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Education as Engine

Published April 9, 2014 9:00 AM by Danielle Bullen
Every year since 1955, an occupational therapy leader has been honored to give the Eleanor Clark Slagle lecture at the AOTA annual conference and expo. Slagle was a pioneering occupational therapist, co-founding the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy in 1910, and a dedicated social activist, working with Jane Addams at Chicago's famed Hull House.

This year the honor went to Maryalynne D. Mitcham, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, of the Medical University of South Carolina. On Friday, April 4, Mitcham gave attendees-including some vocally supportive MUSC students-her talk: "Education as Engine."

Barbara Hooper, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, and a former student of Mitcham's, introduced her, saying "For the better part of her illustrious career, Dr. Mitcham has been steering occupational therapy along various routes. Hooper told of another former student, who wrote to Mitcham. "Each and every day, I strive to engage my students in meaningful ways like you engaged me."

Mitcham explained the genesis of her lecture topic. "An engine creates a great image for an entity that creates power-power to transmit, power to transfer and power to transform."  At its best, occupational therapy education does all three. But first, Mitcham cautioned, "We need to put together the raw materials to encourage common success."

"My goal was to promote the best learning practices." She admitted that graduates need to acquire more than new knowledge, as that is never-ending. To truly serve its students, OT education needs to offer both the cognitive hard skills needed to strive in any digital context, and the soft skills to communicate, collaborate, connect, and create.

Yet educators must be careful of piling on too much, Mitcham cautioned. "We don't know how to save ourselves from the incessant urge to add one more thing to our curriculum," she said to laughter. OT schools need to equip students with better problem-solving skills rather than cram in every possible theory and case study. "The challenge is to do more thinking, more debating, and more discussing." And as the age gap between the OT professors and the OT students widens, the professors must become adroit at crafting learning for different recipients.

"Occupation needs to be at the core of the profession. Nobody does it the way we do," summed up Mitcham.


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