I say giant: these were the ten-dollar Transformers you can get from K-Mart or Toys ‘R’ Us.
I spent Friday working with third-year Occupational Therapy (OT) students at Griffith University’s School of Allied Health Sciences.
The course there is a particularly forward-thinking one, designed to prepare OTs to “practice in current, emerging, and future settings and roles”, working with individuals, communities, and whole populations.
Occupational therapy can be hard to define for outsiders. They think of OTs getting people in rehab to weave baskets, or installing assistive technology for people with a disability.
In fact, occupational therapy has a fascinating position in the healthcare universe. It operates on a basis which might be roughly put like this:
- People, by their nature, do things to occupy themselves: work, leisure, and the ‘activities of daily living’ (i.e. the stuff we do to get by, that’s neither work nor play).
- Sometimes people experience trouble carrying out these occupations.
- Occupational therapists can use occupation itself as a therapeutic tool for dealing with these troubles.
What has all this got to do with giant transforming robots from Planet Cybertron?
The Griffith team asked me in to help the third-years think about their vocation and their identity as occupational therapists; to approach their profession not just as a series of procedures but a bigger vision which will be adaptable to new challenges and settings in years to come. They also wanted these students to be able to confidently tell a lay audience about the work they do, communicating the value of their work and their expertise.
So, I gave the students some Transformers and asked them to do an OT consultation.
Occupational therapists sometimes use a four-stage procedure of assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation. I asked them to apply this to our warrior robots from Cybertron. If you’re not well aware of the Transformers, you can read more about them here, or listen to an interview with erudite robot aficionados Neill Cameron and Daisy Johnson.
Each toy has limited articulation and also transforms into a vehicle or other machine. This means that its anatomy differs from the human norm and presents a special challenge. In addition, the Transformer toy packaging includes a mini biography, which explains each character’s usual occupation. (The Transformer which watches over my desk at work, Windblade, is an interpreter and communications professional).
This information provided the leaping-off ground for an Occupational Therapy session like no other. Students had to apply the four-stage procedure to giant non-human entities, which, just like you or I, had an occupational nature, could experience occupational dysfunction, and could receive occupational therapy.
It was a lot of fun.
We also experimented with storytelling skills, a health-focussed Presenterless Workshop, and a round of The Thing From the Future – a card game generating science fiction scenarios – which we then analysed from an Occupational Therapy perspective.
At the end of the day, students reported back to senior staff and external partners on their community placements during the semester, using comic book dice which they adapted and transformed into their own 3D visions, including an OT townscape patrolled by the toy Transformers.
We looked at everything from how to explain your work in terms a six-year-old would understand, to whether Occupational Therapy would have anything to offer a utopian society a million years from now.
Plus there were giant robots. What more could you ask for?!