The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted most of veterinary education to modified on-campus classes that include virtual components, but many of the people who conduct the classes are learning on their own.
JAVMA News spoke to faculty members at the Veterinary College about how they are working to face challenges during the pandemic, learning new technologies to facilitate virtual learning, and keeping students busy online.
Dr. Perry J. Bain, assistant professor and clinical pathologist at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, said social distancing has led the veterinary school to purchase microscopes with attached video cameras that can be used to broadcast live feeds of slides to faculty members and Students. (Courtesy Dr. Bain)
“The challenge of getting my course – which is so important and usually personal – was difficult,” said Dr. Ariana Boltax, an instructor at Cornell University Veterinary College in the Educational Support Department. She was deeply involved in the transition to more online courses. Dr. Boltax designed and teaches the Small Animal Euthanasia: Clinical Communication and Practice course.
The course won first place in the COVID Educational Creations Contest, a competition run by the non-profit VetMed Academy and sponsored by Merck Animal Health. A list of the 10 other winners and educational resources can be found on the VetMed Academy website.
In her course, Dr. Boltax adhered to good design principles and added things to help students navigate an online environment.
“On the first day of class, students don’t know where to go on campus and it’s the same online,” she said. “You don’t know where to click and what to do and how to navigate. I gave them an introductory video that included a screen share of where and where things are. “
Manage new technology
The Daily Pennsylvanian, the University of Pennsylvania’s student newspaper, reported that the School of Veterinary Medicine has adopted a “hybrid model of virtual and face-to-face classes in the fall.” According to the article, Penn Vet faculty members “revamped the fall semester curriculum to allow hands-on activities such as anatomy labs, clinics, and training in surgical skills in small cohorts”.
Dr. Amy C. Durham, associate professor of anatomical pathobiology at Penn Vet, said it was difficult to get online at first.
“The conversion of our General and Systemic Pathology course with 96 lecture hours and 64 practical laboratory hours to an appealing virtual format was initially overwhelming,” said Dr. Durham. “Last summer I took some time to familiarize myself with online learning techniques and decided to try different methods in the first two weeks of the semester. Our IT (information technology) and ed tech staff have been extremely helpful and this transition would not have been possible without their support. “
Dr. Durham said the virtual pathology course includes live and recorded abbreviated lectures, reading assignments, worksheets, quick quizzes and virtual office hours. The students were interviewed after two weeks to find out which methods worked well and the feedback will guide the development of the part of the systemic pathology course.
The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, under the school’s COVID-19 policies and guidelines, had people gradual back to campus for the fall semester with protections that allowed for a controlled increase in clinical activity, and students in fourth year returning to clinical rotations, an increase in research on campus, and a return of Masters and Veterinary students.
Dr. Perry J. Bain, assistant professor and veterinary clinical pathologist at Tufts, said social distancing has led the veterinary school to buy microscopes with attached video cameras that allow faculty and students to send live feeds of slides.
Dr. Bain said he has wanted to implement this system for years because it allows him to easily tell if a student is seeing the right thing.
“It’s nice to see what the students see,” said Dr. Bain. “Plus, the students can see each other’s microscopes so they can work together without looking through.”
Dr. Karen Hershberger-Braker, a senior lecturer in comparative life sciences and pathobiological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Veterinary Medicine, said she was committed to learning as much as possible about Blackboard, the platform used at the veterinary school becomes . (Photo by Dr. Hershberger-Braker)
The University of Wisconsin-Madison and its School of Veterinary Medicine brought students back to campus at the start of Fall Class on September 2 with changes, including changes, including larger online lectures, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard. But then the university switched to all-online courses for at least two weeks and restricted operations on campus as the number of COVID-19 cases increased in mid-September. Some personal activities resumed on September 26th while the university adhered to strict health measures.
Dr. Karen Hershberger-Braker, professor of comparative life sciences and pathobiology at the Veterinary School in Wisconsin, said she was committed to learning as much as possible about Blackboard, the platform used at the veterinary school.
“I had never heard of it before, but I took it upon myself to learn as much as possible and then spread that knowledge,” she said.
Dr. Hershberger-Braker said weekly Q&A sessions for the faculty were very helpful in sharing best practices and providing mutual support.
“When people have trouble doing something, we call and help each other,” said Dr. Hershberger-Braker. “There is a learning curve. We try to support each other. The unit was so positive. “
At the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine, students returned to campus on August 9th to prepare for a mix of online and in-person courses that began August 19th. On the Knoxville campus of about 29,000 students, according to the university, 680 cases of COVID-19 had been active as of September 13 – 667 students and 13 employees. However, that number decreased to a total of 135 active cases by September 23. UT Veterinary Medical Center took precautionary measures to limit exposure and transmission of the coronavirus, including further limiting patient exposure by focusing on patients who need essential medical care and emergency patients. The hospital was still operating with limited staff at the end of September.
To offer something new, Dr. Luca Giori, Associate Professor of Biomedical and Diagnostic Sciences at Veterinary College in Tennessee, gave faculty members, staff and students an additional class: Cooking. Dr. Giori is from Italy and loves to cook. He said the culture around cooking and eating was important there and he wanted to try and teach the students something healthy they could do at home.
“The idea of cooking was something we thought was good for the students who were under stress,” said Dr. Giori. “I cook from my house so it’s almost like opening my house to them. We thought the cooking classes would also be a great way to interact with each other and show our faces on Zoom. “
He teaches two cooking classes per month and saves the recipes and videos in Google Drive for students, faculty and staff to refer to.
Dr. Hershberger-Braker said she is also trying to make connections by creating roundtables for sophomore veterinary students to introduce themselves to instructors.
“It was wonderful to see students share pictures and videos of their pets and hobbies,” she said. “The trainers were able to respond to the students’ contributions and thus create virtual connections between teachers and students.”
Dr. Boltax has the following suggestions for veterinary schools teaching online:
- Make appointments and tasks clear to you.
- Be consistent and clear about learning goals.
- Send appointment reminders.
- Engage students by commenting on what happens in real life.
“I would also encourage the trainers to experiment with their own vulnerabilities,” said Dr. Boltax. “Too often the teacher stands on the pedestal and is smarter than his students, but it’s not real. For example, if you record a lecture and screw it up, you can just screw it up and move on. It shows that you are human, especially in an online environment. Students need to know that there is a human behind the screen. If they don’t feel like this, they are less likely to reach out and ask for help. Model vulnerability for students. Screw up. “