In a normal context, remote learning can be challenging. Moving a program online in two weeks amid a global pandemic involves a whole new set of obstacles.
“This was the inaugural year for our MPP program, and for any program — let alone a new one — to be tested by a global pandemic is difficult. While classes were put on hold for a few weeks, we launched our pandemic and policy series, and our faculty and instructors rallied. When classes resumed, we were able to move to remote delivery and continue to deliver the high-quality education we had initially planned," says Chris Ragan, Director of the Max Bell School of Public Policy.
Professor Nicholas B. King, who teaches in the MPP program, adopted a number of changes in order to enhance the remote learning experience.
"For my class of 30, I converted one of the three-hour lecture slots into three one-hour group project sessions, with ten students each. This may be impractical in larger classes, but it's worth it to help students interact with us and each other," explains Professor King.
Professor King also outlined one of his methods for limiting screen time: "I have always been a fan of podcasts, sometimes substituting an interview with an author instead of an article, but COVID-19 pushed me to redouble my efforts. And there are other ways that we can be creative in encouraging students to do things that don't require screen time,” adds Professor King.
The student experience
While the switch to virtual learning wasn't always easy, many students expressed that the process was smoother than anticipated.
"Trying to adjust to remote learning was difficult at first. However, once the stigma behind doing everything remotely was broken, it was way easier to efficiently get work done. We spend most of our days at home, so adapting to new modalities of communication are essential. With that being said, quarantine fatigue is real," says Riad Katkhoda of the MPP class.
“Teaching can be adapted very effectively to remote learning platforms,” adds MPP student Sarah Lombard. “I’ve had professors who have adapted to remote platforms seamlessly, actually delivering classes that work best in a virtual format.”
As our students acclimatize to the challenges of this new way of learning, they are also presented with new opportunities.
As Max Bell School student Sebastian Muermann explains, “shifting to remote learning has made the students in our cohort adapt to an education and workplace reality that will likely continue on following our graduation. My relationship with video conferencing platforms, collaborative work, and even my own computer has changed."
A tight-knit cohort at a distance
And how have our MPP students’ relationships with each other changed through this pandemic?
MPP student Erika Moyer comments that administrators and faculty members have “found ways for students to interact socially, with town halls scheduled every two weeks.” These events have served as valuable forums for students to connect casually, outside of class time.
But no matter how distant our students may be from each other, “Many of the bonds made in the 30-person cohort have not disappeared,” Muermann muses. “We are acting as supports for one another and being creative about ways to stay connected.”
Resilience in the face of adversity
"In some ways, our program structure — with its many types of courses broken up into smaller than usual course durations — provided us with a flexibility which made it easier for our program to continue on under the circumstances," Ragan says.
Just as the the MPP program was adapted for remote delivery, so too have Max Bell students deftly adapted their lives. As they finish up their degree, they will emerge from this year not only with a robust education to tackle complex public policy challenges, but with the skills and added grit to take on whatever the world throws their way.
"The transition hasn’t been necessarily easy for our students, but they are high-skilled group that has met this unexpected adversity with an impressive degree of resilience. I look forward to seeing them complete their MPP degree and graduate this summer,” Ragan concludes.