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Winter 2021 practicums adjust to COVID-19 reality

By Sophia Lopez, February 11 2021 —

The University of Calgary’s Winter 2021 practicum has had to adjust to the temporary new reality involving COVID-19.

In March 2020, faculties such as nursing and education had to quickly learn to work around the pandemic in a safe and responsible manner while still allowing students to get the hands-on experience they need before graduating. For this semester’s practicum, depending on the faculty, students can expect to possibly receive a hybrid of online and in-person experience.

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Dr. Zahra Shajani, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Practice Education in the Faculty of Nursing, discussed the precautions nursing students are taking in order to ensure the safest environment possible during their practicum. Although Shajani explains how preventative precautions have always been taught to students early on in their degree, she still clarifies that the faculty still “emphasized the importance of hand hygiene and proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment.”

Shajani, who oversees all of the undergraduate students in their clinical practicum pieces, explained how even though students were still sent into the community setting, the long term care setting, the supportive living setting and the hospital setting, they were directed by the university to complete their theory pieces online. Students managed to also provide COVID support by partnering with the primary care networks and providing support in many different ways.

Being exposed to COVID-19 has been one of the most challenging aspects for nursing students in their practicum, but the faculty has ensured these students understood the risk of possibly being in such environments even before coronavirus arrived. The faculty has also been working closely with Alberta Health Services (AHS) to make it through these challenging times. 

“Working with frontline workers, there is always a risk that we encounter infectious and communicable diseases, but this isn’t anything new for us,” Shajani explained. “We’ve always had students working infectious disease units, perhaps the change is that we have increased the emphasis on infection-control strategies and adherence to protocols as the novel coronavirus spreads.”

Shajani expressed her pride towards her students in the Faculty of Nursing for following through with their practicum in light of the pandemic.

“It takes courage and dedication to be in nursing and each of them inspire and are going beyond the call of duty and are working so hard to make a difference in people’s lives.”

In contrast, the Werklund School of Education plans to provide a full in-person practicum for their students while meeting the AHS safety guidelines, much like how their Fall 2020 practicum operated. In an interview with the Gauntlet, Dr. Amy Burns, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs in Education at the Werklund School of Education, provided details as to how students will continue their preservice teaching in a COVID setting.

“In Fall 2020, our students were able to do their practicum experiences in K-12 schools by following all of the same health and safety protocols that are in place to keep teachers, students and others in K-12 students safe,” she explained. “This will continue in the Winter 2021 semester thanks to the incredible collaboration of our K-12 partners.” 

Education students, like many others, have faced challenges during their practicums with COVID-19 present in the environment. Burns discussed how these challenges have allowed the students to learn how to quickly adapt to new situations and have made them grow stronger.

“I believe the biggest challenge for our preservice teachers has also been their greatest strength and that is their flexibility. K-12 education at this unique moment in history has asked in-service teachers, preservice teachers and K-12 learners to be incredibly flexible as the modalities of instruction can change,” she said. “However, our students have been incredibly flexible and have done such a wonderful job of adapting alongside their partner teachers.”

Burns showed gratitude and appreciation towards the Werklund students and school staff for managing to stay safe and providing quality K-12 education in such difficult circumstances. 

“I would like to acknowledge the incredible work that both our preservice teachers and our K-12 partners have done together in learning to navigate the health and safety protocols that have been in place while keeping the personal spark alive for K-12 learners. I have truly been so proud and impressed by their resilience and their commitment to K-12 education,” she concluded/

Overall, the Winter 2021 practicum for faculties such as nursing and education will continue to allow students to partake in the final stages of their degree in a way that is safe for both themselves and the people they constantly interact with. For information on how practicum will function for nursing, education and other faculties in the university, visit the UCalgary website or contact your faculty directly.

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