— A Letter from
Cheryl A. M. Anderson, PhD, MPH
Teaching and Learning Re-envisioned
It quickly became apparent that the community public health efforts necessary to mitigate rapid spread of the virus, hospitalizations and deaths would require students from the schools of pharmacy, public health and medicine to transition to remote teaching and learning for the remainder of the Spring 2020 quarter.
Evolving science and availability of protective tools would improve clinical care, reduce deaths and ease the burden on health care and public health systems. But we would also learn a lot about living with the virus. Under extraordinary circumstances, UC San Diego became a trailblazer in efforts to provide a place of refuge for students facing unforeseen challenges, from food and housing insecurity to physical and emotional abuse. The campus became a refuge and respite, albeit one filled with the promises and perils of being a pioneer.
In May 2020, Return to Learn debuted, a bold initiative to return students to campus and learning during the pandemic. It was designed to be adaptive and responsive to changes in the local epidemiology of COVID-19. It focused on risk mitigation, viral detection and public health intervention. Every sector of the campus was engaged in preparations for mass testing, delivery of student health services, housing, dining, isolation and quarantine resources, symptoms monitoring, wastewater surveillance and reporting our daily status on a public dashboard. These efforts transcended everyone’s routine job assignments. It was service to an educational mission bigger than oneself.
By Fall 2020, students were presented with the option to return to campus or continue to learn remotely. We welcomed back almost 10,000 students, roughly two-thirds of whom lived on campus. Inside and outside of classrooms, our students, staff and academics demonstrated extraordinary resilience, creativity and commitment.
The new Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science (founded in 2019) partnered with the San Diego County Department of Public Health for contact tracing among those ages 18 to 24 years. A great deal of the success for any public health program relies on human behavior that considers the needs of others. Our students’ behaviors were exemplary.
For much of the fall and winter seasons, the highest prevalence of COVID-19 in San Diego (and across the region and country) was in persons 18 to 24 years old, yet there were very few outbreaks on campus — and none traced to our classrooms. Our students adhered to rigorous testing, isolation, quarantine and monitoring protocols, and their dedication showed.
UC San Diego’s educational programs attract students from all over the world. Meeting these diverse needs requires flexibility. During the pandemic, some classes were in-person in rooms modified to maintain physical distance; some were in specially prepared outdoor settings. Some classes used a hybrid format with some students in-person and others joining lectures remotely. Yet others were fully online.
Across the campus, we emphasized proper hygiene, sanitation, face coverings and the use of other, appropriate personal protective equipment. The Teaching+Learning Commons tool assisted instructors with developing strategies for impactful remote instruction. Our faculty and staff swiftly rose to meet the challenges they faced.
Professors and instructors who, prior to the pandemic, could not have envisioned teaching students online or in hybrid formats reinvented their courses and themselves. They designed lessons that were adaptable to a range of student needs and teaching formats. They ensured high quality interactions using virtual whiteboards, chat features and breakout rooms to stimulate conversation and creative engagement.
Our response to the pandemic has perhaps permanently changed the way students will learn and faculty will teach at UC San Diego. In a stressful time without precedent, we became even more adaptive, more considerate of student needs and more conscious of our impact as educators — regardless of setting.
I hope we continue the educational practices learned over the pandemic. They will help us reduce inequities in student access and increase the reach and impact of UC San Diego’s pharmacy, public health and medical school educational programs.