Coronavirus pandemic is a ‘wake up call’ for online learning

As universities wrap up their spring semesters with distance learning and look ahead to uncertain learning environments in the summer and fall, two teaching and learning experts from Educause say the past two months of disruption from the coronavirus pandemic were a “wake-up call” for universities about online learning.

“It’s been really amazing to see the work effort and the creativity and ability to stand up something in a week that has taken campuses years to figure out how to do,” Kathe Pelletier, Educause’s director of student success community programs, says on a new episode of EdScoop Edition.

Pelletier, who spent her pre-Educause career working with universities on online learning initiatives, says that initially the forced move to distance learning was definitely a step forward, but that the next steps will be to modify curriculum and methods of instruction.

“I think we saw a range of responses in those early days of institutions that were very quick to jump to the need to rally the troops and get folks to transition to a remote teaching situation,” Pelletier said. 

Malcom Brown, who leads the Educause Learning Initiative conference that was canceled at the last minute and moved to an online format that took place at the end of last month, says that the force transition to online learning might convert some skeptics.

“I think it’s kind of a wake-up call to higher education,” Brown says on the podcast. “There’s been a lot of prejudice against online learning, and it might be a  wake up call for the people who have reservations and that things are not all bad on the online front.”

On the podcast:

The EdScoop Edition podcast is broken down into segments. Here’s what you’ll find on this episode:

  1. Educause Director of Student Success Community Programs Kathe Pelletier and Educause Learning Institute Director Malcom Brown talk about the decision to move the ELI conference virtual, takeaways from the conference and the future of teaching and learning in higher education.
  2. EdScoop managing editor Colin Wood and staff reporter Betsy Foresman highlight sessions from the ELI conference that focused on the technical and cultural challenges universities faced during the pandemic, as well as how to continue student engagement from afar. 
  3. Texas Tech University Chief Information Officer Sam Segran talks about how his university responded to the coronavirus pandemic, his overall technology priorities and how he sees the role of higher ed evolving in the future. 

Things to listen for:

  • While the future of teaching and learning is likely not a 100 percent online instruction format, Brown says the pandemic may have a similar effect on teaching and learning as the boom of massive open online courses had on the sector nearly a decade ago.
  • As much remains uncertain about the fall semester, universities are exploring different formats for the fall like not having all students in class at once, Brown says.
  • The financial situation of higher education will be the key piece in determining the future of how teaching and learning happens in universities, Brown and Pelletier say.
  • The infrastructure side of Texas Tech’s move online due to the pandemic went pretty smoothly, Segran says. 
  • Texas Tech also worked alongside the Centers for Disease Control with one of its bio-safety labs that was helping with coronavirus testing. That lab required Segran and his team to spin up a server cluster for them on a protected network for health information. That process would ordinarily take many weeks, but the IT staff got it ready in just one week.

EdScoop Edition is a podcast with conversations, news and analysis of the role of edtech and IT in higher education. Each episode features at least one long-form conversation, a quick digest of the news in the higher education information technology environment and a conversation with a higher ed CIO.