Post-COVID impacts on schools and ways to adapt
From Disruption to Recovery
❝Public health and public education are closely interconnected as they show the undeniable necessity of collaboration, solidarity and collective action for the common good ❞
“Given the importance of a strengthened public commitment to education as a common good, we should also explore how knowledge itself should be considered a global common good. This requires us to think well beyond expanding and democratizing the ways knowledge is accessed.”
Covid has had a devastating impact on the world. Even industries that are usually unaffected by financial crises are now reeling from its unprecedented effects. Academic institutions and higher learning are undergoing financial cuts after shuttering its doors. More than 100 million children and 1.5 billion students have been displaced from their daily routines. To adapt, schools must adopt innovative digital technological strategies to the changing landscape and focus on a new hybrid model of long distance learning and traditional classroom.
Schools have faced full or partial closure all over the world. Covid is a class issue as much as it is a health issue. For many, the internet is inaccessible and levels of minimum proficiency and literacy for students have been lowered, further plunging disadvantaged students into poverty. Higher levels of learning are not exempt. In Europe, 7 major University sectors predict a loss of core public funding resources as well as a reduction in revenues from rental and commercial services and contractual research. As well, 14 major university sectors predict a huge loss of income from international students due to the current global travel restrictions. As a result, universities globally are suffering losses in the billions.
In the future, universities must continue to adopt a digital technological approach versus solely relying on a traditional classroom structure– students go to school, attend F2F lectures at a physical location. The vast potential of online learning will be explored. To correct the patterns and trends of inequality that were further exacerbated by the COVID, schools must make information and education available to all. Education must be strengthened as a common good and barriers to its accessibility removed. We must foster connectivity and collaboration between teachers and the community. As with every crisis, we learn in the process what we are capable of and hopefully, meet challenges with an unified resilient front. Globally, there is a renewed focus on the public good, we are moving away from individualism and returning to a more holistic model. We exist in an interconnected society, all deserving of health, empathy and access to education. While COVID has revealed frailty, it has also highlighted actualized human resourcefulness, dedication and ingenuity.
“The educational systems best prepared to respond to the crisis will be those that are capable of valuing their teachers and giving them the conditions for autonomous and collaborative work. This crisis revealed the difficulty of dealing with unexpected situations in centralized bureaucracies and showed us that the real capacity for response and innovation lies in the initiative of educators who, together with parents and communities, have in many cases found ingenious and contextualized solutions.”
As the world recovers from the pandemic, we must ask what are the ways schools can adapt to the “new normal.” How can schools lower the cost of higher education and create greater access? How can schools improve the student learning experience?
Universities must downsize physical assets and seize opportunities to digitalize, automate processes and streamline costs.
“The COVID-19 crisis has also revealed the massive importance of digital connectivity and online platforms—to the extent that we need to begin considering access to information, itself also a fundamental right, connected to the right to education in ways that were not foreseen even a decade ago. “
The resistance that traditional universities have had towards digital long-distance learning were quickly removed by necessity. Whole campuses were closed and students were sent home to learn remotely. Campuses are now empty and depopulated. Post Covid, the financial benefits reaped by a digital technological approach may save higher education’s enterprise. This digital technological approach will include artificial Intelligence, cloud computing, blockchain verified records like Educhain and the “Internet of all things.” By moving away from paper-based storage systems to automating customer service and administrative processes schools can instead allocate and prioritize funds to teaching programs and research activities. By shifting to a data-driven based decision thinking, it will not only affect the cost structure but also change the systematic structure of higher education, making it more accessible and inclusive. By lowering administration costs, this would free up resources for consultations, to research-based teaching and mentorship.
“It is no longer simply a question of delivering our children to schools at fixed times and relying on the inherited belief that time-spent equals learning-achieved. Instead, we must find flexible forms, flexible times, shared educational commitments, and an understanding of the ways that learning is broadly diffused across contemporary societies.”
Will schools be able to return to the traditional organization of the classroom post COVID? Do students need in person lectures? Can certain lectures be delivered by an instructor? Is an in person four-year expensive residential experience necessary? Will the size of in-person classes be restricted in the future? Will there also be a restriction on dorms or near campus apartments?
Schools must promote and create a flexible program that is a hybrid experience of in-person activities on campus and long-distance learning. Students can watch most lectures online and access learning materials and attend online exams and testing. Academic institutions should embrace open-source resources and lower cost alternatives like hiring non university instructors to teach basic courses- ideas like the pythagorean theorem are universal and unspecialized. They could even be accessed through free or low-cost public online platforms like Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, and edX. Tests and exams could be administered online and through blockchain technology, which would verify and ensure privacy and a fraud free testing environment. These courses could even be rewarded through a digital badge. Lectures, course work and learning materials could be uploaded to the Blockchain and accessed directly by students.
