Jonathan Zaretsky, Student Deployment Strategist

With continuous updates and guidance rapidly evolving around the response to COVID-19, higher education institutions have needed to quickly react.  They are tackling the significant task of quickly moving most learning, collaboration, and work environments to the cloud. The spread of the virus began in the United States when some institutions were on spring break which required the implementation of social distancing guidelines.  In an effort to protect everyone at their institution, many made the decision to extend the break to buy some additional time and gain a clearer understanding of the directives being issued. Based on the recent extension of social distancing guidelines, most institutions will need to fully transition to a remote instructional model for an extended time period. Institutions are currently in a position where their move to the cloud is imperative and the transition will need to be extremely swift. 

I have worked at multiple higher education institutions for the last 10 years in both functional and technical capacities.  I currently serve as an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University in addition to my role as Student System Deployment Strategist at Alchemy. All of this provides a broad spectrum of experiences on which to draw during this unique time.  Working for Alchemy has prepared me for remote work (we suspended all travel for the safety of our customers and teammates in mid March). At Alchemy, the majority of our teammates work at their homes across the country.   Even with the experience of working remotely since 2017, I have struggled with the concept of social distancing and self-isolation. Given the ‘new normal’, we collectively wanted to share some thoughts around shifting to the cloud with our higher education community:

What will be the impact on our students?

Although it is too early to see what long term effect this time will have on students, we know that they are absolutely feeling a significant impact of this pandemic. The impacts will certainly vary from institution to institution and our perspective of them may change as time elapses.

Negative Impact:

Most of today’s research concludes that the more connected students are to an institution, the more likely they are to succeed.  As students transition to virtual learning, there will certainly be a big impact for those who either can’t learn virtually or who don’t have access to the resources they need to successfully complete their required coursework. 

Positive Impact:

Although it is very difficult to see any positive impact of this crisis at this point, long-term there may be some favorable changes to higher education.  This includes the opportunity for innovation around how students interact with an institution. 

There is a movement of embracing the technology of younger generations not only in the classroom, but in the workforce as well. Enabling students with the latest technology in the classroom, either onsite or virtual, will better prepare them for joining the workforce. We recently saw some of this when 70 students at Berklee School of Music showed how technology can bring them together by remotely performing What The World Needs Now Is Love.

Only time will tell what this transformation will look like.  I would be lying if I didn’t say I am interested to see what it will look like, not only 3 months from now, but 10 years from now, in the form of technological advancement. 

What will be the impact on our staff?

Even though we know the biggest impact with remote instruction will be with our students, time is bringing changes to some of your teammates that are non-instructional.   While it will be a great opportunity for them to work remotely, it can also be a significant test. 

Until now, the majority of higher education has been under the belief that administrative, non-instructional, and non-IT personnel would be unable to complete their assigned duties if they were fully remote. When I worked for Broward College, I got to personally experience both sides of the spectrum. When I was part of the Office of Financial Aid, working remotely was not permitted.  That completely changed when I transitioned to Information Technology where I was not only able to work remotely, it was encouraged and supported.

We can’t predict the future. I wonder if there will there be a significant change and adoption to working remotely for non-instructional or non-IT personnel in higher education?  If this change occurs, will remote work be encouraged and supported or discouraged and unsupported? Either way, one thing is certain - this time will be the reference point for years to come.

What will be the impact on our faculty?

As an active professor, I am certified in online delivery and my course is QM-Certified. If you would like to learn more about Quality Matters certification, please click here. While this experience has made remote instruction second nature to me, the majority of faculty in higher education may not have this familiarity with online delivery. The rapid transition to online instruction will certainly encounter some hurdles.  Ensuring faculty are meeting the objectives of an online course and validating that your students are able to improve and grow is not going to be accomplished within the next couple of weeks. If you mix this with all of the current challenges of online learning, it might appear that you are at the bottom of a very large mountain. Many faculty are up for the challenge of transitioning their coursework online, however few are aware of what changes are needed to ensure quality delivery. When I went through my QM certification, I was guided by the eight standards of quality online courses below:

  1. Course Overview and Introduction
  2. Learning Objectives (Competencies)
  3. Assessment and Measurement
  4. Instructional Materials
  5. Learning Activities and Learner Interaction
  6. Course Technology
  7. Learner Support
  8. Accessibility and Usability

With the transition to remote work a necessity for the foreseeable future, there are still so many unanswered questions that are currently being posed at institutions across the country:

  • How are you accommodating students who don’t want to learn with an online instructional format? What if they have challenges that prevent online learning?
  • How are you transitioning to remote lab work? Have you seen any institutions successful at leveraging Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality to successfully transition lab work to remote?
  • How are you ensuring the minimum weeks of instruction is met for Financial Aid purposes? How are you adjusting your faculty contracts to account for these changes?

If there is one thing we can do, it is getting behind our faculty and supporting them with the transition to online instructional delivery.

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