Poster Session
Issue Date: August 2016
Published Online: August 01, 2016
Updated: January 01, 2021
Developing Professional Competencies Through Community Service Learning Experiences
Author Affiliations
  • University of Central Arkansas
  • University of Central Arkansas
Article Information
Education of OTs and OTAs / Professional Issues / Basic Research
Poster Session   |   August 01, 2016
Developing Professional Competencies Through Community Service Learning Experiences
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505138.
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, August 2016, Vol. 70, 7011505138.

Date Presented 4/8/2016

This study explored the effects of participation in service learning on professional competency skills of occupational therapy students. Results indicated improvements in perceptions of competency skills and perceived learning outcomes when engaged in planning, implementing, and evaluating community-based programs.

Primary Author and Speaker: Lorrie George-Paschal

Additional Author and Speaker: Brittany Saviers

PURPOSE: The purpose of this study was to compare two types of service-learning placements on students’ perceptions of their professional competency and self-ratings on course objectives.
BACKGROUND: Occupational therapy (OT) programs must find innovative ways to meet academic standards while providing students with the knowledge and skills to enhance participation and the understanding of disability in the lives of clients and families (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2014). Benefits of service-learning pedagogy on students’ professional development are cited in the literature (Gitlow & Flecky, 2005).
DESIGN: This institutional review board–approved scholarship of teaching and learning study employed descriptive methodologies. Questionnaires and writing prompts were used to generate the data. The independent variable was the service-learning placement (a performing arts camp for adults with developmental disabilities or a community health placement). The dependent variable included a questionnaire related to participants’ perception of professional competencies (e.g., leadership skills) and course objectives.
PARTICIPANTS: Participants were 40 master of occupational therapy students enrolled in a community-based course. Students were assigned to one of six service-learning groups. Two sites placed students in the performing arts program (n = 17), and four sites placed students in community wellness programs (n = 23).
METHOD: A pre–post survey was developed on the basis of the literature and experience of the researchers. The anonymous survey requested students to rate their perceived level of confidence in 18 professional competency behaviors and 15 course objectives, relative to their service-learning assignment. Competencies were rated using a 5-point Likert scale. Two open-ended writing prompts facilitated reflection on the overall learning experience.
ANALYSIS: Wilcoxon signed-rank test was used to evaluate pre and post measures for all students on perceptions of professional competency. Mann–Whitney U test was administered to determine whether statistically significant differences existed between groups on composite ratings of competency and postcourse objectives. Post hoc analyses were used to reveal competencies and objectives where differences approached statistical significance.
RESULTS: Statistically significant improvements were found for both groups on the composite ratings of professional competency (z = –4.58, p = .000); however, no significant differences were found between groups. Five of 18 post competency items approached statistical significance, indicating a potentially meaningful difference. Student comments revealed that course participation helped define their future direction as community-based OT practitioners.
DISCUSSION: Findings support service learning as an effective educational approach. Through active learning, students reported improved confidence in their perceived competency and understanding of the role of OT in the community. Results support this pedagogy for meeting academic standards and demonstrate the development of competencies necessary for OT professionals.
IMPACT STATEMENT: This study indicates the value of utilizing service-learning opportunities within the OT curriculum to enhance students’ professional competency skills while meeting their desired learning outcomes and academic standards.
American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48.
Gitlow, L., & Flecky, K. (2005). Integrating disability studies concepts into occupational therapy education using service learning. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 59, 546–553.