Adapting to the future of online learning and teaching during a pandemic, with Siobhan Hickling & Gina Arena

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Show Notes

In this episode, Sujani sits down with authors of the paper “Adapting to Teaching during a Pandemic” Siobahn Hickling and Gina Arena. Together, they talk about different models of teaching public health and what they have found to be most effective ways to relay information to students.


You’ll Learn

  • About the changing visibility of public health education
  • How the pandemic and lockdowns have affected university classrooms in Australia
  • The effect of real time vs time delayed lessons has on education
  • The potential challenges and benefits of self-directed learning
  • Tips on how educators and students can thrive in new learning environments
  • The importance of peer to peer interactions in education
  • Best practices for educators and ways of moving away from a one dimensional classroom
  • Tips for capturing students attention and engagement
  • The benefits of intensive learning model
  • The ways that rapport can be built through virtual teaching

Today’s Guest

Siobahn Hickling

Dr Siobhan Hickling is a research dietitian and epidemiologist with twenty years experience in public health teaching, research and practice.  Her research work embraces cardiovascular disease and nutritional epidemiology and ranges from small and qualitative studies to much larger quantitative projects such as the VITATOPS study – a major international trial of folate in the prevention of stroke.  Dr Hickling’s current research is coordinating an Australia-wide study determining whether a new test for chest pain in Emergency Departments can improve health care, outcomes and costs.  She also collaborates on projects examining the association and influence of the built environment on eating behaviours, monitoring the impact of mandatory folate fortification on Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians and dietary intake and depressive symptoms in children and adolescents.

Gina Arena

Dr Gina Arena is a lecturer in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. Her research has focussed on teaching in the health and medical programs and on injury using the WA Health Services Linked Database.

Dr Arena has taught in the Faculty for 20 years in both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. She is currently teaching in the School of Population and Global Health and also in the Medical School as the Scholarly Activities Research Coordinator for the MD program. 


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Episode Transcript

Gina 0:00
The interest in public health is increasing. And I think the opportunities to actually study at universities overseas now, because they’re capable of working with the hybrid model. I think that will also impact public health quite significantly.

Sujani 0:17
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Hey, everyone, thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight a space for you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career. Over the course of the pandemic, we focused a lot on remote working here at PH SPOT, whether it was on our blog, or even some of our podcasts episodes covered this topic. But we haven’t done too much to cover the topic of online teaching and online learning. It’s been something that has been new for both students and instructors. Many people around the world have had to adapt to this new way of learning. Prior to the pandemic, virtual education was a choice that some had made. But now it’s no longer a choice. And it’s only- it’s kind of the only way to continue your education in some parts of the world. So when I came across this paper titled, “Adapting to teaching during a pandemic”, I knew I had to bring the authors on this podcast to chat about this topic some more. So on today’s episode, I sit down with two of the three authors of this paper Siobhan Hickling and Gina Arena. And so without further ado, here is our conversation.

Hi, Siobhan and Gina, thank you so much for joining me on the PH SPOT podcast. And welcome.

Siobhan 1:57
Thank you. Good morning.

Sujani 1:59
Good morning. Oh, yes, you’re both in Australia. So it’s good morning for you. And evening almost night for me here in Canada. So I think one of the biggest challenges we had was coordinating this call. So really appreciate both of you doing this early in your day.

Siobhan 2:14
No problem at all.

Sujani 2:15
Today, I think I wanted to have a conversation with you both about this paper that you both being an author on. And I think before jumping into that I really like to ask people this question. And we have two people on the- on the show today. Which is amazing, because we can have kind of this diverse conversation. But how did both of you discover public health kind of- could you take me and our listeners through that journey of how you discover this field? Maybe we can start with you, Siobhan.

