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Halifax professor brings unique pandemic learning experience to students

Click to play video 'Halifax university teaches pandemic management through simulation course' Halifax university teaches pandemic management through simulation course
WATCH: A Dalhousie University professor brings a unique course to his students that teaches them about pandemic prevention and management. Alexa MacLean has more. – Sep 17, 2020

A Halifax university professor has found a unique way to engage his students with an opportunity to learn about pandemic prevention and management.

Robert Huish is an associate professor of international development studies with Dalhousie University.

He’s currently teaching a real-time simulation-based course called “Pandemic! The class.”

Huish says the inspiration for the course came from an overseas research trip to Fiji in 2019 when he and colleagues were playing the board game Pandemic.

He says playing the board game was an opportunity to see how policy and global health work together.

“A lot of countries have pandemic playbooks. They know how to react to a pandemic in terms of shutting things down, keeping cases below what hospital levels are, how to integrate the economy after it’s done — there’s not a whole lot in terms of pandemic prevention,” Huish said.

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Read more: 28 Western University students test positive for coronavirus, prompting tightened restrictions

That board game playing experience popped back into his head when he was tasked with creating a virtual classroom this semester.

With the majority of universities across Canada now in the middle of online learning, Huish thought he would use this semester as an opportunity for his students to learn about global policies and health through the lens of pandemic prevention.

“The basis of this game is about people working together to prevent a calamity and we see around the world that the countries that are doing well for COVID-19 are the ones that are open to collaboration and to co-operation. The countries that are very nationalistic and very inner-focused — Brazil, the United States, Russia, India — they’re not doing well at all,” Huish said.

Pandemic game
Huish says the course is inspired by the 2008 board game Pandemic by Z-Man games. @ProfessorHuish

Read more: Effects of coronavirus pandemic will be felt for decades, World Health Organization says

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Students have to work through 10 modules that discuss global policy and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also must work in groups to cure diseases before they turn into global pandemics, all the while deciding how much investments go into different resources like medical aid and research.

Students work in teams and are assigned different roles such as scientists, medics, quarantine specialists and researchers.

JP Chater is one of the students participating in the course.

“It might be a game but it’s very much an evaluation of the policies of different countries, the co-operations and the humanity in our response to COVID-19 and so learning about the different policies, and the different relationships and collaborations, and whether or not they’re working, is an interesting and fun class,” Chater said.

Chater says the course provides students with the chance to connect with one another during a time that’s forced the world to adapt and overcome the challenges that COVID-19 has presented.

“The actual work that goes into the game is very much analytical, hard work on understanding not just the policies of different countries but the geopolitical and cultural trends that are occurring from it,” Chater said.