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COVID-19, E-Learning, and the Collegiate Pedagogy Model

Jackie Eckhardt

The most impactful and immediate evolution within higher education has been the recent, unexpected pivot of primary teaching modalities into remote instruction. An immediate transformation catalyzed a new student experience building upon existing remote learning and distance education platforms, and uncovered opportunities for institutions to analyze their future options for education delivery.

Big Picture: The Quality of E-Learning 
From our conversations with professionals and students across the country, we heard varying solutions implemented by institutions in the transition to online learning platforms and a “pedagogical patchwork” was formed. These shifts in course delivery illuminated the question of the quality of education and delivery students were receiving. For students attending an institution that utilizes internal resources to develop blended course content, does the perception of quality on-brand education remain? Does that value hold true for students attending an institution that relies on third-party platforms to host and fill course content? Ultimately, the merit of e-learning may share mutual dependence between the abilities of the instructor and/or student, and support infrastructure to deliver coursework as a valued substitute for, or blended transition from, in-person learning. Facility design and planning can contribute to strategic implementation of blended instruction while simultaneously balancing infrastructure capacity across campus.

Spectrum of learning models from live (synchronous) to on demand (asynchronous)
The spectrum of higher education pedagogy. Image © DLR Group.

To determine how the physical campus can evolve to accommodate these needs, institutions must evaluate and prioritize immediate investments in technology-rich infrastructure within existing learning and support spaces, against tight minor capital improvement budgets and the ROI of enrollment fluctuations. And they must do this while maintaining the mission of learning and overall experience for their consumer – the student.

Teaching Impacts: In-person vs. Remote Instruction
Institutions will need to consider priorities for a transformed campus, including the flexibility to accommodate courses with academic outcomes that cannot be measured or achieved virtually like performance, technical, laboratory, and clinical experiences. Additionally, entire cohorts may be required to play ”catch-up” in the post-COVID-19 environment, and blended solutions to accommodate various pedagogical approaches may be the answer. According to the information provided by institutions in this online poll conducted by the Chronical for Higher Education, approximately one-third of students were considering alternatives to traditional in-person course delivery.

A pie chart showing the percentage of students considering in-person, online, hybrid, or other scenarios for classes
Image courtesy the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Unfortunately, virtual tools can still fall short of replacing the full experience that many courses aim to provide. While hands-on curriculum requires significantly more preparation and in-person interaction, reduced course capacity and additional schedule offerings may be another short-term solution should faculty/instructor capacity allow. Increased demand from communities for career tech education, as well as first responder and health science programs, will dictate if an increase of scheduling is sufficient to meet demand, or if an increase of space to allow synchronous instruction is necessary. Curriculum which must maintain synchronicity could expand hourly offerings to allow for multiple weekly options for students. Likewise, faculty office hours may also evolve into increasingly fluid in-person or online student engagement, decreasing overall space requirements and increasing utilization across campus. 

Student Outcomes: Access to Learning
Education for students should be flexible and accessible. Moving forward, we will see a range of delivery methods for instruction based on course type. For example, experiential and team-based courses may favor immersive synchronous and in-person options, whereas lower-level general education courses could favor remote options. The likely scenarios are blended solutions where curriculum drives course delivery, including increased access to instructors and resources utilizing a variety of digital tools to ensure equitable experiences for all students.

As higher education evolves, we still see the true resiliency of campus communities through innovative instructors and students eager to learn. Leveraging technology to enhance pedagogy will come with upfront costs, but this investment in accessible and blended education has the potential to propel the delivery of education into a new and exciting realm.

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