The “new normal”: How schools are embedding COVID19 digital lessons

EOCCS Community Webinar

EFMD Online Course Certification System (EOCCS) Director Keith Pond provides an overview of the recent EOCCS Community Webinar that took place in December. 

“Emergency remote” teaching during the recent pandemic was seen as a problem by many but an opportunity by others. COVID-19 appeared to accelerate changes in Management Learning and Teaching that were already apparent. Key drivers for change include: learner demand, available technology, competition in the Higher Education market and digital skills enhancement. These remain as they did pre-pandemic, even where regulation and national policy sees online as “second best”.

As Charles Handy says in his 2015 volume The Second Curve[i]:

“Why change when all is well?  Change is easier to envisage when crisis looms but harder to implement with resources and time running out.”

EOCCS Community webinar

This blog reports on an EOCCS Learning Community webinar held on 14 December 2022 and summarises changed practice in three business schools. It asks if academic culture has also changed. It is unlikely that we will see wholesale change in university and business school provision overnight, but subtle adjustments to attitudes, guidance and practice give cause for hope…

EOCCS Community Webinar

Our three panellists were:

  • Dr Dimitrios Vlachopoulos, Associate Professor at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, NL
  • Professor Monica Calcagno, Professor of Innovation Management, Department of Management – Venice School of Management, Università Ca’Foscari Venezia, IT, and
  • Jo Richardson, Director of Digital Learning and Innovation, Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), City University of London, UK

Changed perceptions?

The first area tackled in the webinar was the changed perceptions of learners and faculty towards the digital elements of delivery. This is a complex issue since learners and faculty are happy to be back face-to-face and on campus and yet remember the benefits of online flexibility during the pandemic.

Limited financial and human resources at the business school level mean that the paradigm of maximum flexibility sought by learners is logistically difficult to deliver. Clear guidelines and policies are, therefore, being developed at the university and school levels to ensure a comfortable and sustainable balance between learner demands and the professional but constrained judgement of educators on the successful achievement of Learning Outcomes.

Changed regulation?

Governments and their respective ministries are beginning to research and offer guidance and regulation on online elements, especially in degree-level education. Globally, Higher Education institutions enjoy varying levels of autonomy. For the most part, however, regulation and independent HE choices focus on good practice and quality assurance.

The webinar heard that the regulatory approaches of Italy, The Netherlands and the UK were subtly different, although all encouraged elements of online and blending in traditional face-to-face teaching.

Both Italy and the UK appeared to have clear messages from the national government level to revert to face-to-face delivery. More considered guidance at the operational level is illustrated by two Office for Students publications in the UK:

  • Blended Learning and OfS regulation (October 2022)[ii] recognising a spectrum of good and poorer practice in blended provision (an example of poor practice is the use of unedited lecture videos from previous years.), and
  • Gravity Assist – propelling HE towards a brighter future (March 2021)[iii] Sir Michael Barber’s excellent review – key principles of good digital learning provision (remarkably similar to the EOCCS standards)[iv]

In the Netherlands, the guidance was generated by a group of academic and instructional experts selected by a government clearly willing to embrace the wisdom of those closest to delivery rather than the “one size fits all” approach of other countries.

Changed Practice?

Perhaps the most noticeable area of change is at the individual lesson level. It is becoming inaccurate to label many face-to-face learning opportunities as “lectures”. The trajectories of the schools highlighted, and the catalyst of the pandemic appears to have combined to focus attention on the added value of face-to-face encounters.

We are a long way from removing the “Lecturer” label from faculty colleagues or from re-naming “Lecture halls” on university campuses, but evidence emerges that the confidence to employ mixed media, hybrid, blended and interactive digital tools is greater – amongst both learners and faculty.

The value of time spent on campus, in addition to the social benefits for learners, is felt keenly in the classroom. Practice is changing to make purely expository sessions more inclusive, engaging, and interactive.

Flexibility is the concept through which we need to question everything from course planning, delivery, and assessment. Choices are constrained, but the curious minds of all in higher education should be our clear guide.

Changing Culture?

In large organisations, the slowest change is often seen in the area of culture. Are we witnessing the first signs of change?

Our panellists reflected on the complexity of maintaining quality with the background of technological change. They also recognised the size of the task ahead to ensure that digital tools and instructional values learned through the pandemic are embedded.

Training, familiarisation, proficiency, and quality of outcome will only come with changed attitudes, skills, and resource allocation, but already business schools, including the three featured in this webinar, are asking themselves meaningful questions.

Let me end with another Charles Handy quote (hopefully not out of context):

“I am now sure of the following:  …That learning that is unused soon disappears.”

View the recording of the webinar:

See more EOCCS articles.