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How Higher Ed Is Improving Remote and Blended Learning for Fall

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(Image credit: iStock/AndreyPopov)

As leaders at higher ed institutions work to sort out the basic logistics of what the campus experience might look like this Fall, many also find themselves facing student backlash regarding remote learning experiences. 

After this spring’s pandemic-related interruption of on-campus classes, students have filed lawsuits asking for tuition refunds at dozens of universities, including Vanderbilt, Brown, Cornell, Columbia, Purdue, and the universities of California, Colorado, and Miami, among others. According to a recent poll by OneClass, 75% of college students were unhappy with the quality of their institution’s elearning quality during Spring. Nearly one-third of students (32%) claim they’re likely to transfer if their school continues only online learning, according to a survey of 12,000 students by Niche. 

To help smooth over the necessary increase in remote and blended learning, higher ed institutions are implementing a variety of improvements. 

One approach many institutions are taking is an increased investment in faculty professional development to improve online instruction. The University of Wisconsin-Madison offered a full slate of PD opportunities, including active teaching labs, a one-week online teaching boot camp, a virtual teaching conference, and sessions to learn lecture recording. Vanderbilt University recently announced that it is partnering with an outside firm to create a hub of online teaching resources that includes instructional design support, troubleshooting assistance, and lesson templates that can be used in the institution’s learning management system. Butte College has launched a multilayer teacher training program that starts with teaching basic computer skills, covers legal and privacy issues, and then delves into the nuts and bolts of delivering lessons.

Other institutions are boosting infrastructure and making over campuses to accommodate new instruction models. For example, the University of San Diego is spending $1.5 million to improve 125 classrooms for blended learning. USC just finished creating nearly 250 hybrid learning spaces, and has expanded the campus network to accommodate thousands of simultaneous video conferences. And taking advantage of its climate, Rice University in Texas is erecting nine outdoor structures, including five giant open-sided tents, for classes … although students are being asked to bring their own chairs.

With classes drawing closer and COVID-19 infection increasing in many areas, flexibility and adaptability will be the key to being prepared for the uncertainty ahead.