In a post covid world, employers will want to see technical prowess and real-life skills. Older students may want to upgrade their skills by taking short intensive 10-week courses to stay competitive in a cut throat job market. All these short course credits could be recorded and authentically verified on Educhain, a one stop digital passport for your academic career. Students then, could choose to send their credentials to prospective schools and employers in a safe easy manner.
The physical space at the university would become more like social and collaborative spaces. Students could invest their time in attending electives, social networking, faculty hours, receiving career guidance and doing group assignments. Things like social networking, field-based projects and global learning projects could also be facilitated on campus.
Data analytics could be tracked to discover what works and what doesn’t. AI and chatbots in anonymous chat rooms could facilitate discussion about benefits and areas that need to be improved. They can easily track what aspects of student learning need to happen in person on campus, and what aspects can be complemented or supplemented by technology. These data analytics can also track student learning and attendance and feedback and inform the university on how to create a better student learning experience and budget accordingly. AI can predict course interests and allow for better prospective financial budgeting. Students would get the convenience of attending lectures at home while saving on travelling time and on campus living expenses. There was a story about how one student had travelled from her home in Eastern Europe to attend school in London, UK because the cost of living was too high, and it was indeed more cost effective for her to travel across the county to attend lectures and spend the rest of her time at home. Traditional classroom organization must give way to a more flexible model.
Learning content management systems can automate university workflows and save money.
Chat bots can also provide self-service through AI, allowing students to ask general inquiries and remove one of the administration staff’s lesser responsibilities. AI can be the first step of any inquiry. It can also automate book comparisons, optimize budgets, and facilitate one click purchases and automate library systems.
Through the “internet of things,” infrastructure could be accessed through the phones, allowing for better planning and use of space and energy. For example, students could see how busy the library is at the moment and book study spaces at the library ahead of time through an app.
Other technology like Braille reading software or a speech to word application could help disabled students and make it easier to further advance their learning career.
“Make free and open-source technologies available to teachers and students. Open educational resources and open access digital tools must be supported. Education cannot thrive with ready-made content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students. Nor can education be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.”
In a post-covid world, we must make open-source technologies available to students and teachers. Digital libraries and course materials could be uploaded to a site like Bibliu.com or a blockchain that students could access through an app on their phone. Learning content management systems would enable universities to provide their students with free digital and learning materials. This would democratize the learning environment, creating more equal access for lower income and disabled students.
One issue is the question of how to provide access to a huge audience ( 1000+ students) and a personalized experience at the same time. How can technology provide the warmth and real time reactivity of an in-person lecture. How can technology gauge intuitive things like student interest? An instructor teaching a lesson can tell if the students understand the lecture material in real time and will change the pace of the lecture accordingly. A student asking too many questions may realize he’s slowing down the class and halt. Could these same subtleties be realized in an online context and reacted to in real time? Technology will find a way to measure these things digitally and develop technological features that can reflexively gauge these metrics online.
Also, when students attend an in-person lecture, the experience is more democratic; it levels all differences since each student has the same vantage point as the other. Digitally, income differences may be more pronounced. Richer students may have the latest computers, more bandwidth, more stable WIFI, audio graphic programs and their own private space. There must be greater infrastructure and public funding to support public WIFI. Private universities might have greater access to IT personnel and IT infrastructure than public universities, again affecting the level of education. How do we provide the tools of learning for all levels of society?
Will the students be able to engage with the course material and focus? Like most things online, maintaining interest and attention is difficult on screen — the optimal time for a video is 3 minutes, just like a pop song. Watching online videos or attending online lectures or meetings create listless disengagement because of an impersonal screen experience. Students may be distracted and opt to multitask, email, watch tv, sleep and text. There’s also a distinct loss of belonging. Students may no longer feel like they’re part of a college cohort and unlike previous generations, no longer have others to compete against and foster healthy competition and ambition. It’s also difficult for students to foster self initiative and follow a calendar independently without the help of professors and TAs. An app can be developed that regulates and monitors attendance and attention. Data analytics could also be used to monitor student’s interest and design a more engaging course based on feedback data. Universities could mimic Duolingo’s experience points rankings and rank students like competitors online and gamify the learning experience. The complementary aspect of on campus group projects, field projects, office hours and networking events could counter these social effects, creating a more integrated experience, enabling students to experience the best from both worlds.
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