Research and Reflection: Potential Impact on the Professional Development of Undergraduate Occupational Therapy Students
Systemic Practice and Action Research
Department Occupational Therapy (G44), School for Allied Health Professions, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Free State, PO Box 339, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa; Centre for Higher Education Studies and Development, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
In occupational therapy education in South Africa, community service (CS) focuses learning opportunities during fieldwork placements. CS therefore enabled the researcher to utilise successive small scale research projects to guide learning of students during fieldwork while simultaneously developing the occupational therapy service at a residential care facility. This community setting provided a powerful environment through which research, in combination with opportunities for reflection, contributed to nurturing skills needed by these future health professionals. A technical action research (AR) approach incorporated AR cycles and opportunities for structured reflection. Therefore situations were created for the students to embrace experiential learning. Experiential learning in the form of anticipatory reflection, reflection-in-action, reflection on reflection and retrospective reflection impacted on the quality of the students' work. Besides encouraging unique leaning opportunities for students when engaging in research during their fieldwork placement, engagement in AR cycles simultaneously improved service delivery to residents in the facility. Key benefits of this investigation were that fieldwork education utilising AR cycles within a CS situation promoted students to identify voids in their theoretical background as well as practice skills; to apply reflective practice that could contribute to their personal and professional development; and to utilize learning opportunities optimally. Despite positive gains showed by this study, the role of power relations between the researcher as fieldwork educator and the students prohibited the AR cycles from being more emancipatory in nature and should be addressed in follow-up studies. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.