Heather R. Porter, PhD, CTRS, FDRT
As described within a previous EDvice Exchange article, Positive Projects is the revving up of students’ Positive emotions through Engagement of Meaningful student projects outside of the classroom that highlight and strengthen Accomplishments and Relationships. Here, we will delve into the Positive Project of creating and operating a profession-specific niche website and database with students.
A Positive Project begins by identifying a profession-specific gap or need that’s meaningful to you and your students. For the purpose of this article, consider how this gap or need could be met by developing a profession-specific niche website. For example, students in the Recreational Therapy (RT) Program at Temple University conduct literature syntheses within select coursework. Some of this work is exceptional and could inform current clinical practice with additional mentoring by faculty outside of the classroom. Sadly, however, it sat idly in their computers. The need to share and disseminate this work to the broader field was identified as a gap and a need. Consequently, the RT Wise Owls website was created to share peer-reviewed student syntheses publicly.
The dissemination of student work through this website is meaningful to faculty and students because it contributes to the greater good of the profession, increases name recognition, demonstrates a commitment to strengthening the field, and is often presented at regional, national, and international conferences.
Since its inception in 2013, the website has grown into a database and evidence-based practice information resource center for the field. Additionally, the RT Wise Owls Research Lab was created to support the upkeep of the database. In this lab, RT students search electronic databases for high-quality RT-related literature aligned with their clinical interests for potential inclusion in the database. This experience strengthens their literature search skills and increases their knowledge of the most up-to-date research in areas of interest, which subsequently enhances their clinical marketability.
The website currently garners 14,000+ unique visitors per year from over 100 countries.
Positive Projects need to immerse students further into the profession than what is typical in academia and allow them to ‘give’ something (e.g., to another student, the profession, or the community). Engagement at this level can help students find meaning and purpose in their career path and promote altruism, driving personal and professional growth. The development of a profession-specific niche website can provide this experience for students. For example, the RT Wise Owls site offers opportunities for students to be published, which is not typical, especially for Undergraduate students. In addition, it provides them with an opportunity to contribute to the profession at large, connect with others who read their research, and increase their sense of being a change agent within the profession, which often drives intrinsic motivation for continued professional involvement.
Importantly, students involved with the RT Wise Owls site are mentored by faculty members outside the classroom, where students build upon existing skill sets gained in other contexts. For example, RT students learn how to search electronic databases and synthesize literature in coursework; and then expand upon these foundational skills through their involvement with the RT Wise Owls site. This creates a sense of flow, an optimal state of intrinsic motivation.
A sense of accomplishment is an essential ingredient within Positive Projects. Consequently, if choosing to develop a profession-specific niche website, the project needs to be broken down into discrete steps with clear and feasible timelines. Regular feedback must also be provided, along with opportunities for students to experience a level of autonomy appropriate to the tasks.
Students who desire to publish their work on RT Wise Owls work closely and collaboratively with a faculty mentor over a semester outside of the classroom to strengthen their work. Specific tasks are outlined along with clear deadlines. Kind, specific, and helpful feedback is provided. Two additional faculty members then peer-review, and a decision is shared (accept, accept with revision, denied).
Students who volunteer in the RT Wise Owls Research Lab work collaboratively with their faculty mentor to identify a topic of interest that they will research for the semester. Additional education and training are provided at the start of the semester on how to search electronic databases related to their research topic, and guidance is provided throughout the semester.
Within a Positive Project, the students and faculty members work together in a collaborative process that enhances a sense of support, relatedness, and belonging. When students work on a synthesis of the literature to be posted on RT Wise Owls, the students and faculty mentor work collaboratively throughout the process. This not only aids in the students’ enhancement of skills through regular feedback and guidance, but it also creates a ‘we’ bond. It increases students’ comfortability in seeking and receiving feedback and lessens students’ anxiety. Collaboration may take the form of providing questions and answers within the synthesis document, discussing resources, reviewing and explaining literature, and having group-based conversations.
Positive emotions–such as joy, excitement, and pride–flourish when projects are structured in the above manner. Regarding RT Wise Owls, students who publish on the site or work in the RT Wise Owls Research Lab report feelings of joy and pride related to the work they produced and contributed to the broader profession. Faculty also report feeling a sense of pride in the students they mentored and a sense of meaning in mentoring the next generation of the RT profession.
If you would like additional guidance in creating a Positive Project, feel free to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, if you are interested in creating a profession-specific niche website, here are a few helpful resources:
- Website Platform: Temple faculty can create a free website using WordPress through Temple University. Simply go to sites.temple.edu to develop your own website.
- Domain Name: It is recommended you choose a name for your website and register it (e.g., through Name Cheap) so that your readers can easily find and share your website with others.
- Database: The search functionality for the database within RT Wise Owls was created using a free WordPress plug-in called Pods, which allows you to create taxonomies for data. This is used in conjunction with Posts Table Pro ($79/year), which works with Pods to create searchable taxonomy tables.
Heather R. Porter, PhD, CTRS, FDRT is a Professor at Temple University,’s College of Public Health in the Recreational Therapy Program.