COLLABORATION

Education Technology: Why digital-readiness will make or break online learning

SOURCE: Philip Pacheco/Getty Images/AFP
Stanford University announced that classes will be held online for the remainder of the winter quarter after a staff member working in a clinic tested positive for the Coronavirus.

Universities across the world are shuttering classrooms and campuses in an unprecedented effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. As a result, university lecturers are turning to remote learning solutions provided by education technology firms to deliver lessons in hopes to at least allow students to complete the current semester.

Many colleges and universities are even expecting students to stay away from classrooms for the rest of the academic year as travel bans and study deferments make up most of the headlines.

In America alone, 85 colleges and universities across the county have announced campus closures for the past two weeks. Similarly, over 300,000 students across London from world-class universities will be affected by campus closures in a bid to enforce social distancing, while still allowing teaching and learning to continue online.

Can universities adapt in time?

In managing the ramifications of a pandemic, universities are forced to adapt quickly to adopt technology in teaching and learning. But just how quickly can they achieve this?

Dr Doug Clow spent 20 years at the Open University developing online courses and is now advising universities on how to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Clow says, “It is a huge challenge to suddenly switch to online teaching. It takes the Open University more than a year to develop an online course.”

And although universities are already developing a degree of content for online consumption, migrating entire courses online, and delivering them to students all over the globe will require more than just a technological shift.

So, while universities do definitely need to seek out alternatives to classroom teaching, there is a dire need for universities to set frameworks to improve preparedness among faculty and students.

Dr Clow reiterates the need for universities to not only adopt new technologies for teaching and learning but to also diversify the tools to optimise teaching and learning deliveries.

Faculty, he says will require new skill sets and in addition, universities need to provide online content that is accessible to cater to the needs of students with diverse capabilities.

COVID-19
Students at Harvard University have been asked to move out of their dorms by March 15 due to the COVID-19 risk. All classes will be moved online for the rest of the spring semester.

How can education technology firms support rapid transformation and upskilling?

Efforts to move education online, and so quickly is only possible if education technology and communication solution providers ramp up collaborative efforts with universities and other institutions of higher learning.

A statement issued by education technology provider, 2U’s founder Chip Pauchek, echoes the need for universities to hasten partnership efforts with technology providers to offer remote and mobile education solutions to students.

Through partnerships with edtech companies such as 2U, universities across America have been restoring education delivery that would have otherwise been severely impacted.

2U has committed its support to its university partners by providing the critical support needed to rapidly transform face-to-face classes online. To achieve this, the company is working directly with faculty by providing high-quality training to empower faculty members to carry out 2U-powered online programmes.

2U is also assisting universities that run online boot camps by moving all the programmes online, regardless of university operating status.

Similarly, education technology software provider, Top Hat has announced that it will be making access to its platform free of charge across universities and colleges across North America.

Top Hat aims to help universities move towards remote teaching seamlessly. To achieve this, Top Hat will provide dedicated training, support agents, and all the resources professors and universities need to quickly set up an online classroom.

Top Hat’s Director of Communications Dianna Lai Read said, “Our focus is on ensuring the least amount of disruption to students’ education by supporting educators as best as we can. That’s why we are making Top Hat’s platform free of charge for the rest of the semester to support educators transitioning to remote teaching and learning.”

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Bisk Education, an online program management firm that partners with leading universities across the US have also announced that it will be offering free training to educators to help the rapid upskilling required for online teaching.

The CEO of Bisk Education said, “Bisk’s mission is to amplify potential through transformational learning experiences. Faculty are at the heart of these learning experiences, and we are pleased to offer this resource to fellow educators who want to excel at teaching in an online environment.”

The education technology’s self-paced training programme will cover essential instructional design principles for online course development, effective ways to engage learners online, and strategies for bringing a course online rapidly.

VP Marketing and Learning Design for Bisk, Dr Richard Sites stated that teaching online will present different challenges compared to teaching in a traditional classroom.

Sites added, “Over the last two decades, Bisk has helped empower thousands of faculty members to provide engaging and impactful online learning experiences while maintaining academic quality and rigor. Our goal is to ensure that faculty feel confident and well-prepared to teach in a virtual classroom.”

Will the pandemic see a boom for education technology firms and university partnership?

Chief Information Officer at Trinity University, James N. Bradley, in his post on LinkedIn said, “We are changing how education is delivered as we respond to the pandemic and these changes will not just go away and have everything return to normal.”

He adds that at this moment, faculty members around the world, especially in affected areas are delivering education online and conversely, every student is going to be receiving education online.

This will effectively remove the natural resistance to online education – the reluctance to use technology is going to go away as a practical matter. However, some may choose to return to face to face teaching because they will prefer it while others may opt to introduce more and more online models of education delivery.

Bradley concludes that as faculty transitions from having a majority that does not use online teaching and learning to a majority who do, those that are resistant to change will struggle to adapt.

However, those that can adapt to this change will see new possibilities open.

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Executive editor of Education Next and a co-founder of and a distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, Michael Horn argues that the combination of campus unpreparedness and the need to scramble to find online teaching and learning will now give online learning a bad reputation.

Horn weighs in his article published in Education Next, “Yes, it’s true that tools like Zoom can help faculty members stand up a synchronous class relatively quickly and facilitate a reasonably active learning experience. But for faculty members who haven’t used it before—or for universities unaware of some of the options custom-built for education—it still might not go as well as one would hope. Just because something is done online, doesn’t mean it will be done well.”

In general, Horn states that while the events led by the pandemic will not hamper the progress towards online educations, there is a significant chance that universities will resume classroom teaching as soon as things go back to normal.