Pursuing Opportunity in Adversity – what we learned about delivering education in coronavirus lockdown

As I write I am sitting in my home office, feeling tired but happy after a remarkable couple of days.

Against the odds, our team at VSSAcademy has succeeded in taking 31 MSc students in Clinical Implantology through their exams remotely. Something which has generated some of the most positive feedback for the Academy in its history.

It was a mammoth goal for the VSS team to achieve. When our last face-to-face course day ended on 14th March, we couldn’t possibly have known what was to come. Like every other course provider, we relied on live lectures and hands-on training. With the country in lockdown, the ability to deliver our courses as we always had, was suddenly thwarted.

We had to decide what to do, and quickly.

Delivering on our promises

Our students trust us to deliver on our promises, so it was never a question of postponing courses.  Instead, the VSS team and faculty members rallied to convert existing course modules for online delivery, while retaining the high quality teaching our students enjoy.

It was a daunting yet exhilarating feeling. We decided to totally remodel our courses’ delivery, but this created the opportunity to improve the outcomes for our students.  By providing recorded lectures for students to digest in advance, it would give them a chance to consider their questions more carefully and be prepared to be tested on their learning at a deeper level during subsequent live tutor-led webinars.

We worked very quickly to harness the appropriate technology. We ensured as a team, with the support of the academic team at UCLan that we were proficient in using it before disseminating the knowledge to our faculty members. It was an intensive process for all to ‘relearn’ how lectures were to be delivered.

Then it was time to share our plans with our students. We ran several small webinars to keep in contact and help them understand our plans for continuing their courses.

As a result of this collaborative effort, we were ready to recommence our courses mid-April.

Providing support and help

We began with holding webinar meetings to discuss plans, assignments and case presentations.  It was great to be able to connect individually with our students too. We could provide support and check on their welfare and share information about the financial help available to continue their studies while incomes had diminished.

Our students responded really well to the new way of communication and learning. Many told us how they enjoyed the increased flexibility it provided, how they were benefiting from more personalised attention and encouragement.

I couldn’t have imagined changing the way we work prior to Covid-19, but VSSAcademy will certainly be retaining the blended learning approach as the benefits for our students are immense.

Exam week

There was a huge push to get ready to hold the exams the week of 15th June. The logistics of holding these remotely were daunting, which may explain why ours was one of the very few MSc courses running end of year exams at the University of Central Lancashire!

We had a total of 31 first and second year Masters Course students ready to sit their invigilated written and oral exams. Using an online meeting system enabled us to have ‘holding rooms’ where students could assemble ready to begin. They were then transferred to ‘preparation rooms’, where they could prepare for their unseen case presentations, before proceeding to the ‘exam rooms’ where our faculty members were ready to test them.

There was a lot to be managed but a combination of careful planning, support from the UCLan team and a passion to make it work, made it work.

It now remains for our students to complete their practical sessions as soon as it is safe for us to hold them. These will be delivered within strict safety guidelines.

On reflection, we certainly took the harder path. It would have been easier to simply postpone operations until 2021 but the rewards of pulling together to find a way through despite the challenges have been enormous.

Making things work was a collective effort between the team, faculty, academic staff and our students, and there is a real sense of having forged stronger links as a VSS family.  Most importantly, we have established new and improved ways of learning for our students which allow them to engage with implantology on a deeper level, in a way that fits around their personal lives. The outcome of this can only be positive for our new implant surgeons and the patients they will serve.

For the last few years, and throughout these challenges we have continued our efforts to support the African Maasai Academy through the RedTribe Charity. They have been especially hard-hit by their own lockdown following on from terrible locust infestations, floods and subsequent famine. To find out more about them and to donate, please see our charity page https://vssacademy.co.uk/redtribe-charity-work

Many congratulations from us all to the VSS Academy Class of 2020, for what we are confident will be your strong results.

Now we look forward to the graduations, second year students commencing and beginning again with two new intakes.

VSSAcademy is currently recruiting for two new intakes of this popular 2-year part-time MSc course: in Glasgow and Birmingham, starting September 2020. If you or any of your colleagues would like more information on how to apply, please contact us direct on courses@vssacademy.co.uk

Many thanks

Alan Goldie

Managing Director

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