The ‘new normal’ for higher education after COVID-19

Letters

The past year of navigating the pandemic has accelerated many educational trends that are already gaining momentum. One of the most important for the future is blended learning, which combines face-to-face teaching and online teaching. It is supported by a technology framework that helps teachers organize lesson content, communication, and common workflows. Perhaps more importantly, it builds on the strengths of both approaches – in-person and online – ideally offering the flexibility of distance learning with the engagement of face-to-face interactions.

COVID-19 has been the catalyst to propel many types of daily activities into a uniquely remote area. Now that we are creating a model for the ‘new normal’ of many essential functions like school, it is essential to take a consistent approach to technology-enhanced learning across the college or university to tackle the next wave of challenges facing education.

Over the past decade, higher education in North America has struggled with a troubling trend: declining enrollment. As a result, we’ve seen school closings, leaner budgets, and growing talk about what steps higher education should take to turn the tide.

This is where, amid all the stress and uncertainty, the pandemic has created bright spots; it created opportunities to support learners in new and evolving ways. There is currently a strong demand to upgrade and retrain adult learners. Over the past 14 months, many have made or have been forced to decide to change careers. This often does not require obtaining a traditional two or four year degree. For many, these programs are simply too resource or time consuming.

We need to create new pathways for adult learners to cultivate the work and life skills required to change career paths, and this work is currently taking place in businesses and educational institutions nationwide. There is a lot of discussion about what exactly these varied new approaches will look like to support the new “lifelong learner”. What is evident is that blended learning will be key. The underlying technology provides faculty with the tools and support they need to support an ever-changing landscape. A blended course can more easily be adapted to new modalities to serve different types of learners.

One of the most common feedback edtech developers receive is about a topic over which we have the least control, “making my teachers use technology more … they use it better.” Students want a more consistent user experience between how their teachers use technology. We call it UX in the software world. Having a good user experience leads to a number of positive outcomes, such as students using feedback channels more often, consistent assignment workflows, and leveraging features like task lists more frequently and more effectively. .

Well-respected education figures like John Spencer have examined how educators can use the UX design approach to create more engaging and impactful lessons. The basics of UX design aren’t rocket science; these are principles such as: designing for your users (not yourself), providing clear workflows, collecting feedback and using data.

Whether they are taking Algebra 1 or Advanced Multivariable Calculus, it is reasonable for students to have a similar experience while navigating their online courses, whether it is a general course, a course higher division in their major or even a completely distance learning course. courses they are taking as part of a non-degree certificate program at the same institution. The key here is that institutions must collectively apply this UX design mindset across all courses, programs, and departments. To do this, priority must be given to planning, assisting in instructional design, using lesson plans and providing models. Perhaps more importantly, we need to prioritize training and supporting less tech-savvy educators to make the change.

Data in education is a delicate subject. First and foremost, we must protect students’ right to privacy. At the same time, when used consciously and appropriately, data can greatly improve the quality of education. Finding this balance is both delicate and imperative.

We know, through the wider use of technology, that blind spots occur when a technology is not consistently adopted by the entire user base. From these blind spots can emerge false narratives, which then result in an organization’s inability to identify issues while they are still addressable.

While this is not the primary reason for implementing blended learning, an added benefit is that it provides colleges and universities with much-needed high-quality data to help them better make critical divisions to support their populations. students. This data-driven decision making will be essential in helping schools address challenges such as declining enrollment and changing student dynamics. Here too, consistency matters. If classroom data – the most impactful and timely data we can have on our students – is not collected consistently, we end up with a woefully incomplete picture of our students.

As we turn our attention to life after COVID-19 and forge a new normal for our students, we have the opportunity to define what comes next. When used consciously and consistently, blended learning has the power to support our country’s learners and ensure that our universities can continue to provide high quality education no matter what the future holds. Reserve.

Ryan lufkin is Senior Director of Product Marketing for Higher Education Instructure, the creators of Canvas.


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