Thursday, February 27, 2020

Educators Need to Plan for Infectious Disease Outbreak

This is to suggest educational institutions revise, or create, their Infectious Disease Outbreak Response Plan, now. Australian universities, vocational education and some schools have already had to make arrangements for international students who have been unable to get to campus due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus travel restrictions. However, much more may need to be done in the coming months, with remote education provided to students across Australia, on a scale not seen before.

Individual educators need to become familiar with the precautions they need to take to protect their own health, and that of their staff, so they are then able to help their students. Educators also need to learn remote education delivery techniques, in the event their students can't come to class. Also educators need to ensure they are equipped to work from home, in the event campuses are closed.

The Australian Department of Health has activated their Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus. This has little practical effect for the general public, as most health resources and powers are state based. However, it is an indication that federal health officials consider the situation with the COVID-19 Coronavirus in Australia to be serious, and  are indicating to their state colleagues to activate their emergency plans. The US CDC has issued Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

CDC now recommend employers actively encourage sick employees to stay home,those with symptoms should be separated and sent home immediately. Posters to encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene are recommended, and other measures are recommended.

CDC also recommended planning for a COVID-19 outbreak, with businesses considering how to reduce transmission among staff, protecting people at higher risk, while maintaining business operations, and minimizing effects on businesses in their supply chains.

At a Press Briefing, February 26, CDC highlighted some of the measures in the "Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza United States" (2017):
"Students in smaller groups or in a severe pandemic, closing schools and using internet-based teleschooling to continue education.  For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options.  On a larger scale, communities may need to modify, postpone, or cancel mass gatherings."

With a reliance on teleschooling and teleworking, there will be a need for technical and teaching staff to be able to support many more students and clients. Australian universities have already made adjustments to the way they teach to deliver courses to students not on campus. However, these adjustments have been made for some students, whereas plans now need to assume most, or all students are unable to be in a classroom. There also has to be provision for only a small essential support staff on campus, with teaching and administrative staff at home, online. Key to this, I suggest, is the use educational technology to train staff and students in in what to do. Education is not an essential service, like food, water and power, however it can have a very useful public health benefit in keeping staff, and students occupied.

Update 4 March: I was interviewed by Casey Tonkin, this morning: "Will coronavirus make you work from home? Remote working takes off as the virus spreads" (Information Age, 3 March).

Happy to talk more on this and how we teach students online who can't get to class due to the Coronavirus.

Previously I have had some involvement in planning IT for emergencies at the Department of Defence, and pandemic response. In my book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education" (2017), I warned that the flow of international students to Australia could be disrupted very quickly and set out the steps for e-learning. I have been teaching this way at ANU since 2009.

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