and ranged from 2.4 to 4.4 articles in a 2-yr period. The range of scholarship among allied health faculty ranged from 0.4 to 6.5 articles, with most faculty falling below the levels for their counterparts in the non–allied health disciplines; nutrition and dietetics were exceptional in that they exceeded the comparison groups with 6.5 articles. A telling fact is that allied health faculty reported that they spent 29%–49% of their time on administrative and service activities, whereas their non–allied health counterparts spent most of their time on teaching and research activities (Lapin & Lyons, 2003).
Parham (1985a, 1985b) found that most occupational therapy faculty were relatively new to academia, held master’s degrees, and had published books and non–research articles; only 10% of faculty had three or more research publications. Subsequently, Holcomb, Christiansen, and Roush (1989)  surveyed occupational therapy faculty in academic health centers and reported that occupational therapy faculty had less scholarly productivity than other allied health faculty. Paul, Liu, and Ottenbacher (2002)  found an overall increase in scholarly publications and procurement of research funding. Although female faculty continued to dominate the profession, an important change noted from previous studies was that nearly 48% of faculty surveyed had academic doctoral degrees, and 2.5% had clinical doctorates. In 2009, 53% of occupational therapy faculty had academic doctorates, and nearly 32% had clinical doctorates (AOTA, 2010). Faculty confidence and research capacity are tied to academic preparation to conduct research, and those with research doctoral preparation are more confident than those without it (Paul, Liu, & Ottenbacher, 2002).
The AOTA (2010)  Faculty Workforce Survey described a few characteristics of current occupational therapy faculty that are relevant to benchmarking scholarship productivity in the profession. Like other allied health faculty, occupational therapy faculty continue to be dominated by women (90%, n = 822) and have diverse degree-level preparation; 60% (n = 391) have doctoral degrees. Workload distribution data indicated that an average faculty member spends about 16% of his or her time on scholarship. Faculty spend 51% of their time on teaching, 21% on administration and advising, and 12% on service activities. Because faculty spend considerable energy on teaching-related endeavors, it is important to ascertain whether systematic study of education practice has been conducted in the field of occupational therapy with the aim of improving professional education outcomes.
A recent international systematic mapping review of education scholarship in occupational therapy reported a proliferation of studies largely examining students and their perceptions in both academic and fieldwork contexts (Hooper, King, Wood, Bilics, & Gupta, 2013). A meta-data systematic mapping study further elaborates on education scholarship in the profession (Gupta & Hooper, 2013; Hooper, 2013; Roberts, 2013). Overall, education research in occupational therapy appears to be in its infancy, is dominated by studies that lack a conceptual framework, primarily examines the local learning situation, and reports findings almost as an afterthought; in other words, the studies do not appear to have been initiated as research. However, given the international scope of these studies, it is hard to isolate the contributions that emanated from U.S. institutions.
This study was specifically conducted to determine the status of education scholarship in occupational therapy faculty in U.S. institutions and identify its prevalence, faculty interest in education scholarship, types of scholarship outcomes, and publication venues for education scholarship.
Method
The purpose of the survey was to gather data on the extent to which occupational therapy faculty members engage in scholarship and research on teaching and learning. A custom survey was developed by members of the Future of Education Ad Hoc Committee’s Task Group on Scholarship and Research in Education and AOTA’s Commission on Education and deployed. The survey consisted of both forced-choice and open-ended questions. The data collected included demographics as well as specifics of respondents’ use and publication of educational research. This study was institutional review board exempt.
The survey was distributed through direct email to 2,225 faculty members. Of these, 520 (23%) completed the survey, of whom 450 (86%) identified themselves as full-time core faculty members. The remaining respondents identified themselves as either part-time or adjunct faculty. Data reported in this article are from the 450 respondents who identified themselves as full-time faculty members.
Results
Demographics
Respondents represented 46 states and Puerto Rico. Fifty-one percent (n = 228) worked in public institutions, and 48% (n = 217) worked in private institutions. The respondents reflected faculty teaching in a range of degree levels: 6% (n = 26) doctoral, 75% master’s (n = 339), 17% (n = 78) associate’s, and 1% postprofessional (n = 4). Ninety-four percent (n = 423) of the respondents were occupational therapists. Sixty-five percent (n = 294) had a doctoral degree, and 26% (n = 116) had a master’s degree. Of those with doctoral degrees, 68% (n = 201) had a PhD, and the next largest group had an OTD (20%, n = 61). Although respondents with 25 yr or more experience as an occupational therapist made up 55% of the total (n = 245), those with 25 yr or more of faculty experience represented only 10% (n = 46). The largest group of faculty, 42% of respondents (n = 188), had less than 10 yr experience; the second largest group had 10–19 yr experience (40%, n = 178).
Engagement With Scholarship and Research on Teaching and Learning
Engagement with scholarship and research on teaching and learning can take various forms. Faculty members engaged in scholarly teaching examine the available literature and apply it to their teaching and learning. Faculty members engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) apply the knowledge in the literature to their specific situation, collect and analyze the data, and disseminate their findings for others to critique and build on. Educational research, however, is more theory driven and long term than SoTL studies. Ninety percent (n = 402) of occupational faculty members engaged in scholarly teaching, drawing on educational research studies either occasionally or frequently (Figure 1). Education was identified as the primary area of content expertise by 34% (n = 154) of respondents, exceeded only by those who identified physical disabilities as their primary area of content expertise (37%, n = 168).
Figure 1.
Faculty use of evidence from education research studies to inform their teaching (N = 450).
Figure 1.
Faculty use of evidence from education research studies to inform their teaching (N = 450).
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When asked about engagement in education research or SoTL, only 16% (n = 72) reported that they frequently engaged in this activity, 29% (n = 129) reported occasional involvement, and 55% (n = 244) reported that they had never or seldom engaged in this form of scholarship (Figure 2). When the data were examined by program degree level, years of faculty experience, and highest degree held by faculty, distinct differences were noted. The total number of respondents teaching in doctoral-level education programs was 5.8% (n = 26). The highest degree held by all faculty participants from these programs was a doctoral degree, and 81% (n = 21) of them reported using evidence from education research occasionally or frequently to guide their teaching. Moreover, 50% of faculty in doctoral-level programs (n = 13) reported that they were engaged in education research. Master’s-level degree preparation programs had the largest in number of respondents (n = 339) and represented nearly 76% of programs. In these programs, 75% (n = 255) of faculty held a doctoral degree, and 90% reported using evidence from education research occasionally or frequently to inform their teaching. Fifty percent of master’s-level faculty (n = 170) reported conducting education research occasionally to frequently, and 48% (n = 164) reported never or seldom engaging in education research.
Figure 2.
Faculty engagement in educational research or scholarship (N = 450).
Figure 2.
Faculty engagement in educational research or scholarship (N = 450).
