Occupational Therapy Curriculum Design

Sacred Heart University Occupational Therapy: Principled Responsive Innovative Dynamic ExcellentOur curriculum design is portrayed in the symbol of the tree of life. This tree reflects our beliefs about the complexity and interactive nature of human learning. The process of learning symbolized by the tree is recursive. The tree is growing in a rich environment that nurtures the unique development and emergence of the professional identity. Each student learns from faculty, each other, our professional scholars, and expert clinicians. Each member of the learning community grows from these interactions and changes the learning environment. Faculty, staff, and students in our learning community engage in these interactions reflectively considering the potential impact on others and the profession.

  • The Roots consist of the foundational knowledge students need to become an exemplary practitioner as well as the knowledge they bring with them to the program;
  • The trunk symbolizes the learning processes and pedagogies used to facilitate and scaffold knowledge, skills, and professionalism including problem based learning, group work, active-engaged experiences, service-learning, interprofessional experiences, fieldwork supervision, mentoring, and co-curricular activities.
  • The tree branches express our three curricular themes of occupational therapy assessment and intervention, therapeutic and professional relationships, and evidence-based practice and professional identity. Courses within each theme prepare students in the knowledge, skills, professional behaviors and values they need for entry-level practice.
  • The leaves symbolize the Program’s PRIDE Student Learning Outcomes which cycle back to the roots, demonstrating the continual integration of new information with prior knowledge through a process of life-long learning to nurture the occupational therapist’s continued professional development

The Curricular Sequence
The curricular sequence begins with the solid roots of foundational knowledge and skills for occupational therapy; the sciences, therapeutic use of self, occupational therapy theory, and activity analysis. Next, students engage in three semesters of problem-based learning courses with associated labs, seminars, interprofessional, and fieldwork experiences. They end with advanced courses and activities appropriate for those about to enter the profession. The courses within each branch’s theme, build upon the courses in the foundational roots in a recursive process that layers and scaffolds greater complexity of critical thinking and clinical reasoning over the foundations of basic content knowledge. Embedded in the curriculum and aligned with each curricular theme there are multiple co-curricular opportunities for students to engage in collaboration with faculty and each other.

The curriculum and the co-curricular activities combine to allow our program to meet the Program’s PRIDE Student Learning Outcomes. See Tree Curriculum Description.

PRIDE Student Learning Outcomes

Our PRIDE vision was further distilled into program student learning outcomes to match the ideas reflected in PRIDE, as well as our mission and our philosophy of learning statement.


Consistent with our vision of PRIDE, by graduation our students will:

  • Practice in a safe, legal and ethical manner.
  • Respond to unmet occupational and educational needs in underserved communities through leadership, advocacy, and service.
  • Interact collaboratively and communicate effectively with individuals, populations, and interprofessional teams.
  • Demonstrate readiness, habits, and skills for self-directed, life-long learning and self-reflection.
  • Exhibit critical thinking, clinical reasoning, use of evidence, and competence in skills requisite for entry-level, holistic application of occupational therapy process.
  • Engage in professional activities and demonstrate professional behaviors.

Curriculum and Problem-based Learning

Problem-based learning (PBL) is used during the assessment and intervention curricular theme courses in the second, third, and fourth trimesters of program. PBL is an active, student-centered teaching and learning strategy in which students learn content, use of information technologies, critical appraisal of sources and information, clinical reasoning, and clinical decision-making skills needed for occupational therapy practice. The PBL tutorial process involves working in small groups of six to eight students with a faculty facilitator. The faculty facilitator’s role is to provide support, guidance, and mentoring rather than impart knowledge. The students’ role is to collaborate as a group on defining the clinical problem or question, develop a working hypothesis regarding the clinical situation, identify their own and the tutorial group’s learning objectives, conduct independent research and sharing of information with peers, and collaborative problem-solving and decision-making on the best assessment and or intervention approach to the “case” in context of the client’s life. The PBL process is highly effective in developing in students, a habit of self-directed, independent learning requisite to life-long learning, team communication and collaboration, and thinking about clients in real-life contexts. PBL helps students gain an understanding that there is rarely one “right” answer or approach to a clinical challenge, but multiple best practice approaches that depend on the client’s life contexts, history, roles, and goals.     

Occupational Therapy students in problem based learning lab

Class Size and Structure

The maximum class size is 49. Section sizes and faculty-student ratios are determined by the teaching and learning strategies used in that particular course. The program strives to maintain maximum opportunities for faculty-student interactions and mentoring by matching faculty-student ratios and section sizes to the specific course’s teaching-learning pedagogies. Typical faculty-student ratios in laboratories and courses reliant on active-engaged pedagogues are 15-18 students to one faculty. Additional faculty are added to laboratories consisting of more intensive skill development such as use of physical agents and patient transfers.  PBL tutorials generally consist of 6-8 students to one faculty facilitator. The faculty have been able to maintain a high degree of engagement with students through careful consideration of section sized and faculty-student ratios.