3 Ways Higher Education Can Foster Success in Remote Environments
2020 has thus far been one of the most challenging years for U.S. higher education. The fall term has only just begun for a handful of institutions and some have already pivoted from campus-based living/learning to a fully remote option. With the COVID-19 pandemic still far from over, traditionally brick-and-mortar colleges have had to move quickly into operationalizing remote environments for learning and engagement.
When colleges had to make the sudden shift to remote this past spring, the digital elements for remote engagement that were most prevalent were either already in place or there was a scramble to put together a somewhat cohesive set of tools to support students.
Now that a mostly remote experience is the likeliest of outcomes for the rest of 2020, higher education will need to use a more joined up approach. Some schools have even sent care packages to students with laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots to ensure that all students have access to both a computer and the internet.
That being said, the question that’s perhaps most pressing in the next few months is: “What are some of the components that colleges will need to foster success in remote environments?”
Usually referred to as either an LMS (learning management system) or a VLE (virtual learning environment), online learning is anchored by these systems that have been the digital gathering place for dialogue, group work, project submission, grading, syllabi, and all things related to an online learning experience.
Most institutions already have members of staff who are instructional designers and learning technologists who can ensure that the student experience on these platforms is both educational and equitable.
From designing accessible learning materials to using a combination of asynchronous as well as synchronous experiences, faculty members can draw upon this expertise that readily exists at their institution.
Supplementing some of the less-than-high-tech aspects of more formalized learning systems is the use of videoconference platforms for face-to-face discussions with students. These platforms, such as Zoom, can’t replace the in-person experience, but with features such as live-captioning services and a mobile-friendly options, they have skyrocketed to being essential tools for higher education in the midst of the pandemic.
Keeping students connected to their academic advisor is crucial in remote environments. Academic advising departments are hubs that connect students to a variety of services, resources, and guidance. Without the usual face-to-face appointment options available, what are advisors and advisees to do? As academic advisors have scrambled to put together a robust framework for virtual advising, digital solutions have emerged as necessary additions to the advising toolkit.
Student success technology platforms like Starfish are helping students stay connected with their campuses while remote. With built-in nudging capability using text messaging or email, intake forms to determine how best to serve a student’s individual needs, and the ability to schedule virtual appointments, student success technology provided myriad benefits during in-person advising, but it is now a necessity for a remote engagement environment. Further, features like Starfish’s ability to raise early alerts on LMS inactivity help advisors keep students engaged and provide levels of support that match or surpass the challenges that students are facing.
Because academic advising sits at the confluence of academic and student affairs, it’s critical that advisors have access to technologies that span both academic and non-academic aspects of the student experience.
Digital Student Support
Most student affairs divisions (and the various functional areas within them) at institutions across the country were not set up for a mostly online-oriented engagement mission. “Meetings students where they are” has long-been a mantra of the student affairs profession. As students will be distributed and online for the foreseeable future, a blended approach of digital tools will be relied on to support overall student success. Email, social media, chatbots, SMS messages, video conferencing, engagement portals, and a pragmatic approach to working with students who will be relying on mobile devices in areas of the world where connectivity might be limited will be the new normal for student affairs professionals.
There are many uncertainties and challenges ahead with navigating the remote and hybrid academic environment. Now more than ever, students need academic advisors, student affairs practitioners, and academic faculty to make a leap into a concerted engagement effort that brings the tenants of holistic student success into the remote environment. Impressively, one constant that has been true throughout 2020 is that colleges are capable of intentional and transformative change that benefits their students.