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Geisel Goes Virtual

By Stephen McAllister D '77

Stephen B. McAllister is director of computing at Geisel School of Medicine.

When Dartmouth College's COVID-19 Task Force announced on March 3 that an employee of Dartmouth-Hitchcock had tested positive for coronavirus, John F. Dick III, MED '03, interim senior associate dean for medical education and member of the task force, understood the need for social distancing on campus and quickly organized ateam to begin planning for remote learning at Geisel.

Before restrictions on the size of gatherings on campus were set, a medical school team of Geisel faculty, information technology, classroom services, and medical education staff began working collaboratively and tirelessly to make remote courses a reality. A few days later, the College and the hospital would announce reductions on meeting size and social distancing guidelines, which would make it difficult for any class at Geisel to be in person.

By March 10 large group classes were online and by the end of March Geisel's entire first- and second-year curriculum could be taught remotely via Zoom. Per recommendation of the Association of American Medical Colleges, clerkships for third- and fourth-year students were suspended across the U.S.

Geisel was in a good position to transition to remote learning because the school already had lecture hall recording systems with streaming capabilities and a thoughtful implementation of materials on Canvas, a web-based learning management platform used to create a virtual classroom.

Even so, there were challenges—faculty and instructors required training to effectively use the Zoom app to teach, but before training them our education support teams needed to become adept at using this tool themselves. Beyond that, Zoom faced security and privacy challenges as more and more people around the world began to depend on it for teaching, collaboration, and socializing, forcing the app maker to rapidly push out changes to default setting for educational customers, such as screen sharing, to improve security. To balance security with ease-of-use, IT is constantly monitoring these changes, addressing them, and quickly communicating them to faculty.

Maintaining the interactive learning experiences Geisel students are accustomed to required creativity. "Fortunately," Virginia Lyons, PhD, associate dean for pre-clinical education and a member of the team said, "we have an excellent computing team who quickly identified virtual tools to promote collaboration and that allowed us to preserve faculty-to-student and student-to-student interactions."

Currently, the College plans to extend remote learning efforts through the summer. Plans for the fall term have not yet been announced.

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