Student Success
The SPHERE team pose with "Simone", one of the college's hi-tech training manikins. L to R: Michelle Moors, Roxana Olave, Marie Laenen, Madisyn Wolstenholme, Heather Gordon and Sheri Wright.

The team behind Lethbridge College’s real-life health care training environment known as SPHERE (Simulated Patient Health Environment for Research and Education) has earned provincial recognition. The SPHERE team won the Alberta Colleges and Institutes Faculties Association (ACIFA) award for Innovation in Teaching, as announced by ACIFA earlier this week. The SPHERE team will be accepting the award at the ACIFA conference in May.

ACIFA recognized the SPHERE team for its work and collaboration with a group of student volunteers called the Student Crew. This group of volunteers has 151 active members made up of students from academic centres across campus, Lethbridge College alumni and community members. The volunteers provide support in many areas across campus, notably acting as patients, victims, family members, jury members or many other activities roles in live-action educational scenarios that allow the students involved to get the most out of their learning experience, as well as several other college-wide initiatives.

“Student Crew offers the college a unique way to increase capacity, maintain sustainability, and empower students to become engaged in their student experience as partners in their education,” says Sheri Wright, SPHERE coordinator. “This program is unique because it is driven by students, supported by staff, and offers alumni opportunities to remain engaged following graduation.”

SPHERE helps close the gap between theory and practice, creates realistic training scenarios for future healthcare workers and provides opportunities for students to embrace failure as a learning strategy. SPHERE uses hi-tech manikins, however, some students find it tough to suspend disbelief when working with manikins, so having Student Crew members volunteer in these roles creates a more authentic human experience that enhances the learning opportunities for students.

With such a large group of volunteers available, the SPHERE team has been able to create inter-disciplinary activities between programs such as Bachelor of Nursing, Practical Nursing, Primary Care Paramedic, Criminal Justice – Policing, and Digital Communications and Media, such as the bi-annual mass casualty event.

“The Student Crew has not only enhanced the confidence and learning opportunities of the volunteer students and their peers within their own program, but has also had a positive impact in other programs,” says Dave Maze, chair of the School of Justice Studies. “The volunteers within the Student Crew have enabled me to create ‘as close to real life’ as possible learning events for my students. The innovative creation of the Student Crew by the SHPERE team has changed the lives of many students and greatly enhanced learning across the college.”

The Student Crew began in 2016 with just four students interested in helping the SPHERE team with items such as classroom set up, cleaning and organizing materials. It has grown organically and expanded into a peer connection group that fosters diversity, inclusion and develops emerging leadership skills. Student Crew is set up like a Choose Your Own Adventure where students choose activities that interest them and support their individual needs ranging from activities within SPHERE, Wellness Services, Lethbridge College events and program areas that wouldn’t have been possible before. For example, jury members for Justice Studies, patients for Practical Nurse and Health Care Aide classes, interviewees for Business Administration students and offenders for intake assessments.

The collaboration between volunteers extends well beyond the classroom, instilling life skills as well as academic benefits. Student Crew volunteers alignment with Lethbridge College’s Core Competencies and Comprehensive Institutional Plan. It helps create community on campus, promotes recruitment and retention, fosters alumni engagement and offers students opportunities for personal and professional development.

“Student Crew and SPHERE quickly became much more than a group of volunteers, they became my family,” says Megan Jones, a General Studies student and Student Crew volunteer. “Student Crew embodies the philosophy of students as active members in their academic journey and emphasizes the significance of inter-professional collaboration and partnerships. I don’t know what my post-secondary education would look like if I wasn’t able to experience these opportunities outside of my classroom.”

The ACIFA Innovation in Teaching Award recognizes programs that demonstrate evidence of student satisfaction and learning outcomes; innovation successfully integrated into the total learning process for the relevant course of study; the potential for the innovation to be applied to different fields of study; and the extent to which the innovation made effective and efficient use of resources.

The SPHERE Team will receive a $1,500 award and the Lethbridge College Faculty Association will receive $500.