Report from ESPE Winter School Online 2021

18 Mar 2021

ESPE Winter School Online, 27th February to 2nd March 2021

Considerable planning by Professor John Gregory and Dr Rodica Eremciuc had gone into the logistics of Winter School 2020. However, in February 2020, ESPE Winter school Butuceni, Moldova was cancelled because of the pandemic, two days before the school was due to start. This left the students, teaching faculty and ESPE very disappointed. At the time the intention was to postpone the school for 12 months and hold a face to face Winter School in Moldova and we were confident this would happen. As we now know, the pandemic progressed during 2020 and it became increasingly clear that the complexity of international travel, country-specific recommendations regarding quarantine, self-isolation and lock down made it impossible to predict what would happen in 2 weeks’ time let alone 6 months’ time. These factors needed to be taken into consideration for an international meeting such as Winter School whilst prioritising the safety of the students and faculty.

As 2020 progressed, it was apparent that a face to face Winter School in 2021 was not going to be possible. The teaching faculty felt strongly the school should still go ahead as otherwise a cohort of trainees from target nations would be disadvantaged for two consecutive years and not gain access to this high level training. The faculty were highly motivated to deliver Winter School and the only option was to do this online. This presented significant challenges as one of the successes of Winter school has been the face to face interactive nature of the educational activity, creating a formative and inspirational experience. Could this be achieved by moving Winter school online? The decision was to proceed, and ESPE Council and the ESPE Education and Training Committee were very supportive to the Winter School faculty in this endeavour and an events manager was provided to aid the faculty.

The teaching faculty (Dr Justin Davies, Professor Serap Turan, Dr Rita Bertalan, Professor John Gregory, Dr Rodica Eremciuc and Dr Sandra Stankovic) re-structured the curriculum to optimise the online interaction and rearranged the flow of the programme content.  We were ably and expertly assisted by the events manager (Kate Chick) and technical support (Luke Bennett). In preparation for the school, rehearsals were arranged for students and teachers to familiarise their use of the web platform. Approximately five hours of continuous teaching was delivered daily for four consecutive days. The faculty met prior to the first session each day to discuss any logistical issues. A WhatsApp group was created which helped rescue a few international presentations at the last minute. During the school, small group teaching sessions were undertaken using online breakout rooms, lectures were punctuated by polling questions every 15-20 minutes, audience participation was continually encouraged by the faculty for case presentations etc ….and cameras were kept on at all times!

This was the first ESPE school to be moved online but had it delivered its objectives? The feedback has certainly suggested that the school was successful, met the educational needs of trainees and the interactive teaching was preserved.

The experience has shown it is possible for ESPE Winter School to be moved online. Can Winter School online school replace or better a face to face educational interaction? Absolutely not (this was the view of students and faculty), but in the current situation the choice is an online school or no school. Winter School was the first ESPE online activity and its success is the starting point for future ESPE online educational activities.

Thank you to Professor John Gregory whose term of office as Winter School lead completed March 2020. He led Winter School from 2015 – 2020 with such enthusiasm, skill, humour and enhanced its international reputation as a source of educational excellence for trainees across the world. Thank you also to Professor Wieland Kiess who supported Winter School as a key faculty member (2018-2020) with insightful lectures, teachers cases and research training.

Finally, we will be adverting shortly for 2 teaching faculty members and encouraging those ESPE members with a passion for training and supporting the next generation of trainees to apply and join our faculty.

We are hoping for Winter School to be in Moldova in 2022.

Dr Justin Davies,

Lead, ESPE Winter School,

Southampton, UK