Do Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy Curricula Teach Critical Thinking Skills?

Article excerpt

This study evaluated whether critical thinking ability can be improved through participation in occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) curricula. The researchers compared levels of the critical thinking skills of OT and PT students at the beginning and end of their programs to determine whether changes occurred and to examine facets of the curricula that may have caused the differences. The curricula include teaching strategies of problem-based learning modules, small group discussion and problem-solving, case studies, clinical observation, and evidence-based practice assignments, as well as teaching about critical thinking as a process in itself. Fifty OT and PT students completed the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal at the beginning and end of 20 mos of the academic phase of their master's degree programs. Researchers analyzed the data using a one-way repeated-measures ANOVA. Results showed no differences between OT and PT students on the pretest or post-test and no differences for PT students between the pretest and post-test. OT students' scores increased significantly from pretest to post-test. The influence of the timing of teaching critical thinking skills in the resulting differences between the two curricula, as well as the validity of the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is a valid measure of critical thinking changes in allied health students are discussed. J Allied Health 2009; 38:152-157.

IN TODAY'S HEALTHCARE SETTINGS, occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) practice seems more complex than ever before in history.1 Patients have multifaceted problems and must be treated in shorter peri- ods of time as the average length of stay declines.2 Practi- tioners need to think accurately and make good decisions to effectively treat their patients. Practitioners must use skilled clinical reasoning to formulate effective treatment plans. Critical thinking is a basic component of clinical reasoning. These ideas underscore the importance of OT and PT students developing critical thinking skills during their academic ttaining before they become practitioners.

A common assumption is that educators teach and improve students' critical thinking skills during the curriculum, but is that assumption correct? This study proposed to determine whether students' critical thinking ability can be improved through participation in OT and PT curricula.

While cognitive development occurs throughout the lifespan, evidence supports development of critical thinking skills in students through participation in higher education. However, few researchers agree about factors that influence this development.3 Many tesearch studies show that students make the greatest increase in critical thinking skills during the freshman year and make higher scores on critical thinking measurement instruments with additional years of education.3

Tsui's3 systematic review examined research studies that explored instructional factors, curriculum factors, and disciplinary field as influencing critical thinking skills. Studies of curricular effects found that students who participated in general education courses designed to integrate knowledge versus learning finite, specialized information developed high levels of critical thinking. Students who participated in interdisciplinary courses and courses involving experiential and self-directed learning also made high-level scores on critical thinking tests. Several research studies found no differences in critical thinking skills in students across disciplines.3 In addition, these studies found that students with highly developed critical thinking skills did not selfselect into particular disciplines such as business, liberal arts, or health care fields, for example. Tsui3 described numerous other studies with far different results from those cited above. Research findings identifying factors causing positive change in critical thinking skills are inconsistent. …


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