Higher Education in Times of Coronavirus

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The pandemic situation has led to a significant revolution in the way we understand Higher Education. This ends up being a bigger leap than mere evolution towards online education, but the situation implies, without waiting for the gradualness of the evolutionary process, that we move to digital platforms “now” and “as we are”.

From the platform that offers my role in u-planner, a company that promotes technological change for Higher Education, I share interesting reflections and good practices that we have observed in institutions in recent weeks.

The current situation 

The first thing is that some have decided not to see this crisis. This is a mistake because you come across it when you least expect it. There are others who have been stunned, unable to react. The power of routine and tradition has delayed their incorporation into the change, which has had the effect, even in the short term, of canceling registrations and weakening operational continuity itself.

 However, there are others who have decided to do things due to the crisis. We must respond to the immediate needs. There are real actions that institutions can take now to continue to ensure education for their students. Here are a few. They may not all apply to your institution, but they give valuable insight into how to look at the problem and address it. 

Management initiatives

  • Generate “open channels” for students. With the proliferation of live transmission services (streaming), it is an excellent idea to have a “Consultation” or “Reception”  A meeting channel where any student, academic or member of the university community can enter and be immediately guided by the institution’s staff. A sort of reception desk or help desk, to guide “where to go”(even though the directions are now virtual).

 

  • Find out how your students are gathering. What tools are they using? Not everyone has access to the latest technologies, or to the specific chat channel or shares the same study guides. Some of your students’ own reaction or introverted personality may be excluding them from an important group conversation, and without the confinement of physical space, the student may not be part of the communication. Identify which channel they are using to share academicinformation and encourage them to continue using it (publish that Whatsapp channel, for example, and add an institutional news feed).

 

  • Identify dropouts early. In this situation, flexibility is key. Can all students be online at the same time to have the class? How is the Internet connection they might have? Does everyone have a suitable computer/mobile device, is it personal or shared with other family members? These elements are now key to maintaining student participation and engagement. Collecting this information now, at thebeginning of this situation is very important and can lead to early identification of dropout factors.

At class time 

  • It is okay that it does not come out perfectly. We are forcing teachers who have never done this before to go online and prepare the material. It is foreseeable, that there is still some friction and feeling that these first few weeks they are not achieving their goals. It is not uncommon for teachers or students to be unfamiliar with their computer’s microphone connection, their webcam not being set up properly, or even to be interrupted in conversation. First, it encourages the work they are doing, since they were not prepared for it.

 

  • The contents and not the whole class. It can be difficult for students to sit down and watch a screen and attend a 2-hour class in one course, only to then attend the next 2-hour class. Instead, offer the syllabus, offer small “content capsules”. Perhaps explain the concept in 45 minutes and post that video so they can review it, complement it with a practical exercise that students can do on their own when they have the opportunity and then optionally attend the entire class to reinforce it. If you record and deliver this small capsule of information, the student will be able to return to it in study time.

 

  • More than one teacher in charge. Join sections of the same course and put more than one teacher in charge. They can plan together and share the responsibilities of the class. While one is the main instructor of the virtual class (and now, instead of teaching only 30 students, can do 90 at a time), another will prepare the exercises for students’ personal study, while a third will generate a deliverable document, or consulting the available online bibliography that students can review from home.

Student Interaction 

  • Keep in touch. The fact of a quarantine generates stress to communicate. While on a normal day your students might not talk to anyone or leave their homes, today’s imposedsituation creates conflict. Organize meetings, online encounters, conversation spaces between them. Give them the opportunity to feel part of your university community. You can make some of your video conferencing resources available to students, so they can use them for extracurricular activities.

 

  • Direct contact. The face-to-face connection is very important. Although it is tempting to have conversations only by text or voice because of the Internet connection bandwidth, it is important to generate instances where there is a visual component between people. Part of the message is non-verbal. Give priority to video calls.

 

  • Guide your community. Do not stop offering the services of consulting, tutoring and stress support to students, teachers or administrators. It is natural for them to be afraid of the situation. They may not be at home with their families, as they study or work in another region of the country, they may have relatives or acquaintances who are ill, they may be anxious about economic issues. It is important to provide proper guidance and maintain mental health.

 

Do you already have a team in place that is looking at the long-term strategy of how to move the institution forward? 

I invite those involved in Higher Education to share their experiences of these past weeks and the challenge ahead in the  form on our special contingency page.

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