It is believed that the ancient Greek philosopher Plato coined the phrase, “necessity is the mother of invention” in his work, the Republic.  It is commonly understood to mean; a need or problem encourages creative efforts to meet the need or solve the problem.  In this article, I want to share some of the creative efforts of three departments and individuals within the Faculty of Medicine, Health & Human Sciences.  If you have an equally interesting story to share with readers of Teche please share it in the comments section below.  The University community would love to hear how other individuals and departments have risen to the opportunities and challenges of Covid-19.

Linguistics Department

The teachers in the Linguistics Department would normally meet face-to-face for an hour once a month to share good practice as part of a learning and teaching ’Community of Practice’ (CoP).  With the Covid-19 travel restrictions they have been agile and quickly adapted to the circumstances by taking their CoP online.  The 2020 theme set by the L&T Committee was originally student engagement and peer review, once the university moved to online teaching, the focus shifted to ‘student engagement in online mode’.

I recently dropped into one of the online Linguistics ”Swap Meets” (as they coin their CoP) to hear from three different presenters about practices that work in online teaching.  Dr Phil Chappell (Deputy Head of Department (Learning and Teaching, International), Dr Sarah Forget (Scholarly Teaching Fellow) and Associate Lecturer Ms Agi Bodis presented to the online CoP group.  The Swap Meet was recorded and made available to other staff who couldn’t attend on the Linguistics iLearn CoP site. 

As you can quickly tell from the swap meet image above and to the left, Phil presented about ‘designed-in scaffolding’ that teachers can build into small group work tasks in Zoom breakout rooms.  Sarah provided a screencast of her presentation for the CoP as she predicted that she may be distracted during the zoom session by her young children.  Sarah presented on iLearn tools for managing and tracking activities and how she uses forums in innovative ways.  A story on Sarah’s approach will feature later in Teche.

Agi Bodis presented on how she uses PollEverywhere in Zoom sessions to engage students and how (and why) she has used H5P activities in iLearn to build interactive video content on assessment tasks.  At the end of the Swap Meet the discussion broadened into a lively discussion about inclusive learning design; the group plan to pick up the thread of that discussion in their next Swap Meet.  The Department’s “accessible communication” expert will lead the discussion.  Phil has noticed some real growth in collective teacher efficacy as the Department’s CoP goes from strength to strength.

What I’m really excited about is how the online ‘Swap Meet’ has re-invigorated talking about teaching rather than talking about all the admin related things that have dominated the discussion over the past year or so. We really want to maintain and grow that momentum!

Dr Phil Chappell, Deputy Head of Department (Learning & Teaching, International)

Department of Biomedical Science

Professor Helen Rizos (Head of Department) was quick to embrace an opportunity for her 10-research staff in the Precision Cancer Therapy team (PhD students, Senior Research Assistants and postdoctoral fellows) when everyone had to down research tools and work from home.  Helen encouraged her research team to switch focus for a while and up-skill in iLearn to support the development of two units that will be delivered this year. The team members started by engaging with the Faculty Learning and Design team and connecting with the more experienced teaching staff. The research team are now creating really well-designed H5p interactive content in iLearn, including interactive videos, knowledge checks and slides for self-paced learning.

Helen’s rationale for encouraging staff to use the time to up-skill in iLearn?

It was a great opportunity for staff to diversify their skills – they are all excellent researchers with meticulous technical and analytical skills, creative in their research and adept at introducing new technologies and methods. Since we are mostly working from home, we wanted to take the opportunity to develop new skills that would be valuable to our research and teaching roles.

Professor Helen Rizos, Head of Biomedical Sciences Department

How has the research team gone about up-skilling?

The research team are teaching themselves, each other and using self-help resources made available by MQU to up-skill in iLearn. They regularly attend the bi-weekly virtual drop-in sessions offered by the Learning Design team.

We have bombarded the Faculty Senior Learning Designers with questions from the most basic ‘so how do we share iLearn?’, to ‘How do I set up a Development Unit?’ – and they have been extremely helpful and so very generous with their time.  We also find the FMHHS Learning and Teaching News email very helpful. Many of us have completed online training modules, including H5p content development, and we meet weekly via zoom to discuss plans, ideas and progress.

Professor Helen Rizos, Head of Biomedical Sciences Department, Macquarie University

How is the challenge turning out?

The Biomedical Precision Cancer Therapy research team have developed some great content so far, including two online introductory practical lessons for BClinSci MEDI2200 (lead developers were Ashleigh Stewart and Bernadette Pedersen) and other content was developed, reviewed and revised by the PCT team).  The content developed includes risk assessment activities, safety and practical quizzes.  Helen is extremely pleased with the outcome of the shift to focus on teaching skills during the social isolation period, “I think the content looks terrific! We are now moving onto developing online content for our new MRES7007 Unit.”

Has there been any positive impact for you from the new focus? Absolutely. I have really enjoyed the challenge of developing online content based on things we would ordinarily teach within a laboratory. I also feel it has given me the opportunity to show a different skillset to my team and the wider university community. The most positive part of the whole experience has been the satisfaction of working on something from beginning to end and having it received positively by the person you created it for.I now feel confident in my own computer skills and my ability to self-learn since undertaking the teaching projects.  It has been very rewarding to put myself into the shoes of a student and try to create online content that is both informative and engaging.  The Teaching and Learning staff, my supervisor Helen Rizos and my colleague Ashleigh Stewart have all been really encouraging and supportive, so it’s been a very positive experience for me.
How do you feel about the switch in focus from research to teachingMy initial emotions were mixed. I was apprehensive as I felt unqualified but also excited to learn something new. I have some experience demonstrating and assisting with tutorials, so teaching is not completely foreign, however developing online content is. I had no idea what h5p was nor was I familiar with iLearn but with the assistance of the Teaching & Learning team I can now confidently use both. While I miss research and working in the lab I have found content development very rewarding.I felt like a fish out of water as I wasn’t confident with my computer skills, but I was determined to do my best and see it as an opportunity to learn something new and become more involved with teaching at the university.

Department of Health Professionals

With their vision of “improving lives and contributing to healthier communities” at the forefront of everything DHP do, staff have found a way to overcome the challenge of social isolation. They put out a call to faculty staff to join them for a ‘Yogalates’ class every Wednesday. 

Bridget Dean leading a stretch class

Bridget Dean (Associate Physiotherapist in the Department of Physiotherapy) leads the 15-minute exercise stretch with confidence and a sense of fun.  It feels like she must have been an aerobics instructor at some point in her life, her energy and enthusiasm for movement are totally infectious.  The call to ‘to stretch and get reinvigorated before lunch’ is sent to all FMHHS staff through the MQ Health Newsletter.

My philosophy is all about ‘laughter and movement’ as the best medicine. I love to create a friendly and fun work environment in general and this initiative was aimed at trying to keep our Macquarie family connected. The benefits of exercise for our physical well-being is well known but the benefits of physical activity on mental health is often disregarded.

Bridget Dean, Associate Lecturer, MQ Health

The feedback by participants in ‘Yogalates’ has been extremely positive, citing such personal benefits as:  “enjoyment”, “connection” and “laughter”.  Bridget is a social being and knew that if she had to be working from home in total isolation she would really struggle.  So, necessity created a highly commendable innovation.  Thanks for helping to keep us connected, laughing and having fun, Bridget!

Self-help guides on creating interactive content using H5P in iLearn are available here:

You can join the next Yogalates session here (with a camera on or off):

Posted by Lyn Collins

Senior Instructional Designer in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.

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