LOCKDOWNS, REMOTE DELIVERY & DIGITAL INNOVATION: ONE LEADER’S REFLECTION ON ACADEMIC CONTINUITY THROUGH COVID19 IN THE HEALTH SCIENCES
University of Auckland/FMHS (NEW ZEALAND)
About this paper:
Conference name: 17th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 6-8 March, 2023
Location: Valencia, Spain
Abstract:Unlike most other jurisdictions, New Zealand (NZ) pursued a COVID19 elimination strategy (Baker, Kvalsvig & Verrall, 2020). Our initial lockdown in March 2020 was among the strictest in the world. In May community transmission of COVID19 was eliminated & universities began to return to business as usual. A second lockdown in August eliminated community transmission by October: two brief lockdowns occurred in February/March 2021. The delta variant arrived in August 2021, meaning another lockdown until December 2021: this time elimination failed.
Our faculty (FMHS) delivers a range of undergraduate & postgraduate clinical programmes including medicine, nursing, pharmacy, optometry, audiology, & dietetics, therefore any disruption to the pipeline of clinicians has implications for NZ’s health service. Also, many of our staff are active clinicians, tasked with both training new clinicians & delivering clinical care themselves. Our clinical programmes faced significant disruptions across 2020 & 2021. Initially, clinical students were excluded from work-based learning activities in clinical settings: the FMHS was barred from delivering any onsite teaching. As Associate Dean Learning & Teaching I was tasked with leading our faculty-level response to COVID19. In this paper I reflect on my experience leading our learning & teaching continuity efforts (Schon, 1983).
The ingenuity of staff & students expanded our assumptions about what could be delivered remotely via an enhanced digital learning ecosystem. We were able to deliver a surprising range of online “dry” science labs & Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs). However, the digital divide for some students & staff—both access to computers & to reliable, affordable broadband—reified pre-COVID19 inequities. We then prioritised interactive, competency-focused, & hard technology-dependant teaching for onsite, with lectures & tutorials remaining online. A limited return of students to on-campus activities meant changing protocols in our clinical simulation & public facing clinical environments. Any approvals for a return to on-campus teaching during our strict lockdowns required a risk assessment for droplet COVID19 transmission: rather than asking each course to conduct a risk assessment, we instead created a facility-specific risk assessments that delineated the safe parametres of any teaching session therein. For work-based learning, we formalised existing, multi-dimensional structures with key sector stakeholders. These included executive-level & operational, facility-level engagement. This ensured systemic coherence, in terms of student access to work-based learning sites.
Despite all challenges we successfully delivered two new cohorts of clinicians for each programme. Subsequent to COVID19, our faculty reworked our academic continuity plans to be better prepared for disruptions to operations (not limited to pandemics). We developed an online, course-level self-reflective academic continuity plan that enables staff to find key information & resources if there is a disruption: over 80 per cent of our courses have completed a plan.
Keywords: Academic continuity, leadership, COVID19, health, clinical.