The Justice Institute of British Columbia was founded in 1978 as a public post-secondary institution with a provincial mission ‘to develop dynamic justice and public safety professionals through its exceptional applied education, training and research.’
- Internationally recognized education that leads to certificates, diplomas, bachelors degrees and graduate certificates;
- Continuing education for work and career-related learning and development; and
- Customized contract training to government agencies and private organizations worldwide.
Each year, nearly 26,000 students from a wide range of occupations including police, fire services, paramedics, correctional staff, and front line social workers study at one of JIBC’s six campuses across British Columbia, through online distance education, and at more than 165 other locations in B.C., across Canada and around the world. Nearly all its students are working professionals.
Several years ago JIBC identified the need to provide realistic training simulations for its Emergency Management Division. Bob Walker, JIBC’s Simulation Specialist, researched web-based tools that would enable participants to make decisions in real time in a safe but realistic simulated environment.
There were several key requirements for the tool:
- it must enable synchronous/real-time, multidisciplinary team-based decision making
- it must provide a record of the decision-making for feedback and analysis
- it must handle complex and sometimes innovative decision-making that goes beyond pre-defined multiple-response type answers
- it must be flexible, allowing for constantly changing conditions during the simulation
- it must work in a wide variety of decision-making contexts
- it must enable students to participate in separate locations from the instructor and other participants.
At the time, Bob Walker was unable to find anything in the market that met these requirements, so he started to develop an in-house solution, later to be called Praxis.
The development of Praxis was organic. There was no formal needs assessment or advanced planning. The Justice Institute had some limited funding that allowed the Emergency Management Division to explore the development of a web-based simulation training tool.
The methodology is not unique – in fact it builds on an earlier, more limited technology that was not internet-based. Bob Walker and his colleagues were looking for greater flexibility of delivery and reduced costs to meet JIBC’s province-wide mandate, as well as possibly capitalizing on national and international business opportunities.
Praxis has now gone through several iterations and is starting to be widely applied as will be seen below. Although the application varies somewhat from context to context, there are the following common key features:
- it is based on participants having prior ‘taught’ knowledge: individuals have to apply theory, principles, concepts, facts and previous experiences related to the scenario being simulated
- participants work in small teams (pods), linked in real time via the web to other small teams (pods)
- pods normally have six to eight participants and usually four pods is the optimum number to manage
- simulations are monitored and controlled live by the SME/facilitator; pods receive information about the incident through scripted streaming video and audio clips, and relevant real-life documentation
- pods work through scenarios by completing tasks and making decisions within prescribed time frames
- individual pod’s responses directs the simulation for that pod, by determining subsequent information to be provided
- all activities are monitored, and all decisions are stored to a database for review
- debrief sessions form an integral part of the simulation (often using video-conferencing) where decisions are analysed and feedback is given by the SME and the group as a whole.
Figure 1: The components of a Praxis application
Although the Emergency Management Division initially was the main client for Praxis, it has now been used in at least the following contexts:
- JIBC Police Academy for decision-making with other professionals (despatchers, fire services, paramedics, highway maintenance) in a highway vehicle incident
- BC Housing: leadership program, which won a Gold Standard Award in 2016 from the Institute for Performance and Learning, using PRAXIS in its leadership program.
- University of British Columbia: inter-professional collaboration in health education, using the CIHC National Interprofessional Competency Framework, involving six different health professions: scenarios include responding to and developing a plan for an elderly patient who fell; UBC was able to integrate a patient record system within Praxis to facilitate decision-making;
- Oxford Properties: real estate management and maintenance
- Kinder Morgan: management of pipeline spills
- JIBC SIMTEC (Simulation Training and Exercise Collaboratory): applied research into how decision-making occurs in emergencies (resulting in new procedures being developed to improve inter-agency communication; better identification of community needs in an emergency; and the creation of a database of emergency contact personnel in all sectors)
Figure 2: The scenario for patient care following a fall (UBC)
Benefits and outcomes
There were no formal assessments on the learning outcomes from Praxis other than sporadic student evaluations. However Bob Walker conducted a limited qualitative study of perceptions that individuals had of the pros and cons of the earlier local network technology (Praxis Genesis) in comparison to traditional, non-technology emergency management exercises. The results were positive for Praxis Genesis.
The main benefits identified by clients and JIBC are:
- the development of more effective inter-personal communication skills and more rationale time-restricted decision-making for professionals working in uncertain, complex and potentially dangerous situations
- the ability to bring together different professionals/occupations on a common problem in real time, resulting in better team-work
- management of participants in real time in geographically distributed locations
- reality-based scenarios, resulting in emotional connection and bonding between different professionals
- information can be divulged/released in a controlled way by the facilitator
- comparison can be made between the responses of different groups
- facilitators can handle larger numbers than in a campus-based context
- the software allows for reflection on both ‘ideal’ and ‘realistic’ solutions
- the software can be used for research into decision-making.
The rapid and extensive take-up of the tool by a wide range of clients indicates that it meets the requirements of developing decision-making skills in a wide range of contexts.
Figure 3: The multi-disciplinary team in UBC’s application of Praxis
Challenges and enhancements
Scaling up beyond 30-50 participants at a time is difficult. UBC is looking at ways to apply the tool in programs where there are over 1,000 students across six health disciplines.
Subject matter experts who not only have deep knowledge and experience but who also have excellent real-time, group facilitation skills are needed. Some initial training is likely to be needed in both facilitation skills and the administration of the software.
Funds are needed to support the needs of future clients, to help with marketing, and to provide a professional support service.
A new version that allows audio to be used as well as or instead of textual communication between the groups and the facilitator is also needed
PRAXIS was not initially developed to be commercialized, but a number of one-off contracts led to the JIBC obtaining a Western Economic Diversification Grant to help commercialize the software. As a result, JIBC is setting up a for-profit entity.
The current plan is to design PRAXIS in such a way that a client can license the software, and create their own scenarios. JIBC would provide consultancy services on its use, where needed as well as custom simulation scenario design and production services.
Justice Institute of British Columbia
New Westminster, BC Canada