For higher education — as with many organizations — the story of COVID-19 has been about disruption, quick thinking, and adaption. During the last few months, the pandemic and its responses have placed major obstacles to continuing the business of education. Teachers, students, and administrators have adapted to long stretches of closed campuses, distance learning, and remote work for faculty and staff. As guidelines relax, they’re entering a new phase, one that can include a modified arrangement for classroom learning.
Enrollment numbers are expected to decline as millions of people who’ve lost their jobs due to the pandemic may not have the resources to attend college. Fewer students are filling out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid, a sign that they may be unwilling to take on loans in this economy or are forced to give up schooling for the time being to help out at home. Declining enrollments lead to declining revenue, forcing some schools to face the possibility that they may have to close permanently.
Amidst this disruption, higher education institutions have been planning on ways to safely reopen their campuses. Even if your school already had the infrastructure and culture for remote work, teaching, and learning, you’ve seen firsthand just how much people rely on each other when they can’t be in the same physical spaces. Routines change and are challenged when you’re not just a few feet away from asking a question, giving an answer, or providing an update.
Schools will figure out a lot over the coming months: how students are guided through the system and what role technology will play in those changes. How higher education will build a model that grows enrollment numbers while providing an experience that builds a positive reputation.
The past few months have emphasized the value of collaboration tools that bring teachers and students together from remote locations. When campuses reopen, teachers may lead classes from the classroom while students are remote, they may gather together in the same classroom while practicing social distancing, and they may broadcast instruction to other classrooms. That means they’ll need the technology and guidance to safely conduct and participate in classes while providing a high-quality experience.
The new normal on campus will be influenced by technology solutions and practices that include:
Video collaboration: Remote learning — whether it’s from home or a separate location on campus — requires a high-quality, engaging experience for students and instructors. For university staff to productively and efficiently work from home and on site, they need reliable, simple-to-use collaboration solutions that integrate with their school’s network and applications. Here are some areas to consider as you incorporate video collaboration into the teaching and administrative processes:
- Look at which courses can be taught online. Some schools are already experimenting with online learning.
- Use unified communications tools that support active learning and engage students in the material.
- In situations where classroom teaching returns, focus on connecting on-site and off-site students through collaboration technology.
- Increase video conferencing among staff and reduce travel between campuses for in-person meetings. As collaboration takes on a more prominent role and is an opportunity for problem-solving, we can expect a greater reliance on video collaboration and unified communications solutions like Microsoft Teams.
Well-being: Schools are in the process of addressing their campus safety: pushing back the opening of their fall semester, temperature screenings, quarantine facilities, requiring masks to be worn, and COVID-19 testing. Consider taking action in the following areas to promote the well-being of your students, staff, and faculty:
- Create social distancing guidelines that extend into the classroom. Limit the number of students in classrooms. Social distancing may change the dynamic of classroom interaction: Instead of leaving her seat to address content on an interactive display, a student can interact with it from a personal device.
- Equip rooms with collaboration technology to bring together learners from different locations. Expect the quality of that interaction to guide the value that universities can promise to students.
Automation: Across campuses, staff and instructors book common classrooms and use a variety of control and collaboration devices that are also being used by their colleagues. By automating functions like scheduling and room control, you can improve the collaboration experience while also minimizing health risks by reducing the number of touch points. Some ideas for incorporating automation technology in your workplace include:
- Help your instructors become comfortable teaching classes that are interactive by way of technology. These interactive solutions will allow them to connect with those learning from their homes, as well as with those attending class from different areas on campus.
- Include classroom solutions like lecture capture and interactive displays that respond via wireless connection to a student’s smart phone or laptop. Automating the functions of these devices will allow for a largely touch-free experience that supports the health of faculty, staff, and students.
- Bring together distance learners with in-class students. The technology that connects them and that records these sessions must be reliable and easy to use, and it must deliver a high-quality experience.
Intelligent buildings: Intelligent buildings can anticipate and respond to the ways that teachers and students use a variety of on-campus spaces: classrooms, labs, libraries, common areas. These systems give insight into how spaces are being used so that you can use the analytics to decide if your university or college needs to reconfigure spaces and/or build new ones.
- See which devices are being used most often, by whom, and in what ways. That intelligence will shape how automation tools provide an efficient, sometimes touch-free experience for teachers and students.
- Use intelligent building technology to schedule spaces and limit how many people can gather in one room at the same time.
- Identify campus hot spots — those areas where too many people are congregating to abide by social distancing guidelines.
Security: Providing for the health and well-being of students and staff will affect the design and user experience of collaboration tools and meeting spaces. Even as the effects of COVID-19 are mitigated on campus, remote learning and remote work will continue.
- Focus on the security of video collaboration and UC applications, which may share sensitive content. Look for UC solutions with built-in encryption, authentication, user permissions.
- Review the security of the applications themselves, as well as the security of your ecosystem of solutions, including application interfaces, the network, hosting capacity, room and personal devices, and end-user protocols.
- Collaborate with IT to plan and build secure access to the campus LAN for your staff. Even as campuses reopen, remote work will continue.
- Provide for secure access to the network and applications. Classes will bring together off-site learners with classroom-based teachers, and they’ll connect different rooms on campus for socially distanced learning. Schools will also work to limit campus visits with a shift to more online recruiting and admissions. Universities will need the technology, infrastructure, and support to do this on a much wider scale than they have.
AVI-SPL is helping schools like yours create the new normal by sharing the knowledge that will help your faculty, students, and staff collaborate across campuses, rooms, offices and remote locations. Contact AVI-SPL and let’s start the conversation about preparing your higher ed campus for a bold, flexible learning and operational experience.