Now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that has been the COVID-19 pandemic, there remain many questions and uncertainties within the Higher Education industry. How do we move forward post-COVID-19? Is it back to business as usual, or do we adjust to a new normal? Is it back to in-person learning or do we create a hybrid of in-person and online?
Making the right decisions can either make or break an institution. In this blog, we’ll discuss ways colleges and universities can create a successful and safe environment for students, faculty, and staff without compromising the educational path.
What Just Happened?!
Often, when faced with a crisis, our initial reaction is to deal with the problem now and not worry too much about what happens afterwards. Typically, we find a way to make this approach work. However, COVID-19 wasn’t – and still isn’t – a typical crisis.
No higher ed institution was prepared for the effects and shock of this crisis: the strain of moving from in-person to online instruction; the decline of enrollment; the loss of revenue; and the psychological toll it took on faculty, staff, and students.
By now, these are things of which we’re all aware. So now what? What does it mean? Where do we go from here?
It’s safe to say that the focus of colleges and universities was to respond to the crisis in front of them. Hopefully, though, they also used it as an opportunity to learn. To learn from their successes and failures. To learn from the successes and failures of other institutions.
These institutions can then take what they learned and craft a strategic plan for crisis response and recovery.
…and Move Forward
The strategic plan should not be static. It should be updated and adapted to the changing climate of current or potential crises. Institutions should be proactive in managing the plan. They cannot be complacent in any part of their strategic plan to respond to, and recover from, a crisis. While we can’t predict the future, we can be prepared and ready to adapt as things change.
Here are some key items to keep in mind when creating a strategic plan:
Clear, consistent, and accurate communication to stakeholders
It is essential that your campus community understands the crisis and the institution’s response to it. Faculty, staff, and students are the primary stakeholders.
Provide continuous and relevant communication. Let them know how the crisis – and crisis response – affects them, those they work with, and what they can do to help themselves and others. Give them support options to help alleviate the anxiety, stress, and fear that a crisis can bring.
Use the technology at your disposal
Social media, university portals, phone apps, emails, etc., are just a few ways you can send out crisis notifications and provide useful information and guidance to the campus community.
Collaborate with other agencies
There are experts outside of the institution that can provide assistance and support beyond the scope of what is known. (e.g., During the COVID-19 pandemic, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with public health experts at local hospitals, provided answers and practical knowledge.)
Keeping Hybridization in Play
As higher ed moves into a post-pandemic future, there is a lot of discussion around hybridization: both hybrid offices and hybrid classrooms. We have seen many institutions develop a synchronous hybrid working and learning environment, where both on-site and remote activities coexist.
Students: One Side
For many students, the options of in-person and remote learning have become very appealing. According to a survey done by Dr. Jeff Seaman and published by Bay View Analytics, students demonstrate a clear expectation to continue some aspects of remote learning (one of the most popular being access to recorded video lectures and other digital materials).
Students: The Other Side
However, these studies also show that, for some students, remote learning makes them feel very isolated and unsupported (especially in the first few years,). For most college students, the excitement of going to college is not just continuing their education but the prospect of independence where academic, personal, and social lives intertwine. Remote learning struggles to support these aspects.
Making Hybrid Work
How can colleges and universities provide all the aspects students, faculty and others need for a hybrid environment to succeed? We covered this in a previous blog (Higher Ed: Achieving Success Together). Let’s briefly review:
- Focus on access and equity – Not all students and staff have access to the digital resources required for remote learning or work. (This could be due to affordability, demographics, or disability issues.) By being proactive in creating content and options that are accessible for everyone, institutions can better ensure success.
- Support your faculty – While the goal of higher education is to ensure student success, we must remember to ensure faculty success as well. Empower faculty members with the tools and resources they need. Give them proper training on any new technologies. A confident teacher will provide a successful learning environment.
- Campus life is essential – Don’t forget that students thrive on socializing and interacting with one another. Institutions need to develop a way for those not on campus to have the total college experience. Live stream campus sports and events, provide safe virtual meeting spaces for college organizations, and provide outreach programs to help ensure students remain healthy both mentally and physically.
- Invest in cybersecurity – As online activities increase, all parties must be aware that cyberattacks will also increase. Cybersecurity is like a dam – one small breach can result in a flood of problems. Colleges and universities need to be vigilant in monitoring online activities. Educate students, faculty, and administrative staff on security protocols and the importance of having the technology in place to protect against phishing and malware attacks.
Support, Support, Support
Colleges and universities should keep in mind that, regardless of the learning/work environment, students, faculty members, and administrative staff will need continuous support. Providing the right tools and engagements will encourage growth, success, and mental wellness for all involved.
As colleges and universities start to reopen more fully, they need to understand and consider how the pandemic affected their campus community. They then need to use this knowledge to better prepare for any crises that may arise in the future. Be ready to adapt to the changing needs of students, faculty, and staff. Whether it’s in-person, remote, or hybrid, a successful learning environment will require communication and collaboration from the entire community. Be conscious and mindful of each other, be supportive and understanding, and be aware of what is to come.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
– Helen Keller