Siobhan 2:47
Yeah, sure, no problem. To be honest, I think initially, I fell into the field, I started my undergraduate in science, and then in nutrition and food science, then did a graduate diploma in dietetics. And the clinical dietetics work was very much one on one. And you could assist one person at a time, but it didn’t seem to be, you know, for the larger population. So I then started doing a little bit of research. And that research was obviously on a much larger scale and in a- in a population and wrote that up for my Master of Public Health thesis. And as I was doing that, obviously took in the other master of public health units. And just really liked research, really liked the idea of assisting more than just one, just changing a system to affect a population rather than an individual. And then continued on to do my PhD in epidemiology, in nutritional epidemiology. More work in the public health field there and more research and I now find myself in academia teaching other public health students.

Sujani 4:12
Did you envision that you would be in academia, you know, when you started off on this journey of discovering public health and what you could do in this field?

Siobhan 4:20
I did always liked the idea of teaching and I think through school, I thought I might be a secondary teacher. And a teacher did say to me, you know, not all students are good students. You’ve got to teach to the whole class. And I thought, yep, yep, no, that’s okay. But then on school leaving, there were various other things that kind of caught my eye and I didn’t immediately go into it. But then as I was doing research and teaching was also an option alongside, that I thought, great, that’s- that’s really what I want to do.

Sujani 4:54
Wonderful. And how about you, Gina? How did you discover public health?

Gina 4:59
I guess a little bit like Siobhan. And that I actually fell into it as well. I’m actually Canadian, I completed my first degree, my Bachelor’s, at the University of Victoria in sport science and carried on to do some, some work- a bit of work in that field in that area, and then moved on to a master’s in, I guess, exercise, and sport science again at the University of Alberta. And moved to Australia in the late 90s, and decided to do a PhD in sport psychology, however, worked out very quickly that I was more interested in public health components. I was really interested in injury at the time. So I’m more of an injury epidemiologist. And I have a passion for teaching, and it kind of all fit together. So I kind of ended up here in at UWA. Teaching alongside Siobhan. And working in public health.

Sujani 6:05
Wonderful, I guess we couldn’t convince you to come back to Canada. Australia was too nice?

Gina 6:10
Right now with COVID. We love to live. You’re not getting back anytime.

Sujani 6:15
Oh, I don’t think so. Yeah, I guess similar question as Siobhan. Was academia something you had in mind going into your PhD? Is that something that you’d say you also kind of fell into?

Gina 6:28
Yeah, I, I didn’t think at the very beginning that I would end up in this area. It was always just, I guess that next challenge in front of me, I thought I’d probably be working more alongside teams or athletes. But as we grow older, we realize that there’s a lot of nice dreams out there. And being mobile and moving with a sports team probably wasn’t where I wanted to end up. So yeah, academia kind of- it just all happened.

Sujani 6:56
Yeah. It’s interesting, because when I asked most of my guests about how they discovered public health, I think majority of the time a lot of them do say they just kind of discovered it, it wasn’t a field that they kind of had their eye on, right, you know, after high school or getting into undergrad, and decided to pursue was, you know, accidentally something that they just discovered. And my guest this morning that I was speaking to was saying perhaps that that would change now with the pandemic and public health kind of being on the forefront and younger students kind of discovering it and wanting to go into public health rather than something that they discovered later on during their studies. I don’t know if you will, either of you have any thoughts on that? Or additions?

Siobhan 7:39
Absolutely. I’m nodding my head here. That’s what we’ve seen so much prior to COVID 19, we would often describe the Master of Public Health or our undergraduate in Population Health Studies, or begin the orientation by describing what public health is, and we don’t have to do that anymore.

Sujani 8:01

Siobhan 8:01
You know, people get a sense of what it is, I guess, the breadth of public health, we still need to explain because they tend to think more, you know, communicable diseases and pandemic, but they at least know or have a bit of an idea of what a public health practitioner does.

Sujani 8:21
And I don’t know how it is in Australia, but in Canada, I’m seeing more undergraduate programs, and sometimes even high school students reaching out to our PH SPOT platform wanting to learn more about the field. I don’t know if you’re also seeing more undergraduate programs and public health popping up in Australia.

