Today’s Solutions: December 03, 2023

It’s safe to say COVID-19 has radically changed most of our personal and professional lives. For many college students, shutdowns have provoked a change in learning style and an eviction from campus housing. We discussed some of the implications for college students in our View last weekend, but what about colleges themselves? How will higher education institutions be permanently changed by the implications of the pandemic? 

Two professors: Vijay Govindarajan from Dartmouth College and Anup Srivastava from the University of Calgary analyzed what life might look like for post-COVID colleges. When it comes to lectures, they note that keeping large lectures online could actually pave the way for more efficient face to face learning time. With the foundation of courses occurring online, in-person meeting time could be reserved for critical discussion, guidance, and fieldwork. This would also reduce the time required for students to be physically on campus and lower infrastructure costs, making college more affordable and accessible for a wider population of students. 

Ingraining more virtual learning into universities would require expanding IT infrastructure. The rapid transition to online courses has already highlighted the holes in campus technology capabilities. COVID-19 has called attention to the digital divide that exists between high and low-income students, so colleges would have to address this disparity to expand online education. Even in a large lecture hall, professors can assess whether students are engaged and absorbing the material, but it’s harder through a screen. If our technologies are not advanced enough to capture these nuances, what changes need to be made to enhance virtual communication? 

Lastly, students and faculty habits and behaviors will need to adjust to a more virtual future. Are students willing to give up their college social experience for a lower price tag? How can we truly engage students through a screen? What keeps students from surfing the internet or checking their email during an online class? Professors will also need training in how to best mobilize online tools to become confident in presenting and sharing data and visual aids via an online platform. 

When it comes to changing our higher education systems, COVID-19 has thrown us into the deep end of online learning. While online communication and education platforms such as Zoom, Khan Academy, and Coursera are thriving, many students and professors are not. COVID-19 might be just the event to finally disrupt the inaccessible nature of higher education in the US. Online learning alone is probably not the ideal way to impart wisdom to future generations, but the pandemic is teaching us how we can mobilize technology to improve our education systems even after shutdowns are lifted.

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