Could the Coronavirus Force Positive Change in Higher Education?

  • By Emily French
  • in
  • on April 10, 2020

As originally published by Dawn Lerman & Falguni Sen on Times Higher Education.

There is nothing like a good crisis to shake up an industry.

The Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 transformed the energy sector and the financial crisis of 2008 had a huge impact on banking. The coronavirus is now doing the same for higher education.

After years of debate on college campuses about whether universities would make a major move into online education, nearly all of them in the US have stopped talking and done just that.

So how did this happen so suddenly?

Organizational structures are often among the biggest impediments to meaningful change. That is certainly the case in academia. Here we find the kind of functional silos that exist in any organization (such as between marketing and IT), but also silos between schools, between departments within schools, and between faculty and administration. These lead to the hoarding of key resources and limited skills sharing. They also inhibit the creation of necessary synergies.

One way to get beyond such structural impediments is for all stakeholders within an organization to rally around a clear and unified goal. During the current crisis, one such goal was soon established within universities: to help prevent the spread of coronavirus while providing continuity of learning. Units responded by mobilizing their resources to provide a wide range of holistic solutions to the challenge of online teaching. And they did so practically overnight.

Doing this at an institution where only a handful of faculty previously taught online is no small task. Academics are notoriously slow to change. We teach the same courses year after year and, while many of us update our materials quite regularly, it is a far different matter to change our mode of delivery. Converting a course for online delivery is time-consuming work. Some faculty may also feel threatened, fearing that they will be replaced, or that online teaching fails to capture the elements that make them such successful teachers.

Yet faculty could typically easily accept the requirement that they teach online since this was perceived as a temporary change that did not threaten their core teaching philosophy, while other initial options, such as extending the one-week spring break and making up the lost time in the summer, were widely seen as just postponing the inevitable.

At our university, there were dozens of faculty members in each webinar on online teaching that we attended. Those who had experience with online teaching and tools were proactive in helping colleagues adapt their courses. While some are no doubt concerned about being able to achieve their intended learning outcomes, they are also excited about the technical barriers they have overcome and all that they have learned. And they want to learn more. Having taught a few online classes and discovered that they can make creative use of the technology, many faculty will be changed forever. We expect that even those who go back to teaching in a traditional classroom will incorporate some of the online tools that they are now learning to use.

Universities should embrace this staff engagement and seize the opportunity to transform pedagogy to meet the needs of the next generation of students. Incoming undergraduate and graduate students will have elevated expectations about the use of technology on campuses. In fact, they may already be accustomed to technology-enabled pedagogy, since schools in an increasing number of districts are light years ahead of higher education in this regard.

Once we get beyond the current crisis, universities should shift the focus from basic training on tools to more advanced training incorporating course design and assessment of learning. Faculty enthusiasm may well be less than we are seeing now, but if we can get the messaging to resonate with faculty, they may just start participating in droves. That messaging should celebrate their current achievements with online tools while also recognizing their pain points, and offer the training as an opportunity to build on that success and solve their technology-related teaching challenges.

This message will resonate with teaching staff even more if it is presented within the context of a clear and unified goal. And these need not be reserved for times of crisis. For example, a university that values universal access to education as its top priority might view online learning as a key element in its mission. 

Finally, we should preserve the culture of change that has swept across universities over the course of just a few weeks. We should institutionalize that culture to respond to the demands of the digital era. Because if not now, then when?

Leave a Reply

PUBLISHED BY Emily French

View all posts by Emily French

Related Posts

#MillenniumLive , Healthcare , Podcast

#MillenniumLive is Joined by WellSky

This week, #MillenniumLive is joined by the Chief Executive Officer at WellSky, Bill Miller. WellSky is a technology company leading the movement for intelligent, coordinated care worldwide, and serving more than 20,000 client sites around the world, including the largest hospital systems, blood banks, cell therapy labs, home health and hospice franchises, post-acute providers, government […]

CMO , Retail

Retail Legend, Pauline Brown, Keynotes Our June Assembly!

On June 22-23rd, The Millennium Alliance will host a two-day think tank for C-Suite marketing and retail leaders to network and gain insights from thought leaders making waves in the industry. Day two of the event kicks off with a Keynote Address from Pauline Brown, a long time leader in retail and pioneer of the […]

CMO , Retail

Finding Retail Marketing Efficiency in 2021

Contributed by DELVE Last year, we saw the COVID-19 pandemic alter buyer behavior as consumers migrated to digital purchase channels. In 2020, McKinsey uncovered that 40 percent of consumers reported switching brands or retailers. Gartner noted that “Marketing organizations are ill-prepared for COVID-19’s impact on the global economy and consumer sentiment, and this crisis will […]

#MillenniumLive , Blockchain/Crypto/DeFi , Financial Services

#MillenniumLive on Healthcare’s Blockchain Revolution with Pradeep Goel

Everyone knows that blockchain is changing the financial services industry, but did you know it’s also revolutionizing healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis? In this week’s #MillenniumLive episode hosted by Millennium Co-Founder Alex Sobol, our special guest Pradeep Goel shares how blockchain is improving access to care, empowering consumers with information, reducing waste, and lowering the […]

Lovin’ Digital Diary?

Premium content to our readers interested in all things business.

Check Us Out!

Millennium Membership offers Fortune 1000 C-Level executives, leading public sector/government officials, and thought leaders across a variety of disciplines unique and exclusive opportunities to meet their peers, understand industry developments, and receive introductions to new technology and service advancements to help grow their career and overall company value.

About Millenium Alliance Next

About Digital Diary

Created to provide premium content to our readers interested in all things business.

Launched in 2017, Digital Diary was created to provide premium content to our readers interested in all things business. With our blogs catered to deliver the top news stories, trends, and interviews from across all industries.

Read all story Next

Millennium Alliance Membership

Learn More Next

What does it mean to be a Millennium Member? In the midst of the constant disruption across all industries, our members are given the tools they need to digitally transform their organizations and become the best leaders they can be. Millennium Members are provided the exclusive opportunity to attend our 40+ intimate in person and virtual Assemblies, take part in industry-leading Executive Education sessions conducted by the nation’s leading academic institutions, business leaders, and technology providers and receive industry leading content through our Digital Diary Platform as well as the rapidly growing #MillenniumLive Podcast Series.