Jul 23 2020

How Did Babson College Pivot to Remote Learning So Easily?

At a recent event, Babson College’s CIO shared his reflections on which investments allowed the college to deploy a rapid — and smooth — transition to remote learning last spring.

Colleges and universities need to spend money to make money, as the saying goes. But as higher education institutions face so many uncertainties about the coming fall, which pandemic investments are the ones that will be worthwhile for the remainder of 2020?

At a Cisco Live event in June, Phillip Knutel, vice president and CIO of Babson College, gathered with other CIOs and IT leaders to discuss pandemic investment priorities.

Although Babson is still planning to resume classes in the fall, its faculty will be following a hybrid model that combines online and in-person learning. As an early adopter of hybrid online learning with 20 years of experience, Knutel shared his insights on which investment priorities higher education leaders should focus on in the challenging months ahead.

Choosing the Right Videoconferencing Solutions

For the past 27 years, U.S News and World Report has ranked Babson as the No. 1 school for entrepreneurship.

Before the pandemic upended higher education, Babson was working with Cisco to roll out the Lorber Family Learning Laboratory, an innovative “classroom of the future” that, among other things, facilitates secure, in-person and global collaboration. This initiative, along with two decades of hybrid class experience, enabled Babson to effectively transition classes online in emergency scenarios.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Babson had enough experience with videoconferencing solutions such as Cisco Webex to promptly transition all of its 650 courses online.

Knutel said strong security features from Cisco are have prevented uninvited guests from intruding on virtual classes at Babson.

“We have been unscathed relatively because we are using a platform that grew up in a corporate environment and was built to be secure from the get-go,” he said. “It’s a huge relief to know we chose the right horse for this race.”

MORE ON EDTECH: Learn how data analytics will help campuses reopen safely.

Why Cloud and Software as a Service are Key to Online Learning

Another reason Babson was able to transition to remote learning so smoothly was because the college was already moving academic and business operations online, Knutel said.

“When I arrived at Babson about five and a half years ago, one of my primary areas of focus was moving to cloud and SaaS tools,” Knutel said. “One of the first things we did was rebuild our network, entirely relying on Cisco switches.”

He also credited their smooth transition to online learning to previous investments in cloud-based platforms such as Salesforce, Workday, and Canvas. “This move really allowed us to work and learn from anywhere,” Knutel said. “Had COVID-19 happened a year ago, when we were not nearly as far along in adopting these platforms, we would have been in a lot worse shape.”

“Our president was pretty pleased with how we came out relatively unscathed — without a lot of additional costs, because we had been making these investments all along in the past few years,” he said.

DebraMillet/ iStock / Getty Images Plus