As the pandemic-induced virtual environment plays out, higher education institutions are continuing to focus their priorities on strategies and activities that lead to student success and efficient operations. The virtual environment has certainly brought into focus our students’ experience with the university community. Dealing with offices and units within the university became a lot more complicated for students in the virtual environment until institutions started to focus on breaking down silos and instituting agility.
There are three priorities that have received the most focus:
Breaking down silos
Higher education by nature is siloed. While every division and department within a university might be providing best-of-class services to their students, from the student perspective, they must communicate and deal with several different organizational units to accomplish simple administrative tasks such as internship, study abroad, practicums, etc.
This often involves making appointments, going physically to different offices, and waiting their turn to get signature approvals. The move to a virtual environment back in March 2020 brought into focus these inefficient multi-unit processes and has allowed us to re-engineer them and move them to electronic workflows. When we focus on the student experience, we realize how siloed we are. Technology tools and systems can and should be used to break down silos and deliver intuitive and seamless experiences to our students.
As things were fluid and evolving at the start of the pandemic and during subsequent surges, many institutions of higher education zig-zagged, bringing students back to campus and sending them back to their dorms or homes based on infections. Institutions that were most successful during these times were the ones that had put in place mechanisms to accommodate every teaching modality quickly. During these uncertain times, institutions should focus on making agility the norm, and provide training and resources for faculty and staff to switch modalities in a fast and efficient manner.
As we plan for the Summer and Fall terms we should be prepared to teach and provide services in all three formats:
- fully virtual,
- hybrid, and
- fully in-person.
With a combination of these three modalities, institutions can be agile enough to accommodate the needs and circumstances of teachers and learners.
Preparing for the future
We all need to be thinking about what higher education is going to look like post-pandemic. While everyone agrees that we will never go back to pre-pandemic norms, it is high time to think about how we reshape the way we teach, learn, and work. We can assume that this is not the last event that will force us to go to virtual mode. We need to document what worked and what didn’t during this pandemic; regularly conduct disaster recovery and business continuity exercises; and have a plan in place that would work for any kind of disaster we may face in the future.
Higher education institutions are learning organizations. Just as we expect our students to think critically, solve problems, and become lifelong learners, institutions also need to learn from challenges and become agile and innovative enterprises. As the global society continues to evolve, stagnation in the traditional approaches to teaching and learning will no longer work. Institutions that continue to anticipate future demands and are proactive will grow and thrive.