LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 26, 2020) — At the start of the fall semester, it's worth noting the incredible efforts of educators at the University of Kentucky to reinvent normal in the wake of uncertain and tumultuous times. Creating a reimagined college education is not an easy task, but one necessary to maintain the health of the UK community, and to ensure a quality education that UK is recognized for providing.
In early March, immediately following the first Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announcement warning of an impending pandemic, the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy (UKCOP) administration started planning for COVID-19. Under the direction of Dean R. Kip Guy, Craig Martin, the college's chief operation officer, and Frank Romanelli, associate dean of academic programs. - who both have backgrounds in infectious diseases (ID) and epidemiology - UKCOP developed a multi-faceted approach to a reinvented normal.
Preparing to Teach in a Pandemic
When polled, UKCOP students overwhelmingly preferred face-to-face instruction. Research in learning has consistently demonstrated the importance of at least some face-to-face interaction to bolster a community of feeling, enhance professional development and make learning stick; however, it's easy to understand the reservations for in-person learning.
Martin is quick to acknowledge and validate those concerns saying, “We think it’s important to empower our community to make health care decisions that best suit their needs while also putting in measures to protect the larger UKCOP community."
All UKCOP classes for fall are based on a hybrid delivery model, which evenly divides contact hours between face-to-face and remote or online instruction, with a few exceptions. The exceptions include the training that happens in the pharmacy students’ patient care lab sequence where students develop the skills necessary for patient practice and the experiential activities designed for the application of both knowledge and skills.
“The hybrid model lets us significantly lower the time spent exposed to infection, ensure lower viral load, and simultaneously ensure the distance between people,” said Guy.
Holly Divine, the college’s director of external studies, developed a COVID-19 online premier which includes an attestation statement and a "just in time" screening tool for all students engaged in clinical activities. These interventions allow for the college’s clinical instruction to continue uninterrupted. UKCOP's recently developed Office of Teaching Innovation and Scholarship (OTIS) also created an online repository that houses faculty tools and training for each instructor’s preferred mode of delivery.
In addition, OTIS developed a series of professional development sessions focused on the educational technology tools available and the pedagogical principles and research behind them. OTIS is now building a training library that can potentially serve as an asynchronous online course for new teaching faculty, residents and fourth-year pharmacy students.
Steps taken in early spring helped to set UKCOP on the path to success. Inventing an academic schedule for both the professional and graduate programs has created a safe-zone surrounding the college's activities to mitigate the spread of and exposure to COVID-19. Penni Black, director of professional studies, and David Feola, director of graduate studies and an ID scientist, drafted a plan for faculty to review and approve, which allowed the college to move swiftly into implementation once the University announced its decision to shift to remote learning. This strategy has served the UKCOP well as the fall semester begins.
Additional steps the college is taking for fall 2020 include:
· Reducing the number of in-person classes to once a week with each class separated by at least one day in the same classroom.
- Reducing the class size in each classroom to ensure proper social distancing of six feet.
- Implementing special Zoom sessions that will, in effect, combine three classrooms into one (this includes cameras in all rooms to allow faculty to rotate between rooms once a week).
- Each course coordinator will have a microphone and set of markers for their use alone.
- All exams will be online with an open Zoom call for IT to provide technical support to students who may encounter problems.
In addition to the University of Kentucky's measures, the college has provided all students, faculty and staff two high-quality reusable masks. All classes for the semester will allow for fully remote learning and/or teaching. The building and classrooms are reconfigured to enforce proper social-distancing and minimize physical interactions. Faculty and staff who do not need to be in the building are encouraged to continue working remotely. All meetings including student organization assemblies are also to take place over Zoom.
Continuous & Transparent Communication
Transparency is key to a successful restart. In early April, the college hosted a town hall with Martin to allow employees and students to ask questions about the pandemic, employment status, viral spread and budget concerns.
"There is so much unknown with COVID-19, and I believe part of our role is to provide accurate information to the general public and our college community," Guy said. "We are lucky that we have a deep bench when it comes to ID experts. Our community is able to take advantage of and ask questions of people they trust who are also familiar with viral pathophysiology and epidemiology."
Many members of the UKCOP faculty are serving on UK's START committees, statewide task forces and the CURE Alliance.
"It's important for our students to know how we are interpreting data and adjusting when new information presents itself," Romanelli said. "We are essentially demonstrating how the scientific method works in real-time and showing how necessary it is to stay up-to-date."
The Importance of Healthy Behaviors
UKCOP can fully embrace the hybrid model due, in part, to the design of the building, which includes rooms that can be modified for physical distancing. Students are divided into defined cohorts by their academic years and the curriculum is amenable to multiple modes of delivery.
With a background in infectious diseases (and developing drugs to treat them), Guy continues to discuss planning strategies with leading experts in the field, noting best practices for higher education institutions. On-going edits continue to be made to the college's plan as CDC guidelines change, and as the University continues to release operational plans.
"When the students asked me what type of option I preferred when restarting, I told them, 'The one that keeps everyone safe' and I stand by that," says Guy.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.