New COVID‑19 screening app for Health students born from necessity and collaboration

- October 29, 2020

Occupational Therapy students are among those required to use a new COVID-19 pre-screening application before each in-person class. (Decklan Rolle photo)
Occupational Therapy students are among those required to use a new COVID-19 pre-screening application before each in-person class. (Decklan Rolle photo)

Students in the Faculty of Health are among the fortunate few to have in-person classes at Dal this year, and the creation of a new app has helped to streamline COVID-19 pre-screening before each gathering, ensuring the safety of learners, faculty and clinical staff.

Faculty members Diane MacKenzie and Derek Rutherford, associate directors in the School of Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy respectively, recognized the need for a new application to make this pre-screening process easier and more accessible to faculty and students from their computer or mobile device.

“Aside from our administrative duties, we also teach in face-to-face encounters, so we were acutely aware of the new additions required to be safe and COVID-19 compliant in our face-to-face encounters,” says Dr. MacKenzie.

The associate directors envisioned a mobile application which would be embedded into the Brightspace learning management system. The app could be accessed remotely for COVID-19 pre-screening with students and faculty and could provide instant notifications of whether they can come to campus. The resulting data could then be stored for streamlined contact tracing should the need arise, and information would be available for processes to follow should COVID-19 be suspected.

Tapping into student expertise

Drs. Rutherford and MacKenzie have been completing the Academic Leadership Certificate program at Dalhousie. The program allowed them to connect with a colleague from the Faculty of Computer Science with their idea, and through this connection, they were introduced to Matt Peachey, a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Computer Science.

“I got involved with this project thanks to the relationship I've formed with one of my professors here at Dal. He recognized my ability to be able to create a robust web application and asked if I would be interested in helping with the project. I was responsible for all of the technical aspects of the project,” says Peachey.

Peachey and the two Dal Health faculty worked vigorously to develop and test this new electronic application. The goal of the application was to develop an efficient solution to support students to complete the pre-screen, decrease the entrance and screening time required prior to entry into the building, and have an electronic record for tracking purposes.

Creating a standard for safety

Each week since the summer, a Faculty of Health return to campus committee has come together to plan and strategize the return of student within the program.

“A significant part of our role in the past eight months has been to get our schools on track for the return of our accredited entry to practice programs, including a return to campus for face-to-face learning experiences,” says Dr. Rutherford.

Through this committee, the full development of this application materialized and became the pre-screen standard for all Faculty of Health, return-to campus teaching experiences this fall term.

A screenshot of the Dal Health COVID-19 Pre-Screening App

How the app works

Using the link that is placed in the students’ Brightspace course, students complete the prescreen questions either on their computer or mobile device on the day of their face-to-face encounter. These questions resemble those developed by Nova Scotia Health. Once the student has submitted the form, they receive an immediate response to their Dal email address advising if they are able or not able to attend the class they have identified in the form.

As for the faculty, before each class they receive the summary result for each student who completes the screen. Faculty members can then take the Excel sheet to their on-campus course to check-off students as they come into class.

“We are very fortunate to have access to this program and are grateful to Diane MacKenzie and Derek Rutherford for their leadership in bringing the app to fruition, says Brenda Merritt, dean of Faculty of Health. "Each school and college with face-to-face classes is expected to adopt the program as an efficient, quick, and data-driven means to ensure the health, wellbeing, and safety of our students and instructors."


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