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CONNECTing with the Community

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Who: The Department of Clinical Speech & Language Studies (CSLS), Trinity College Dublin in collaboration with three major acute care hospitals in the Dublin region and people with aphasia

What: Harnessing the expertise of people with aphasia to refine the Conversation Partner Scheme (CPS), updating the learning assessments and using their expertise to educate students.

Why: To facilitate civic engagement and skill development on the part of the students and meet clearly defined needs of people with aphasia.

Where:Consultation within the university and student visits across the community

When: Initiated in 2010 to build upon the CPS which began in 2006. 

Project description

In 2006, the Conversational Partner Scheme (CPS) was introduced in Trinity as a pilot partnership between the Department of Clinical Speech and Language Studies, The Mater Misercordiae University Hospital, Connolly Memorial Hospital and Beaumont Hospital. In 2009 the programme was adopted as a credit-bearing module of the JF curriculum, called ‘Connect’.

Aphasia is an acquired communication difficulty that commonly follows a stroke. It affects the ability to process language, making it difficult to talk, read, write and interpret what is said. The difficulties in communicating which are experienced by people with aphasia have a negative impact on their quality of life, frequently leading to isolation and loss of social networks.

The project centres on facilitating people with aphasia to support students in developing effective conversation skills through weekly visits by paired sets of JF students to the homes of people with aphasia in the community.

Students are prepared for these visits through a workshop and training by people with aphasia. People with aphasia are supported to facilitate student learning and provide constructive feedback on students’ communication skills and what they might do to support conversation with another person with aphasia.

For many students, there is a temptation to adopt the role of ‘expert’ in order to cope with the challenges of the clinical role, thereby imposing a power relationship that may disempower the people whom they are working to support. This service learning experience challenges a uni-directional model of teaching-learning and offers a platform for reciprocal learning relationships.

The “CONNECTing with the Community” project aimed to consolidate the notion of reciprocity in marrying the expertise of those with aphasia and the expertise of the university, in order to refine the partner scheme and the way in which students are assessed within this project.


  • To develop and evaluate an Articulated Learning (AL) (Ash and Clayton, 2004) framework to support student reflection and assessment within the CPS module.
  • To prepare students for their future clinical role by exposing them to an alternative concept of communication post-stroke - one where people with aphasia are seen as experts in their own communication skills.
  • Empowering people with aphasia by taking on the role of expert. Tapping into this expertise has the potential to have a profound impact on the person themselves, in terms of their identity and experience of competence. In addition, their expertise can be used to shape service delivery and provide an ‘insider perspective’ which informs practice.

Results and outcomes

What worked well

The outcome of the project has been the development and implementation of an explicit framework and support documentation to support student reflection and assessment. The documentation and framework is aphasia-friendly in language and style and has become a key resource for evaluating individual student learning. We foresee the materials being implemented to collate data on the module and its impact on students.

As a result of discussion around the CPS and student learning, the program has been refined, incorporating a two week ‘rotation’ in which students are given the opportunity to visit a second person with aphasia, through partnering with a different student in the class for one week. This valuable opportunity, to experience first hand that every person with aphasia is different, would not have arisen without the input from the consultants with aphasia.

Centrally the partnership between the CSLS department, the people with aphasia and the SLTs was key to establishing the materials.

Lessons learnt

  1. Following through on some of the suggestions which emerged from the consultative process involved more logistical and administrative support than was initially envisaged
  2. Students need some support to access the process of Articulated Learning and dedicated tutorials around the reflective process were helpful in this regard. It may be useful to introduce such supports earlier in the module.
  3. The administrative demand of the programme was under-estimated this year. It may be useful in future years to outline different administrative responsibilities within the team.

Resources required

  • Reciprocal relationships with community partners
  • Funding to secure consultancy from key stakeholders and run consultancy meetings
  • Administrative time to coordinate the programme: including the coordination of the referral and matching process, the inevitable changes and re-configuration of partnerships, the CONNECTing consultative meetings and the implications of adopting the “swop sessions” 


Name: Caroline Jagoe