Author: Deborah George, PhD
Students Teaching Students
April 25, 2017
Educators continue to provide excellent learning opportunities that develop the knowledge and skills required by disciplines. But generally the focus is on what students need to know and be able to do within that discipline ...
Educators continue to provide excellent learning opportunities that develop the knowledge and skills required by disciplines. But generally the focus is on what students need to know and be able to do within that discipline only. If there is an attempt to provide an interdisciplinary experience, it is usually a short, token learning experience that might involve guest speakers, videos, or classroom discussion. These experiences tend to be passive and do not promote development of interdisciplinary teamwork skills now regularly required in many professions. How to deepen students' appreciation for other disciplines—that's the challenge facing many teachers.
Let me use my field, physical therapy (PT), to illustrate the importance of an interdisciplinary perspective for our students. Our aging population has complex needs, which requires health care professionals with increasingly specialized knowledge and roles. The future health care professional needs not only to have knowledge and skills of one discipline, but also to embrace the importance of multiprofessional teamwork. Almost always now, the needs of the population we serve require the response of a team of professionals from different fields that can work together toward common goals.
A colleague and I chose to experiment with an active learning project that involved students teaching students. It linked my PT students with my colleague's occupational therapy (OT) students. We hoped it would benefit both groups. The project involved three phases: (1) student preparation, (2) interdisciplinary interaction, and (3) reflection. Instructors interested in designing interdisciplinary activities need to select mutually beneficial content and carefully plan the interaction. In this case, we selected home adaptive equipment and modifications as the content.
As the PT professor, I prepared my students with a hypothetical case. It involved an elderly grandmother who needed to live with her grandchild (the PT students acted as the grandchildren) and was being discharged with only a wheelchair and Medicaid funding. After viewing a video of the grandmother's abilities, receiving additional documentation about her, and incorporating an assessment of the home, the PT students had to determine the best solution for modifying the home and what equipment their grandmother would need given those home modifications. They were encouraged to direct their questions to the OT students and consult with them. The PT students were to function as expert advocates for their grandmother who was coming to live with them in their home.
The OT instructor worked with her students on the use of various home adaptive aides and their appropriate application in each room of the house. For example, aids such as elevated toilet seats, bathtub benches and bars, antifog mirrors, and wheelchair-accessible sinks are appropriate in the bathroom. Next, the OT instructor discussed ways the OT students could teach the PT students about these aids. Their assignment was to present a 10–15-minute active teaching module incorporating teaching skills obtained in previous coursework. The OT students were to educate the PT students about their assigned home adaptive aid and its use in the kitchen, bathroom, or elsewhere in the home. They also were to act as consultants with the PT students.
The interdisciplinary interaction occurred at seven set-up stations, four in the modified OT home and three in an OT lab that had a kitchen and bathroom. Three lab assistants helped my colleague and me supervise this activity. The students were placed in small groups of 3–4 students. The OT students stayed at their stations and repeated their session for each new group of PT students. The PT students rotated to a new station every 10–15 minutes so that, by the end, they had experienced every room of the home and the equipment appropriate for it.
The final phase involved reflection, but with a different emphasis for each group. The OT students responded to questions about their abilities as educators as well as how they interacted with the OT students. The PT students focused on how they were going to modify their homes and select equipment for their grandmother as well as how they interacted with the OT students. Each of the instructors followed up with a class discussion. Ninety-four percent of the students either strongly agreed or agreed that collaboration with other health care professionals and teamwork is important. The activity made clear the value of working across professions. As one OT student stated, “I think that the most valuable part of this was the ability to collaborate.” A PT student reported, “Got to see cool adaptive equipment and could develop a deeper appreciation for the OT profession.”
We think this activity deepened students' content knowledge, helped them with communication skills, reinforced the value of problem-solving and collaboration skills, and, most importantly, deepened their appreciation of cross-disciplinary teamwork. We have plans to expand this activity with the PT students teaching the OT students about mobility devices such as canes, walkers, and crutches, and in the future, we also hope to add other disciplines. Students teaching students helped our students in many ways!