The COVID-19 pandemic has had a truly unprecedented effect on teaching at the University of Auckland. With the move to online-only teaching for the first time in history, students have adapted and adjusted to new ways of learning and studying. Many programmes at UoA involve time spent on placement – hours for students to have experiential learning and practically apply their studies in their chosen field. Below, is a breakdown of how placements have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic at the University.
Disclaimer: Current plans for student placements depend on the stage of the COVID-19 pandemic and what alert level the country is at. New information and guidelines become available often. This article encompasses current arrangements as of 22 May and plans may change beyond this article.
The MBChB programme primarily delivers Years 4,5 and 6 of the degree as “clinical attachments”. Students spend the majority of their year on clinical placement. The School of Medicine works alongside 8 District Health Boards (DHBs) and numerous General Practice Clinics to provide practical experience for students, who rotate through different placement sites throughout their degree.
Sixth (Final) year MBChB students were able to remain on placement throughout Alert Level 4 and 3. Associate Professor Andy Wearn, Head of the Medical Programme Directorate, believes this is an achievement – no other health professional students were able to remain on placement during the lockdown. Students who were medically vulnerable, or wished to stand down from placement, were able to do so.
Fourth and fifth year students were shifted to online-only learning, which has comprised of Zoom tutorials, live/recorded lectures and other online learning opportunities. Currently, the School of Medicine is working to compensate for lost time on placement. Fourth year students resumed placement on 18 May while fifth year students resume placement no later than 8 June. This is due to capacity issues alongside teaching requirements that need to be completed before students return to their placement sites.
Third year MBChB students do not start placement until Semester Two and are unaffected currently.
BNurs students complete placements during all three years of the degree. For first and second years, clinical placements stopped during Alert Level Four and Three. Students who were on placement at that time were withdrawn. Students will have the opportunity to complete clinical hours throughout the remainder of their degree as compensation. Students have resumed placement as of last week.
For third year Nursing students, placements were due to begin in Semester Two. The School of Nursing currently plans for these placements to commence as scheduled.
The School of Nursing is one of the smaller Nursing Schools in Auckland (there are five in the Auckland region). Julia Slark, Head of the School of Nursing, is confident that the school will be able to work closely with the Nursing Council of New Zealand and clinical partners (i.e. DHBs) to support student nurses at this time and ensure they are able to enter the workforce well prepared.
Nurses of Auckland University Student Association (NASA) spoke to Craccum about how students felt about the disruption, with one student acknowledging that “it’s a shame that our placements have had to be shortened, but we’re still very grateful to have the opportunity to get out there”.
BPharm students complete placements in hospital and community pharmacies as well as in other pharmacy environments throughout the final three years of the degree. Second year BPharm students are due to begin placement during Semester Two. These placements currently do not appear to be affected.
Third year BPharm student placements have been affected as a result of lockdown and will be rescheduled for a later date.
Craccum reported that the School of Pharmacy was preparing fourth year students to complete placement at Healthline. Currently, this placement has been postponed due to issues with training software and office space at Healthline. Students have not yet been advised when or where they can expect to resume placement.
BOptom students begin placement at the end of third year and continue throughout their fourth (final) year. Students complete a substantial proportion of clinical training at the University Eye Clinic at Grafton campus. Professor Steven Dakin told Craccum that the clinic closed at the announcement of Alert Level Four and will reopen on 2 June. Dakin stated that staff and students will be working to make up for placement hours lost during the closure.
Currently, third year students are scheduled to begin placement on time during the second half of the year. Final year students, however, have been affected by the eye clinic closure. Dakin said the School of Optometry and Vision Science was committed to the goal of students being able to resume clinical learning and be able to graduate on time. This is however dependent on New Zealand avoiding a return to higher alert levels which then requires the closing of the eye clinic. Other clinical placement hours outside of the eye clinic are due to begin in Semester Two.
In each year of the BEd (Teaching) Programme, students have practicum experience. Over the whole three year degree, practicum comprises 24 weeks. In the first and third year, students complete placements in centres or schools twice during the year. In the second year, this happens once.
Students enrolled in Graduate Teaching Diplomas have practicum throughout their one year of study.
Many placements for the BEd (Tchg) and Graduate Teaching Diplomas have been affected. Practicum was suspended from 22 March until the end of Term Two. Placements may currently resume in person around 20 July.
Semester Two has now been rearranged so that students can complete practicum in education facilities. For Bachelors, online practice-focused activities were prepared so that students could work on learning outcomes and teaching standards. For Diplomas, there is limited time and so Semester Two has been rearranged significantly.
Fiona Ell, Associate Dean and Head of Teacher Education at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, acknowledges how disappointing it has been for students to miss practicum placements, which are a “highlight of teacher education”. At the same time, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis will have significantly affected how schools operate – Ell believes this will have significantly changed how students experienced practicum. Ell told Craccum “the complex environment presented new risks”.
Craccum reached out to ESSA – the Education and Social Work Students Association – about how students felt about the changes to practicum. ESSA declined to comment.
Students who spoke to Craccum understood the response from the faculty – though expressed the same disappointment that the opportunity to share teaching experiences and techniques had so far been missed. Third year students were able to still connect with their practicum associate teachers – some had been able to join Zoom sessions with their practicum classes – others however had differing experiences, as some education facilities utilised technology more so than others . Some students feel that this disrupted year may impact their ability in future to be well prepared to enter the workforce.
George Barton, AUSA President, was understanding of the current situation for placements, however, noted that the rescheduling of placements must be done as equitably as possible and must not result in any financial burden for students. “The University must prioritise student’s completing placements in a way where students don’t have to pay more for placements on top of tuition fees currently being charged for Semester One”.
Barton also said that AUSA had made it clear to the University that any cost the University may incur as a result of disruption to placements should not be transferred to students. Currently, the University does not intend on passing any possible extra cost onto students.