Living lab at Whitby campus inspires versatility

When the Durham College (DC) Whitby campus opened in 1993, it primarily served as a home for programs from the School of Skilled Trades, Apprenticeship & Renewable Technology.

Fast forward 21 years later and the more than 270,000-square-foot campus offers 14 apprenticeship programs including 11 that are Red Seal as well as numerous trade-related diploma and certificate programs; living lab environments in areas including solar cell systems, wind turbines and geothermal technology systems; expanded shop areas for green building trades and technology; and most recently the 36,000-square-foot Centre for Food, which opened to students in the fall of 2013.

One of the many additions and improvements that have taken place over the years includes the donation of a residential home in January 2011, which was donated by Durham Custom Homes under the college’s three-phase Building for our Future initiative. The 1940s-built home was initially used as a learning lab for students in the college’s energy programs. However, the home’s low ceilings, narrow hallways and smaller room sizes, which offer a realistic depiction of the current living environment of many seniors, have since proven to be an ideal learning environment for students in the Personal Support Worker (PSW) program, which focuses heavily on assistance with mobility, medications and nutrition as well as household care in retirement residences, hospitals, long-term care facilities and personal homes.

In March 2013, the college received $46,500 in funding from the Ontario Simulation Network (SIM-one) and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care through the Seniors Care Strategy, to purchase PSW-specific simulation equipment for installation in the home, known by the college as Living Lab 2.

Developed with the aim of providing students with a setting related directly to senior care in a realistic home environment, the first PSW students entered the bungalow at the end of November 2013 to be tested in the new, simulated community experience while completing their 120 hours of community practicum.

“The home is providing PSW students with additional opportunities to apply skills related to activities of daily living to seniors within their community,” said Deborah Schuh, PSW program co-ordinator. “The equipment is enabling Durham College to prepare our students with skills designed to evolve as the PSW scope of practice changes, enabling them to adapt in order to meet the demanding future of health care in Ontario, such as care related to dementia and other neurological disorders such as stroke.”

Going forward, additional programs from the School of Health & Community Services and the School of Justice & Emergency Services are also interested in using the unique space provided at the Whitby campus.

“To have students from programs such as PSW, Practical Nursing, Paramedic, Occupational Therapist Assistant/Physiotherapist Assistant working in the learning space would be ideal,” said Schuh. “These opportunities for students to work together would enhance the learning environment with the sharing of skills and knowledge while fostering the understanding and appreciation of each other’s important role as part of a health-care team.”