Until there is a vaccine for Covid-19, and perhaps even after that, health guidelines will make in-person teaching impossible for large groups. Universities are impelled to implement a flexible approach that assumes students will need to switch between online and campus-based teaching throughout the coming academic year.
Accordingly, all university staff now need to be involved in engaging students online. As with teaching, replicating these wider aspects of the student experience online will require creativity, care, planning, expertise, and appropriate technology.
Quality in Online Learning
Now that online – or at least blended – learning is set to stay for the foreseeable future, universities are concerned about attracting students who are themselves reluctant to pay full tuition fees for online study. This encourages universities to focus on, and improve, the quality of online learning. It is clear that Zoom sessions alone cannot make up the full multi-faceted degree experience. Educational institutions are moving past the point of a stabilising response to the pandemic and quickly finding ways to deliver the rest of the school year online. They must work to enhance and innovate these techniques so claims of quality can be made with confidence.
Student expectations will lead to a demand for new pedagogies, imaginative technical solutions, innovative teaching techniques and online support structures. Institutions that keep this in mind for the long term will thrive and continue to attract students with an offering of quality technology-enhanced education.
Strategy in Transitioning to Online
The initial focus in light of the pandemic has been ‘damage control’ and stabilisation – bringing as much content as possible online quickly and trying to reduce disruption. Beyond this, educational institutions must consider how, in the longer term, their approach to digital learning can be enhanced. Approaches must continue to engage students as they develop online skills and maintain interest in the pursuance of higher education in an online format. In the financial interests of most universities and business schools, calls for fee reductions and deferrals must be met with clarity about online quality.
Enhancement of the online curriculum must be rapidly designed, developed and implemented across the institution. Ensuring quality in online education is not just a question of IT support but of academic strategy and educational design. Education and educators must lead the process. Teachers not only need to be entirely involved in this process but must enjoy the delivery of online education too for it to be effective.
Beyond this, institutions must innovate with a view to the future – it is fair to assume the effects of this crisis will linger and volatility will continue to be part of our ‘new normal’ for some time.
The Future of Online International Education
As with traditional learning, teacher support, pedagogy and care for students should still be central concerns for online provision. Whilst IT infrastructure and support systems need to be reliable and robust, utmost attention still must be paid to helping teachers and students adopt these technologies to best effect. We must remember that education is a profoundly human experience and a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate. Technology and teaching must be flexible.
In this ‘new normal,’ teaching strategy, quality assurance, accreditation, teaching evaluations, and learning analytics all need to adapt.
Online learning will need to evolve to embrace the demands of ‘new normal’ students.
Dr. David Lefevre is Director of the Edtech Lab at the Imperial College Business School and Chairman of Insendi. Insendi helps Business Schools build and deliver high quality, high impact online/blended courses. We believe in a learning experience led by innovation and educational principles. For more information visit https://insendi.com.