For the past year, people around the world have worked tirelessly to adapt to a “new normal” considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools, churches, grocery stores, and businesses have instituted new policies and procedures to help minimize risk for their customers and employees alike.
Given our new situation and the rapid pace at which new information is being released, we know that our students and prospective students likely have many questions about campus life and what to expect in our classes until we can return to normal operations.
To help address those concerns, read on for a summary of how AUA is adapting to the changes required by the pandemic.
AUA Response to COVID-19: Overview
In early March, news outlets trickled in information related to the newly discovered COVID-19 virus. On March 13th, the first case of the novel Coronavirus was identified in Antigua from someone who had traveled outside the country. By March 27th, the government of Antigua had issued a State of Emergency instituting a curfew and closing all non-essential businesses, including schools. For additional specifics on the guidelines provided by the government of Antigua, review this document outlining the specifics of the State of Emergency guidelines.
AUA immediately took note of COVID-19 and made early preparations to transition the student body to a remote learning environment in the case that in-person learning was disrupted. As the pandemic progressed, it was clear the switch to remote learning was essential to ensure the safety of our students, and it was decided that the rest of the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 semester would be finished remotely.
Leveraging cutting-edge learning technologies along with the early preparations conducted, AUA was able to adapt swiftly to a remote learning environment on campus with minimal disruptions to the academic calendar. Facilities required for Anatomy Lab were fully available digitally, and students were able to learn and finish their work effectively on a virtual environment.
On the clinical side, we saw many rotations being cancelled or delayed for US medical students due to inadequate PPEs. AUA was able to work with all our students and affiliated hospitals to ensure that the academic progress of our students was not disrupted from COVID. Students were able to participate on clinical case studies synchronously using Aquifer. Although some rotations and global rounds were conducted virtually, AUA was able to keep most of the rotations on-site for students and was one of the only Caribbean medical schools still conducting clinicals.
With constant updates coming up daily, it was essential to maintain constant communication with our students. In response, AUA created an internal virtual community on Microsoft Teams for our clinical students to easily connect with faculty and peers during this time and stay up to date with updates.
Transitioning to Remote Learning
Early in the pandemic, AUA faculty and administrators monitoring COVID-19 made preparations to transition to a remote learning environment. As the situation progressed, it was decided that the rest of the Spring 2020 semester would be finished remotely. We quickly switched to an virtual learning environment, and have also decided to do so for the upcoming Fall 2020 semester as well.
Preparing our Faculty for Virtual Teaching
In the Basic Sciences department, a core administrative team helped prepare faculty for the impending transition to remote learning. This team worked together to determine the best strategies for both students and faculty, and they communicated all information out as quickly as possible to help faculty be prepared for their students.
To accomplish this, the team:
- Distributed daily digests to faculty between March 18th-March 25th to sensitize faculty to the nuances of remote learning.
- Reorganized our LMS (BlackBoard) content to better meet student and faculty needs in an asynchronous environment.
- Provided training for faculty on how to record video lectures and set up learning modules in BlackBoard.
- Provided guidance on how to develop engaging video micro-lectures.
- Developed and delivered structure for class requirements to provide consistency across all classes.
- Wrote and distributed an update document for students so that faculty could stay focused on transitioning class content to the virtual format.
- Coordinated with ExamSoft to arrange for remote proctoring of course assessments.
In addition, administrators are continuing to provide training and support for faculty, evaluate progress, provide updates, and make improvements as needed.
Quick Curriculum Changes to Support our Students
With the help of guidance provided by the core administrative team, AUA faculty have completely transformed the curriculum for their classes to adapt to a remote learning environment. The task faced by AUA faculty was not a small one, yet they eagerly jumped in to help support their students during this challenging time. Dr. John Yergan, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education, specifically recognized the faculty and entire AUA community for their commitment to education in handling this transition:
“The basic science and clinical medicine faculty at the AUA Antigua campus developed an online curriculum to complete the semester that was underway. While this was a major undertaking, the faculty approached the change with enthusiasm and determination. In a matter of days, online teaching was up and running….the AUA family should be commended in no uncertain terms for its response to the crisis, its creativity, and its commitment to ongoing medical education.”
To support their students, faculty members have developed content for a multi-faceted virtual curriculum that includes:
- An updated syllabus that includes revised class content, specifics for virtual learning objectives, and updated office hours.
- Micro-lectures that are between 6-20 minutes focusing on a specific topic, rather than planned lecture dates.
- Short quizzes after each micro-lecture to assess learning progress.
- Group discussion board activities that include both general Q&A and specific learning objectives.
- Live virtual review sessions held using Microsoft Teams to help with content review and addressing questions face-to-face.
- Weekly office hours held virtually to provide students another avenue for support.
- Formative exams held through ExamSoft that assess student mastery of the course learning objectives and help students to avoid falling behind in future classes.
Supporting our Clinical Students
During the initial wave of the pandemic, the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and LCME (Liaison Committee on Medical Education) jointly issued a recommendation in placing a two-week suspension on their medical students’ participation in any activities that involve patient contacts. During this two-week period, AUA’s faculty and department heads worked closely with LCME to ensure any significant changes in the structure, timing, duration, and/or location of the medical education for clinical students does not affect the timely graduation of its students. Working collaboratively, AUA was able to ensure the safety of our clinical students without disrupting the academic schedule.
The Future of Digital Learning in Medical Education
While no one knows exactly what the future holds in the face of the pandemic, the AUA team has demonstrated its commitment to adapting quickly to meet whatever challenges might come next. Faculty and staff understand that clear communication, swift responsiveness, and flexibility to adapt and grow are key qualities for handling adversity in education.
In this most recent challenge, teachers recognized that sporadic internet outages and unstable connections affected students’ ability to meet for synchronous classes, so they quickly adapted to an asynchronous format. They also identified students’ concerns with not being able to meet in person, so they added online office hours, increased email communications, and utilized review sessions through Microsoft Teams.
AUA also recognizes that adaptability and the ability to face challenges shouldn’t come at the expense of a quality education. Through tools like ExamSoft, Echo 360, and BlackBoard, teachers and students alike were able to maintain an educational cadence that closely mirrored the traditional classroom experience while still maintaining the prescribed social distancing guidelines. Teachers quickly created virtual exams to evaluate student learning objectives and added in collaborative discussion board exercises so students could both self-assess their own mastery of the material and help classmates during a difficult time.
Currently, campus administrators plan to resume remote learning on the Antigua campus for the fall 2020 semester. As with all decisions that affect the AUA community, the health of students and staff are a top consideration. Regardless of what the future holds, AUA will be ready to adapt as needed and will work tirelessly to provide an exceptional experience for our students under even the most unexpected circumstances.