Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Bridging the Gap between Theory and Practice

Article excerpt

The assessment and placement of clients in therapeutic recreation programs based on need represents a fundamental process for the delivery of effective therapeutic recreation services. The selection, development, and use of assessment directly relate to accountability and the documentation of intervention efficacy. Despite the noted significance of the assessment process in therapeutic recreation, there is a continued need for assessment instruments that efficiently and accurately evaluate the abilities and needs of clients and facilitate the placement of clients into appropriate interventions.

This difficulty with assessment was recognized by Dunn 15 years ago and has yet to be resolved. Too often, assessment instruments are either selected because they already exist and are convenient, or are hastily developed to meet an individual agency's need, lacking in rigorous evaluation for validity and reliability. Another factor that hampers the development and selection of therapeutic recreation assessments is the lack of awareness of instruments and procedures being used across the country.

The Internet offers an opportunity to make assessment instruments and information -- and a method of sharing this information -- accessible among a large audience. The following discussion describes a preliminary conceptualization for a prototype of Internet protocols for therapeutic recreation assessment.

Expert Systems

An expert system is one type of technology that could aid in improving communication related to the enhancement of assessment instruments and implementation among researchers and practitioners, Expert systems, which offer an opportunity to blend theory and practice, are computer programs that begin with the knowledge of experts in the field. This knowledge is incorporated into a process that allows the system (computer program) to emulate human thinking, reasoning, and decision-making processes. The expert system essentially consists of the knowledge base of a profession. It also contains a set of rules, or "heuristics," which allow it to make inferences. When presented with a question or situation, the system is able to suggest management solutions or decisions about programming. It is called an expert system because it imitates the decisions an expert in the field would make. An expert system is suggested as a method of enhancing both the therapeutic recreation assessment process and the achievement of intervention outcomes.

Assessment Prototype Development

The first step in creating an expert system for therapeutic recreation is collecting knowledge from multiple experts, both practitioners and academics, and gaining an understanding of how they make programmatic decisions (Fig. 1). This includes their understanding of the purpose of assessment, assessment instruments, and program possibilities as well as an understanding of how they make decisions about which programs best suit clients' needs. Understanding how an expert makes decisions about clients' needs is the "heart" of an expert system.

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The second step involves including different assessment instruments in the system that allow practitioners to identify client needs, suggest desired outcomes, and select appropriate intervention programs. …

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