Professional postgraduate education in a COVID world

By Brian McIntosh

How on earth will we keep going? This is a thought that many educators in Australia are asking right now, about whether the programs they run will be possible to run next year or beyond. COVID-19 will be sticking around for a while and we’re certainly wrestling with this question at the International WaterCentre. How can we keep going? But rather than just accepting a struggle, how can we set in place the arrangements that will let us thrive? How can we adapt what we do to remain true to our founding mission ‘to change the way that people think and act to solve complex water management challenges?’

…whilst we are asking ourselves ‘how on earth will we keep going’ in this upturned COVID world, we are also looking keenly to how we can innovate, adapt and improve.

In Australia, COVID-19, means that our international borders remain closed and even some of our internal state borders are closed or require expensive 2 week hotel quarantine periods once you have passed over them. Paying a $2000 or $3000 hotel bill for quarantine is a bit of a deterrent to inter-state travel one has to imagine. So, we need to think really differently about how we deliver the best transformative integrated water management educational experience within the constraints of not being able to travel much, if it all. 2021 will not be a normal year.

2020 has already been a year of rapid adaptation and far from normal delivery. April and May drove us to trial some innovations like the deliberate seeding of leadership behaviours to help our cohort glue together and support each other under lockdown. We ended up on a really fast sprint to online delivery and the creation of ‘Water Droplets’, an interactive online weekly series of guest speakers covering everything from blockchain water trading systems to community-driven urban stream restoration, to both help our students gain insights from some of the most exciting and experienced practitioners around, and to meet and talk with them. Sort of networking for professional development in an online COVID world way. We’re currently looking for ways to connect interested students to professional practice to enrich their learning further and to take the next steps in evolving their careers.

2021 will be a year of further change, but we don’t need to plan and do at the same time. We have a few months up our sleeves to plan and implement the changes we want and need for 2021. What are we thinking of?

  • Creating a digital learning platform to help us create an online learning community – we’re thinking of using Teams as it has an interface that is great for discussions and file sharing, and you can add plugins like wikis etc to enable student authoring and content curation – essential for community based co-learning. Think about a Team as being a course in a Masters program, so you will belong to multiple Teams during your degree. Within each Team there will be Channels, each corresponding to a course topic. The webinar by Dr. Kellerman of UNSW on this page shows some of what can be done with Teams as an educational platform. And because our Masters programs are enrolled at Griffith students get access to Teams and the Office 365 package at no extra cost beyond the standard program fees.
  • Offering FT and PT study wherever you are – up to now we have only offered full time (FT) on campus learning for international students but we know there are many people who want to study and learn whilst keeping their current jobs and living wherever they currently live. We’ve been trialling opening up our Masters programs to live international participation this current trimester 2 with a Norwegian participant and a Canadian participant. The time zones don’t always line up perfectly but we are able to record online sessions and offer more 1-2-1 student support afterwards for interaction and discussion.
  • Moving to a mixed online and intensive experiential model – we know that our students enjoy learning as part of a cohort, a community, and also that our immersive and experiential field based and situation focussed learning intensives create lasting impact. There is no better way to learn about the complex and integrated social-economic-environmental dimensions of a situation than from talking to those who are within it, and observing and analysing it first-hand. So one future we are looking at is running our programs with a core online delivery complemented by a set of the best experiential learning intensives here in Australia or in other parts of the world.

So whilst we are asking ourselves ‘how on earth will we keep going’ in this upturned COVID world, we are also looking keenly to how we can innovate, adapt and improve. Every problem is also an opportunity and we’re getting ready to move. Join us by getting in contact to share ideas or suggestions you have about how you would like to learn about IWM whilst we are in a COVID reality.