Considering the current reality, it is quite imperative that schools and institutions be prepared to deliver lectures in ways other than instructor-led learning. Right now, all the institutions are scrambling to somehow set up online learning programs to enable continuity in learning.

But is it that simple? You cannot create an online course in a day or suddenly migrate your entire content to a digital space and expect everyone to adjust to the new learning method. Some of the faculty members may not have ever delivered a lecture online, similarly, it might be new for some students as well. 

While we can consider this whole ‚Äėonline migration‚Äô as a contingency plan, this could be the opportunity for institutions to experience what online learning can offer to students and their faculty members. And more importantly, continuity should be the main focus while planning and strategizing the means for learning delivery.¬† What is the Institution’s Continuity Plan? Plans for maintaining Instructional Continuity should include but are not limited to the following:

  • Ensuring a seamless channel of communication with students and parents¬†
  • Implementing Online Learning Technologies such as a scalable Learning Management System (LMS), Mobile Content Creation platform, online audio and video collaboration, lecture capture, discussion boards
  • Considering possible adjustments to assignments and the syllabus
  • Having a professional development expert in place to know the expectations and best practices¬†

Senior Leadership at institutions have to make immediate and difficult decisions with the recent closures of Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Worcester Polytechnic, USC, UCSD. Are universities prepared to protect their respective communities by terminating traditional classes if the current environment continues to deteriorate? What they can do at best, is to immediately start with the implementation of these online learning plans. Review the assets that need to be digitized, slowly engage students and faculty members in online learning, while maintaining the quality of education delivered.  Communications and Emergency Contingencies The institution needs to have an assembled Emergency Management Team that will consistently monitor the media and identify who needs the communications. Audiences for these communications can be students, faculty, parents, facilities. This emergency management team should be composed of members of each department within the institution. A general framework for incidents should be constructed beforehand with the goal of protecting and keeping the academic community safe. While safety is the ultimate goal of the emergency management team, the byproduct of a good communications strategy will be restoring the confidence of the students, parents, and faculty. Consider the Technology Faculty members need to use tools and workflows that they and their students are familiar with and not introduce (multiple) new tools. A limit of one new tool is acceptable. It should not disrupt or create frustration in the faculty and student experience.

Consider what mechanisms are in place to deliver classes synchronously or asynchronously.  What are the Learning Management Systems selected by the institution? For instance, are they using Blackboard, Canvas, D2L or Moodle? Are the faculty trained on using these LMS? And have templates been created for them to develop quality online classes that are consistent with one another?

What is the university using for online meeting software? Are they using Blue Jeans, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Microsoft Meetings? Are faculty trained on these respective tools? Standards and best practices should be put in place to create a seamless and consistent student experience. Faculty can also consider using a tool like Kaltura Media to create video lectures.

Next, the university needs to consider what currently exists in an online format and evaluate to ensure that it meets or exceeds expectations. For instance, the entire syllabus should be online and put together using the same template. The syllabus also needs to be updated to take into account the time that is lost. Currently, institutions are taking 2-3 weeks to put their courses online. Will the time lost in course preparation be made up in one week or spread out for the remaining weeks in the term? Approaches will vary based on the content and course schedule.  

Projects, reading assignments, and discussions should all follow a best-practice format and should not vary drastically from one faculty member to the next. Flip the Classroom This terminology is not new for those that have taught online in the past. Faculty need to think about how they will leverage this pedagogical approach. Typically, with the flipped model, the more abstract and complex topics would be left for the synchronous portion of the class, and the more straightforward topics are completed online and asynchronously. Multiple tools and strategies should be used to enhance this flipped class experience.   

  • Locate virtual labs online for students to complete, if possible
  • Locate Open Educational Resource OER (activities)
  • Record / Narrate a PPT
  • Do a video lecture
  • Arrange alternate activities in place of the lab assignment, or complete the lab activities at a later date

Do Faculty or Students Need Help? While there should be a universal push to go online rapidly and systematically, there will be faculty members that will need assistance. There should be champions identified who are experts in online instruction, and who can mentor and lead the charge. Are there mechanisms at scale to address and help in an online offering for a class of students or an institution with 30,000 students? Professional development and training need to be in place for an uninterrupted online experience.   In Summary Our current environment is one that is in a dynamic state of change and uncertainty because of the ongoing pandemic. Many institutions have robust vision and strategy charters that have been prepared in the last few years. A necessary aspect that needs to be within the strategy is one of digital continuity and effective systems for instructions to be in place. The key to success for the institution is proper preparation.

There are many factors to consider, and institutions need to create this overarching digital strategy and course of action to address these problems now and in the future. While this current situation is dire, it will eventually go away. Institutions need to do what they can now to prepare for what we are currently experiencing. Unfortunately, a new disruption will manifest in the future, and hopefully, this episode will have us all better prepared.

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Here’s a video explaining how educational institutions can be get equipped and ensure learning continuity during times of uncertain crisis.