How can institutions provide students with the digital learning experience they want and need? Ian Dunn, provost at Coventry University, and Gideon Shimshon, associate principal digital learning and innovation at Queen Mary’s, say the sector can emerge from the COVID-19 crisis better prepared than ever.
Times of crisis bring about times of change. Spring 2020 in the education sector saw just that, with universities doing anything and everything they could to give students the best learning experience possible in unprecedented circumstances. The sector did well, proving that universities can move at great pace when needed.
Learning from our biggest challenge
For some, this meant scaling up existing operations, and for others, brand new digital strategies had to be created, along with the staff capabilities and infrastructure to deliver them.
The sector’s hard work meant that higher education’s long journey into digital teaching and learning was impressively turbo-boosted, and the journey isn’t over yet. We can do so much more.
As the next academic year approaches, it’s clear that higher education will never be the same again. Crises shape history, and this is our chance to reshape education in a way that works for students.
Moving beyond the physical campus
Our student populations live digitally, as do many academics, yet the campus has clung to its physical estate and, to some extent, simply tolerated the addition of a virtual learning environment. The global pandemic has demonstrated that both the physical and virtual estates need to be developed with equal commitment.
Our campuses must become cyber-physical; equal-status elements of our existence as universities. This will require financial investment.
Putting students first (by putting staff first)
Students and teachers must be placed centre stage in the digital age, and committing to training and development for all staff is a step in the right direction. Some staff may have to step away from how they were taught in order to be able to adapt to a new future.
It’s crucial they do though; students benefit when staff are supported to boost their digital skills, because teaching is a team sport.
The three requirements for digital learning
Emerge Education and Jisc have acknowledged this chance for change, by releasing digital learning rebooted, a report that we’ve been excited to contribute to.
Developed through conversations with both universities and the edtech world, it shares case studies from universities, highlighting how they’ve embraced digital learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than that though, the report looks ahead to 2030, outlining how universities can harness the power of digital to enhance the learning experience for students for good.
Digital learning rebooted suggests that, to make the most of its potential, digital learning in HE must meet three requirements by 2030.
It needs to be intentional, delivering a learning experience that is built from the ground up to improve on current practice; seamless, with a reliable, coherent and integrated foundation; and supportive, designed to help every student and educator to make the most of it no matter their location or background.
Far from meaning that all learning must happen online, the overarching goal of the report is to demonstrate how digital learning can improve the university model, no matter the mode of delivery.
The road ahead
Ten years is a long time, and the world in 2030 might seem impossible to imagine given the global events of the past year. What’s key is that, as a sector, we are driven by creating the best possible teaching and learning experience for both students and staff.
As we emerge from the rubble, we’re ready to rebuild while appreciating that we’ve already laid the foundations for a new digital landscape. The future of education seems an exciting place, and the metamorphosis of higher education has already begun.