Seniors in Action: a service learning fall prevention program and the effects of peer interaction on student experience




White, Michelle
Richardson, Mike
Bugnariu, Nicoleta
Severance, Jennifer


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Purpose: The purpose of this research was to evaluate the effects of student to student peer interactions during service learning (SL) activities on the overall learning experience. Materials/Methods: Sixty eight Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) students were randomly assigned to one of two SL activities. SL 1 was a fall prevention program called Seniors in Action, in which each pair of DPT students had to assess fall risk and implement exercise programs working directly with senior participants. Activity 2 was an in-class case study based on the assessment derived from SL 1, including plan of care development without exercise implementation. All students spent 5 hours involved in one of the two SL activities and were supervised by a licensed DPT. Outcomes were assessed by the student responses to pre- and post- surveys using a Likert-like scale and self-reflection comments. Questions on pre- and post- surveys evaluated the anxiety level on working with seniors, confidence level in ability to communicate, screen for risk for falls, interpret results, as well as the effect of peer interaction on facilitating the learning activities. Data was analyzed with paired t-tests. Results: Pre- SL students in Year 2 had significant lower anxiety and higher confidence compared to Year 1 students (p=0.02 and p<0.01 respectively). However students from both years increased their confidence level in PT skills both after the SL 1 and SL 2 (p<0.001 and p=0.01). Anxiety levels decreased in Year 1 students (p=0.03) but did not changed for students in year 2 (p=0.1) post-SL. Students in year 1 reported that peer interaction during SL facilitated their learning more than year 2 student (p= 0.02). Conclusion: The SL activities were effective in meeting a community need, decreasing student anxiety toward geriatric population, improving confidence of professional skills and positive learning experience from peer interaction. Overall reflection comments expressed student satisfaction and affirmed benefits of learning from peers during SL. SL combined with peer pairing provides excellent opportunity for active learning while employing practical application which in turn strengthens a PT program curriculum.