Education during Covid-19: university challenged

22 July 2020

A shift to virtual teaching and learning during a global pandemic: a Cardiff University SCPHN programme perspective from Michelle Moseley.

The last few months have been the strangest, most challenging, anxiety-provoking period for our students; we have had to embrace a new virtual world of teaching and learning due to the rapid spread of Covid-19.

Extreme and necessary measures have been taken globally, nationally and locally: lockdown was enforced, and working from home became the new ‘normal’ at the university from the end of March.

At the university, we had to move physical resources: desks, screens, chairs, books, programme content, teaching plans and so on. It also meant we needed to ensure all electronic resources were up to date and accessible. This was achieved in a matter of days. Our homes became our new offices and classrooms. As lecturing teams, we were quickly given information on how to teach in a virtual classroom, record and upload lectures to our shared interface with students, livestream a lecture, and communicate effectively using Skype for Business, Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate.

Early crisis

We then had to disseminate this information among our students – both undergraduate and postgraduate. Many of us had used some aspects of these platforms occasionally, but we had never envisaged this as part of our day-to-day working experience. The first month on lockdown was physically and mentally exhausting while adjustments were being made for students and staff alike.

Since the pandemic began, thousands of lives have been lost, and my thoughts and prayers go out to all families who have lost loved ones. As the pandemic engulfed society, the need soon arose for our health visiting staff to be called back into their previous clinical areas – the service was being depleted, which impacted the availability of practice assessors, and our programme delivery was affected in the short-term. Welsh health boards also called back students to assist in the initial crisis to manage the number of cases expected.

Safeguarding students

We had a situation where some students stayed on the programme within their practice placement areas and some returned to practice at different dates. This varied across Wales. It was an overwhelming situation for our students as we had never encountered a situation like this, and decisions around maintaining the programme were changing sometimes on a daily basis. Our full-time and second-year students were just about to start their final module on safeguarding children and young people. Concern was also being raised nationally about the depletion of our health visiting service, and questions were being asked about who was supporting our families and safeguarding them at this time. This was quickly addressed in Wales, and from mid-May all our students were able to return to the programme.

Initial access to the module varied, and we ensured students had at least one day a week to attend a theoretical session, with the other day delivered via online learning activities. The initial lectures from this last module were recorded and made available to our students from the outset. Communication was enhanced and, although in very difficult times, our students embraced it and we are now enjoying the virtual delivery of our sessions. Of course, it is very different to being in a real classroom, and one barrier articulated by students for this module was that they get so much more from that face-to-face contact. But we have just had to move with the situation.

We are fortunate to have had some amazing visiting lecturers who have embraced this new virtual world of teaching

New virtual world

Zoom is our new best friend – we are able to record, share files and divide into groups for discussion. But some broadband issues and the need to learn new technology skills quickly have caused some problems. Some of our students are home-schooling too! They deserve a medal for engaging as well as they have, although it’s an absolute joy seeing the children on a weekly basis!

We will continue virtually for the foreseeable future, embracing this situation and moving our students forward theoretically while our practice assessors prepare them, in PPE, to deliver some essential components of the Healthy Child Wales Programme.

We are fortunate to have had some amazing visiting lecturers who have embraced this new virtual world of teaching and have delivered such thought-provoking sessions – key to health visiting safeguarding practice – despite us being in lockdown.

We have been able to offer interprofessional education with our master’s in social work students around neglect and child sexual exploitation. There have been many positives working with our health boards to keep the programme running. Theory finishes the end of June, but we aim for our students to complete consolidation and qualify in early September. They’ve got this!  

Michelle Moseley is lecturer, primary care and public health nursing at the School of Healthcare Sciences, Cardiff University. 

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