‘I would like to think we have done extraordinary things during extraordinary times’

Video call on computer

As a result of federal and provincial emergency orders to slow the spread of COVID-19, The Michener Institute of Education at UHN, along with all educational institutions in the province, have been teaching online since March.

For most of Michener’s full-time programs, this has meant a big change from how lectures and labs are delivered.

“We had less than a week to get all the learning material online and look for resources to help students understand concepts,” says Reshika Balakrishnan, faculty in the Radiation Therapy program. “We decided to come onsite one morning to make videos of what we were going to be doing in class for the rest of the semester.”

Prior to the changes, full-time programs were a balance of in-class and lab teaching combined with the use of Blackboard, a web platform for hosting essential course documents, as well as the ability to communicate and collaborate with fellow students and instructors.

Changing and delivering curriculum in a new environment has required lots of work, planning and implementation, but Michener’s faculty have stepped up to the challenge. Some considerations included determining how to change hands-on lab components to online, particularly for courses such as methodology and patient care.

“The biggest challenge wasn’t so much a change to Blackboard itself as it was the rapid distribution of knowledge to the whole team required to support faculty in the change to strictly online teaching,” says Alex DeOliveira, Learning Systems Administrator at Michener.

While Alex is well-versed in assisting faculty with their Blackboard and web support needs, the sudden change to all programs needing support for web conferencing, content delivery and online assessment all at once was a bit daunting.

The primary tools required were Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and GoToMeeting used as alternatives to the classroom. As this occurred so close to the end of the semester, while faculty worked on rapidly transitioning all course material online, there was also an immediate need to organize final exams in an online space.

“This has its own unique challenges in terms of what tools are going to be used, how are we maintaining academic integrity and how much time do we allow for these exams compared to an in-person final exam scenario,” says Megan Marshall, Instructional Design Specialist at Michener.

To address these questions, Megan, her team and colleagues across Michener and University Health Network organized assessment working groups to familiarize themselves with the various online systems available and create guidelines for conducting exams.

As a result of the team’s ability to implement these changes within a month, almost all learners completed their winter term, with the exception of the Anesthesia Assistant students who were called into service for the pandemic. Faculty are now focused on the summer simulation semester.

Students spend this time consolidating everything they’ve learned in their programs thus far and putting it into practice in a practical environment. While there are limitations to conducting a simulation semester in an online environment, such as students being unable to actually practice using the imaging or radiation equipment, they are able to utilize microphones and webcams to practice interactions with patient actors or use interactive technology.

“These interactions have a high degree of realism and we find that the students appreciate that,” says Megan.

While learners have been asked to adapt to a new method of learning on the fly, faculty say that many are understanding and supportive.

“It has required long hours, patience and a lot of resourcefulness,” says Alex. “I would like to think we have done extraordinary things during extraordinary times as a result.”