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Online Courses the New Norm in College

The share of solutions available in most or all courses.

The share of remote learning solutions available in most or all courses. Source: "Fall Planning for the New Normal: Moving Higher Ed Online" from Educause and Cisco

While 40 percent of IT higher education IT leaders and instructional technologists said in June 2020 that their college or university was planning for "mostly in-person" classes for the fall, that share plummeted to less than 5 percent by August. And whereas in fall 2019 most institutions were offering one in five or fewer classes online, a year later that was flipped: A majority of schools were offering four in five or more courses online this fall.

Those findings were shared in a recent study by Educause, developed to examine the "general trends" taking shape as institutions have made plans and preparations for fall education. Educause is an association for higher education technology professionals. The project was done in partnership with and supported by Cisco.

The results were collected through two "quick polls" done by Educause among its community groups focused on IT leadership and instructional technology. The June poll had 127 responses; the August poll had 228 responses.

The latest survey found that the health and safety of the campus community was the primary factor for decision-making by institutions regarding how courses would be delivered, mentioned by 76 percent of respondents. Student needs and preferences were "close behind" (70 percent).

The "hybridization" of classes is taking multiple forms. The one favored by more schools than any other was giving students the ability to download or stream recorded class sessions, mentioned by seven in 10 people. Live streaming of lectures or discussions was referenced by a slight majority of respondents (52 percent), followed by video capture of classroom lectures or discussion and the use of classroom microphones and speaker integration (both cited by 50 percent). The use of video screens for displaying students joining remotely wasn't as common as one might think (35 percent) in a time when Cisco WebEx, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have found such universal adoption.

Whereas people said they were mostly satisfied with the newly transformed versions of IT support and human resources they were receiving (specified by 58 and 56 percent of participants, respectively), operational areas that could definitely use more help included:

  • Labs (88 percent of respondents said more effort was needed);
  • Student food and housing support (80 percent);
  • Co-curricular activities (79 percent); and
  • Student services (67 percent).

The report also examined common challenges that colleges and universities are struggling with: having to do more work with fewer resources, adopting solutions that aren't up to the job and having to grapple with the risks of people not following the safety rules put in place.

While "the challenges and opportunities of higher education are much bigger than technology alone can address," technology also holds "enormous potential" for supporting schools through the massive changes they're undergoing, the report concluded. "Some technology solutions can help staff and faculty work better and more efficiently, other technologies can help institutions reach more students and help underserved student populations gain easier access to education, and still other technologies can help higher education weather the storms it's facing right now."

The report is openly available on the Educause website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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