Online COVID-19 masterclass attracts thousands from around world

International conferences held entirely online may well be the future, if the just-completed University of Otago Global Health Institute’s (OGHI) online COVID-19 Masterclass is anything to go by.

Thousands of people from around the world tuned in and filled up on behind-the-scenes knowledge over the two-week-long series of Zoom webinars, which were also live-streamed and made immediately available as recordings on the OGHI Facebook page.

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Professor Philip Hill.

Giving people the chance to see behind the curtain of the pandemic, no matter where they were in the world, proved an attractive draw, OGHI Co-Director Professor Philip Hill says.

“We had many hundreds of people watching the sessions live each day and have seen more than 10,000 views through all formats already. Those numbers simply would not have been possible if we’d held this event in a traditional face-to-face format.

“With a once in a century health event affecting the whole world, it was important to us that people could access information they could trust.

“And with Otago University and OGHI’s wider network having an amazing breadth and depth of knowledge about this pandemic, and its far-reaching effects, we were able to share that knowledge with the public in New Zealand and beyond.”

Experts who spoke in the masterclass included Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Professor Michael Baker, Dr Ayesha Verrall, Professor Miguel Quinones-Mateu, Professor Robert Patman, Professor Philip Hill, Associate Professor James Ussher and Dr Shyamal Das. Each led mini-seminar-style webinars, open to all, giving personal insights and taking questions from audiences around the world.

The Masterclass also included some of the unsung heroes who have worked quietly behind the scenes this year. Having those people tell their stories was a highlight of the event, Professor Hill says.

“Indeed, more of these quiet heroes are continuing to emerge and we may hold some more individual webinars to add to the collection on our website for people to view for free.”

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Dr Patrick Vakaoti.

Dr Patrick Vakaoti, OGHI’s other Co-Director, says while the masterclass was dedicated to the students of Otago University, who played a leadership role in the University’s response to the pandemic, the large international audience has highlighted the appetite for international discourse and cooperation at times like this.

“We see that international discourse as being absolutely fundamental. The dissemination and balanced discussion of knowledge, as far afield as possible, is part of our role as university people. And with OGHI bringing a very global perspective, we’re very pleased to have helped spread this knowledge far and wide.”

Every webinar, and any additional content that may be added over the next few weeks, will continue to be freely available on the OGHI website, Professor Hill says.

“And we expect that a repeat of this exercise may be on the cards this time next year, if not before.”

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