As COVID-19 school closures continue, it’s anyone’s guess how long they will last. Unfortunately, returning to the classroom this academic year looks uncertain and many are now looking to the fall. Will schools also require social distancing and remote instruction measures then? It makes sense to prepare.

Near-term measures have focused on the technology that allows classes to continue. But real online learning requires more than technology alone. The good news is there is still time to prepare for the fall. Here are three things you should consider.

Online Learning Technology Components

Our view is that technology for online learning should cover four interconnected areas. Informed by the e-learning framework of Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), a U.K.-based higher education organization, this view is student-centric. It considers how technology should deliver value to students. Here are the four components:

  1. Solutions: Technologies that support online learning, including digital courseware, adaptive learning, learning management, and productivity and collaboration solutions.
  2. Principles: Organizational rules, culture, and values that drive technological decisions, including anytime and anywhere access, accessibility, and quality standards.
  3. Common Services: Services that many solutions require, including chat, identity management, search, and content management.
  4. Learning Services: Services that enable learning activities, such as course management, curriculum management, assessments, and learning activity management.

In Wake-Up Calls to follow over the next few months, we will discuss the Solutions component. Today, we focus on aspects of the other three—Principles, Common Services, and Learning Services—that leaders often overlook.

1. Principles: Ensuring Access to Online Learning

While the decision to cancel in-person learning and offer remote instruction is reasonable from a public health point of view, it creates a digital divide for many students. This is especially true for those from lower-income families or households of people of color.

Drawn from the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, Figure 1 shows that four out of six subgroups fall below the national average for broadband access (defined as having at least one type of internet subscription other than dial-up, regardless of device).

 

2018 American Community Survey –Broadband Access by Income Level and Ethnicity Figure 1.

 

Additionally, a recent Educause survey found that 63% of students encountered some level of difficulty with access to bandwidth and 55% with access to equipment, two additional examples that illustrate the digital divide. Each of these presents common challenges institutions must solve for when ensuring the Principle of access to online learning. 

2. Common Services: Authenticated and Authorized Online Access to Digital Materials

Even students who have internet and equipment must usually log into a set of solutions selected by the institution to access their course materials. These solutions handle login requests and verify student identities. They also both provide and control student access to the right materials. Figure 2 shows the level of difficulty students report facing in accessing digital resources.

 

Educause Quick Poll (2020) - Difficulty in Transitioning to Fully Remote Online LearningFigure 2.

 

With many students studying remotely online right now, institutions face critical questions about identity management. Among them: Will their systems support larger-than-normal volumes of online sessions? Can they authenticate students using home machines or on home internet addresses (IP addresses)? Unless institutions address these questions, they will find they lack the infrastructure to provide Common Services like access to online courses and materials.

3. Learning Services: Academic Support

Academic support is essential for all students when considering remote instruction, involving educational planning, counseling and coaching, and risk targeting and intervention. Likewise, many technologies help institutions create a personalized and integrated approach—often involving faculty, advisors, and academic support staff.

Figure 3 outlines the best practices that many institutions have adopted, pre-pandemic, including supporting advisor and faculty use of information systems, and providing applications, training, and tools.

 

Educause Survey Data (2019) - Best Practices in Place to Support Faculty, Advisors, and Staff Use of Student Success Technologies

Figure 3.

 

Despite the provision of these academic support measures—and it is clear from Figure 3 that not all institutions had these practices in place as of last year—there remains the question of how effective they are in the face of limited broadband access or log in issues. Without consideration of these areas, institutions will find it challenging to help advisors create ongoing relationships with online students. Likewise, these students may not receive the Academic Support they require to complete their academic journeys.

The Bottom Line

We applaud the remote instruction efforts of hundreds of schools dealing with the immediate impact of COVID-19 on teaching and learning. If you are ready for a move to true online learning, however, here are three things you could do:

  1. Offer a Remote Internet Access Survey: While institutions cannot solve the digital divide, they can get a sense of the availability of broadband for their students to ensure that they can access the solutions required for online learning. Like many K-12 school districts, higher education institutions planning to offer online courses should issue anonymous surveys to get a more accurate sense of access to the internet at student households. In response to such data, schools are doing everything from distributing laptops to students to broadcasting WiFi in parking lots.
  2. Test Your Identity and Access Management Approach: Some institutions develop in-depth plans to manage their identities and access management approaches. There are, however, some lighter-weight methods you could use to identify potential issues in ensuring access to digital materials. For example, you can put together a checklist of requirements for vendors, or start conversations with your technology leaders about how well your current solutions identify and prevent unauthorized users, and avoid unnecessary permissions for authorized ones.
  3. Evaluate Your Academic Support Readiness: Ensuring that you have the right technology solutions to support student success in remote instruction is necessary, but not enough. These technologies must still work within the context of student access (or lack thereof) to broadband and your identity and access management approach. One way to evaluate your readiness to provide academic support is to establish processes for how you might help advisors who use these technologies interact with students who do not have internet access, such as regular telephone calls.

We offer these suggestions as directions on the path to delivering real online learning. In future Wake-Up Calls, we will explore other recommendations. Please contact us with any questions or insights your institution has as others prepare for fall.

James Wiley

Eduventures Principal Analyst at ACT | NRCCUA
Contact

Wednesday, April 15, 2020 at 2PM ET/1PM CT

College-bound high school students across the country are experiencing unprecedented disruption to their senior year of high school. They are feeling disconnected from friends, social events, and the norm of going to high school every day. They’ve lost the important rituals of senior year. One of these central rites of passage, the choice of and transition to college, has been thrown into turmoil.

This webinar, based on an Eduventures survey conducted just last week, has garnered more than 7,100 responses from high school seniors nationwide. We will discuss these findings and the impact that COVID-19 is having on their current high school experience and their ongoing college choice. Our analysis will frame the conversation of how colleges can move forward in helping students make sense of college choice in an uncertain time. We will explore key segments such as first-generation and low-income students and students in hard hit regions of the country.

Finally, we seek the insights of the higher education community as we analyze the data further and look forward to the in-depth Admitted Student Research™ we are preparing in the coming months.

Also in Program Innovation…
The Online Migration: Three Master’s Programs to Watch

The Online Migration: Three Master’s Programs to Watch

Online program strategy has taken on new meaning and direction in the midst of COVID-19. Institutions must balance previously established plans—or lack thereof—to launch online master’s programs with new priorities to provide safe distance learning alternatives.

OPMs: Renew, or Go Internal?

OPMs: Renew, or Go Internal?

Q. Our school has maintained a long-term engagement with an external Online Program Management (OPM) partner. Prior to the recent impact of COVID-19, we were assessing whether to renew this contract, or use our internal services and business units to manage our online...