The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Ed Professionals

By Benjamin Boivin

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Looking back at 2020, it goes without saying that the word "challenge" took on a whole new meaning. In higher education, what does this mean for the professionals who have managed to steadfastly work against a backdrop of constant uncertainty and change in response to the pandemic? In this article, we take a look at the implications of the past year on higher education professionals in 2021.

Rethinking student support on- and off-campus

Student support has always been an important service with students, and after the pandemic, it is likely to be more valuable than ever before.  After nearly a year of social isolation and economic distress for many, students may have a greater need for support, whether for financing their studies as well as for psychological and emotional needs. Once the world returns to the traditional classroom, professors and administrators can expect to take up increased effort to help students transition back onto campus and into classes in various ways. Consider the many hats that may be required on behalf of educators, from that of counselor, teacher, and even in some cases, friend.  

A new appreciation for student clubs and organizations

When returning to campus, students may also experience some social discomfort. A first-year student beginning college in the Fall 2019 semester is currently a rising junior. Approximately 75% of their college experience has been online, yet most were they had no idea what they were signing up for when they submitted their college application. The academic aspect of college is paramount, but the social element is vital for personal growth. While student clubs, fraternal organizations, and student abroad programs often require some faculty supervision, not all faculty members got involved in their students' extracurricular life. Now that professors have faced their own remote teaching isolation, we may see a more engaged faulty upon returning to fully on-campus learning.

In our State of Student Recruitment 2020 report, higher education professionals stated some of the most common challenges institutions face when implementing online education. Things like lack of infrastructure, replicating successful campaign programs, finding target markets, and lack of resources were experienced first-hand by faculty and administration. Yet, student life organizers have had these same issues for years. Will there be a more substantial initiative for faculty members to participate in extracurricular clubs and organizations in the future?   

Valuing digital teaching techniques and technology

While most of teaching currently is online, what will happen once the pandemic is over? Are we prepared for maybe a permanent hybrid solution? As professors re-enter the classroom, are they expected to return to business as usual immediately, or will there be a slow integration back to normalcy?

COVID-19 has pushed many to rethink the traditional on-campus teaching. Online learning may or may not replace the in-class, face-to-face model, but the impact of COVID-19 will probably remain for years to come. In-class technology wasn't invented due to COVID-19; it has been with us for generations, but has significantly improved the last year. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic has exponentially expanded the need for professors with tech proficiency. It is up to institutions to assist their entire professor-student community in adjusting to traditional learning with the benefits of the online learning experience.

Online test assessment tools and optional testing

No one understands a students' strengths and weaknesses better than professors. Not all students are test-takers, especially under the pressures of a global pandemic. To create a more accessible testing experience for future students, institutions must provide faculty the resources they need for virtual student assessment. While this online learning feature has been a requirement throughout most of 2020, it isn't easy to forecast where this function will fit on-campus.

In A comprehensive guide to virtual student assessment, Keystone highlights Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching on the topic of Student Assessment in Teaching and Learning. Based on Sally Brown and Peter Knight’s book, Assessing Learners in Higher Education, Vanderbilt notes assessment methods that work best when learning objectives have been identified, shared, and clearly articulated to students such as:

  • Self-Assessment— not to be confused with self-grading, this powerful method helps students develop their judgment and assess the process and product. The goal is also to help students develop life skills that can be used outside of the classroom and in their future careers like leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving.
  • Peer Assessment— this collaborative, active, and adult learning technique can empower the entire class as students take over the traditional professor’s role. While this tactic puts the assessment responsibility in the students’ hands, professors must moderate the process to ensure students do not offer overly favorable evaluations to friends and low evaluations to conflicting peers.
  • Essays — institutions worldwide have cut back on exams and switched to essays during the pandemic. One common issue highlighted by Brown and Knight is that students can use essays to regurgitate rather than synthesize information. Also, not every student has quality writing skills. As college campuses are limiting face-to-face interaction, weaker writers lack access to Writing Centers, and academic mentoring.

As more institutions now have virtual test assessment experience, how can they provide more testing options to students in the classroom? 

Generations of college students have taken what they learned in class and translated it to the real world. In 2021, it is time for universities to take what they've learned from the pivot to online learning during a global pandemic and use it to their advantage in the classroom. With a more technologically savvy international faculty, better awareness of disadvantaged students in the classroom, and an increased interest in test assessment implementation, there is a lot to be optimistic about in the years to come. 

Topics: coronavirus & higher education

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