An outdoor teaching area for environmental health students at Cardiff Metropolitan University

Tales from the front line: ‘This felt like such an environmental health thing’

How Cardiff Metropolitan University took their EH teaching outdoors.
22 July 2021 , Gayle Davis and Andrew Curnin

Every EH degree course obliges students to work with food products: not so easy when there’s a national lockdown. Cardiff Metropolitan University have devised an outdoor solution that might be here to stay.

Gayle Davis: We moved our teaching online during COVID. But we had a dilemma: the practical food elements can’t be done online. We looked at doing them indoors but there was no way we could make it work with the 2m distancing. Then we went to this one meeting, and our health and safety person said: ‘You should just do it outside.’ It was a throwaway comment, but the university had constructed this wooden structure during shutdown to make eating outside on campus a little bit more viable. We realised we could use that!

Andrew Curnin: We’ve got a designated food industry centre here, so the facilities are excellent. We did wonder when the students saw this set-up, next to the dedicated buildings that they weren’t able to access in a COVID-safe way, what their response would be. But their enthusiasm was tremendous and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

We prepped the food inside, then wheeled it out on trolleys. Our technicians were brilliant. They marked the space under the shelter, then we had an area for the students to leave their bags and put on protective clothing. There were seven students in each session, at least 2m away from the lecturer from the Food Standards Agency. I think the students benefited from the smaller class sizes: it was more bespoke and sometimes they’re happier to ask questions in smaller groups.

There was 100% turnout and it was nice to see attendees stay on after and have a coffee together. I think we’d forgotten how important that is.

GD: This felt like such an environmental health thing. Our profession is all about problem-solving, thinking
outside the box. And there were added benefits: once we took these sessions outside we were no longer beholden to a central timetabling system that dictates what rooms we can use and when.

AC: Students really took to it. And the university estates team is making the shelter into a bookable space for the future. I think what students have seen is a huge effort to give them something at a time when options were limited.

Gayle Davis is programme director and Andrew Curnin is principal lecturer of the BSc (Hons) Environmental Health course at Cardiff Metropolitan University.


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