Siobhan 8:40
Yeah, I don’t know, to be honest, I haven’t had a look across Australia to see whether more programs have commenced or not. Within our undergrad and postgraduate courses, we’ve had almost a doubling of numbers in the last 12 months. So we’ve certainly seen a lot more interest here. We’ve put up a lot of smaller courses or little bite sized chunks so that people can get a bit of a taste of what public health is, if they’re not sure that they want to go ahead and do a whole master’s degree.

Sujani 9:12
Yeah, you know, for today’s topic, we really wanted to focus on students and kind of their the ways that they’ve had to adapt during this pandemic. And really great that both of you are here to chat about that a little bit. Because with PH SPOT, we’ve focused quite a bit on kind of remote working and providing resources and tools for that group of our listeners and followers and community but not too much on kind of learning in this new way. And where a lot of students have had to adapt to the new ways of learning and of course, educators have had to also adapt and it’s no longer a choice that someone pursues a virtual degree in some areas of the world right now just because that’s their that’s the standard and by default, you just have to and so we were very happy to see some of the research and work being done by both of you on this paper that came out adapted to teaching during a pandemic. So I was wondering, how did both of you kind of get into this research or this- this question that you were trying to answer?

Siobhan 10:16
We had a small team of academics across Australia that were al-already working with us on previous teaching projects. So we initially were doing some work in our own university to see what was working for different academics and what wasn’t. And we thought, let’s extend that across Australia, and then thought let’s, you know, extended that to any context that we have overseas as well. And so we developed a the survey arising from this, this small team that we had in Australia to see what kind of questions we still had unwanted answers for. So it was fairly easy to be honest, to implement initially, probably the more difficult thing was just getting all the teaching staff to sign on and share their experiences. Because one thing we certainly noticed was that every number of teaching staff was pushed for time as they were rapidly adapting their courses from the face to face world to the online world.

Sujani 11:23
And I think I was reading that you were able to attract, you know, responses from not just Australia, but also the US and Canada. Do you see any differences across the three countries or in any thoughts around that?

Siobhan 11:40
Initially, we didn’t see a huge difference. We had much smaller numbers in North America. Can you recall any major differences, Gina?

Gina 11:49
I don’t think that there was necessarily any differences that stood out. But one of the things that did come up was that, obviously, we’re teaching at different times. And at the time, this all happened, you guys were just coming out of, I guess, the end of your last terms or the end of the of the terms of university. And we were actually in the midst of it.

Sujani 12:14

Gina 12:14
So I know, a lot of the responses in North America, were about planning for the future and moving forward and what they could use, whereas we were, the Australian results were more about what had been done. So it was a nice opportunity to share things and get an idea of how, I guess some of their summer schools were using it or some of your summer schools and the implementation that way.

Sujani 12:41
Yeah, I guess, you know, when I’m anecdotally just picking up how students have been transitioning into a virtual environment for their public health training. And you mentioned this a bit in your paper, as well as around the different tools and resources that they’ve had to leverage to just make this work. And anecdotally, I’ve heard also the frustrations that have come from educators and students in trying to adapt to this new, new way. I don’t know if you’ve done any kind of follow up to understand whether people are adopting better now or they’re kind of settling into this new way of learning and teaching or if it’s kind of just want a point in time that you were able to collect this information.

Siobhan 13:29
We haven’t done any formal follow up. But we do have, I guess, a bit of a, you know, anecdotal information, but I just want to couch it by saying we’ve been very fortunate here in Australia in that we’ve almost gone back to- to a normal situation. But the normal situation with the caveat that we’re ready to pivot at any time, should we need to go into another lockdown. So we do now have the majority of our lectures online. They were previously offered online anyway. But we now are seeing students taking that up even more. And we have also created a new mode for taking a course and that is online timetabled rather than online flexible.

Sujani 14:24
What does that mean?

