Due to our evolving education landscape, your institution might be seriously evaluating distance education. Whether it’s a temporary or permanent shift, your technology, processes and people will be impacted by new or updated requirements. The deciding factors for the right form of virtual learning can vary depending on the type of institution, demographics of the students and your technology infrastructure.

As many institutions make rapid shifts to online education, the Elevation Solutions’ team sees a lot of focus on important aspects of the virtual classroom experience like Learning Management System operations and professor to student communications. To successfully re-create the valuable classroom experience, we suggest focusing on the student’s semester or term experience as a whole rather than one aspect of the classroom. You don’t need a fully digital campus with all the bells and whistles to create a functioning virtual student experience, but you can prioritize your most important requirements. What are the processes that your students utilize most often? What is a critical value-add the campus classroom experience provides that students might miss out on when working from home? Tackle the most impactful things first and then chip away at everything else. 

Our consultants have shared three questions for your team to consider when approaching distance education.

How Digital Are You? 

Think through all the critical components of a term or semester and determine how digital they are. For instance, what does assignment submission look like? Are required materials like books available online? Do students still need to submit hard copies of registration or change of major forms? Can your institution’s current technology support virtual office hours with varying numbers of attendees? What class or student data is recorded consistently and how is that gathered, organized and managed (pst…Salesforce.org can make this a breeze!). 

The good news is that most aspects of the classroom experience can be digitally run and managed. The balance comes in knowing how much of an upgrade your team’s technology needs to help your faculty and student navigate distance education, long term. Try creating a simple technology architecture map that can quickly help you and your team identify what existing technology there is, how it’s connected, where there are gaps, and most importantly, what can be condensed or removed. Then, identify what applications or solutions are needed to create the ideal virtual classroom experience. 

How Do Your Students Interact with Each Other and Faculty?  

We know college is more than just the classroom experience. Some of the most important parts of  learning takes place outside the classroom through the interactions students have with their peers, mentors, and teachers. How are these interactions currently facilitated virtually? For example, let’s say students need to meet to work on a project. If this discussion has to take place virtually, are students provided a way to reach out to each other and schedule or, are they expected to coordinate on their own and use their personal technology? If they can use university-provided technology, do you want meeting information captured and how? 

If there are events like this that happen often, you might consider having a student portal where students can create and manage different events. You can have a form for students to submit requests to faculty and staff that is tied in with their schedule management system so schedules are shared and consistently updated. You can have a list of clubs and events where students can sign up and get approval for activity funding. There are a myriad of ways to facilitate social interactions digitally. Setting up your technology to integrate multiple aspects like communication tools, calendars, and schedule requests will promote continued constituent communication despite the virtual classroom aspect. 

Is Your Communication Tailored? 

Although it seems obvious, it’s more important than ever that your communication is targeted and purposeful. Since virtual communication can be fairly quickly created and shared, you may see an uptick in how much your institution is sharing, especially given the COVID-19 era. You don’t want students to feel spammed with multiple emails containing information that is not relevant to them. This may lead to students deleting notifications before reading pertinent material. Prepare for your upcoming term of online learning by making sure that in addition to campus-wide information, students also receive customized yet condensed communication that clearing defines course related requirements and expectations. An overarching virtual engagement plan for constituent communication should be a top priority, however; each faculty member should have a communication plan (different than an engagement plan) for their group of students.  

Other important points to consider:

  • Think global! Digital capabilities allow you to grow and scale existing student-focused offerings.
  • Keep in mind that students in different regions may experience different events or emergencies. For instance if you’re a college in Colorado but you have students in Florida and a hurricane hits, how do you communicate with them? 
  • Different teams require different levels of interaction. While not all technology is created equal, make sure you’re not investing in a robust solution when what a team only requires are chat and video capabilities. Save money where you can. 

The transition to distance education can be time consuming, but the end result is long term and prepares your team for future classroom-altering events. Remember to be easy on yourself, your team, and your students. Besides the technology aspect, the overall approach toward educating your student body will evolve. 

Do you have questions regarding your distance education transformation? We love talking strategy and helping our clients make it real, so connect with us to talk though your goals!

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