Remote Learning 101: How to Do Better
Harding and the EdPlus team are tasked with supporting digital learning at ASU, including its popular online degree program, he says. In the early days of the pandemic, as the necessity of switching to remote learning became clear, Harding and EdPlus joined forces with the institution’s technology office to ensure the smoothest transition possible. “Our role was to take the resources and knowledge we had from more than a decade of developing online courses and to share it with those faculty and staff whose experience was mostly based in the traditional classroom environment,” he says.
Toward that end, Harding and his colleagues produced a catalog of webinars “on everything from ‘this is how you Zoom’ to how to create active-learning experiences in the online space,” he says. Instructors were taught how to use ASU’s learning management system to communicate course announcements, assignments and exams, and they were introduced to platforms like Slack, where instant messaging and content sharing could substitute for in-person discussions. Within days, subjects as varied as computer science and ornithology, previously taught through lectures and labs, were being delivered using digital tools, and students in need had their pick of critical resources, from laptops and hotspots to free digital textbooks.
All in all, Harding says, the ASU community did incredibly well riding out the spring semester under such difficult circumstances. The question for the university now, he says, is what to do next?
“We made it through the first phase by creating these digitally enabled courses,” Harding says. “So how can wenow leverage that experience into
something that’s going to pay off in the long term?”
Front and center in the discussion, Harding says, is that the COVID-19 crisis has shown there is more than one way to go to college. Now, even after the pandemic fades away and the world returns to some semblance of normalcy, learners will expect an education that bends to fit their lives — or even the next global emergency.
“Students are going to want to have options and to be able to choose how they interact” with educational content and classmates and instructors, he says. “Flexibility is going to be key, and one of the ways I think we can offer it is through continued integration of technology into all aspects of education.”
Higher Ed is Preparing for Changes Ahead
If Harding sounds cautiously optimistic about navigating the road ahead for higher ed, he’s not alone. While college and university leaders largely agree that education will never be the same following COVID-19, most also believe their institutions can survive it. Their strategy, they say, will include more remote instruction, not only as a tool for weathering future emergencies, but also as a way to expand their reach. Moreover, it will involve applying lessons learned and making tough changes to the educational system to address the serious shortcomings that the novel coronavirus laid bare.
“When this began in the spring, no one could have anticipated that higher education as we knew it would be upended in this way,” says Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Moving forward, however, that’s no longer true. Consequently, institutions that don’t adapt accordingly will have no excuse for their failure.