Eastern Michigan University

Educational Philosophy

Occupational therapy (OT) education in the Eastern Michigan University OT Program prepares students to become occupational therapists who: are grounded in the understanding of human occupation; are competent, ethical, and client-centered in their practice, demonstrate reflective and flexible thinking in order to respectfully engage with diverse individuals, communities, and populations; and critically seek and apply evidence to their practice. This is accomplished through our academic coursework and fieldwork experience. To carry out our educational goals, we collectively hold beliefs, as discussed below.

Beliefs about Occupational Therapy Education and Learning

Grounded in the profession of occupational therapy, OT education reflects the profession's vision, values, beliefs, and theories. Occupation is viewed as a basic human need that is complex and dynamic. Through engagement in occupation, individuals, groups, and communities can maintain a sense of who they are and develop a sense of who they wish to become. Students are seen as occupational beings, engaging with the learning context and teaching-learning process in order to become OT professionals. Our beliefs about OT education draw largely from adult learning theories. In this, we believe:

  • Learning, much like OT practice, is an art and science that requires personal responsibility and flexibility on the part of the learner and teacher (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007).
  • The process of learning is developmental, moving from the dependent to the self-directed, while accumulating a reservoir of experience which is a rich resource for new learning (Knowles, 1980; Knowles & Associates, 1984; Brookfield, 2006). We believe that learning does not begin and end in our program, but students bring with them experiences and thoughts that are shaped by new learning and experiences and continue in a course of lifelong learning.
  • Education should be problem-focused, whereby meaningful problems are posed to learners so they must grapple with learning through critical thinking (Shor, 1992; Brookfield, 2005).
  • Knowledge is socially constructed within the interrelationship of learners, teachers, and the environment (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Merriam et al., 2007).
  • The learning process is transformational, requiring learners to actively participate in the process, be afforded experiential opportunities, and to engage in critical reflection in order for learning to occur (Schön, 1983; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Shor, 1992; Hooper, 2007; Merriam et al., 2007).

Beliefs about the Teaching-Learning Process

We believe that educators are role models as OT professionals, practicing scholars, and change agents. To facilitate learning, educators create safe environments for students to take risks, self-discover, and build competence and confidence. To do this, the educator shares power with students and acts as a fellow learner, facilitator, and mentor while scaffolding learning to foster a zone of proximal development (i.e. "just right challenge") (Vygotsky, 1978). In addition, we believe educators can take on various forms, including peers, teachers, professionals, and consumers of OT services.

We believe that student learners are active participants in the education process, demonstrating engagement, preparedness, flexibility, reflective thinking, and respect for teachers and other learners. In addition, we feel that students develop critical thinking through striving to both give and receive thoughtful feedback. Furthermore, we believe that students and teachers engage in a reciprocal relationship, co-creating knowledge and partnering with one another, in the process of learning.

Beliefs about the Role of the Environment in Learning

We believe that our learning environment should reflect our professional environment and afford opportunities for engaging in occupation. Physically, spaces should support and encourage experiential learning, the "doing" of occupation within real contexts, including the design and arrangement of objects and tools, availability of resources and materials, and technology to develop critical thinking. Socially, environments should allow for meaningful interactions between all learners (students, teachers, and experts). Temporally, spaces should be flexible to meet the needs of various users and amenable to change as practice evolves. Culturally, spaces should afford students opportunities to understand diversity, value inclusion, and recognize inequities that exist in accessing services and resources. Furthermore, we recognize that learning does not begin and end in our classroom space but extends beyond our walls to the broader community.


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Vygotsky, L.S. (1987). Mind in Society: The Development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The Occupational Therapy Program is part of the School of Health Sciences, 313 Everett L. Marshall Building, 734.487.4096