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Elevating Student Understanding: Irish Occupational Therapy Students’ Experience of a Service Learning Project
Journal of Occupational Therapy Education (JOTE)
  • Karen McCarthy, Dominican University of California
  • Marian McCarthy, University College Cork
Publication Date
Document Type (Journals)
Original Research

Service learning is a pedagogy that embraces learning in action and addresses community needs. Since the adoption of the Occupational Therapy Competencies in 2008 and the launch of national occupational therapist registration in Ireland in 2015, there has been limited research on the effectiveness of service learning pedagogies in Irish higher education for meeting core competencies. The majority of research focusing on evaluating service learning have been North American studies which brings to question the relevance of these service learning outcomes beyond North America and specifically Ireland. This qualitative study examined 11 occupational therapy students’ journal reflections, portfolio entries, and focus group discussions to illuminate their experience of participating in a peer coaching program called Elevate at a major Irish university. Results indicated the experience of working with a “buddy” allowed them to apply skills learned in the classroom to the “real world”, navigate between personal and professional boundaries, and struggle with “taking a step back” to empower the client. Students reported the experience helped them to prepare for future practice and increased their confidence going into clinical placement. Professional programs might consider service learning as a signature pedagogy, providing scaffolding between in-class activities and clinical placements and elevating student levels of understanding.


Karen McCarthy, OTD, OTR/L has a masters in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education from University College Cork and a doctorate in Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California. She is assistant professor of Occupational Therapy at Dominican University of California.

Marian McCarthy, PhD is a former Vice President for Teaching and Learning at University College Cork, Ireland. She was also Director of the Centre for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning where she still works as part time Senior Faculty.

Declaration of Interest
The authors report no declarations of interest.
Creative Commons License
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0
Citation Information
Karen McCarthy and Marian McCarthy. "Elevating Student Understanding: Irish Occupational Therapy Students’ Experience of a Service Learning Project" Journal of Occupational Therapy Education (JOTE) (2019)
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