Siobhan 14:26
The online timetabled means that students must be present for the tutorial in real time, it’s not a series of of interactive activities or discussion boards that will get moderated and responded to the students must be there. So students must be there in real time showing up videos on preferably and responding and interacting in the tutorial. So prior to the pandemic, what we actually had here in our school is a good handful of students who were in the medical doctor program, but they were taking some public health courses. And they were scattered around the state and what we call the Rural Clinical School of WA. And because they were on their rural placements, and not necessarily able to attend classes in person, or attend classes online in real time, they would need these flexible, self directed activities.

Sujani 15:31

Siobhan 15:32
And so yeah, that’s after the pandemic, we thought, that’s great there, they’ve got this self directed learning, but a lot of students really were wanting that real time interaction that they’re, by the way, kind of learning that they get from just discussing things with their peers, even if it is in a virtual meeting room.

Sujani 15:53
I guess that’s a- that’s kind of yeah, really good next steps, or even things for educators to consider just being able to give that flexibility to students. And I guess I’ll do a follow up to that statement and ask you, you know, based on this work that the two of you have done, have you been able to kind of pull out any advice or tips for students, maybe we’ll start with students and then go to educators and just how to thrive in this environment during this time when they’ve had to quickly adapt and change into a new way of learning.

Gina 16:29
I guess some of the things that I’ve noticed with the students is encouraging them to get to know their fellow students in an online forum. So often sending pairs or smaller groups out to different breakout rooms as if they were together. So that they can share their experiences and be a bit more free speaking, obviously, working in a group of 20, or 30, you don’t get a lot of voices that will speak up. But you’ve put them into the smaller groups who found they have a lot more success in talking about what they were doing, and almost even offering them the opportunity to reflect on what was happening and what they were learning at the same time. So not maybe as prescriptive. So that, I guess they were provided an opportunity to have some applied time, but also some sharing time, so that they could be a part of the experience, not just being taught to, but be a part of it. So I think that’s something that moving forward a lot of the teaching that we do now. We make the time for that and make time for the students so that they can have the experience while they’re online, maybe sitting in another country and not feeling so isolated.

Sujani 17:40
Are you seeing that students are enjoying this way of learning more than in the classroom? I don’t know if you have any anecdotes?

Siobhan 17:50
I think summer. Yeah, but some aren’t. The ones that I guess I having more difficulty are our international students. And I don’t know if- if you feel that I’ve got a thick accent and hard to understand or not. But certainly, if you’re new to Australia and new to the accent, then the- in the classroom rather than online, you pick up the accent and the language a little bit more easily. And it does help them I guess, to settle in a new country and make new friends when they’re seeing them face to face.

Sujani 18:29
Absolutely, I guess yeah, flipping that question to the educators any kind of best practices or tips, advice that you may have thought about, or that has come from this work?

Gina 18:41
I think when we first started out, we talked a lot about it being quite one dimensional, in that we were talking to students face to face. We all worked off of learning management system anyways. So students had online components that we had already, you know, prior to this had been working on so that they had a few different things that were working. But I feel I guess the educators are now a lot more comfortable working with, yeah, more of a uni dimensional type of format or platform so that they have some, you know, synchronous or asynchronous type teaching. They also have, you know, things that they can send the students off to, but their students can come back and talk about it, reflect on it, share, share what they’re doing, but then they can sit down listen to another lecture or a mini lecture. So I think educators are being a bit more creative in how they’re presenting their materials. So it isn’t just one dimensional anymore.

Sujani 19:45
Yeah, I maybe I could, if you don’t mind put the two of you on spot. Since you both are teaching at the university and have had to at least for a little while, turn to online teaching, any personal reflections that you’ve had just needing to quickly pivot? I’m assuming that you were doing most of your teaching in the classroom prior to the pandemic?

Siobhan 20:10
Yes and no, we had already experimented with some flipped classrooms for one of our undergraduate units.

