Feb. 27, 2019Print | PDF
During an immersive in-class activity while wearing goggles and ear plugs, fourth-year Wilfrid Laurier University student Susan Tang felt a career calling that she couldn’t ignore.
The activity was a part of Health Care and Social Work Practice, a fourth-year elective in the Faculty of Social Work at Laurier’s Brantford campus created by Assistant Professor Michelle Skop.
During a week where students were studying acute, chronic and geriatric care, Skop co-taught with Jennifer Dunlop, a board member and manager of the Bachelor of Social Work’s Field Education program. Dunlop developed a simulation to help students build empathy and understand what it feels like to have a hearing or vision impairment.
Students were paired up and took turns using ear plugs and goggles, which were provided by the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and each had the opportunity to perform a client assessment.
“For a brief moment through this empathetic experience, I was able to increase my consciousness of the daily realities faced by individuals with disabilities,” says Tang, who is studying Social Work at Laurier. “It made me realize that I want to pursue a career that allows me to practise an inclusive approach to health care.”
“It’s about ensuring inclusivity, equity and diversity in teaching – bringing lived experience, practised skills and theory into the classroom.”
Prior to joining Laurier in 2016, Skop practised social work in the field of mental health. The lessons Skop learned and skills she honed in the field have played an essential part in her role as an instructor. The way her course is taught models a team approach to health care to reflect the realities of interdisciplinary collaboration within the health-care field.
“As a social worker, I never made decisions in isolation,” says Skop. “Social workers and health-care providers worked together on interdisciplinary teams to provide comprehensive, client-centred care and each team member had an active role in helping service users achieve their goals.”
When presented with the chance to create a new seminar course in 2016, Skop knew she wanted to bring that same team approach to the development and delivery of the course.
After receiving an instructional development grant through Teaching and Learning, Skop recruited and led a community advisory board comprised of social work and health-care professionals. A public health nurse, an art therapist, a Laurier alumni working in geriatrics, a director of social work in a community health centre, service users and social work students were included in the 17-member board. The group met monthly to develop all aspects of the course.
In addition to developing the content, Skop invited community advisory board members to join her as co-teachers.
“It’s about ensuring inclusivity, equity and diversity in teaching – bringing lived experience, practised skills and theory into the classroom,” says Skop.
“With the holistic way this course was taught, I could grow and develop to my fullest capabilities and strive to initiate social change. I already had an interest in practising health care, but this course solidified my passion.”
The course’s weekly topics include health throughout an individual’s lifespan, mental health, addictions, health equity and the dynamics of working as part of health-care teams. Each class combines interactive lectures by Skop and members of the community advisory board, group discussions and experiential learning activities.
Among the lecturers who have participated in the course is Nadine LeGros, an educational developer from Teaching and Learning at Laurier, who co-led a class dedicated to working as part of health-care teams. LeGros created a simulation that allowed students to experience power dynamics within a team.
“Role playing and other experiential activities tap into a deeper level of understanding and help students remember lessons long after graduation,” says Skop. “In social work education, it is helpful to combine theory with applied, problem-based learning in order to provide students with opportunities to develop professional competencies and practise specific skills.”
Students appreciate the opportunity to hear from and interact with a diverse group of health-care professionals in the classroom.
“With the holistic way this course was taught, I could grow and develop to my fullest capabilities and strive to initiate social change,” says Tang. “I already had an interest in practising health care, but this course solidified my passion.”
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