H.How will higher education change as a result of COVID-19? This is the question many students, parents, and educators think when trying to plan ahead in an uncertain future. Experts say some pandemic-induced guidelines are guaranteed to remain in place as schools adjust to the new normal.
Online backup programs
Whether or not a school is fully back on campus, it will need an online backup plan in case similar unexpected conditions arise in the future. Many schools learned the hard way this year what it takes to move to an online learning environment and they are not going to take the chance not to be fully prepared again. That doesn’t necessarily mean that more schools exist online, or that more online programs pop up that didn’t exist before, but it certainly does mean better preparation in case they need to adapt quickly in the future.
“Robust online programs are becoming a core part of the academic portfolio of many schools.” writes Matt Tate, Appalachian State University marketing coordinator.
Derek Newton, an edtech specialist, agrees: “From now on, every school in the country and probably around the world will have a plan to put their academic repertoire online quickly and completely.”
Mobile apps to the rescue
The idea of the “distributed campus” is no longer just an idea; COVID-19 has made it a reality. With the help of mobile apps, students can now take the campus with them, at home or on the go. Experts say this trend will not go away. In fact, it becomes part of the new normal and remains an option even if some schools open their campuses completely. Many of these apps support students studying remotely in ways that have become increasingly important since the beginning of the pandemic: for example, providing a check-in facility for students; Tips on how fellow students are doing; Push notifications and notifications with school updates; and secure communication options for students, teachers and staff.
Soft skills will continue to be needed and there will be a strong emphasis on “human” competencies such as the ability to interact and work with others in an online environment. However, it is also expected that students may develop digital skills faster than before the onset of COVID-19. It is becoming increasingly important to know how to adapt to new technologies and learn to deal quickly with new platforms and software.
Better online course quality
“Zoom University is not really online learning.” says Sanjay Sarma, MIT’s vice president of open learning. The pandemic has forced schools around the world to research what makes a great online learning experience and strive to get it across to students. In Pakistan, for example, when schools closed in March, instructors “did not have the tools to teach online and many students lacked reliable internet access at home,” said Tariq Banuri, chairman of the Pakistani Higher Education Commission in Islamabad. “But the commission has been working to standardize online teaching and get telecommunications companies to offer students cheaper mobile broadband packages.”
These are just some of the adjustments that will be part of the new normal in higher education in the months and years to come. As online learning forms a larger part of it, students may place less emphasis on institutional standing and status and more on the quality and flexibility of the learning experience. Course designers need to keep this in mind as schools find innovative and inexpensive ways to stay afloat from this point on.
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