Jun 30 2020

Tips for Improving Online Learning in Higher Ed

With careful planning, universities and colleges do not have to sacrifice quality instruction during remote learning.

Although colleges and universities face many unknowns in the upcoming semester, one thing is certain: Online learning is here to stay, regardless of whether your institution is planning to reopen campuses or not.

From a second wave of COVID-19 to sweeping protests across the nation, there is a growing list of unpredictable factors that can uproot a school year. It is critical that higher education institutions have the capacity to make smooth transitions to online learning at a moment’s notice.

With careful planning, universities and colleges do not have to sacrifice quality instruction during remote learning. In fact, the opposite may hold true. The Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning published a study in 2018 which found that well-designed, online teaching strategies can boost test scores and student achievement.

As colleges and universities plan for a new semester, let’s go over some key focus areas that can help higher education institutions make rapid shifts to quality online instruction.

The Necessity of One-to-One Programs

Postsecondary schools need to have certain basic mechanisms in place to sustain a positive distance-learning experience for students.

For one, students need access to computers with web cameras — especially cameras with voice capabilities. Second, students need to have all the necessary software and programs for their courses. One option to ensure these basic conditions are met is through one-to-one laptop programs.

While one-to-one computer programs are common in K–12 schools, not many higher education institutions have such an initiative in place. Granted, there are more college courses that require students to use computers with stronger computing power than a typical Chromebook offering. But it was precisely the postsecondary schools that offered some form of a one-to-one laptop program before the pandemic that were able to enjoy an uninterrupted transition to online learning.

Bear in mind: Universities and colleges do not need to buy extravagant laptops for every student. Computing requirements are going to vary from major to major; for some courses, students only need a functioning webcam with voice capabilities.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how to prepare for campus readiness while cutting costs.

The More Online Classes You Offer, the Easier the Transition

Although the higher education community once frowned upon colleges that offered primarily online courses, the pandemic has taught us we have much to learn from those institutions. As it turned out, the schools that already had a significant portion of classes online were the colleges that could make a seamless transition to an entirely remote curriculum — without neglecting quality.

A best practice moving forward would be for all colleges and universities to begin incorporating more online courses into their curriculum, even if their institution is planning to offer in-person classes throughout the coming school year.

For this to work well, your faculty should also have school-issued laptops. After all, it is important for all professors and instructors to use devices with the correct collaboration capabilities and security components.

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how higher ed can use data analytics to boost admissions.

For Quality Online Education, Always Keep Connectivity in Mind

The Federal Communications Commission found that 21.3 million Americans either do not have internet access, or have very limited broadband speed. Whether it’s through polling or surveying, it is important to know what percentage of your students have strong and unlimited internet access at home.

For those who do not have Wi-Fi or sufficient broadband speed to handle videoconferencing, there are special programs that can help students obtain the internet access they need to succeed in digital learning. There are also several internet providers that offer free or discounted access, including Wi-Fi hotspots, for students during times of need.

On the flip side of the coin, classrooms that have been outfitted for blended learning also need strong network connectivity. And tools such as video walls can significantly enhance the educational environment.

Last but not least, working with value-added resellers — like CDW·G — can greatly contribute to positive blended and online learning outcomes. Whether it’s an internet connection, web cameras or videoconferencing tools, the collaboration must be seamless for students to have the best learning experience. After working with nearly every college and university across the country, CDW·G can share a wealth of best practices to make this possible.

Let’s do online learning better this time, together.

This article is part of EdTech: Focus on Higher Education’s UniversITy blog series.

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