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The New (and improved) Post-COVID College Experience

The New (and improved) Post-COVID College Experience

This fall marks another back to school season during the new normal. Students are again trading handshakes with new professors for fist and elbow bumps (or maybe even a wave on Zoom). In many places, the beginning of the school year is even marked by continued mask wearing and virtual learning.

An incredible amount of innovation and tech adoption was born through the onset of pandemic challenges and roadblocks. Higher education professionals couldn’t have predicted the impact of the pandemic and how disruptive it would be to the whole college experience, but college campuses and leaders have had to think about how to make the college experience even more engaging and fulfilling than before COVID.

To get a better picture of what we can expect for this school year, Sharp sponsored an interview through eCampus News with three edtech leaders about how life has changed at their institutions and the role technology has played in transforming the classroom environment to prepare for the post-pandemic reality. The following four trends emerged around what to expect on college campuses.

Blending of hybrid and remote models

Because of the uncertainty that will continue in the coming months, campuses are working on offering both in-person and remote instruction simultaneously. With the help of updated and innovative technology, students in person and at home can benefit from high quality education with the help of a webcam, microphone, laptop and high tech classrooms. 

As an example, the University of Massachusetts Boston was successful in the creation of a new form of teaching and learning called BeaconFlex, which allowed professors to teach to a room of students both virtually and in-person. After successfully rolling this out for half a dozen classes, they are looking forward to growing this offering even further with the help of their IT team and their Academic Affairs departments.

Raymond Lefebrve, the Chief Information Officer and Vice Chancellor of Information Technology Services at UMass Boston who worked on BeaconFlex, strongly believes that our new normal is here to stay: “There’s really no going back to the way we were pre-pandemic. Students, faculty, and staff have all benefited in some respects from this more flexible approach to education. But we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s going to require a mix of different modalities and technologies.”

More widespread cloud adoption

With fewer universities operating fully in-person, many have learned to embrace the cloud for its simplicity and convenience, and to cater to their student body more effectively. Even though some students have been able to return to campus, schools with students who have been unable to return to the physical classroom, such as international students, need to make sure the same learning tools were accessible to them.

As a result, Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts began using Kaltura, a video cloud platform that has allowed for students to access on-demand lectures. The benefits extended beyond the classroom, and Kaltura is even being adopted to share recordings of speakers and events put on by other areas of the college, such as the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Student Life.  

Alex Wirth-Cauchon, Chief Information Officer at Mount Holyoke, commented on how this transition to the cloud and hybrid learning overall has also led to a shift in how the school facilitates tools for its educators: “We expect that a growing number of positions will be issued laptops instead of desktop computers to support this flexibility. We are also stepping up our reliance on our VPN and centralized management of remote devices.”

Flexible tech environments

Moving into this next phase of the pandemic in which some universities will have students return full-time while some will still be remote, it’s important that schools remain agile and implement the tools to accommodate both options. This may mean evaluating the current classroom technology, reevaluating budgets for the coming year and making sure infrastructure like displays and projectors are working correctly.

For example, large screen displays have multiple benefits for students and faculty. In the classroom, they allow students to practice social distancing without heavily impacting their learning. Across campus in places like libraries and other facilities, they allow for students to have study groups, engage in remote lectures and re-watch lectures that were pre-recorded through a lecture capture system.  

Brian Atkinson, Director of IT for Idaho College for Osteopathic Medicine (ICOM) shared how his school has been adapting to this paradigm shift in tech accessibility: “While many of our students and faculty long for the return of in-person teaching and learning, we recognize that a hybrid approach is likely to be a better fit, giving students and lecturers the option to learn and work remotely if that is what works best for them. We recognize that a blended learning environment gives students the option to tailor their own learning path and achieve greater results for each individual.”

Merging health tech and edtech

With advances in technology, especially apps, it’s become easier than ever to make campuses safe places to be, while facilitating access to student health information at the touch of a button.

UMass Boston has implemented a tool called SafeCampus that has daily health check capabilities so that schools can track symptoms and positive test results. They also use it to track vaccination status and approve requests for students to be on campus.

Similar apps may allow for students to input temperature checks and ensure they are providing the school with enough information should there be a potential outbreak or the need for contact tracing.

In many ways, the pandemic’s interruption of regular learning and engagement on campus has led to the acceleration of new and improved educational methods and more opportunities for Chief Information Officers and IT specialists to provide necessary upgrades to outdated tools. These upgrades allow students and faculty to learn and work in campuses that are more efficient and connected than ever before.

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