By 23 March 2020, just a couple of short months into the pandemic, the University of Melbourne had migrated to a purely virtual campus.
As well as hosting 152 PhD students, the Doherty Institute delivers specialised courses in bacteriology, virology, immunology and pathology, along with more generalist infection and immunity subjects, in purpose-built student laboratories and learning facilities.
With the onset of the pandemic, the reality dawned that these state-of-the-art facilities would be redundant, and the courses would need to be offered entirely online.
There was no blueprint available on how to completely pivot this traditional, face-to-face offering to an online presence and the team encountered so many unknowns.
What format would lectures take? How would practical classes be run online? How would assessments be completed? Would students still be engaged in the absence of access to the incredible technology and equipment at the Doherty Institute?
University of Melbourne Associate Professor Odilia Wijburg, Head of Teaching and Learning at the Doherty Institute, says the sudden change to a virtual campus required them to innovate in a very short period of time.
“We had to convert all our material to online lectures and practical classes with little warning, no previous experience and limited time for trials and training of staff. We were determined not to compromise on the high quality of our teaching and learning program and ensure the best outcome for our students,” she says.
“All the resources for the online delivery of our practical based subjects had to be prepared from scratch, and we are very grateful to the excellent technical support team in the teaching lab, who are now also experts in photography and videography!”
The resulting product? 655 lectures, 116 practical classes, 1255 hours of Zoom and around 1017 separate Zoom breakout rooms.
“For the 3890 enrolments in our subjects, we generated, checked and assessed 8035 online tests and exams excluding formative quizzes, assessed 470 oral reports and 934 written reports,” says Associate Professor Wijburg.
“As all assessment was completed online, we generated 1890 different multiple-choice questions throughout the year, all of which needed to be uploaded online. It was a mammoth effort by our staff.
“We received so much positive feedback from our students, which was incredibly rewarding. They were impressed with the efforts we made to make the online subjects more interactive, simulate in-the-lab experiences digitally and to really connect with them in a meaningful way.”