Sujani 20:19

Siobhan 20:20
So we were doing, I guess, what was traditionally the lecture in an online format, but still retaining the tutorials face to face. So I guess we were fortunate in having already had some experience with trying to put materials online. So having had a little bit of a taste, I guess my tip for the courses that I was teaching at that time, and pivoting them to the online environment, was to go back to the learning outcomes, what am I trying to assist these students to learn, and make sure that is at the forefront, and trying to give them experiences to discover that learning themselves. Because I guess with so many ideas floating around at that time, everyone was- was looking for a whiz bang or a wow, to try and get the students to actually be there and be present. But to- not to some degree, I’d say it’s a in all respects, we really had a captive audience. Initially, because people were at home, they didn’t have a lot else to do. So showing up to class was something to do in their day. So we were really quite fortunate and often had the opportunity to really have some good conversations and good discussions with them.

Sujani 21:47
That’s good to hear. And how about you Gina, any reflections from your personal experience?

Gina 21:52
I think the one- one big thing that I’ve taken from it, and, you know, I think it’s been floating out there for quite a long time, is that putting together a 90 minute or a 50 minute lecture, even even if you’re online or face to face, it’s a lot of work. So one of the things that I started to do was just break it down into smaller sections, so that I would have, instead, I might have 5 or 6-15 minute smaller lectures so that I could really, I guess, capture not just the student’s attention, but my own attention so that I could stay on top of the topic. I could keep it exciting, I could have the energy to do it. And then when I’d finished that 15 minute one, I could prepare for the next one, still covering the same information. But I guess not being so caught up with getting through a large chunk of material in a really short time. But I have a bit more fun with that, I guess.

Sujani 22:57
Yeah, yeah. And as you’re speaking, I’m just kind of thinking it’s kind of nice that the pandemic happened at the time that it did just because our technology has improved so much with video conferencing. And we had that one tool that really enabled us to be able to see each other face to face, even though we were all sitting in different parts of the world or different, you know, buildings. So I don’t know if when you were both starting out teaching and experimenting with Virtual Teaching, if you had these exact tools available to you and whether, you know, you found that having the pandemic in 2020 really helped because of the availability of various tools.

Siobhan 23:42
I think the Tool Availability- ability, and the timing was very fortuitous. In that it wasn’t too difficult to adapt things for online. We had one or two licenses for some of the various bits of software within the school. But our university fortunately purchased, you know, outright licenses so everyone could- could use these tools very quickly. That then it was fairly seamless for students to access, you know, these virtual meeting rooms and classes and various other types of online resources as well. So we were very fortunate, but I think also technology was ready for this. We also were very fortunate in that at our university. We had an organization reach out and call for, you know, donations and financial support to help any students that were struggling and didn’t have these resources for use at home when they were restricted to being at home. We do have a lot of computers for students to use on campus but with the lockdown, many of them really needed their own laptop. And so I think most students who need one were then able to get one.

Sujani 25:08
That’s wonderful actually. Yeah, I think we all assumed that everyone has access to, you know, a laptop and study internet, and just the- by default went into virtual, virtual environments. But that’s wonderful, if you don’t mind which organization was that?

Siobhan 25:28
We’re at the University of Western Australia. So it was just an offshoot of the University of Western Australia, they called out to previous alumni to assist students.

Sujani 25:38
Oh, that’s wonderful. I guess, you know, looking ahead, what are some of your predictions in terms of post pandemic times and how you think just education and teaching and learning will be evolving, I know, you talked about it in your paper, just that it’s rapidly evolving, and we were able to meet the challenges of COVID. But there’s still some further enhancements that we might have to do in this field, just so that, you know, there’s something else that we need to adapt for. And we need to change the way we’re teaching and learning, maybe both of your reflections on what the future you think is holding?

Siobhan 26:19
What- what I think is the challenge, or the next challenge that I’m working on is increasing that peer to peer interaction in the online environment. The educator, student interactions are great. But you learn so much from your fellow peers, and encouraging and promoting that discussion, I think is really important in public health education in any education. So that’s what I’m trying to increase and enhance with my online teaching.

