The global COVID-19 pandemic has led meetings and conferences to move online. All ICES expert groups have gone virtual since March 2020 and now our training courses have followed suit, with the first online course taking place 12-16 October.
Originally, this course, like the majority of our training courses, was to take place at ICES Headquarters in Copenhagen. Instead, 31 participants from 13 countries logged on last week for a course on fish stock assessment models, with a focus on State-space Assessment Model (SAM) and Template Model Building (TMB).
One of the instructors, Anders Nielsen from DTU Aqua in Denmark, taught on location at ICES Secretariat in Copenhagen, while the other instructor, Olav Nikolai Breivik from Norwegian Computing Centre participated remotely, as travel restrictions prevented him from travelling to Copenhagen. Moving online was a bit of a challenge for the instructors, but with a few changes to the format along with a little creativity, they were able to provide a successful online course for the participants.
“The course was divided into lectures and exercise sessions, and to keep the communication flowing, we divided the exercises into short sessions", Breivik explains.
“We managed to have good discussions in most sessions, which is what we aimed for", Nielsen continues. “The most difficult part for the teacher is not knowing if there is a subset of participants that you are not reaching. We had very eager participants, but still, you cannot be 100% sure", says Nielsen.
“It was a challenge to present and hold exercise sessions when you could not see all participants, but I felt we had good communication going back and forth, and overall, I believe it went great", Breivik says.
As this was ICES first online course, the instructors, at times, had to resort to some creative solutions: “As for a whiteboard, we mounted my cellphone on a tripod to view a sheet of paper, so whenever anything needed to be drawn, we could", Nielsen explains.
Both instructors were happy with the way the course turned out, however, both agree that organizing a course on site is still the preferred option and more fun.
Timing of a live online course was an issue for participants outside Europe. The instructors solved this by recording all lectures and allocating a specific time the following day for those participants to ask questions about the lectures from the day before.
This solution worked for Charles Perretti from NOAA Fisheries Northeast Fisheries Science Center, who participated the course from the east coast of USA.
“This was my first ICES course and I found the material to be well-organized and clearly presented. The instructors were highly responsive to our questions, and encouraged us to interrupt whenever we needed, which is important in a virtual format. I participated from overseas and the course organizers graciously made the lectures available via recorded video so I could watch them on a delay and join for questions the following day. I was very happy with the course and I would definitely consider joining an online ICES course in the future".
Claire Moore from the Irish Marine Institute participated in the live course from Ireland.
“As a fisheries stock assessor, I have been lucky to participate in a number of stock assessment courses at ICES HQ. These courses have formed an essential aspect of my job, allowing me to upskill in an ever-advancing field".
She adds that the online format worked well, thanks to patient and creative instructors. “Using Microsoft Teams allowed the course to run effectively, but it was the patience and creativity of the instructors which ensured that this complex subject was skillfully decomposed for the attendees, making the course content engaging and digestible. Although I missed the feeling of support you get by being physically surrounded by other learners, and the valuable connections you make during the coffee breaks, I appreciate being able to participate online and I would definitely consider participating in an online course again."
The next ICES online course Bayesian Network Analysis and the Social-Cultural Dimension takes place in December 2020. Explore all our training courses.
Anders Nielsen (to the right) at the broadcasting studio at ICES Secretariat together with Training Coordination Katla Hrund Björnsdottir and Supporting Officer Julie Krogh-Hallin.