SLS ‘transforms’ learning environment at South Florida Community College

Students in class

At-A-Glance Facts

South Florida Community College in Avon Park offers ADN, LPN to RN, practical nursing, and nurse assistant programs.

The Simulation Learning System allowed South Florida Community College to dramatically improve its educational environment, boosting students’ ability to grasp complex concepts and saving faculty members’ time.


“In a nutshell, SLS [Simulation Learning System] has transformed our learning environment,” says Michele Heston, PhD, RN, Director of Nursing Education at South Florida Community College.

Achieving a Fast Start With an Organized Approach

When South Florida Community College (SFCC) started using SLS, it didn’t take long for faculty and students to appreciate its benefits.

Although faculty members were accustomed to simulation as a teaching tool, building their own scenarios was monopolizing their prep time. Heston says that changed with SLS, which provides scenarios very similar to those they had been creating, and added benefits such as a highly organized simulation experience. Each simulation is presented in three steps — preparation, scenario, and debriefing — and includes supporting tools like Staging Instructions, Patient Report, and Patient Response Guide. Not having to take the time to develop their own scenarios and having access to SLS tools enables instructors to deepen students’ simulation experience and allows faculty “creativity to blossom even more because they can just take SLS and run with it,” says Heston.

SFCC faculty already understood the importance of debriefing, so they embraced SLS tools in that area. “It helped them target their questions and freed up their time since they didn’t have to formulate their own questions and rationales,” says Heston. She adds that Elsevier was highly responsive to calls when they were learning the program and remains supportive, saying, “They are right there for us.”

“The benefits for students are endless,” says Heston. “It helps them understand difficult concepts. You can lecture, you can have interactive learning strategies in your classroom, you can go to the clinical settings and see these complex cases, but sometimes they are so overwhelmed in the chaos of the clinical setting that they don’t firmly grasp the information.”

To maximize benefits, SFCC intentionally placed SLS in the middle of its curriculum between lecture and clinical, which allows students to more easily link what they have learned in the classroom to what they experience in the clinical setting. The nursing school is using SLS in Fundamentals, Medical-Surgical, Maternity, and Pediatric Nursing courses. Students access resources such as reading assignments and other pre-simulation prep tools to enhance learning.

Heston has seen many instances where SLS builds student confidence. She cites the example of a second-career student who completed a scenario of a patient who developed heart failure. In her clinical experience the next day, the student had an almost identical scenario —a patient with signs and symptoms of heart failure. She assessed the patient and alerted the team to the problem so that quick action could be taken. Without the simulation experience, the student might not have had the confidence to speak up to experienced staff and effectively articulate the problem, says Heston. “She absolutely changed the path of that patient.”

“This is the kind of learning that today’s students want,” Heston adds. “They want learning that captures what they need to know. SLS is a powerful tool that keeps them engaged.”

Making Full Use of SLS

Heston says a major benefit of SLS is its focus on evidence-based practice. “That’s where we need to be in nursing and nursing education.”

Another significant benefit is SLS’s electronic health record (EHR). “That’s the number one reason why we went with SLS,” says Heston. “It allows students to do bedside charting as they do in the hospital and gives them the foundation of how to chart correctly.” She says the generic format is “very similar” to the proprietary software students use in the hospital. “They can then translate that knowledge into any setting they find themselves in. Our students are entering the workforce very well prepared because of this tool.”

When Heston asked faculty for feedback about SLS, they listed several components they find particularly valuable, including the Concept Map Tool. “It is very realistic. It’s what we see in our community,” says Heston. The faculty members also like components such as Scripting, Participant Guide, and Reports.

Other valued features include Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN)-based Performance Checklists, Quizzes and Activities, the interprofessional component, and journaling. “Journaling helps our students engage in reflective practice,” she says.

Heston says SLS has benefits beyond its daily use. “When we have to demonstrate to our accreditors how we are meeting the QSEN competencies, we can use SLS to capture all of those concepts very clearly, measure them, show how the students engages in them, and how they are evaluated based on those competencies,” she says. “That’s really important right now in nursing education.”

Energizing Sim Days

In addition to simulations during individual coursework, SFCC takes simulation to the next level by hosting a two-day Mega SIM Experience, held about three weeks into each semester. Both registered nurse and practical nurse faculty participate, and teams are composed of students from each year and program. The first Mega SIM Days included 85 students.

“The unexpected and very powerful thing that happened that day was the peer mentoring that went on,” says Heston. “It was so collaborative. You could see the compassion between students; they took care of each other.” The experience helped build relationships, supporting the school’s existing mentor program.

Continuing to Grow

When looking to the future, Heston says faculty “want to continue to grow and learn about every available option and tool.” Instructors are also mentoring each other to enhance their ability to run a scenario and take full advantage of SLS tools and resources.

She also envisions that benefits to students will continue to grow as well, and sums up by saying, “SLS provides learning opportunities, reinforces difficult concepts, and allows students to practice skills and techniques related to communication, teamwork, and delegation.”