Gina 26:57
Some of what, what I’d like to consider is just really, I guess, taking a look at the pastoral care component for the students and recognizing that there are a lot of things going on in their lives, may be financially affected or impacted by the isolation and making sure that we can address those components of the student’s education so that when they’re with us, and they’re learning, they’re getting the best out of it.

Sujani 27:24
You know, during a time when you know, we’re all COVID, free, do you anticipate that we’ll see more virtual learning and teaching? Or do you predict that will kind of go back to predominantly in person learning and teaching at the universities?

Siobhan 27:41
I think it will be a hybrid kind of model, I think there will be a lot more of the content delivered as Gina’s kind of outlined in small chunks with activities in between rather than the long, you know, one hour or one and a half hour lecture, where many students can get their head nods as the lecturer is just kind of, you know, waffling on. And I think that’s a much more effective way of him learning to I mean, the pedagogy has been there for years, but we are still holding on to this, you know stage on a stage kind of delivery for that content.

Sujani 28:24
I guess you’ll see that in some of the more advanced grad school programs, what comes to mind is few Doctor of Public Health Programs have that model where you come in maybe a few times throughout the year for some in learning experiences. And then most of the learning is done virtually. I anticipate that’s the type of model that you’re referring to.

Siobhan 28:48
Oh, yes and no, the- the- so the intensive kind of learning, yes, but I guess I had more in mind a hybrid where they come in for some tutorial enhance.

Sujani 29:02

Siobhan 29:03
But the lectures are replaced with some online delivery.

Sujani 29:07
Okay. So hybrid model that’s kind of ongoing throughout the whole semester. Not-

Siobhan 29:12

Sujani 29:13
Okay. No, that’s good.

Siobhan 29:14
It’s interesting that you talked about the intensive type of learning, though, because that prior to the pandemic was my most favorite way of teaching, because the students really did get together for that one week that we had them in the classroom, and they really got to know one another. And that’s when they really did learn from one another so well. And so I guess when you’re spending nine to five with a small group of people, for a week, some of the barriers come down and they relax a little from the educator and the students and the learning and really transformative experiences can actually happen.

Sujani 29:53
And it becomes an attractive model, I guess, for international students to where they don’t completely need to move to a new country for two years or four years, however long the program is, and they can come for a short stint, and then go back and come back for additional in person learning. So that’s where my mind was going.

Gina 30:14
Yeah, I think it’s going to capture. I mean, the interest in public health is increasing. And I think the opportunities to actually study at universities overseas now, because they’re capable of working with the hybrid model. I think that will also impact public health quite significantly.

Sujani 30:33
Yeah, absolutely.

Siobhan 30:35
We just need to do something about flattening the globe, though, because this was a few problems.

Sujani 30:44
Yeah, given how many attempts we needed to have to get a time slot that would work for both of us agree. Yeah, I guess, you know, throwing back some personal reflections from you both just when you are going through your education, whether it was during your masters or your PhD to now when you’re seeing your students go through the similar path and journey, are you kind of reflecting on you know, what you had to go through and what your students are going through? And any thoughts on how the public health education, that whole system is maybe evolving or changing pros and cons? Just curious to hear both of your thoughts on those two things?

Siobhan 31:26
Sure. Sure. Look, the first thing that comes to mind, as you say, that is looking for every opportunity and taking every opportunity for work integrated learning, I think I was always the first to put my hand up to, you know, volunteer to be a research assistant, or do some work experience. And the people that were seeking work experience, students would often say, look, this will be great on your CV. And some of those positions you had front up and you think, I’m not really sure how this is helping. But maybe it was something as simple as learning how to greet people when they’re coming in to get some anthropometric measurements done, or learning how to organize things, making sure your group is set up, ready to do the next activity. And that then gave me confidence when I was putting myself forward for other positions. To say, yes, I have done this, you know, I was a assistant at such and such a study, or I have done this previously with- with something else. So all of those little snippets of work, integrated learning, as well as the formal work integrated learning, I think, are just so so valuable.

