I have been disappointed but unsurprised by recent coverage of online higher education. The idea of online as second-rate has become the go-to for the uninformed - and while it's a narrative that doesn’t go entirely unchallenged, it does seem to dominate the mainstream media.
Experiences beg to differ. At Jisc, the UK’s education and technology not-for-profit, our members report that online teaching adds significant value to students’ learning when part of a ‘blended’ or ‘hybrid’ approach that combines online and face-to-face experiences.
Giving students rich online resources that can – very effectively - replace impersonal and inflexible mass lectures, while also delivering in-person seminars and active-based learning, is widely thought to be best practice.
A mixed model
We know that many staff and students crave the experiences of being on campus. People say they miss sitting around a table with their colleagues to work collaboratively, or being able to share the social aspects of university life. Yet evidence – including that of the Jisc-led Learning and Teaching Reimagined collaboration, and the Office for Students’ Gravity Assist report into the future of higher education - shows that students and staff value a mixed model. Why limit ourselves with an ‘either/or’ mentality? Let’s deliver a package that combines face-to-face engagement with rich digital experiences.
Quality education for all
As we emerge from the pandemic and reach our ‘new normal’ let’s not turn our backs on progress, but support our increasingly diverse cohorts of students with top-quality online learning as an integral part of a rich and high-quality, campus-based pedagogical experience.
We have learnt, through COVID, to work ever more flexibly, adjusting to a fast-changing landscape, and also looking with fresh eyes at the needs of our students. Some prefer the flexibility and personalisation afforded by online learning – including many of those working around their studies, students with access needs, and learners who say they previously felt unwelcome or out of place in UK lecture halls. Universities are taking a second look, ensuring their teaching approaches embrace all.
A welcome evolution
So rather than castigating institutions that say they will continue with online lectures, let’s welcome this evolution in the post-pandemic modernisation of tertiary education. We have learnt so much over the past year. The world has changed, and so has education. Rather than dialling back, I hope we keep looking to the future, providing meaningful and memorable experiences while taking the lead internationally. We need digitally-enabled education that delivers both the skills required by Industry 4.0 and the experiences students seek.
That’s why I’m rising above the headlines. This is a time to feel proud of our achievements as a sector, and positive about our future on the global stage. Let’s celebrate the successes of our students, our staff and our sector - and let’s build on them.