Award winning program gives students real world experience

Posted: July 8, 2011 1:00 p.m.

Erin Beckwell (at front in green sweater and scarf) and her teammates celebrate after receiving the Allan Blizzard Award.
Erin Beckwell (at front in green sweater and scarf) and her teammates celebrate after receiving the Allan Blizzard Award. Photo: courtesy of Erin Beckwell

Erin Beckwell firmly believes in allowing students the opportunity to experience what their careers will be like once they enter the work world, and now she's got a major award to back up her belief. Beckwell, the University of Regina Placement Coordinator with the Faculty of Social Work working at the Saskatoon campus, is part of a 12-member team heading up the Interprofessional Problem-based Learning program. The group recently received the Allan Blizzard Award for its work by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. The award publicly recognizes those whose exemplary collaboration in university teaching enhances student learning.

Beckwell and her colleagues from the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST) have developed a very successful program that allows health sciences students to gain real world experience.

"The feedback from students in the social work program has been that this is preparing them for real practice situations, where they get to interact with future doctors, nurses, nutritionists, psychologists and pharmacists, to gain a better understanding of what they need to know to be able to work well in a team, to be able to contribute to, but also learn from other professions, and understand what the role of social work is in that process." said Beckwell. "It's an opportunity for students from various disciplines to come together. They meet for two or three sessions around a case that's designed to target various topics including HIV/AIDS, palliative care, Aboriginal culture and health. As an interdisciplinary group the students work through the case in a collaborative way. They essentially teach one another what they need to learn in order to solve the case. So it's a very different approach to learning than a classroom setting would be."

Beckwell says a wide variety of practising professionals come in and act as tutors to support the student learning teams. "That aspect is unique. We have up to nine different professions represented in our student teams, and we draw on all of those professions when we bring people in to help support the work they do in their groups," said Beckwell, who estimated approximately 800 students go through the program on an annual basis.

Beckwell and her colleagues received the Allan Blizzard Award recently at a ceremony in Saskatoon. "It's wonderful to be recognized for the time and the creativity that you put in. So to be recognized with a national award, that is highly competitive, was just so meaningful. Personally, I'm very early in my teaching career, and really committed to innovation, and so to be in on a project that is all about that, and have it recognized in such a visible way was really exciting."