Sujani 32:43
How about you Gina?

Gina 32:44
Just thinking, I guess what came to my mind was the fact that I was very fortunate that I have studied at a number of different universities. And I do have now fellow colleagues, you know, throughout the world that I can call on, but one of the things that I noticed is that I can have a closer, you know, work relationship with my students now. I think I spend, you know, time staring at their faces on the computer, I feel that I even though we’re not in the same room together, I think they may ask more questions of me, or I might try and include them or ask more questions of them and feel that getting to know, I guess, who’s teaching you your unit coordinators, your lectures, and having some of that, that’s where a lot of the future work comes from, and your future opportunities and you’re networking in you’re experiencing? Maybe when I traveled around the world and made a bit more effort, just because I wasn’t familiar with those places. But I feel yeah, maybe got to know, my fellow students better because it was face to face. But now I think you’re getting to know a bit more about who’s teaching you and the staff that around you. And I think that’s, that’s an exciting thing that we can we can learn from?

Sujani 34:00
Yeah, it’s so interesting, you say that even though we’re all virtual, we have kind of yeah, given the opportunity to actually stare at the person’s face, you know, just inches away, and feel like we’re building a connection even though it is virtual.

Siobhan 34:15
And stare at their living room or their bedroom. Learning from.

Sujani 34:21
Yeah, it really does kind of open up and makes it less formal, I think. Yeah. Siobhan, you said something about kind of seeking out different opportunities and just prompted another quick question. I don’t know if you- if many of your students had reached out during the pandemic, you know, learning virtually is one thing but then trying to find opportunities to complement that learning is the other part of I think, you know, your grad training and any, any ways that students were able to make that work, and I think it may have been a bit more challenging for them to seek out different opportunities outside the classroom just given how things were changing in the way that they were learning and being taught?

Siobhan 35:05
Certainly in the early days in, I mean, we probably had 1-6 week lockdown periods at the beginning of the pandemic. And that was the biggest shake up because it was new for everyone. We were scrambling to retract. Some young students from hospitals as hospital systems were- were shutting down elective surgery, etc. And then we were focused on making sure that the medical graduates had their places. And so there was kind of a priority order. So in terms of their formal practicum, that did get impacted, our master of public health students were on practicum, or do to go on practicum. And they were given the option to defer that for a semester where they could do that in Face to Face mode rather than online mode. But we did have many of the our public health agencies that take our students say they were willing to take students online and provide that practicum online for them.

Sujani 36:21
Yes, yeah, with Canada, many of the provinces have been in multiple lockdown modes, and it’s just an ongoing, I guess, an ongoing environment that we’re in for the past year, and a lot of us and students have had to just think about ways and get creative and how they can find opportunities to complement their learning. So yeah, I, at least personally, I’ve seen that students and new grads are just being creative and reaching out to employers to see if they could support in any way and gain that experience similar to how they would have done had there been no pandemic. So it’s curious to hear how things were happening there in Australia, but.

Siobhan 37:05
In some ways, not that I want a lockdown to, to ensue, but it would be nice to see some of the agencies as, as you’ve indicated, kind of extending that hand a little bit further and thinking it’s easy just to have a student sit in on a meeting, you know, provided it’s all in confidence. So a student kind of virtually shadowing, you know, a public health practitioner to learn things along the way. And, you know, perhaps that’s an idea that we can, you know, continue to work on and think about, but at this stage hasn’t been one that’s been necessitated for us.

Sujani 37:49
I’ve certainly seen at least here the the geography atleast you know, those boundaries have kind of been removed. And we’ve been able to attract students from any part of the country to work for an organization in another part of the country. And I think that’s been great, because you’re not only restricted to organizations that are within distance that you can travel to physically prior to the pandemic. And, you know, if there’s an opportunity in the East Coast, at a- at a university organization, students and new grads from the West Coast could apply to it. And that’s been one of the silver linings, I guess, of the pandemic and the lockdown.

