Our Vision, Mission, and Philosophy
Colorado State University Occupational Therapy attracts and grows future leaders of occupational therapy in the state, nation, and world through exemplary and integrated programs of education, research, and outreach that meet real world occupational needs.
The Occupational Therapy Department seeks to optimize human performance and participation in everyday occupations and contexts across the lifespan.
Philosophy of Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy optimizes the ability of people to perform the activities that they need and want to do each day and thereby participate fully in society. The study of human performance and participation in everyday occupations across the lifespan thus comprises the core subject of our two entry-level professional programs—the Master of Occupational Therapy and the Master of Science —as well as our new Ph.D. in Occupation and Rehabilitation Science. Shared attention to human performance and occupational participation also links our faculty’s respective programs of research and community outreach and service.
Our focus on human performance encompasses attention to discrete performance capacities and their relationships to task-oriented functional behavior. Our focus on everyday occupations addresses daily activities that people do on a recurring basis while engaged in diverse life pursuits and social roles. From birth through old age, everyday occupations can both support and disrupt the routine, meaning, and purpose in daily life; they can also both favorably and unfavorably influence health and well-being. Everyday contexts are daily living settings like schools, homes, workplaces or neighborhoods. Ultimately, the need to participate in everyday occupations is so integral to what it means to be human that we believe that people are, in essence, occupational beings.
Interdisciplinary perspectives and collaborations are essential to building new knowledge of human performance and occupational participation and to applying that knowledge to help people who face daily living challenges. In our educational, research, outreach and service endeavors, we are thus committed to growing interdisciplinary collaborations and to integrating scholarship from related health disciplines, the social and biological sciences, and the humanities.
We are particularly interested in integrating the perspectives of occupational science and rehabilitation science, each of which makes substantive contributions to understanding human performance and occupational participation. With its focus on the study of occupation, occupational science helps to explain how participation in everyday occupations and contexts influences meaning and purpose in life, as well as health and well-being. With its focus on performance mainly at the task level, rehabilitation science helps to explain relationships among bodily structures and functions, environmental factors and how individuals with impairments can perform specific tasks. Integration of knowledge from these two sciences, as well as other relevant disciplines, creates new perspectives that can guide practitioners and scientists alike who are dedicated to understanding the complex transactions that occur among performance components and capacities, contextual factors and participation in everyday occupations.
Teaching and Learning Philosophy
The practice of occupational therapy is complex, deceptively so.
Given its complexity, best practice in occupational therapy requires a deep base of knowledge that helps each student develop a professional identity as an occupational therapist. That knowledge base must directly address the use of occupation in facilitating change, growth, adaptation, and occupational participation toward the goals of survival, self-actualization, health, and life quality.1
Consistent with the educational philosophy of the American Occupational Therapy Association, our curriculum centers study on the core subject of human performance and participation in everyday occupations and contexts across the lifespan at both the master’s and Ph.D. levels. Our curriculum thereby promotes subject-centered learning.2
Subject-centered learning is an alternative to expert-driven learning, in which all knowledge is directly transferred from experts to students, much like pouring water into waiting vessels. Subject-centered learning requires students to engage in dynamic conversations and learning activities that link the curriculum’s core subject to a wide range of topics, practical skills, and direct experiences, including those encountered in fieldwork. These conversations and learning activities are informed by students’ personal experiences; the field’s historical traditions, philosophical, and theoretical knowledge; current research; values; and ethics.
The complex practice of occupational therapy demands contextual knowers and integrative thinkers.Contextual knowers use critical thinking and sophisticated reasoning to connect the unique occupational needs and life situations of each client with the field’s current theory, research, and evaluation and intervention approaches. Our program’s emphasis on contextual knowing is aligned with AOTA’s philosophy of education, which stresses the importance of helping students integrate the profession’s philosophical and theoretical knowledge, values, beliefs, ethics, and technical skills for broad application to people of all ages and abilities. Our program is thus also committed to integrative learning, an excellent method for developing contextual knowers. Integrative learning is promoted through sustained attention to the curriculum’s core subject and five related curriculum threads, or broad thematic areas of study, which cut across all courses:
- Rigorous culture of inquiry
- Foundations of performance and occupational participation
- Optimizing performance and occupational participation
- Teaching and learning
- Professional identity and career.
This integrative curricular design helps students connect seemingly disparate areas of information, topics, and experiences to the curriculum’s core subject at increasingly clearer, deeper, and broader levels of understanding as they progress over two years of didactic and fieldwork education.
In addition to an integrative curricular design, faculty create learning situations in which students must make and evaluate connections across academic literature, research studies, cases, fieldwork experiences, practice settings, diverse populations and age groups, and so forth. Each course syllabus has a conceptual model that helps students interconnect course topics. We also use integrative teaching methods, such as study guides, problem-based learning, learning through discussion,4 writing, and capstone learning experiences. The M.OT. and M.S. programs of study immerse students in fieldwork from the first semester onward, in order to help them integrate theory and research with practice.
What does the program’s philosophy of teaching and learning philosophy imply for students?
Most fundamentally, our program’s philosophy of teaching and learning asks that students commit themselves to the challenge of active, engaged, self-directed learning. Students assume responsibility for their own learning, thereby, developing the habits and skills they will need to grow into lifelong learners and scholarly practitioners. Students must invest considerable time and effort in out-of-class preparation so that class sessions are dynamic learning environments in which all students contribute to learning via clarification and synthesis of new learning, application of new learning to practice, and critical and creative thinking. We design learning activities, assignments, and examinations to help students:
- Integrate and build upon knowledge from concurrent or previous courses and fieldwork experiences;
- Reflect on their professional development and strategies for future growth;
- Translate and embed theory and research in professional interventions and actions; and
- Adapt and apply skills learned in one situation to unfamiliar problems and challenges encountered in different situations.
The program’s curriculum design and instructional methods reflect a deep commitment to creating educational experiences that parallel and help students meet, the complex demands of contemporary practice in occupational therapy.
1 American Occupational Therapy Association (2007). The philosophy of occupational therapy education. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 678.
2 Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
3 Baxter Magolda, M. (1999). Creating contexts for learning and self-authorship: Constructive-developmental pedagogy. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
4 Rabow et al. (1994). William Fawcett Hill’s Learning Through Discussion (3rd Edition). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.