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Supporting the community through the pandemic with a free Back to Work course

Clare Johnson

With people isolated in their own homes and many worrying about the prospect of losing their job, the University of South Wales (USW), which prides itself on having community at the heart of its mission, saw it as an opportunity to give back. 

Welsh government put a call out to all universities in Wales to provide access to any free resources that furloughed staff could use during this difficult period.

While there were some activities we had readily available at USW, a discussion took place internally on whether a bespoke course could be designed, not just for people on furlough, but for anyone out of work or looking to improve their confidence. The result was the USW Covid-19 Back to Work course.

Course content

Deciding what content to include was the first challenge. It was clear that the need to stay well was paramount in everyone’s minds, but it was also important to address the fears of those who were now not working, spending many hours alone at home, with an uncertain future.

The Back to Work course is designed to provide resources relating to key areas of work, including some essential skills for business and basic digital skills as well as a section on wellbeing, all from a very practical perspective. Content was curated from across the university as well as external online resources.

The primary goal was to be user friendly, fairly light-touch (we are not targeting future prime-ministers or budding astronauts here – though they are, of course, welcome to enrol) and engaging, by delivering information through videos, podcast and weblinks.

Course structure and delivery

The course is made up of bite-sized learning, taking around 8-10 hours to complete in total. It is self-paced and standalone (no need to complete anything else if you don’t want to), though we have embedded links to our other relevant courses so learners can follow up on this if they choose to.

By running the course we are building networks that may encourage people to consider other educational programmes – whether with us or with another provider, all of which will help develop employability skills: win, win.

“With being laid off and mentally feeling down, this course has helped me get some motivations”
USW Covid-19 Back to Work course learner

Overcoming challenges

There were, of course, some challenges along the way: setting up the course on an instance of our VLE which allows non-university email addresses to log in, tracking enrolments (are we getting to the right people?), adding certification (to prove you actually did it), and ensuring that the content was relevant and interesting.

To keep learners engaged, we embedded quizzes in each module, with the intention to check that learning was happening and to provide motivation – rather than to prove competence in a particular area – with badges being awarded on completion. One by one these elements were completed and fine-tuned. We did internal quality checks, added an enrolment form, and the course was good to go.

It’s already had more than 50 enrolments and early feedback indicates that learners find the content interesting and beneficial.

A silver lining is that we are now planning to develop this further for alumni, meaning that the course will add value for a wider group and leave a post-Covid legacy.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

Of course, offering learning completely free is not a sound business model, but sometimes doing the right thing is just as important as doing the business thing.

One of the highlights of developing the course was seeing so many staff from across the university all playing their part in the final output. Seemingly small challenges can be impossible to overcome unless everyone pulls together, and the outcome proves that teamwork is, indeed, a very powerful thing.

The pandemic has encouraged us to engage our innovative side and to look at different ways of doing things. Sometimes it’s less about whether there’s the ability to do something, and more about whether there is the will to do something. In these strange times, universities surely have an obligation to support their communities for the greater good. Perhaps your institution could do something similar, or maybe you know someone who might benefit from enrolling on our course.

Find out more about the COVID-19 Back to Work course on the University of South Wales website.