Learning to adapt, adapting to learn

[L-R] Kayli Chen and Elsbeth Maryse Jansen share their thoughts as they prepare for the new school semester at University Health Network’s The Michener Institute of Education.

With a broad range of education programs and a community of academic partners that meet applied health sciences needs, The Michener Institute of Education at UHN provides students with leading-edge training to prepare them for careers and to sharpen their skills as esteemed healthcare professionals.

Following a year in which Michener has adapted to new demands and difficulties brought on by COVID-19, second-year students Kayli Chen and Elsbeth Maryse Jansen were excited to share their thoughts as they prepare for the new school semester, and discuss how Michener has continued to adopt learning tools and technologies in the midst of the pandemic.

Tell us a bit about your program, and what you are studying.

Elsbeth: I am part of the Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Technology stream of the Medical Radiation Sciences (MRS) program offered jointly by U of T and the Michener institute. MRS studies the use of ionizing radiation for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. Nuclear Medicine involves administering a radioactive tracer to a patient through injection, inhalation, or ingestion and then imaging the radiation coming from the patient. As part of the program, we learn a wide range of skills from camera instrumentation to compounding the radioactive tracers in a lab to patient care.

Kayli: I am currently in my second year of studying Radiation Therapy, which is part of the MRS Program. I completed my clinical placements at Princess Margaret this past summer, and it was by far one of my favourite educational experiences. To put it simply, I had the opportunity to assist in the treatment of patients under the direct supervision of licensed therapists, and even got to interact with radiation oncologists. 

What has it been like to learn virtually for an entire year? Are you excited to go back to this format, or a new one?

Kayli: As with many things, online learning has had its share of both highs and lows. For instance, being able to go back and listen to recordings has been extremely helpful, especially when there are extenuating circumstances. However, I’ve personally always loved the feeling of sitting in a lecture hall with all your friends and miss it very dearly. In all honesty, I’m hoping that the winter term will move towards an in-person schedule so that I can finally meet my classmates!

How will you be attending classes this year? Are you excited to be learning in this way?

Elsbeth: Michener is continuing with the hybrid learning model for the fall semester. Our lectures and some labs will be online, and we will have two in-person labs a week. Having labs in person has been really important for learning practical skills, but also for getting some face-to-face time with peers and instructors. I think we all wish we had more lab time, but we would probably be saying the same with a normal lab schedule – you can never have too much practice!

The Nuclear Medicine stream will also be attending our part-time clinical placements. Our clinical placement occurs one week per month, and we go to a hospital or clinic to gain practical experience, develop our soft skills, and observe how a nuclear medicine department works. We’re all really looking forward to that experience.

How has it been trying to connect with other students and teachers this year? How do you expect that to change?

Kayli: I feel lucky in the sense that my classmates and I were able to make the best of the situation using the program Discord (an instant messaging and digital distribution platform). We were all very active last year and spoke with one another frequently, which made things much more enjoyable. I can barely imagine how it would be if the pandemic had happened during a time with no social media. I’m also grateful for the fact that my instructors were so responsive and understanding during the school year. 

How has Michener demonstrated innovation regarding online learning during the pandemic? What has worked well? What has been challenging?

Elsbeth: I’ve only experienced Michener during the pandemic, so I don’t know what the courses looked like before or what changes had to be made. What I do know is that our instructors have been amazing! When we started last year with virtual classes and labs, it was seamless – they made it feel like the courses had always been online. During the summer, my Nuclear Medicine class was sent a package of lab materials (syringes, saline vials, blunt needles, etc.) so that we could do the lab activities at home. We would even film ourselves so that our professors could assess and critique our technique.

One big change is that our interaction with patient actors (PAs) has been limited to online, which I think has worked out very well. Our instructors and the PAs have noted that we are more confident and polished then previous years. Obviously we’re missing out on the full experience, but I think this online practice has been the perfect stepping stone in building our skills and confidence. Another benefit is that we’ve had to act as the patients for our classmates. This has been an incredible learning experience, both through peer teaching and also getting an idea of what our patients go through.

How does Michener make you feel safe on campus during COVID-19?

Elsbeth: Clear and consistent communication has been key. I live in residence, so I’m on campus basically 24/7 and I have felt very safe the entire time. There are signs about masking, capacity limits, and when an area was last cleaned. There are social distancing markings in elevators and respite rooms. We were provided face shields for labs, and masks are required and provided upon entry to the building. Labs have been carefully scheduled to limit the number of people on campus and to keep interactions limited to your lab section.

What excites you most about the upcoming school year?

Kayli: I’m really excited to lead student council and to share our events with everyone! I’m also excited for Taylor Swift to release her re-recording of Red in November.

What has been the most noticeable impact on your education this past year? Do you think this year will be different?

Kayli: My grandmother recently moved in with me, and having the opportunity to spend more time with her has made me very happy. She tries her best to help me out by cooking food and preparing snacks while I study, which I appreciate very much. I’m hoping that this won’t change with the heavier workload that comes with going into second year!

Elsbeth: I think what I liked the most about virtual learning is that it’s much more accessible. As someone with chronic illness, it’s nice to have the option to attend lectures from the comfort of home on bad days. It’s also been very helpful to have lectures recorded and available on demand. Being able to pause and replay lectures has been a game-changer for me. I’m really hopeful that lecture recordings will be something that continues even once we’re back to in-person learning.

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