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Critical practice in health and social care: understanding and developing learning and teaching opportunities in diverse learning environments

The health and social care work environment is being increasingly challenged to implement a range of strategic initiatives to respond to needs in diverse communities. Thus diverse communities of learning in higher education may represent an opportunity to educate students so that they can engage in critical and culturally competent practice in health and social care. This paper presents findings from a study that explored pedagogical approaches to diversity as forming an integral part of professional training for students in health and social care programmes.More specifically, the aim of the study was to develop an understanding of ‘interactional diversity’ and its potential impact on developing critical action and cultural competence among future practitioners. Data were collected using a cross-sectional survey and in-depth interviews with a sample of students and academic staff in programmes that educate future health and social care practitioners. The key findings suggest that both academic staff and students demonstrated some readiness for opportunities to engage more fully with the diverse learning communities in health and social care. Broadly speaking, staff and students in health programmes were less likely to recognise the value of interactional diversity, and this was reflected in the curriculum. Social work students, closely followed by students in physiotherapy, indicated high levels of confidence about future practice with diverse groups. However, the need for proactive strategies to develop interactional diversity, a curriculum that reflects diversity, learning environments that facilitate growth from conflict, and linkages between classroom and practice learning also emerged as relevant to reinforcing positive learning climates on the university campus. Interactional diversity as a learning and teaching tool has important implications for the development of health and social care practitioners who are able to respond to diverse groups of service users, and who also contribute to the development of socially cohesive communities

Author(s): Mary Pat Sullivan, Subhash Pokhrel, Kee Hean

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