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When we categorized faculty by years of experience as early career (0–9 yr, n = 186), midcareer (10–19 yr, n = 172), and advanced career (20–25 yr or more, n = 82), the results were illustrative of the following tendencies. In the early-career faculty group, 69% (n = 128) reported never or seldom doing education research, leaving 31% (n = 58) reporting occasionally or frequently engaging in education research. Of the mid-career faculty, 45% (n = 77) reported that they never or seldom did education research, and 55% (n = 95) reported occasionally or frequently engaging in education research. In the advanced-career faculty group, 43% (n = 35) reported that they never or seldom did education research, and 57% (n = 47) reported engaging in education research occasionally or frequently. Overall, 52% of faculty (n = 233) reported that they did not do education research, leaving 47% (n = 210) who reported engaging in this area of research.
The research performed included individual studies, collaborative studies with an occupational therapist, and interprofessional studies that used a variety of research methods. Quantitative (47%, n = 169) and qualitative (44%, n = 157) research methods were commonly used, with 57% (n = 196) reporting use of mixed methods.
Dissemination of research is a critical part of the research process. Twenty-three percent of faculty (n = 101) have published their education research, whereas 77% (n = 344) have never published in education research (Figure 3). Note that the 77% (n = 344) who reported that they had not published in education research includes the 25% (n = 110) of faculty not engaged in education research. This means that about 35% of faculty who reported being involved in education research are not publishing their research findings. Faculty with more experience had published more studies. Peer-reviewed journals were the primary outlet for the published studies (Figure 4). Seventy-three percent of faculty (n = 330) taught at institutions that recognized education research and scholarship in the promotion and tenure process. Overall, funding for education research was limited, and 10% (n = 43) had obtained funding from federal agencies and other foundations. The largest source of funding (18%, n = 80) was internal, primarily from the institution for pilot studies.
Figure 3.
Seven-year publication rate of faculty education research and scholarship, measured by responses to the question, “Have you had any research in education published?” (N = 450).
Figure 3.
Seven-year publication rate of faculty education research and scholarship, measured by responses to the question, “Have you had any research in education published?” (N = 450).
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Figure 4.
Education research and scholarship publication venues (N = 450).
Figure 4.
Education research and scholarship publication venues (N = 450).
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Qualitative analysis of the topics of the research studies revealed that pedagogy and instructional methods were the primary focus, with problem-based learning, service learning, and hybrid or online learning the main subtopics. Key concepts examined addressed clinical reasoning, critical thinking, and cultural awareness or cultural competency.
Discussion
Scholarship is the essential attribute of the academy, and though the expected productivity in scholarship varies according to institutional characteristics, it is nonetheless a performance metric and mandate for faculty. The “Specialized Knowledge and Skills of Occupational Therapy Educators of the Future” document (AOTA, 2009) intended to help faculty development identified diverse attributes that faculty can aspire to, including the scholar–explorer category and the expected behaviors of a scholar. The importance of scholarship to the profession’s vitality and viability has also been described (Commission on Education, 2009). The profession embraces Boyer’s (1990)  inclusive model of scholarship and recognizes the need for a wide and diverse range of scholarship to inform the profession. More than half the institutions that house occupational therapy programs also accept Boyer’s model for faculty evaluation purposes. Occupational therapy education is seen not only as the means to prepare practitioners, but also as a way for the profession to live out its values to meet its obligations to society (Commission on Education, 2009).
It appears that scholarly endeavors, including education scholarship, have gradually been increasing in the profession. Faculty have tended to favor trying different instructional approaches to promote learning over all other areas of education research. Crucial to professional education is not only teaching students the content and skills required for practice, but also imparting the values of the profession such that students embody these values in practice and attain their professional identity. However, studying how students are socialized into the profession has received scant attention. For instance, many programs are embracing a hybrid delivery model for their curriculum, and hence it is important that we ascertain whether and how less face-to-face contact is affecting the socialization process of entry-level therapists.
Results of this study imply that nearly half of the survey respondents have engaged in education research or scholarship but that their studies have largely been disseminated as conference presentations. A hallmark of rigorous scholarship is its wide dissemination and critical peer scrutiny. It is essential for the profession, as it matures and builds its own body of literature, to stress dissemination of scholarship that has been subject to rigorous critique in peer-reviewed publications.
Another important growth essential for the profession is to consider aligning its programmatic culture and norms, including faculty workload distribution, with those of other departments and programs in the institution. Occupational therapy faculty have to meet performance metrics just as do any other faculty in their home institutions, and when scholarship receives less attention over other faculty duties, it is difficult to attain parity with other departments in terms of resources and influence. Academic programs were recommended to encourage faculty to obtain doctoral degrees and postdoctoral training of new doctoral graduates (Paul, Liu, & Ottenbacher, 2002) and to establish formal mentoring of new faculty to enhance research productivity to meet the demands of the academy (Paul, Stein, Ottenbacher, & Liu, 2002). The work of the faculty combines teaching, scholarship, and service. Although teaching is an essential attribute of the professoriate, all faculty “should involve themselves as fully as possible in creative and self-renewing scholarly activities” (American Association of University Professors, 1993, p. 198), regardless of the type of institution and workload.
Nearly half of all occupational therapy programs are in institutions that emphasize teaching over high-intensity research, and teaching-related scholarship and education research are typically valued at such institutions. Teaching is a practice that “is conceptually and practically dependent on learning” (Noddings, 2003, p. 242), and what better way is there to demonstrate teaching efficacy and student outcomes than to identify and incorporate the profession’s evidence-based teaching practices?
Limitations
First, the survey used in this study was custom made, and as such its reliability and validity are unknown. Second, we specifically targeted occupational therapy faculty using the AOTA database and hence used a convenience sample. The response rate was low, so the study is at best a descriptive one, and caution needs to be exercised in terms of conclusions that can be drawn. The open-ended comments by respondents indicated that some of the responses may be questionable because a few participants cited non–education scholarship as examples of their productivity.
Implications for Occupational Therapy Education
Occupational therapy education needs to be informed by a body of research focused specifically on occupational therapy education. As in chemistry, occupational therapy needs the “third branch of [the] profession”—education researchers (Bunce & Robinson, 1997, p. 1076). Occupational therapy education researchers can research some fundamental aspects, such as
  • How and why students learn,

