The Collaborative Role Of Interior Designers And Healthcare Professionals: Training Emerging Professionals To Meet The Needs Of An Aging Society

Presented by: Martha Siegel, Tobi Abramson

Academic institutions utilize a pedagogical approach that focuses on learning within discipline-specific silos. While this has merits, it does not reflect professionals in the real world. As the population ages, all disciplines will need to have some knowledge about aging and seniors’ healthcare needs. Opportunities abound in healthcare and non-healthcare sectors particularly for new and innovative products, services, and approaches to designing supportive environments that maintain independence. To develop a cadre of professionals who embrace person-centered approaches requires undergraduate collaborative learning. Singular, specialized education continues to have value, but must be partnered with inter-professional learning to produce a professional with the skillset to meet the needs of those utilizing healthcare now and in the future. This unique approach, bringing health science and interior design students together as cross-disciplinary team members, and the impact participation had on students’ attitudes, teamwork, learning about healthcare settings, and the type of work chosen post-graduation will be included. The Collaborative Learning Initiative (CLI) is in year four with yearly modifications to more purposely meet the needs of enrolled students. Interior design students partner with students from health sciences, mental health counseling, and occupational therapy. The pedagogical approach has incorporated a concurrent and co-located model where students work together on the same task. Students were enrolled in discipline specific courses and a portion of joint in-class time was co-taught by discipline specific faculty. As part of the collaborative learning, students were assigned to mixed-discipline teams and then participated in a Sensitivity Workshop, lectures on aging/ageism and universal/inclusive design, healthcare site visits, studio work, pin-up presentations, and a final juried presentation. Asynchronous and synchronous teamwork was required over the course of the semester. Proposed solutions were driven by sharing of histories, home and healthcare analysis, space planning and research of materials, equipment, and furniture in the form of drawings; furniture plans, sections, elevations, and perspectives, descriptive boards; material, hardware, smart and assistive technologies. Solutions were incorporated into digital-media presentations using PowerPoint and were presented to participants and a jury of discipline specific specialists. Analysis included evaluation by joint faculty on students’ reflection papers, pre/post attitude assessments, pin-up presentations, project self-evaluation, and juried review of design solutions. The majority of students indicated their future willingness to work with the other disciplines. Three-quarters indicated that among team members there was mutual understanding, encouragement of idea sharing, valuation of individual opinions, and an increased appreciation of other disciplines. Participation in CLI was described as being important for their professional development as was learning about personal narratives’ value to understanding clients. Students emphasized the benefits of collaborative learning and the importance of universal design in healthcare settings. The majority indicated the program components (orientation activities, sensitivity workshop and the universal design in healthcare lecture, pin-up day and final presentation day) were very important to their learning. They indicated learning ‘a lot’ about aging and various environments. When CLI was compared to other college courses, CLI was described as ‘very different’ (i.e., experiential learning). The inter-professional approach to learning, the research component, team meetings and outside judge reviews were extremely valuable. Students indicated a high likelihood of using the CLI experiences and lessons in their professional lives, raising their awareness of the importance of a client-centered focus.


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