Health & Wellness

Enriching Our Students’ Learning: the Experiential Process

As supervisors for work study or placement students, we are tasked with enriching our students learning experience. In the Health Promotion unit, self directed learning and experiential learning are key drivers for the student experience. It is my goal to ensure that every student that comes through our doors leaves knowing more than they did and it is really important to me that skills the students learn here are practical and transferable to both personal and professional aspects of their lives.

This past year my nursing placement students had an opportunity to learn how to plan and facilitate an event where they were able to gather valuable information and begin a process of student engagement. The students did not have any experience in facilitating, event management, data collection, or interpretation but with a little self guided research and learning, strong guidance from a facilitation guru, and support from me they were able to pull off our inaugural Our Healthy Campus: Ryerson United for Student Health event on March 24, 2015. The following was their student experience.

At the culmination of an experiential learning experience, students sit listening.

The Student Experience

by Rachel Fernades, Ilwad Hersi, and Kevin Vianna
(3rd Year Placement Nursing Students)

Experiential learning is integral in the training of nurses. Clinical practicums are held each year in the program to consolidate theoretical nursing knowledge, however, when one envisions a nurse, seldom do people think of the nurse as a health promoter. In our nursing education, we learn countless theories of promoting and maintaining health. A lot of this knowledge is of medical interventions that are completed in instances where a client’s health is already compromised. Health promotion, however, is about sustaining, promoting, and protecting a client’s health from the pathogenesis of disease and illness. In our placement, this client population is the Ryerson Community.

The Change

The change from a second to third year nurse is extreme; we come from a biomedical paradigm of health to a more socio-political-psychological paradigm. The difference lies in the reach and scope of the nursing care. The biomedical model is more concerned with why the individual is in the hospital, while health promotion is considered with the structures in society, institutions, and policies that affect a person’s overall well-being.

Our third year community placement was with the Health Promotion unit here at Ryerson and we quickly found ourselves in a position where we had to learn new theories, principles, and concepts and put them together with the theory we learned in previous years to program plan initiatives that addressed student health. Our biggest project was the Our Healthy Campus: Ryerson United for Student Health meet and greet which was on March 24, 2015.

The Work

Before the Our Healthy Campus event was set in stone, we had an extensive program planning process ahead of us. We wanted to get student groups and course union executives together to discuss how we can make Ryerson a healthier campus. Our initial plan was to bring the students together and introduce them to the various services on campus that addressed health, and then lead them through a series of questions. We also knew that we wanted to get the student leadership to commit to being more engaged with the topic of health on campus and the impacts that health has on a student’s ability to perform well and we planned on developing a pledge that students and their groups would commit to by the end of the event.

In order to help with the engagement portion of the event, we were introduced to the top dog in participatory, facilitation, and engagement—Marilyn Struthers, the John C. Eaton Chair of Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Marilyn introduced Liberating Structures to the department which is a new and innovative engagement tool. The need for engagement was a key component for our event, and she suggested two liberating structures activities that we could use during our event to both gather information and garner interest for continued engagement. Liberating structures are engagement strategies that encourage participants to contribute, to feel included and valued, which makes them want to get involved in shaping the discussion and the future. There are over 3 dozen liberating structures, but for our event we used two: 25/20 Crowd Sourcing and 1-2-4 All. Both structures gave us an alternative method for engaging students in discussions which allowed us to gather a vast amount of data in a small about of time. This data will be used to inform future Our Healthy Campus events, potential student projects, and the work of the Health Promotion unit. The questions and activities helped gauge what students do to stay healthy during their studies and how we as a campus can contribute to student wellbeing.

For continued engagement and collaboration, we also launched Our Healthy Campus: Ryerson United for Student Health, an online platform where students can grow their community of practice, connect with each other for support, share information about events, collaborate, consult with each other and the health promotion unit, while also making meaningful relationships.

A corkboard with ideas to make our campus a more healthy place.

The Good

The good about working at the Health Promotion unit at Ryerson is that we were put into a position where we can make changes that improve the well-being of multiple people. We were also able to work collaboratively with other professionals with each event we put forth. By working on the Our Healthy Campus event in general we were able to see the ins and outs of all the student groups and unions on campus. This made us think differently about our campus. Instead of just being a student attending Ryerson University, working at the department extended our lens to see beyond the daily hassles of student life. We were also able to literally put theory to practice and see our event unfold from an idea through to planning and implementation, using Health Promotion theory, liberating structures strategies, and some basic data analysis strategies. We got to create our own event from start to end which is invaluable practical knowledge and experience that most of our peers did not get from their placements.

The Bad

We didn’t get to see the improvement in our clients. If you’re a nurse working in the hospital, you can, in most cases, see how your interventions improve your clients’ overall well-being. But in health promotion, we’re trying to stop people from getting sick; we don’t get to see the improvements of our interventions. Until of course, we do a health survey and get data on the overall population. But even so, this survey lacks a human element.

Overall, working in the Health Promotion department has allowed us to consolidate our skills; look at people more holistically; and understand the elements and changes needed to support people in being healthy and well. It also provided us with a platform to take control over our own learning experience and gave us the opportunity to refine our community nursing skills. The experiential learning process was indeed a process in which we were able to learn from our own mistakes and gain hands-on experience along the way.

Check out the Ryersonian’s coverage of Our Healthy Campus Community.

  • Gaya Arasaratnam

    Great insights into the amazing work that our students do in Health Promotion! While it is true that it is difficult to measure health impact and outcomes from a single workshop, the assessments from that workshop were both positive and indicative of the great work done in coordinating both it and its lead-up. Well done, Rachel, Ilwad, and Kevin!