Behind the scenes: building the COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application MOOC

(Cross-posted from Bulletin magazine. Article by Lauren Johnston-Smith, licensed Creative Commons Attribution CC BY 3.0)

The University has always offered a large number of free online learning resources with our Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) covering topics from philosophy to astrobiology. When the UK went into lockdown, one team realised the content on their MSc course could be helpful for hundreds of frontline workers. Here Lauren Johnston-Smith, Online Learning Marketing Project Manager, shares how teams across the University community and beyond, came together to create a new free online resource in Critical Care in the space of two weeks.

It became evident as soon as COVID-19 hit the UK, that frontline clinical staff could be suddenly required to work in critical care environments they weren’t familiar with or hadn’t been trained in for some time. Watching events unfold, the team behind the University’s online Masters in Critical Care realised that content from their course would be extremely valuable to these healthcare professionals. They wasted no time in planning what they could do to share this information with those that might need it.

Even before the UK lockdown was announced, the Masters in Critical Care team had contacted the University’s Open Educational Resources Service for advice and guidance on sharing their resources as widely as possible. While the Critical Care team identified which resources would be most useful, learning technologists explored which platform would be best for hosting the content. The University has partnered with edX, Coursera and FutureLearn for many years, but we knew that choosing a UK-based platform – FutureLearn – would be a practical decision that would enable us to move quickly.

We approached FutureLearn on Saturday 28 March and by Tuesday 31 March we had confirmation that they were able to support the project. The next major step was to take the relevant course content from Learn and move it into FutureLearn. It’s important to note here that under normal circumstances creation of a new short online course would take around six to nine months and would undergo a thorough learning design process. However, a lot of the materials already existed, so a major component was one of migration. At the same time as the learning technology team were moving materials the MSc team and other specially recruited subject matter experts were creating extra resources to fill any gaps and complete the overall learning package.

On Friday 3 April we discovered that FutureLearn could only launch courses on Mondays; the weekend was upon us and we still had a lot of work to do. With the UK’s pandemic peak predicted to be just around the corner we collectively decided that it was vital to push ahead and go live in three days time. We started to promote the resource on social media and through NHS networks. There was no going back – enrolments were live and word was spreading.

Our teams came together and worked even harder through that long weekend, undertaking late night quality checks and joining morning team calls from our kitchens and living rooms, sometimes even small babies made appearances! The educational resources went live at midnight on Sunday 5 April, with many of the team staying up late to check that everything had launched successfully. FutureLearn have, for good reason, a quality assurance process which usually takes 30 days. But in these circumstances, we had just 26 hours to resolve 40 essential actions that had to be complete before everything went live.

On the first day of the course we had 5,500 learners already enrolled. Comments from learners highlighted the demand for such a resource:

“Although I do still do the occasional casual clinical shift I am aware I need to polish up on my ICU and Ventilation skills in the event I am needed to help with the current health crisis. So thanks a million for putting this course together.” Gail Forrest, current learner

“We have had minimal training and I think this course will be a fantastic resource for all of us who now find ourselves in the same situation.” Vanessa, theatre scrub nurse and current learner

The course featured on BBC’s Reporting Scotland and The Nine and the number of learners continued to grow daily. Six weeks on, our resources have been accessed by more than 37,000 learners from 189 countries.

The University’s pivotal strategic support for open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s unerring willingness to bend their own rules, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed. Teams from both inside and outside the University came together to make something very positive happen at this difficult time and under very unusual, and somewhat stressful, circumstances. A lot of fun was also had as the (at times seemingly unattainable) deadline was approached then achieved. New friendships and strong working partnerships have resulted. Our team comprises staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland. Many of us had never worked together before so in addition to getting to know each other online, we were also juggling our own stressors such as adjusting to remote working, handling home-schooling and dealing with personal pandemic worries. But knowing how valuable this educational resource would be to those on the frontline of critical care environments helped drive us forward.