Change can be difficult, overwhelming, exhausting, stressful, disconcerting, and induce great fear of the unknown. With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the landscape of higher education has been driven into abrupt change. Faculty, students, staff, administration, and parents have been thrust into online learning through an unstoppable trial by fire necessitated by the global pandemic. Very few were prepared or ready for this massive change and faced many challenges with the disruption. Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) outlined several key challenges in relation to the massive transition to remote education in a report called Bridging the Digital Divide to Engage Students in Higher Education, sponsored by Microsoft Higher Education. One challenge that stood out is that faculty professors are struggling to engage students in remote and hybrid learning settings. Yet, COVID-19 has served as an acceleration catalyst for revolutionizing higher education’s remote and hybrid learning across disciplines around the globe.
Most would agree the pandemic gave impetus to needed changes in our stagnated educational system for authentic student-centered accessible learning for all. To provide a measure of guidance and strategies within this change process, EIU released another report called Flattening the Multimodal Learning Curve: A Faculty Playbook, which was also sponsored by Microsoft Higher Education. This playbook provides insights into effective strategies, methods, and tools to deliver engaging learning experiences in remote, hybrid, or in-person format in higher education. Below is a summary of key points from each section of the Playbook.
Higher Education One Year On: Remote learning Experiment to Future Operating Model
- The “pandemic experiment” has inspired new teaching methods;
- Adopt new technologies (games, simulations, augmented reality, and virtual reality) to transform teaching techniques for increased engagement and student outcomes;
- Technology is an enhancement not a replacement of educators, adaptation to new ways of course design and delivery is of paramount significance.
Quality Standards and Expectations in a New Instructional Age
- Seek knowledge from pre-pandemic successful massive open online courses;
- Respond to diverse student needs with flexibility, empathy, and guidance, prepare students with knowledge and tools required in the workplace;
- Ensure courses are meeting required standards.
What are faculty professors saying they need to succeed?
- Support to understand pedagogical tools available;
- Support to merge technology, platforms, and tools for best practices;
- Necessary technology for both students and teachers for effective instructional delivery;
- Social and emotional support for both students and faculty.
Faculty educators need support from leadership to adapt for a culture of innovation
- Investment in intelligent environments, learning hubs, and technology is needed;
- Institutions must train educators in new pedagogical methods including technological tools for course delivery and navigation of the digital ecosystem;
- Promote flexibility and feedback;
- A whole-university approach to well-being should be established.
Faculty need to be supported by partnerships
- Engaging and collaborative learning environments require a supportive team;
- Partner with other institutions around the globe to support educational diversity and inclusion;
- Partner with businesses outside of the university to develop and fund needed tools in education;
- Partner with national educational organizations to establish quality standards;
- Potential of flexibility in accreditation through avenues such as micro-credentials and nano-degrees.
“We need to encourage the sector to focus on learning how to teach,” said Professor John Hattie, a professor at the Melbourne Graduate School Of Education and coauthor of the report. Also indicated in the report, many faculty professors in higher education institutions are typically hired based on their research. The pandemic has offered a great opportunity for faculty to focus on innovative pedagogies to move the needle on student learning. What does this mean for teacher preparation programs? One key takeaway is that faculty need to support learning for pre-service teachers with innovative instructional practices, and facilitate the transfer of these strategies to the K12 classrooms in the future.