As entire industries and economies struggle to come to terms with the coronavirus pandemic’s long-term impact, the repercussions for the education system have perhaps passed under the radar.
The vast majority of students have seen a large slice of their academic years taken from them. Most have suddenly had to adapt to life as an e-learner, while a high percentage of students of all ages have missed essential rites of passage like graduation from high school or college.
The implications could be significant, with experts proffering that this sudden upheaval could see students suffer from high levels of stress or even a form of PTSD as a result of the global pandemic. The turmoil is unlikely to be limited to students, either. One of the epidemic’s long-term ramifications could be to alter not only how we teach in universities but the entire higher education experience.
Let’s take a look at some of the main ways post-corona college life is likely to be changed for good.
1: Changing the learning model
Perhaps the most obvious impact will be students’ distaste for cramming together in packed lecture halls for hours. Establishments will also find it hard to guarantee the highest levels of hygiene in these circumstances, as lecture halls, once cleaned daily, will require hospital-level sterilization between every class.
We need only look at the success of TED Talks to see that virtual lectures can be just as engaging. As far back as 2006, Davis Guggenheim turned what was essentially a university lecture by Al Gore into the Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
However, to be not only educational but also engaging and able to maintain students’ attention, lecturers will have to refocus their attention on not only the content of their lectures, but also the production. That could mean introducing more multimedia assets to their lectures or using online teaching tools like real-time Q&As or polling.
We could even see lecturers joining forces with production teams to add multiple camera angles and graphics to their lectures. The extra cost will be offset by the ability to record sessions and use them for various semesters and even years.
For educators, this has a whole lot of upside. It gives them more time to focus on smaller groups or individuals, rather than giving the same lecture time. Their high-quality virtual classes and lectures can potentially reach broader audiences, plus they no longer need to be present on-campus day-in-day-out. That could allow a famed London-based professor to become a guest lecturer in New York, for example. At the same time, the increased flexibility will also make education a more attractive career path for the top talent.
Critically, students also win from this arrangement. Research suggests that e-learning requires around 50 percent fewer hours of study than traditional in-person learning, while delivering 25-60 percent better retention rates.
2: A new approach to office hours
Most faculty members offer some form of office hours when students can either book a one-to-one meeting or simply pop by to discuss any issues they are having. Professors highly value these office hours, as a chance to connect with their students and also expand their knowledge of the subject they’re teaching.
While open to all students, most professors tend to see the same handful of engaged students using these office hours repeatedly. Plus, traffic by their office increases significantly only in the week before exams or an important paper is due.
The reality is that most students either feel like their professors are not very approachable and accessible, or that they’re imposing with issues that aren’t worthy of the professor’s time.
Technologies introduced or increasingly adopted since the COVID-19 pandemic can help reduce those barriers. Being able to book a meeting online and then conduct that meeting via video conferencing software like Zoom is less stressful and helps more students take advantage of their professors’ time and expertise.
Alternatively, professors can adopt a less formal attitude to office hours and encourage students to join them for a socially-distanced lunchtime walk or to communicate via messaging or communication apps. Using formats with which students are more comfortable and familiar will encourage more dialogue between professors and students.
3: What becomes of study group sessions?
Building relationships with others is at the heart of the college experience. Small study sessions, whether professor-led workshops or private study groups, could present one of the biggest challenges to “the new college normal.” The most significant difference between online learning and actual in-person study is the collegiate culture and intellectual stimulation driven by being part of a group.
During the pandemic, technology has again helped to fill some of these gaps. Many virtual meeting tools have introduced extra features, such as whiteboards, polls and side rooms, which provide more compelling and interdependent experiences than the traditional virtual meetings, which tend to favor a more one-way dynamic, closer to a series of monologues than real dialogue.
There are now software solutions that enable the real-time co-editing of project work to increase collaboration between students. We can expect to see the education technology sector boom in the next few years as technology not only addresses gaps but progresses them from an education system that was stagnating pre-COVID.
Let’s remember that our post-pandemic society may well be more online-dependent, but it won’t be exclusively lived out virtually. While large lectures may remain online, smaller, safer groups may be where the in-person college experience lives and thrives.
4: The end of faculty meetings, or just wishful thinking?
Education systems around the world may differ widely. Still, they share one constant. From Albania to Zimbabwe, Abu Dhabi to Zagreb, visit a place of higher education and you’ll find teaching staff who hate faculty meetings. There’s a recurring joke in education circles that the only good faculty meeting is a cancelled faculty meeting. If you feel this way about any meeting, chances are you’re doing your meetings wrong.
Most professionals became educators because they are passionate about a subject and want to pass that passion onto others. More red tape and changing university policies were not what they dreamed about when they dreamed about getting tenure. Overworked, with lectures to prepare, research to carry out, papers to mark and students to advise, faculty meetings feel like an unnecessary interruption. However, internal team meetings are essential to the successful running and internal communications of any organization.
During the pandemic, educational establishments, like many other institutions, have discovered that meetings have become more productive, efficient and better received through video conferencing technologies. From smart scheduling tools that allow faculty members to choose times that don’t negatively impact their agendas, to the more tightly formatted and more strict adherence to agendas that online meetings tend to bring, and the lack of time wasted traveling to and from meetings, virtual could be the future of all faculty meetings from now on.
Increasing education opportunities
The increased digitalization of education could reduce colleges’ costs and create increased equality and accessibility for students who can’t afford to live near the campus and no longer have to travel to lectures every day. Recorded lectures could also help cater to students who need to work during the day, but can rewatch lectures, organize one-to-one meetings with professors and join study groups in the evenings. All of this becomes even more pertinent in light of post-COVID economic belt-tightening.
Of course, it’s not perfect. Not all students have equal access to laptops or reliable internet, widening what has become known as the “digital divide.” Not all professors are cut out for these new ways of teaching and interacting with students and colleagues.
However, like individuals and organizations across all industries, those who succeed post-pandemic will be the highly-engaged professionals who embrace the opportunities that come with that ‘new normal’ rather than seeing it as a series of unwanted compromises.
To see how Doodle helps educators balance their teaching and administrative duties, check out our University of South Carolina case study.