Graham Nimmo on a bicycleDr Graham Nimmo tells us about the development of COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application short online course.

Graham and his colleague David Griffiths were joint winners of a Principal’s Medal for Exceptional Service in 2020.

In late February 2020, we became acutely aware that COVID-19 was heading towards the UK. It was clear from personal communications with our critical care colleagues in northern Italy and France that this viral tsunami would shortly hit our shores, bearing the human and societal implications of which we have subsequently become so aware.

As the programme team for the MSc in Critical Care, we paused. We were half-way through running Year One of our programme for the very first time. All of our students are frontline acute clinicians, as are most of our faculty. We anticipated that these paramedics, nurses, doctors and physiotherapists would all be focussing on the clinical care of their increasing numbers of patients, with the additional practical and emotional implications of working ‘in the time of COVID-19’.

Our team agreed unanimously that we should suspend our programme and, through the invaluable support of the management team in our College, and the rapid decision making of the Principal, this was actioned on 18 March 2020.

Over the next few days, we realised that we could, perhaps, help in the response to COVID-19 by utilising our skills and experience in online learning, both by repurposing some of our existing materials and by creating new bespoke learning resources.

We foresaw that frontline clinical staff would be suddenly required to work in critical care environments they weren’t familiar with or hadn’t been trained in for some time, and that there would likely be a return to work in acute hospital care for many in retirement, and for those working in community settings and in academia.


Developing the course

Infographic showing countries of origin for students of the critical care online courseWith advice from the learning technologists we approached FutureLearn on  28 March and by 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.

Under normal circumstances, creation of a new short online course would take around six to nine months. However, a lot of the materials already existed, so a major component was one of migration. While 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.

Over a nine-day period, we produced the bulk of the course, which is still open online. Over 50% of the content was new. Over this time, a number of us worked collaboratively for 12-15 hours every day. A few weeks later, it dawned on me that the worn carpet under my desk at home, and the holes in the heels of several pairs of my favourite hiking socks (which I had worn during this work), were a direct result of those days of concentrated hours stuck in front of the computer!

Our team worked tirelessly through that long first weekend of April, 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, just three weeks into lockdown, 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 we had 5,500 learners already enrolled. Since then, we’ve had excellent feedback from students.

“Five star course on COVID-19 care. Highly packed with useful resources, great teaching sessions with opportunities to participate in live webinars and real time discussions touching all aspects of COVID-19 Critical care including how to manage your own mental health as a frontline service provider.”

“I found the Covid 19 Critical Care course really informative especially in regards to working in critical care which is what I was looking for. Felt despite having worked in an ICU for a year I still had a lot to learn and the course content both included information I didn’t already know and it refreshed knowledge I did know. This definitely helped me during our own initial covid19 crisis on the ward. I would definitely recommend the course to others.”


A huge note of gratitude

The University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to bend their own rules, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed. The team comprised staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland, who came together to make something positive happen at what was a difficult and stressful time for many. However, knowing how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care motivated the team to make the impossible happen.


And what about today?

The online course has now run three times, and remains open for registration. To date, more than 48,000 learners from over 200 countries have enrolled.

The course continues to teach healthcare professionals how to care for critically ill patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. Of major importance it is also helping to facilitate healthcare professionals’ emotional and physical self-care and well-being and helping them to develop the practices to emotionally support both themselves and their colleagues.

In recognition of this work, myself and Dr David Griffith have recently been awarded the Principal’s Medal. We are extremely honoured, This was our statement of acceptance:

“As well as feeling both delighted and humbled by this accolade, David and I are absolutely clear that we will accept this award on behalf of everyone involved in this work including our core Programme and MOOC teams, and everyone else who has contributed and/or been part of the extended MOOC team.”