  • What about occupational therapy is difficult to learn, and

  • What facilitates learning occupational therapy.

To research these questions and those areas of education scholarship and research included in the Occupational Therapy Education Research Agenda (AOTA, 2014), the profession needs to focus its attention on some critical issues that emanate from this study:
  • Enhancing the research capacity of the faculty who are interested in education research

  • Creating a programmatic culture that expects and rewards core faculty scholarship and research

  • Disseminating research in peer-reviewed journals—a necessity to build a knowledge base for occupational therapy education that requires identifying venues for disseminating occupational therapy education research.

Conclusion
These findings demonstrate that there is interest in education research and scholarship. This interest is primarily focused on student learning with the use of different pedagogical approaches and instructional methods. There is limited research examining professional socialization of students and achievement of practice competencies and studies developing conceptual models that identify key concepts and their relationship relative to occupational therapy education. A positive finding was that many occupational therapy faculty are engaged in scholarly teaching. As the profession matures, educators need to not only enhance core faculty participation in scholarship and research but also increase peer-reviewed publications.
Acknowledgments
We thank the faculty who participated in the Faculty Scholarship and Research Survey and the members of the Future of Education Ad Hoc Committee’s Task Group on Scholarship and Research in Education and the Commission on Education for support to the project. In particular, we want to acknowledge Janice Burke, Neil Harvison, Debra Hanson, and Barb Hooper for their thoughtful feedback and support.
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Figure 1.
Faculty use of evidence from education research studies to inform their teaching (N = 450).
Figure 1.
Faculty use of evidence from education research studies to inform their teaching (N = 450).
×
Figure 2.
Faculty engagement in educational research or scholarship (N = 450).
Figure 2.
Faculty engagement in educational research or scholarship (N = 450).
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Figure 3.
Seven-year publication rate of faculty education research and scholarship, measured by responses to the question, “Have you had any research in education published?” (N = 450).
Figure 3.
Seven-year publication rate of faculty education research and scholarship, measured by responses to the question, “Have you had any research in education published?” (N = 450).
×
Figure 4.
Education research and scholarship publication venues (N = 450).
Figure 4.
Education research and scholarship publication venues (N = 450).
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