Lessons for distance education and e-learning, forged in the crucible of a pandemic

Photo of student learning online

As we have seen recently, with both the bushfire crisis and the COVID-19 crisis, there is an urgent, strategic need for evidence-based approaches to moving both the educational and pastoral aspects of the university community online. These crises will not be the last and the need for theory- and data-driven approaches to maintaining student engagement, wellbeing and learning is clear.

The project proposes an investigation of the current, unprecedented move to fully online medical teaching. The literature makes clear that student identification and engagement with their peers, the school and the field of study has impact on the way they learn, academic performance, intentions to continue study, student resilience under stress and frequency of important self-care actions. The move to online-only education with no face-to-face contact, limited opportunity for informal interactions with peers or educators, no physical space in which to congregate and no opportunities for networking presents a clear and urgent challenge to student social identification and engagement with both peers and study.

This project is an investigation of the current MChD student experience. On the background of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, any attempt to design an experimental study would be far too high-risk, so we have taken an observational approach. We are using the analytics from online learning tools, assessment data, where student consent, alongside short student surveys and some opt-in interviews via Zoom to get a clear picture of:

  1. The extent to which students are socially identified with the field of medical studies and with their ANU Medical School peers specifically.
  2. The extent to which students are engaged with the ANU Medical School and our teaching materials.
  3. The ways in which students are learning, and how well they are learning.
  4. Student life satisfaction, satisfaction with their learning experience and academic outcomes, wellbeing and intentions to continue study.

The aims of the project are all targeted at a systematic, observational account of the student experience of learning in isolation, the associated social and educational consequences and any impacts on student well-being.