Siobhan 38:29
Yeah, yeah. And look, that would be enormously beneficial to us here in Perth, Western Australia, as well, because we’re in one of the most isolated capital cities in the world, you know, we’ve got several 1000 kilometers, I think, 3000 kilometers to go to the next capital city. So we’re kind of, you know, stuck out here. And we sometimes feel a little bit forgotten by the rest of Australia, because they’re on a different timezone.

Sujani 38:56

Siobhan 38:56
And that that three hour difference can make make a bit of a difference at times. So the virtual opportunities has certainly opened up more possibilities for our students and our graduates.

Sujani 39:10
It’s great that you’re both kind of in that field of research is exploring future online learning. And, you know, final question, if you will, what sort of work maybe are you expecting to build off of this- this initial and maybe it’s not initial work, because this is one of the papers that I’ve seen, published by the two of you, but are there any future plans around this topic that you’re both working on?

Gina 39:36
Right question. We have a number of ideas and we have been meaning to convene a virtual meeting of- of this little group of authors to see what this most impetus for some of the ideas that have arisen out of this paper, how we make that online learning In a truly transformative experience, or how we build on that, so rather than just learning content, how are they really engaging with that material, embracing it and realizing their public health path or their public health career as a result of being a student in one of our courses.

Sujani 40:24
And would this be something that or maybe you haven’t decided yet, that would be focused on students mostly? Or are you also thinking, you know, gearing up educators to also have those skills to be able to make sure that they’re creating an online learning environment for students, so that they are thriving in their public health journey?

Gina 40:45
I think our original thoughts are to move with the educators, I think there’s a lot more research and focus on the student experience and what’s occurring and assisting them which, you know, it is truly about their learning.

Sujani 41:02

Gina 41:02
But I guess, providing assistance or information to help move others that are teaching in fields forward, I think that’s kind of the direction that we’re all thinking.

Sujani 41:15
Yeah, at least one idea that comes to mind, and maybe you’re already thinking about this is some sort of best practice documents or training for educators, to be able to teach in, like an online environment, I don’t know if that’s something par, that’s part of your toolkit that you’re hoping to build or some sort of resource guide.

Siobhan 41:39
With- with our papers, were really like the idea of, of having a table a go to list that makes it easy for educators to just pick things and, and, you know, grab an idea and build on it, just because time has been so limited for- for many of our academic staff, here in Australia. So, like you say, having a best practice, tool guide, or toolkit, or a list of best practice ideas that they can build on, is what we’re looking to deliver.

Sujani 42:19
Oh, perfect. And yeah, I’m looking forward to that. And please, if, when that does come out, do reach out to the PH SPOT community. And we’re happy to distribute that to our members, and hopefully to other institutions that follow our work.

Siobhan 42:33
For sure.

Sujani 42:34
Yeah, so I guess to wrap it up any kind of last minute thoughts or advice that either of you may have for just our listeners around this topic.

Gina 42:46
I think just utilizing the opportunity to contact others. And, you know, it may be a previous colleague or a previous, you know, peer at university just, you know, if you see some of their research or what they’re doing or where they’re working and find out, just so that you can share your experiences and in an informal context of what I find successful and what you find successful and, you know, share those small things that- that might make a difference to to your teaching and students.

Siobhan 43:18
Sharing those ideas really helps you- you learn as Gina was kind of outlining before, some of her colleagues in Canada hadn’t trialed some things that we were using everyday here and vice versa. So sharing and talking about your teaching and learning experiences is the one thing that we’ve seen increase and has been fantastic for, you know, our teaching day to day lives.

Sujani 43:49
I hope you enjoyed that episode with Siobhan and Gina, and as usual, we will make sure to link any resources we mentioned in the episode on the show notes page, which can be found at, including the paper that was published that led us to recording this specific episode. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning in to PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.


About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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