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Face-to-face, online, blended: Looking to the future for ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration

24 June 2021

News and media


Image of woman learning online

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, ANZSOG’s Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) program has successfully shifted to online delivery, and now looks to move to a blended learning format in 2022.

The EMPA’s Director, ANZSOG Deputy Dean Dr Christopher Walker said that Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand’s successful responses to the pandemic had shown that a dedicated, high-quality public service was irreplaceable.

“ANZSOG remains steadfast in its commitment to strengthening public administration through programs such as the EMPA, so that public sector leaders continue to develop the critical skills needed to respond and manage future crises,” Dr Walker said.

“The demands on senior leaders were already growing prior to COVID, and they will only increase as governments attempt to navigate their way through the post-COVID world.”

Uncertainty around COVID and its impact on travel between jurisdiction in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, highlighted by a recent outbreak of the Delta variant in NSW, has seen the EMPA continue as an online-only program in 2021.

“We shifted the EMPA online in 2020 to ensure minimal disruption to our student cohort and have continued to teach in this format due to the ongoing uncertainty created by the pandemic,” Dr Walker said.

“ANZSOG will continue to deliver the EMPA online for the remainder of 2021, given the current approach towards managing responses to the pandemic and the timetable for vaccine rollout.

“We intend to move to a blended learning environment incorporating a mix of virtual and face-to-face contact in 2022, travel restrictions permitting. This will allow students to attend face-to-face classes and meet in person assuming various jurisdictional restrictions have eased.

“A blended approach means we can take advantage of what we have learned about teaching online during the pandemic, and harness the benefits of face-to-face learning and building a network within the cohort which have long been a hallmark of ANZSOG programs.”

Student feedback shows satisfaction

Dr Walker said the EMPA teaches public sector leaders how to thrive in a ‘VUCA’ environment: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

“COVID-19 meant we were thrown into that VUCA environment ourselves, and had to make a lot of changes to the way we teach and deliver our subjects in a short space of time. Thanks to the professionalism of our Subject Leaders and the patience and adaptability of our students we were able to make a successful transition to an online EMPA.

“During 2020, we had a strong focus both on ensuring that our Subject Leaders had the support they needed to shift their teaching online, and that students had the support they needed to learn online.

“Subject Leaders worked together throughout 2020 to refine their approaches to online teaching and improve the experience for students.”

ANZSOG comprehensively evaluates all of its EMPA subjects and student feedback is reviewed to monitor student need, the provision of technical and learning support as well as the general level of engagement and satisfaction.

It has been an important influence on subject design, content and scheduling of delivery, Dr Walker said.

“During 2020 the transition of the EMPA to online delivery was carefully monitored. I am pleased to report that overall satisfaction with EMPA subjects averaged a score of 4.4 with a range of 4.04 to 4.68 on the five-point scale.

“Despite the noted challenges of an online learning environment, qualitative comments repeatedly expressed positive surprise and satisfaction with the subject content, the delivery and engagement of academic staff.”

Dr Walker said that some students appreciated the flexibility of online learning but many found the transition difficult at a time when their work and family lives were also being disrupted by COVID.

“While online learning has given us greater ability to include guest speakers of significant seniority, for example heads of agencies and a former Australian Prime Minister, and the chance for greater participation by Aotearoa-New Zealand community and government leaders, we want to ensure that future EMPAs include face-to-face learning,” he said.

“Like many other organisations we are waiting for clarity on the progress of Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand’s response to COVID-19, but I am confident that in the future we will offer an EMPA which builds on what we have learnt last year and combines the close-knit camaraderie of the degree, with the benefits of online learning technology.

“We will continue to offer an EMPA that develops the leadership and critical thinking skills that public sector leaders draw on to be more strategic, adaptive, and make better decisions about the deployment of resources.

“These skills have always been important but, as we move into a post-COVID world, they will become more important than ever. Public sector leaders need to go beyond being implementers of policy, and must also sustain innovation and offer strategic guidance to political leaders to help build and maintain trust within the community.”

Applications for the 2022 EMPA are now open.

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