This school year will be unlike any other that we’ve experienced, and we know that there will be challenges and surprises ahead. We have been working hard all summer to make sure that when our students and faculty return to campus in August and September, they’ll be able to learn and work in a safe and comfortable environment.

To give you an idea of what campus will be like on your next visit, here’s an overview of our COVID-19 safety protocols.

These health and safety measures comply with the Government of Alberta COVID-19 Risk Mitigation requirements for post-secondary institutions, and municipal bylaws. We have also taken guidance from the rules created by Alberta’s main massage therapy professional associations for their individual members, and consulted with our colleagues at other massage schools across the country.

  • Our campus will remain closed to the general public. Only students, faculty, staff, and essential visitors will be allowed on site. We are not yet accepting clinic clients.
  • Masks will be mandatory for students, faculty, and staff when on campus, with a few exceptions when people are physically distanced or have other PPE.
  • Everyone will complete a screening questionnaire online every day before they enter the building. Anyone who is deemed to be at risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus (as identified by the screening questionnaire or public health authorities) will not be permitted on campus until the risk has passed.
  • All campus areas are professionally cleaned regularly. Students will also be responsible for disinfecting their massage station and desk at the end of the day. Cleaning supplies will be provided.
  • Classrooms will be preassigned, so students will only be share spaces with your own instructors and classmates.
  • Students will have one massage partner each day for all of the hands-on work.
  • Some common areas and campus amenities will be off-limits.

More detailed instructions are being shared with students. If you have any questions about how we’re protecting the Vicars community, please be in touch!

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that all schools and colleges have had to make a lot of changes to how they deliver their programs—and fast. And at MH Vicars School, it was no different. We closed our campuses in mid-March, and classes continued online.

It was an adjustment, certainly, and not how we wanted to finish the school year. But our faculty and staff were not unprepared for the change. Our experience teaching and learning in a blended learning format helped us transition into the “new normal.”
Our Edmonton Director Robin Collum and our Curriculum Director Linda McGeachy sat down—over zoom, naturally—to talk about how Vicars has adapted to the pandemic , and how we’re preparing for whatever the next year might have in store for us.

You can also read the full transcript of the conversation below.

 

Robin: The MH Vicars School program has always been delivered through blended learning. Can you describe what blended learning means at MH Vicars?

Linda: Fundamentally, it means that time spent at home on the curriculum is as important as the in class component of the program.

Why did we choose a blended learning format in the first place? Who’s it for and why is it valuable for our students?

Well, that’s the original vision of the owner of the school, Maryhelen Vicars, that was to provide quality training to a demographic that does not have the means to access it any other way. It is a full-time program in terms of content. But by choosing this format, students are able to spend less time being physically present at the school, but still are able to obtain all the necessary content of the program.

The value is for those who are unable to take a program that requires them to be in school for five days a week for two years. We have several learning pathways and our students choose one that fits their particular circumstance.

So it sounds much more flexible for people who have responsibilities and jobs and things.

Absolutely.

Can you describe how our approach to blended learning has evolved over the years?

At first, our blended learning [material] consisted of paper binders filled with assignments and notes that students completed at home and brought back to class with them. As technology has evolved, it has allowed more academic content to be delivered online.

We’ve moved more core content to the system. Courses such as pathology and anatomy and physiology have become independent courses that students can take at home following a set timeline and using online resources from the textbooks as well as resources specifically developed by the school. The most current evolution to the program is the type of blended learning where students are introduced to content at home before working through it at school. This is sometimes called a “flipped classroom.”

In a common flipped classroom scenario, students might watch pre-recorded videos at home, complete specific assignments and do a quiz and then come to school to do the work armed with questions and some background knowledge.

So it sounds much more intensive than just some pre-reading.

It has a lot of weight. And, of course, all of those pre-reading assignments and whatnot will [be part of] an overall mark for the program as well.

And that means that when they’re on campus with their instructors in their pairs, in groups of three, they have a lot more context for the hands-on stuff, it sounds like.

Indeed. And so it frees up time in the classroom for the all-important hands-on component by enabling them to get through some of the academic or more theoretical work at home.

What changes did we make at Vicars and how have our classes been continuing to learn since we stopped our on-campus stuff in March?

Well, coincidentally, the pandemic only sped up a process that we’d already been designing and developing that is having students more prepared before class. Along with much more emphasis on video conferences with their instructors.

We’ve always had contact between instructors and students in between those in class days. And this is just increasing that?

Yes. The video conferencing is going to become a much bigger component. And of course, that has gone along with what we’ve had to do with putting much of our material online due to the covid situation.

Do you feel that our existing blended learning approach helped prepare us and maybe even prepare our students for this new reality of the last couple of months?

Well, without doubt, the fact that our students and instructors were already used to a large part of the course being completed at home was a benefit. However, it has not been without significant challenges as well.

Can you tell me some of the challenges that we’ve experienced with online learning?

