Published on 2020/05/01

The EvoLLLution | How COVID is Affecting Online Education
Online education doesn’t need to be intimidating. Instructors drive the content and structure within their courses – technology merely facilitates it.

Some institutions are able to make the switch to remote learning faster and smoother than others. For online institutions – it might seem like business as usual. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling in how to deal with this shift in education. Everything remains unpredictable and online education needs to find a plan that will be future proof. Becky Takeda-Tinker and Andrew Dixon discuss how Colorado-State University-Global Campus is affected by COVID-19, tools that’ll help remote learning and the future of online education as a result of this outbreak.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): As an online institution, what kinds of shifts are you guys experiencing with the social distancing and mitigation tactics in place resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Becky Takeda-Tinker/Andrew Dixon (BTT/AD): As a fully online institution that has always provided fully remote work opportunities for faculty and staff, there has been little change in the ways in which we work together to serve our students.  Our focus, attention, and timeliness in student response remain within our established standards. Our students’ CSU Global experience remains unchanged with access to all of our 24-hour, 7-day-a-week services of live tutoring, technical support, library access, etc.

So now that we are in this crisis, providing individual support to our students, staff, and faculty has been our primary focus. For many, CSU Global’s online environment remains a stable and familiar safe haven where communication, collaboration, work, and community-building take place. That said, being restricted to our homes across the nation and the world, every day is beginning to feel like Groundhog’s Day, so we are doing a lot more communicating through all of our various pathways to help relieve mounting stress among all of our stakeholders.

We have recently started providing formal ‘breaks’ in our day for our staff and faculty members to come together on Video to share talents, funny stories and YouTube clips, and other fun information.  It’s been a welcome break in our otherwise full days of constant work, and it allows for stakeholder connection across the world.

Similar to what’s happening across the nation, our faculty and staff leaders are now engaging with all of our partners and stakeholders through virtual meeting technologies.  Without having to travel for face-to-face meetings, we are more efficient and can be more inclusive. I’m personally finding that our partners are including more of their team members into our meetings so I’m enjoying the opportunity to meet with a broader array of stakeholders as we collaborate towards solutions.

Evo: Do you think some of the innovations and tools introduced to support the shift to remote education will be adapted into higher education’s post-pandemic “new normal”?

BTT/AD: The pandemic has really brought online education to the forefront.  As people are learning across the nation, implementing technology-based educational pathways is not that different from the diverse ways that instructors can teach in a face-to-face environment – instructors drive the learning content and course structures, and technology tools facilitate it while the organization’s overall environment supports both students and teachers.

One of the primary goals of educators is to engage and retain students as they move towards course and program completion. Since technology-based education can track and measure multiple factors regarding student engagement, class participation, learning achievement and satisfaction, it would be wonderful if online education tools continue to be incorporated beyond the pandemic. Under that scenario, the use and advancement of technology tools will provide heightened accountability for both students and educators which could drive increased achievement of designated learning outcomes.

Evo: With a possible recession on the horizon, how should universities be preparing for a likely increase in demand?

BTT/AD: In the last recession we saw people flock to post-secondary education for degrees. Today we’re in a different time and at a different pace given the impacts of technology from the last decade – if you think about it, back in 2008-9, we were just starting to use smartphones. Now, studies reflect that 81% of all Americans use cell phones. With this shift, the demands of learners are changing, as is the one-size-fits-all model of the past. Secondly, if we have learned anything through this pandemic it is that you have to be able to quickly adapt. Universities who are in-step with their learners and innovating based on their identified student needs will be able to make an impact in the lives of those displaced from the workforce.

Evo: How can university leaders adapt and scale online learning approaches to create access for adults looking for access to upskilling and reskilling programming?

BTT/AD: At CSU Global we have found that our faculty collaboration and partnerships with industry leaders and organizations facilitate our education to be provided and delivered in ways that fit the needs of the workplace. And we also know that our adult learners seek a return on their investment of time and money spent on education. Therefore, to engage adults looking to upskill or reskill, while CSU Global has its methodology, we believe that university leaders can take many different paths to the goal of ensuring alignment between their students and workplace needs. As we have already discussed, the key here will be the focus and intentionality of what an institution is trying to actually achieve based on their established missions.

 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Editor’s note: This interview was recorded on April 7, 2020.

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