Educational Model for the Next Semester (or Two)
Notes: For U.S. colleges this fall, Inside Higher Education has described 15 possibilities for reopening – three main categories with variations (e.g., delayed starts, hybrid approaches, etc.).
- Resume normal teaching on campus (with enhanced sanitation requirements and social distancing).
- Teach online in the fall, then resume normal operations in January 2021. This approach requires more significant online engagement but extends the current tactic of temporary online programs until on-campus meetings can resume.
- Remain online for the 2020-2021 academic year and possibly longer.
Some schools have considered splitting the first term in half, with the first part of the term continuing online modes and the second part resuming face-to-face classes if conditions allow.
Some schools may consider the uncertainty of the next six months to be so high that planning for continued online engagement may be preferred. They may be wary of resuming face-to-face classes only to be forced once again into lockdown due to a second wave of infections on campus or in their community.
Regulatory guidance, health concerns, travel restrictions on faculty/staff/students, capacity to offer online education, and budget constraints may also influence decisions about the model of education adopted for the coming term. Timelines for decisions will impact recruitment of new students, retention of current students, faculty preparation, and institutional readiness.
Notes: Faculty have had a stressful end to the term with the rapid shift to distance learning. They have had to adapt courses on the fly, often piecing together multiple learning platforms and communication structures to reach students. In addition, they have cared for their own families during the lockdown, worried about health concerns (particularly for those in vulnerable demographics), and faced financial stress. If courses remain online (either as the primary delivery mode or as hybrid), how can the institution support faculty? How can it help them as they continue to teach in what, for many, is a new environment that requires additional preparation? Faculty will likely require extra time for course preparation, development of new assessments and resources, and interaction with students for academic and spiritual mentoring.
Notes: Like faculty, students made an unexpected shift to distance education during lockdowns. Some found success. Others struggled. Schools need to consider factors that will position students for successful learning and spiritual growth as they move into this next term. Further, to sustain fruitful education in online learning modes, schools may need to consider courses’ technological aspects. Can students access and interact with content and supplemental materials?
Institutional Preparedness for Sustained Online Learning
Notes: Moving from emergency survival to a more sustained and effective approach to online learning, even if temporary, may require additional institutional investments. Consolidating to a common set of video conferencing, messaging, and learning platforms will increase efficiency for faculty and students. The kinds of additional technical support (including internet bandwidth) needed may depend on whether faculty members can work from campus or must remain at home (for recording classes, leading video conferences, etc.).
Notes: As the school prepares for the next term, considering the needs of two different groups of students may be helpful. Students continuing and completing degrees have a different set of needs than those just starting their programs. Some who dropped out or fell behind in the transition may require additional help. Budget, personnel, and technical limitations may require the school to consider whether it should offer the full array of courses for the next term. One approach may include consolidating courses around the curriculum’s primary components and core faculty strengths, with plans to resume the full spectrum of courses further in the future.
Notes: Almost every school will have to recast their budgets, as the crisis has impacted all sources of income (tuition, local and international donations, third-stream projects). Most schools will face difficult choices to make their budgets work over the next year. School leaders will need to plan for increasing revenue and controlling expenses.
Additional Thoughts Related to Mission and Long-Range Planning
Facing so many uncertainties, schools may need to make unique plans for the coming 1-2 semesters. Some courses, activities, and possibly even new enrollments may need to be delayed until January 2021 or later. The strengths of core faculty, needs of existing students, and ease of transition into online mode can guide decisions about whether and how to consolidate classes.
This period can actually benefit schools that plan to incorporate online learning into their permanent offerings. As they think about this possibility, schools should address some additional questions related to their mission and distinctive characteristics. Many schools see online courses as a way to reach more students. However, students can choose from an ever-increasing array of programs. Therefore, schools must also consider how their distinctive characteristics translate into the virtual environment. Course design, quality assurance, and faculty training will all warrant additional planning.