Well, not all of our instructors are familiar with actually teaching online. Keeping the students connected to certain components of the program and to each other has been a considerable challenge for both faculty and students.

Definitely had been a learning curve on that. How have we been helping our instructors deal with that learning curve? How have we been helping them prepare and advance their knowledge of this new way of teaching?

Instructors are going to be taking an online course over the summer about how to teach online. I think this is very important. This will prepare them for returning to class in the fall, whether virtually or face to face.

Our current students have missed some on-campus days. Will they get the opportunity to cover that material when they come back to campus?

They will. If this is necessary, all missed hands-on material will be available to current students. We’ll deliver it in a flexible manner to make sure it’s achievable for everyone.

Though it’s impossible to predict what the next couple of months are going to be like, what preparations are we making as a school to help plan for different eventualities?

Well, we’ll continue to prepare to hone online teaching skills by supporting faculty with resources for teaching online. The school’s developing more video resources for techniques and treatments to reinforce classroom time. And these things will ensure that students are ready to fully engage in the hands-on component of the program when we can return to class.

And how can students who are planning to start with us in September plan ahead and prepare for the beginning of their massage education?

Well, at this time, students can start taking Anatomy and Physiology, and Pathology. Those two core components of the program are available once you’re registered for the program.

And what’s the advantage of getting started with that online learning before classes start?

Well, those two courses are independent courses, but they are also heavy courses. And so by getting a head start on them, it will just free up more time for students when they are in the throes of the actual program. And so it’s always an advantage to be able to work ahead on that material.

The worst case scenario, of course, is if we’re not able to start on campus classes as scheduled in September or if there is another interruption in classes later in the year. How is the school planning ahead for that? Will the students who plan to start in September still be able to get their education?

In any of those scenarios, we’re prepared to deliver the course without lowering any standards. We’re set up to vary the delivery of the program to accommodate online learning and classroom time to ensure all of the standards that we’re committed to will be met.

UPDATE June 10, 2020:

Phase 2 of Alberta’s “relaunch” strategy will begin on June 12, and many massage therapy clinics will be open for business.

We’re sorry to say that MH Vicars School Public Clinic will not be one of them (yet).

We will be closed throughout the summer. We don’t yet know when it will be safe and practical for us to re-open, but we expect it will be later in the fall at the earliest. We will keep you updated as we know more.

Thank you for your patience.

Original post published May 6, 2020:

Everyone at MH Vicars is here because we love massage therapy, and have first-hand knowledge of the benefits that regular treatments from a well-trained massage therapist can bring. And nothing compares to the satisfaction of treating a client who’s sore, stressed, or in pain and seeing them walk out of your clinic with a smile on their face. Though the satisfaction of teaching someone the skills to do that comes pretty close!

So it goes without saying that we’re counting down the days until we can reopen our public clinics and see you again.

But we won’t do so until we’re confident that we can ensure everyone’s safety, and also support our students’ educational goals. This means that we cannot guarantee when our clinics will reopen.

We cannot guarantee when our clinics will reopen.

We have been carefully following the updates and announcements by Alberta’s public health officials, and were pleased to see that the government has included massage therapy in its multi-stage relaunch strategy. Massage therapists will be able to begin seeing clients, with some restrictions, in stage 2 of the plan.

We don’t yet know when stage 2 will begin. The first stage could begin as early as May 14, and further changes will depend on how that goes. We don’t expect that massage therapy clinics will be able to open for another month at the earliest.

Despite that uncertainty, massage therapists across the province are already making plans for how to safely reopen their practices.

Even for small clinics and single-therapist practices, reopening safely is going to be a huge undertaking. The professional associations have begun to publish the health and safety protocols for their members. Almost all aspects of running a practice will be affected, from your therapist’s personal protective equipment to how they disinfect common areas to how they coordinate the movement of clients and staff in and out of the clinic.

When you next see your massage therapist, you can rest assured that they will be doing everything that they can to reduce your risk of being exposed to the coronavirus. And that includes the next time that you come for a student massage at Vicars in Calgary and Edmonton. But as much planning and preparation that will need to go into re-opening a regular massage clinic (and it’s a lot!) it pales in comparison to the work that will have to go into safely opening our public clinics.

The most obvious challenge is the sheer size of our clinics. We are a large school and our public clinics regularly have over a dozen student therapists treating clients at a time. That means a lot of shared spaces, and shared surfaces. We will need to review our (already robust) cleaning and disinfecting protocols, and may need to adjust our clinic schedules. We will also need to have a reliable supply of personal protective equipment. All of this needs to be coordinated around our students’ educations, as well. Classes have continued online since we closed our campuses in March, and some students will have exams in June.

We appreciate your understanding. We also ask you to show the same patience and compassion to other therapists in your community, who may choose to delay opening their practices. All therapists and business owners will have different factors to consider in deciding when and how to reopen.

We will continue to share updates, and will let you know when we are ready to accept bookings again. Until then, stay safe and well.