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A post-Covid life: How will higher education respond to the long-term challenges of the pandemic?

As we emerge from the emergency response to the pandemic, universities will need time and space to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t. The pandemic has accelerated the pace of digital change and, now that we have emerged from the initial crisis, we have a unique opportunity to build on those approaches that have truly improved, not just replaced, learning and assessment practices.

A period of reflection and reconstruction

Understandably, not all emergency response was necessarily a better experience for students as we tried to provide alternatives at short notice. Perhaps most notably, much of the online learning during the pandemic was content-centric, focused on providing educational materials to students. This meant that while essential knowledge was accessible, those opportunities to ensure that students engage meaningfully with that content, their peers and teaching staff may not be.

At PebblePad, we believe now is the time to learn lessons from that experience and further explore approaches that make the most of what digital can offer rooted in good learning and assessment design. Build connections, communities and belonging that better prepare students for their studies and make room for the development and authentic assessment of broader skills that prepare students for a 21st workplace of the century.

We also know that both students and staff have come under severe pressure during the emergency response, and many of our conversations have highlighted exhaustion across the industry. So a focus on wellbeing is needed, and perhaps a period of catch-up and reflection, before rushing to decide on the future of learning, teaching and assessment for our universities. We have already seen some excellent approaches to support students with introduction and orientation through PebblePad, not only in the first year, but also in preparing students as they move between the years. These are the practices we must learn from and continue to build even if the goal is a full return to campus.

A first digital approach to learning about design

Of course, a successful learning process can happen in any delivery mode, there are wonderful examples of good learning and assessment in face-to-face, blended, hybrid or fully digitized formats. What is critical is the design behind that learning or assessment opportunity. So the question should be: what are the possibilities offered by digital and how do we use these opportunities to design an excellent learning experience in any preferred delivery mode? For example, we know that digital approaches can help students reflect on their knowledge and experiences, bring out the process and not just the product of learning, collect and present evidence from a range of sources, and engage in authentic assignments and assessments.

Furthermore, by leveraging technology, universities have much more freedom to dictate the design and evaluation of their learning opportunities, which offers many opportunities for innovation. Undergraduate education has traditionally been focused on knowledge, but this is changing as recognition of the importance of higher education’s role in developing broader skills has grown, in line with the need to develop career-ready graduates.

However, it is a real challenge for universities to select and choose the most appropriate digital solutions for them. It is imperative that the adoption of any technology is preceded by a clear vision and a shared understanding of the requirements (and expected benefits) of any digital solution. “Technology for the sake of technology” will never work. Once the right solution is in place, a successful implementation requires everyone to be on board. Clear leadership is key as ensuring that key stakeholders (including students) are involved in decision making and learning design.

Therefore, universities are increasingly looking strategically at digital transformation, which includes enabling all areas of the company, including leadership, digital and physical infrastructure and all the people within it, ensuring that all staff and students have the digital ability to thrive in a digital world. So no staff and students will remain unscathed from this transformation. There is no way this transformation takes place, the very ubiquity of digital in our lives means that many are more capable and confident, but many people also need support to adapt to these changing contexts. Accessibility, inclusion and well-being for all are key factors here to ensure that everyone benefits from (and is not excluded from) the possibilities offered by digital. Digital is both an enabler and a skill for life. It should be developed through appropriate and targeted application within and outside the curriculum to ensure success.

To find out more, join PebblePad at their webinar tomorrow, March 3:

A post-Covid life: How will higher education respond to the long-term challenges of the pandemic?

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