Like many universities around the world, Capilano University and Prince George's Community College have had to pivot from face-to-face education to teaching primarily online, due to the pandemic.
They've had to adapt quickly. This is how they've done it.
Deploying a technology toolset that supports education online
At Capilano University courses are being offered mainly through online delivery, with some in-person classes where required. Courses are offered in one of four formats; online, mixed-mode (online and in-person), in-person (on campus or at a specified learning site), and off-site (practicums or community-based delivery).
The delivery of these courses are supported through educational technology tools, including eLearn (their learning management system which draws on Moodle technology), WebEx and Microsoft Teams for video conferencing, and Kaltura for video creation and streaming.
Their staff also provide support such as academic learning services, career advice, and library support through video conferencing and live chat technology.
Prince George's Community College also set out their learning options really clearly. They have three options, fully online, where students can learn at their own pace, remote, which involves learning online and classes via Blackboard Collaborate Ultra web conference platform, all set to a regular timetable with scheduled times for classes and assignment submissions, and then thirdly a hybrid route, with students engaged in a combination of online/remote and face-to-face instruction.
All of this is made possible through a robust technology stack and carefully planned to onboard. The College requires everyone to complete an orientation activity online, for example, that provides helpful information to get started in their online courses.
Ambassadors smooth the transition to online learning with student ambassadors
Staff at Capilano University realized that students could be invaluable in making the transition to online operations and decided to hire five student ambassadors to assist their peers.
The student ambassadors provide technical support using digital platforms like Microsoft Teams, Altera, WebEx, eLearn, and ePortfolio.
They're also creating tutorials, videos, and frequently asked questions, all in relation to digital learning and assisting faculty in creating resources for students.
Laura MacKay, Director of Capilano University's Centre for Teaching Excellence, oversees the program. She provides some useful insights into the initiative.
"University officials quickly realized that when the school embraced virtual learning, some students were exceptionally savvy with digital technology. But others weren't nearly as adept."
"Instructors often think about what type of help students need. But sometimes, the students' understanding of their own needs is very different. That's where the digital ambassadors can play a unique role in crafting solutions….it changes the dynamic of students as recipients of information to students as partners in that learning process," explains MacKay.
A central hub for resources
At Prince George's Community College, signposting students through high-quality digital content has been key.
The site has a dedicated URL for online learning information and sets out a clear step-by-step process for applying and the flexible ways in which students can access courses.
And a 'get started checklist' sets out all the initial tasks to get up and running once students have enrolled. Everything is thoughtfully laid out and explained.
Digital learning requires a new digital delivery mindset
The switch to the online provision of teaching has in my instances been impressively swift and effective. And higher education leaders seem to agree that increased reliance on digital learning is here to stay.
Like many things impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, this might simply represent an acceleration of a trend that was already apparent before the pandemic arrived. But it's sophistication must flourish to meet the justifiable demands of students.
What potential do you see for evolving learning methods enabled through technology for online education? We'd love to hear.