In 2011 the occupational therapy programs from the UoS and LU started a collaboration to outline a common international strategy, which sought to extend traditional Erasmus exchange arrangements and make the internationalisation of the curriculum a reality for all occupational therapy students. Research indicates that health-based programme students do not engage easily or in numbers with Erasmus student mobility (Fielden et al 2007, King et al 2010, Bridger 2015, Watson et al 2007), which limits the exposure of students to international solutions to global health and social care problems.
In 2016, following a successful pilot of a model for collaborative education, NUIG was invited as a third partner to assist in developing and extending this innovative educational model, offering students opportunities to interact with other universities and health care systems to identify and share with community groups how occupational therapists might support socially isolated groups in society to improve their health and wellbeing. In 2019 three further universities joined the international classroom to enhance intercultural learning opportunities (UoV, RSU and BU).
The project aimed to:
1. Bring together the expertise of three different universities to explore and offer innovative ways of meeting the educational needs of occupational therapists.
2. Use the international community to strengthen and deepen professional identity to encourage students to work confidently with their occupationally focused approach to bring about transformational change to small and isolated groups in society.
3. Develop an intercultural skilled workforce who can support the increasingly diverse populations of all partner countries to meet the needs of global health concerns.
4. Develop a future workforce that has the confidence and skills to work within the European and global work market to address global health and societal issues.
The aims of the project were realised through four activities: 1) a physical exchange learning week where students from all three universities travelled to a host organisation and learned with and from one other in community-based organisations; 2) Identify web-based technologies to allow students to interact with one another in an international classroom within their home institutions which allowed them to discuss and debate how occupational issues might be solved differently and develop further competency in digital technologies; 3) extending the number of partners to six to expose the students to greater diversity, intercultural aspects and international occupationally-focussed solutions and 4) facilitated a staff exchange to enhance educational knowledge exchange and innovation.
The experiential learning opportunities used through the project sought to promote the acquisition of knowledge and skills in a contextual, integrated manner. Students worked in partnership with health service, charitable and non-governmental organisations to develop and design occupational solutions to real life challenges for people. Many of these vulnerable groups experience social exclusion as a result of disability, stereotyping, poor understanding of diversity and ability to articulate their needs. Through the project work students developed an understanding of the needs of these groups and demonstrated a commitment as health professionals to addressing those needs.