By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read April 2020As the coronavirus reduced daily activity to only essential services, educational institutions were forced to transition at a moment’s notice into a virtual setting as shelter-in-place measures and social distancing became commonplace. Entire curriculums, testing, labs, and even physical education in some cases, transitioned into an online classroom setting as teachers and students of all grade levels resumed their education under the COVID-19 pandemic. 

These risk-management decisions stressed and challenged the infrastructure of universities, colleges, and schools throughout the nation, while at the same time creating opportunities for innovation in the educational landscape. Although fully online classes are a temporary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, and as local, state and national governments consider what a reopened economy may look like, educational systems alike are being forced to mitigate the challenges and innovate their educational practices and offerings via learning innovation and digitalization.

In Orlando, Seminole State College of Florida was able to make the transition into a fully online learning setting effectively because its student body and faculty were already familiar with online and remote learning. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and shelter in place measures, the college was well-positioned for the quick change of events, President Georgia Lorenz told Invest: Insights in a virtual interview. “About 53 percent of our students were already taking at least one online course as part of their schedule. The vast majority of our students at some point of their academic career have had familiarity with our online learning managing system,” she said. Many of the campus based classes use the same learning management system to enhance and support the learning process, making the transition easier to handle for faculty and students. Additionally, the college also quickly transitioned its library, student support systems, and other resources online to maximize the learning experience during a time of abrupt changes. “It’s been a lot of work and I give a lot of credit to our faculty, students and all of our staff for making this change very quickly.” 

In the COVID-19 landscape, tuition-dependent institutions are among the most vulnerable as students are liable to put their education plans on pause as they grapple with loss of employment and income. Colleges and universities with strong endowments and alumni contributions will likely survive the impact of COVID-19, but declines in revenue and increases in costs will likely loom for the coming academic years. Declining revenues could stifle innovation as institutions reprioritize budgets and offerings. 

However, a life post-COVID-19 may be ripe with opportunities for innovation and further streamlining of classes. COVID-19 helped destigmatize fully online learning. Moving forward, educational leaders will likely see online education as more than a source for extra revenues. Instead, online education will likely become an integral part of institutional resilience and academic continuity. Educational institutions will have to rethink how they plan for, fund, and market online learning. More unified institutions will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, as online courses and student support functions become more centralized and integrated into existing academic structures and processes. 

At Seminole State College of Florida,  “students are appreciating the e-services and online learning capabilities,” Lorenz said. “We are continuing to innovate and fine-tune as we move forward, but it seems to be working really well for a good portion of our students and staff.”

In terms of lasting innovation, it is possible that online learning goes truly global as colleges and universities expand their student base to allow for more international students who may never see the inside of a physical campus. 

The lasting impact of COVID-19 to the educational sector remains to be seen. For the time being, it is likely that students will finish the spring semester and potentially the 2019-2020 school year from the comfort of their homes. As educators prepare for summer and fall semesters, they will have to contend with the challenges and opportunities of educating students in a post-COVID-19 world.       

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: https://www.seminolestate.edu

To view the interview with Seminole State College of Florida President Georgia Lorenz, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=6&v=MhowKRH4dkY&feature=emb_title

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