Genome sequencing enabled the world to rapidly identify SARS-CoV-2, classify variants and develop diagnostic tests and other tools to help manage the outbreak, yet how genome sequencing and analysis works is not widely understood beyond some scientific circles. It is only by deepening our collective understanding of genomic surveillance across the world that we will be able to better monitor the spread and evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and how to quickly respond to it.
“The Power of Genomics to understand the COVID-19 pandemic”
In response to the need to ramp up genomic surveillance at a global level, on 7 February 2022, we launched our very first online course “The Power of Genomics to Understand the COVID-19 Pandemic” in collaboration with Wellcome Connecting Science on the digital learning platform FutureLearn. The first of five free online training modules, this three-week course was created to introduce viral sequencing and COVID-19 genomics to a broad non-specialist audience keen to learn more about the role of genomics in the public health response to COVID-19. From students and researchers across the life sciences, to media audiences and policy-makers alike, our objective was to introduce interested participants to genome sequencing and its role in helping to navigate the pandemic, ahead of more technical training to be given in later courses.
The course covered: the differences between a pandemic, an epidemic, and an outbreak, the basic molecular biology of DNA, RNA, and the SARS-CoV-2 genome, the basics of sequencing and tracking viral spread, an introduction to the production of vaccines and therapeutics, and lastly, how genomic knowledge can be applied to pandemic decision-making.
Collaborating with global stakeholders
The development of our courses has involved input from leading scientists at the forefront of pathogen genome sequencing and global expert advisors. To ensure that our course content will resonate with target audiences far and wide, we held three focus groups with stakeholders across Asia, Africa and Latin America, to identify key training needs in each region. Alongside this, we also worked closely with a group of volunteers, primarily from the existing COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium and international collaborators, to inform the development of our content for our first online course. In addition, we invited international experts and global educators to share their perspectives and experiences, and called upon global reviewers to assess the universal appeal of our course content.
Moving forwards, we will work closely with a core educator team of 4-8 individuals from across the world to develop our curriculum. We will co-create content with this specialist team who will support us in identifying other global contributors to inspire and shape our remaining training modules. Our vision is to create a global training community that will long outlive COG-Train.
A successful start
Almost 2,400 people enrolled on our first course, representing 130 countries, which demonstrates the true global nature of our reach and engagement. Of the total number of students enrolled, more than 65% came from Africa, Asia or Latin America. Most of our learners worked in either Health and Social Care or Science (51% and 31% respectively), with notable representation from the Education sector (13%).
When asked about levels of satisfaction, 97% of our course participants reported being happy with the course content and we scored 4.7 out of 5 in reviews on FutureLearn, which aptly recognises the efforts of all stakeholders in preparing and delivering a high quality first course, and also sets the bar high for the next ones.
While the first course has now closed, some of the content can be viewed on COG-Train’s YouTube channel here.
Second course set for early May launch
We aim to continue to address the ongoing need for genomics training through our upcoming online courses. COG-Train’s second course: “From Swab to Server: Testing, Sequencing, and Sharing During a Pandemic” will be available on the FutureLearn platform between 9-29 May 2022. Enrolment is now open.
The remaining courses will run later in the year (Bioinformatics in July, Sequencing in September and Public Health Policy in October).
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