By: Max Crampton- Thomas
2 min read April 2020 — As 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 Lakeland, Florida Polytechnic University, an institution solely focused on STEM education, pivoted to online learning quickly and carefully. “We made the transition much faster than anyone could have imagined. As a new university, we did not have an infrastructure in place for online classes, but nonetheless we were able to make the transition,” President Randy Avent told Invest: Insights via a virtual interview. “The biggest challenge was getting into a flow and using the software. We had to make a number of software purchases and get them running and get the student integrated. By far and large, it is going much better than we expected,” he said.
Under a 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.
For Florida Polytechnic University, there is an opportunity to use blended learning to teach a mixture of hard and soft skills, while also innovating their lab offerings. As part of their strong STEM curriculum, the university places a keen focus on teaching students a mixture of leadership skills that include communication, collaboration, and reliability that are desirable to employers, Avent said. “With this abrupt move to remote instruction, I think that we are exploring how we do all those things. One of the things that we also have as an engineering school is labs, and labs are very hard to do remotely,” he said. “It is one of those things that is forcing us to do blended models, where we do some instruction online and some instruction face to face. I think innovation is on how you do labs online and teach those leadership skills.”
Additionally, 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 interviewees, visit:https://floridapoly.edu/
To see the full interview with Florida Polytechnic University President Randy Avent, visit: