Planning and Assessment in Higher Education: The Present with a View to the Future

Camila Acevedo Planning Trends Assessment
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The need for innovation has become an issue both at the social level and within Higher Education Institutions (HEI). Academic research is needed to control and eradicate the pandemic in which we live, a mission that universities have accepted as part of their essential work, but it is also essential that the training of the future’s professionals is not interrupted and continues to be of high quality.

The HEI already have their sights set on the priorities they must address; these are goals that, from the new remote context, make it difficult to monitor them. We present them below:

 

Priorities for Higher Education

1.    Accreditation of distance education

 

Governments and decision-makers in Higher Education are already taking up the problem, proof of which is the new policy of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission by the United States government, which has relaxed its quality assessment requirements for the new distance mode. According to the Washington Post, “The committee agreed to give accreditors more leeway to approve programs that don’t fit traditional models and loosen standards on instruction and the interaction between students and faculty. This could bolster online and competency-based education, a burgeoning field that lets students learn at their own pace and move along as they master the material”.

To be able to carry out the evaluation of these new modalities, the Secretary of Education of the American government stressed the importance of making reforms, but also to implement a follow-up where quality is not reduced. Jessica Ranucci, attorney for the New York Legal Aid Group, who was part of the negotiating committee, said: “Innovation in higher education cannot be at the expense of students and taxpayers, any regulatory reform must come with the corresponding oversight that will ensure that all students have access to a quality education”.

 

2.    Time scheduling for changeover    times

 

On the other hand, several universities have implemented comprehensive action plans. One example of this is the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Its rector, Ignacio Sánchez, told the local DF media that given the background of the social protests in 2019 his team had already worked to face new contingencies; “we had prepared for virtual classes, teachers and students had been trained, and March came and the attendance became difficult by the viral infection and teaching turned to distance education. We are closed, only with the basic activity of maintaining laboratories or computers. The focus and work changed completely, and we are prepared to stay that way for the next two months and see the evolution”.

The old academic programs for the attendance modality have idle times due to the need for the distribution of the physical infrastructure, in addition to the need for compatibility between teachers’ and students’ schedules. For the new programs the universities will have to rethink how the work was done until now and the new needs. Ignacio Sanchez commented on this; “All universities invest in infrastructure, but perhaps after this, we will see that we do not need more rooms, but rather technological facilities to complement face-to-face classes with virtual ones. This crisis situation will lead the university world, not just Chile, to reflect on the best ways to teach”.

 

3.    Quality of the experience: focus on the student

 

Communication with the student is fundamental at the time of giving continuity to the academic year, however, the conventional ways of reaching the new generations are not optimal. On the one hand, there are hardware and software issues that need to be addressed, which in the context of online education increase the digital divide.

For communication to be effective and to benefit the training of the student, it is necessary for HEI to adapt to the channels he uses. Initially taking the class with the video call software can be a good start, but key functionalities are lost, such as monitoring large classes and following up from the cell phone to allow for a personalized experience when the student has questions.

 

Harvard Business Review highlights the importance of probing how effective the technology is in evaluating topics such as: the absorption of content by students, whether the pace of teaching is right for the group, or whether students have many questions at the end of the class. By asking these questions, administrative teams will be able to detect weak points and ideally facilitate the implementation of a mobile application that monitors students’ needs can be of great support to administrative departments.

 

The Need for Surveys and Experience Sharing

About 300 million students continue their education from home through online courses, according to Inside HigherEd. Renowned universities such as Northeastern University, Washington University, Stanford University and Princeton University were among the first universities to report that they would conduct their final exams remotely.

Where the crisis began, there are greater advantages to imparting this new system. Times Higher Education indicated that Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have the highest Internet penetration rates in the world, between 85% and 95%, and although that figure drops to just over 50% in mainland China, that still equates to 840 million Internet users.

The social crisis in Hong Kong served as a preparation for this transition to the virtual strategy, and from that learning the Asian experts noted that while “you do not get as good a response as you do face to face, it’s better than individual self- learning”, for this reason, emphasis should be placed on making this new type of learning interactive.

But the global picture is mixed, and while there are advantages in some regions, there are huge needs in others. To capture these experiences and new findings on change, QS recently established a continuous survey of higher education professionals to understand the challenges they face, and how they are taking advantage of online learning opportunities.

According to QS specialists, 50% of respondents were already implementing a virtual strategy. In addition, they consider that students are also demanding this change. In a survey accompanying prospective international students, 58% of respondents expressed some interest in studying their degree online due to coronavirus restrictions, while only 43% stated that they were not interested in studying online. On the other hand, 51% of prospective international students surveyed said they expect universities to move more of their lectures online.

 

Innovation: How educational institutions are participating

Academics from various HEI in Latin America developed an article for University World News where they indicate the important role that universities should assume during these times of crisis, considering the following points:

 

  1. Universities with hospitals should continue to provide their care to the general public. “University leadership must focus on protecting medical personnel, providing them with the necessary resources, and doing everything possible to keep these facilities
  2. Prioritize the well-being of students, teachers and staff. “Essential services must be removed from campus to protect them from uncontrolled exposure”.
  3. Universities must take care of the welfare and safety of international
  4. Extend “outreach” commitment to priority student needs such as food and
  5. The duty to stay online. “Continuing online is an option we must offer our students despite the challenges to our instructors and support staff”.
  6. The importance of supporting and monitoring the efforts of the instructors. “The learning curve will be steep, but quality will improve with experience, flexibility and willingness to adapt to extraordinary circumstances. New mechanisms will certainly be needed to assess quality”.
  7. Concern about the professional qualifications that institutions will deliver with new methods, as a future

 

However, the support of solutions that incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) in their operation from an early stage, will allow to gather information and define ways through the educational process. According to the University World News article, AI can take learning to a personalized level and take shortcuts to user needs by ensuring that the user obtains information that is understandable and has the needed knowledge about the context to understand the requested information.

On the other hand, as we learn from the distance processes the teachers will be able to document the student’s progress in the AI interface, as well as detect gaps in the curriculum to complete.

 

Conclusion

Education is advancing day by day and needs partners who can address the needs of students and the educational community in general, in a predictive and immediate manner. Solutions that provide not only for combating this crisis with relevant academic research, but also for training the professionals needed to face challenges of this kind in the future.

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