Ryerson University issued the following announcement on Sept. 27.
As Margaret Eaton sits in lawyer Ian Hull’s office, she can barely mask her nervousness. She explains her situation: her daughter Rebecca, age 18, is going to university, and her son Peter, 11, is starting Grade 7. Everybody is getting older, and Margaret realizes that she and her husband Alan have never written their wills.
“I don’t know…” says Margaret. “We’ve just never made a will. And one thing I’m not sure about… my husband… he kinda doesn’t like to look at these things. He kinda thinks it’s negative. So, that’s why I thought I should come and get some information on my own.”
Ian offers his advice. He explains Margaret’s legal rights (spouses in Ontario are entitled to half their partner’s estate, for instance), advises that Alan should be involved in discussions about how to distribute assets to the children, and that both spouses should have separate wills. Then, Margaret drops a bombshell: she has noticed a lump in her body. The doctor believes it’s a cyst, but if the worst-case scenario happens, can she make any specifications about medically assisted death? Ian takes the question calmly, explaining that the request cannot be made in a will, and requires a separate application process.
It is settled that Margaret will find out who is listed as owner of their house, and ask Alan about his thoughts on drafting a will, while Ian will write a letter outlining what he believes the estate plans should be, and set out a tentative timeline for future meetings.
But they are not actually in Ian Hull’s office, and Margaret Eaton is not Margaret Eaton. They are speaking in front of a huge audience at the Law Practice Program’s fourth annual orientation day, held at TRSM on August 21. Ian Hull, a lawyer/facilitator, is playing himself, but “Margaret Eaton” is actually Carol McLennan, a Toronto-based actor, hired by Ryerson’s Interpersonal Skills Teaching Centre(ISTC).
ISTC’s Live-Actor Simulation Program is a unique way to integrate experiential learning into nearly all Ryerson programs, and another example of teaching excellence at Ryerson. The program employs actors to work with faculty, staff and students to simulate real-world scenarios, in topics ranging from team/group dynamics to diversity training to family relations, mental health, healthcare, and more. It’s an innovative way to practice the interpersonal/“soft” skills that are so important in the real world, but so difficult to teach in a curriculum.
“The most rewarding moment was witnessing the learning,” says Brenda Massey-Beauregard, a former actor and current program manager of the Live-Actor Simulation Program. “Being across the table from someone who suddenly has this ‘Aha!’ moment, and learns something new about their abilities—it’s quite a privilege.”
The ISTC was founded in 1990 by Ryerson faculty, and its simulation program was launched as a partner project with McMaster University, in a standardized model for health sciences students. In 1993, when Ryerson began offering simulations independently. “The approach we take here is less rigid and the interactions are very improv-based,” says Massey-Beauregard. “We prepare the actors with an 8-to-10-page backstory: ‘Who are you? What’s your life history? What are you doing here right now?’ And then we just turn them loose. Their responses come from that authentic place of being grounded in that story and character and being able to bring that out. But it varies from day to day depending on what the student says, who says what and when, and how they say it.”
“It’s very improvisatory—there are no lines to learn,” says performer Carol McLennan (not to be confused with “Margaret Eaton”). “There’s a little bit of detail about the characters themselves, but there’s a lot about the situation they’re in so that you know the emotional part of it: whether they’re nervous, frightened, knowledgeable, whatever. … I feel like it does keep a muscle working of getting into a character’s shoes.”
Over the past 25 years, the soft skills have remained the same, but the programs ambitions have grown. A university-wide resource, ISTC has a catalogue of over 100 different scenarios, and has developed scenarios for classrooms both small and large.
“We developed a scenario that was short, fairly intense, and interactive, involving the professor directly,” says Massey-Beauregard. “It was a contract labourer who had lost his job because the construction site he had been working on had been shut down. The reason was that there had been an exposé piece written saying that the site was unsafe. So, he’s come in search of the journalist who wrote the piece—who happens to be the professor—to ask her, ‘Why did you do this? I lost my job. Can you help me? Can you help me?’
“The goal was for it to be a surprise. The students were not prepped for that one at all, because he just arrived at the class and engaged with the instructor for five minutes and left. And the question was: how do you report on the news when you are witnessing that sort of thing?”
If this is giving you stage fright, Massey-Beauregard says not to worry. “It’s experiential learning, and the framing of the experience is very important. We support the facilitators and instructors throughout the whole process,” she says.
“The goal is to create as much safety in the environment for the students as possible. It’s amazingly fun. And beyond just being fun… When I started with the program as an actor, and I was still working as an actor, it was a great way to keep your skills sharp.”
To learn more about the program, including how to request a simulation or apply to become a simulator, visit the Interpersonal Skills Teaching Centre.
Original source: https://www.ryerson.ca/news-events/news/2018/09/sharpening-soft-skills-through-simulation/