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The 5 Stages of Moving Online

From determining a remote learning strategy to planning for the new normal and enabling standards-based practices, these five phases describe the progress institutions are making toward excellence in teaching and learning online.

series of lightbulbs on steps

Recently I sat in on a virtual session at the Educause Learning Initiative Annual Meeting. The topic on the agenda was analytics, and what data institutions will need in order to navigate higher education's new normal. Yet, like many conversations these days, the session kept returning to the crisis that nearly every college and university is dealing with today: the emergency move from face-to-face to online learning.

The panelists offered a five-phase framework to describe that process:

1) Determine remote strategy. In this stage, institutions work through which ed tech tools to use, how to best support faculty and students, and generally reassure all parties that "Yes, we can do this." As Catherine Zabriskie, director of academic technology services at Brown University, recalled, "I quickly figured out my job as a leader was to keep saying it's going to be okay, you've got this, we're going to get through this together."

2) Facilitate remote enablement. In other words, immediate crisis management: Faculty and students are able to access remote teaching and learning. Many colleges and universities are in this stage right now.

3) Inspect and improve. This is a time for institutions to pause and reflect. Were there any shortcuts taken that need to be undone? In addition, it's important to survey faculty and students to determine what additional support might be needed. Many institutions may have skipped this stage, feeling the pressure to move forward with planning for the summer and fall terms, the panelists noted.

4) Plan for new normal. "Our new normal basically is recognizing that we have no idea what's going to happen," said Zabriskie. "That's the only thing we know: that we don't know. But we expect that remote instruction is going to be needed in the kind of short to immediate term." This is the time to develop technology, instructional design, support, communication roadmaps and contingency plans — and consider online learning standards of excellence.

5) Enable online learning. The shift from remote learning (stage two) to true online learning only occurs once plans from stage four have been executed. "This is going to look different for each of our institutions given our priorities," noted Zabriskie.

Ultimately as institutions work through these five phases, the big question is: What will happen when campuses are able to open up again, in some capacity? When asked what the future will look like at Brown, Zabriskie said, "We have daily meetings where every day, it feels like there are three different new scenarios. We're really keeping our eyes focused on needing to reduce the density of students on campus, and what does that mean. Would you give everyone a preference of whether they want to be on campus or be remote? Or would you say, let's let the freshmen start and let the sophomores catch up in our spring semester? So we're still figuring all of that out, and we are definitely talking about how best to create community. We talk about the new normal, but my feeling is we're never going back to the old way. We're going to keep going forward."

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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