Are you making contingency plans in case coronavirus prevents students and staff attending campus? First start by looking at the technology you already have at your disposal.
Where do we start?
No one can predict how this will play out or how widespread or long-term its impact will be. We know staff and students are already ‘self-isolating’.
This is beginning to raise serious questions about how universities and colleges can continue to deliver teaching, learning and assessment if staff and students are not able to attend campus.
Organisations already offering extensive distance learning opportunities to learners, supported by staff who can work and teach remotely, are more likely to adapt easily to the kind of scenario that coronavirus may present.
But what if you are still nearer the start than the finish line in your digital journey? Don’t worry as there are plenty of practical steps you can take.
Many of you have access to a range of technologies which could power you to function during any disruption that coronavirus may bring.
Here are a few, taken from our new guide on ensuring continuity of learning during enforced absence, launched today.
Continue collaboration with the right platforms
Microsoft Office 365 and Google G-Suite can provide many features for keeping in touch with colleagues and students.
Video conferencing functionality will live stream lectures or capture for viewing later. Just be sure staff have access to good mics/headsets.
Microsoft Teams is free for all staff and students in higher education, supporting meetings of up to 250 attendees.
Microsoft has produced a guide for getting started with remote learning via Teams, as well as a series of free education-focussed webinars for educators and IT staff. You can also sign up to join a global community for education in Teams, which has channels dedicated to academics and learning instructors, IT professionals, phone system and meetings, teaching and learning.
To see how universities are using Teams meeting and guest access for international research in practice, check out Dr Michael Johnson's presentation, 'research collaborations'.
Jisc’s cloud solutions team offer expertise in getting the most out of Microsoft Office 365.
Carry on delivering learning and content via your VLE
Make sure all staff feel confident in using the VLE now, even if they haven’t before, or not for some time. It may be prudent to remind all staff of their login details, point them at ‘beginner level’ sources of guidance and provide opportunities for them to learn from each other and from colleagues with more advanced skills.
Access digital content wherever you are
Don’t forget that all the digital content you licence from Jisc, be they books, journals or multimedia resources can all be accessed off campus.
Support your most vulnerable
A stressful situation will be made worse if staff and students feel isolated and/or confused by rumour and misinformation.
Clear and consistent approval processes for content and not relying on a single means of transmission will help communicate the right messages to the right people. Pay attention to the needs of your most vulnerable staff and students who may suffer most from isolation and the anxiety this can cause, guaranteeing they have direct access to people they can contact.
Retain access to your core systems and data
If you have already invested in disaster recovery or business continuity planning, these are likely to be a useful guide as to what systems and data you will need constant access to function as an organisation. Once they and their required users have been identified, virtual private networks (VPNs) can offer a means of remote access for staff with work-issue laptops.
You could also consider enabling a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) which can provide a more secure means of access to corporate systems when using a domestic PC or laptop.
Empower technical support staff
More remote staff and students will put more demands on your IT team. If you don’t have them already, it may be worth investing in applications that allow technical support staff to remotely control workstations to resolve problems.
You may also want to consider setting up a remote online helpdesk for students for the duration of the incident. This can include up-to-date FAQs based on the kinds of questions that students are asking, as well as provide links to relevant internal or external sources of information, eg to local or central government guidance on travel, personal safety or public health.
Spaces for wellbeing
Giving staff virtual spaces via platforms such as Yammer or Slack for them to share experiences, voice concerns and generally retain their social ties can all help people cope with stressful situations while protecting their wellbeing.
Our new guide goes into more detail and we hope it is a practical starting point for all of you, regardless of where you are.
This was produced very quickly to support you with the current situation caused by coronavirus, so we will keep iterating it based on your feedback.