How will these immediate changes play a role in defining what the future university will be? We need to allow our universities to not only address the immediate pandemic at hand but also plan for a long-term vision
The Covid-19 contagion will come to an end, and we will return to our usual, normal daily life. But higher education may never be the same because universities are now engaged in the largest, most revolutionary, and most disruptive technology-enabled pedagogical method - a paradigm may shift that will potentially shape the future course of campus life. Higher education institutions are making sweeping changes in a very short period, shifting traditional face-to-face course content/teaching to online content/teaching.
The traditional paradigm of universities has been a four-year university experience featuring life on campus, with lectures, presentations, seminars, laboratories, dormitories, social and cultural activities, sports, and – of course – semester breaks.
This traditional campus experience can be personally, socially, and intellectually transformative. It develops the learner into a gregarious and confident individual due to constant interaction with the teacher and fellow students, helping him or her acquire cognitive knowledge and practical skills relevant to the completion of the course.
As we in higher educational institutions make short-term decisions to respond to the global pandemic, we will also have a long-term opportunity to reinvent the traditional university in-person learning experience.
Reinventing the traditional university learning paradigm is an opportunity at hand and an appropriate course of action to address the teaching-learning requirements under the uncertainties of Covid-19.
Online education has been around for a while – a flexible and proven support tool to a tradition face-to-face education. It challenges the teachers to be more creative to ensure that knowledge is imparted and learning takes place in the learners.
It also develops nuances and creativity in the students learning to cope with the new approach in teaching. Thereby, learning becomes more accessible and easy as it becomes more customary to the new teaching-learning process.
Administrative matters, academic scheduling, curricula, assignments, and even some assessments have moved online, but most students are still expected to attend lectures, laboratories, and seminars.
Although there is a proliferation of personal computing devices and smart devices, the higher-education sector, in general, has not seen a significant increase in major technology-enabled pedagogy.
The Covid-19 has transformed that. When the dust settles, millions of students will acknowledge and realize that there are some valuable learnings which took place, even though they were not on-campus.
Though we must admit that online education is not an accurate or easy substitute for the on-campus experience – exploring ways to combine the two delivery models will be an advantage to higher educational institutions.
There will always be a need for a physical presence for we are naturally social beings. Eventually, the future campus scenario could merge online learning with traditional campus learning. The university will continue to explore novel ideas and mechanism both inherent or adaptation from experiences of other learning environment and approaches.
Higher education can leverage the impact of this. Accessibility to class lectures of well-known professors and making them available online to students at any institution will benefit the students.
There is no fundamental difference between this technique and using textbooks authored by the same professors, because straight from the "horse's mouth" students are learning with more trust and confidence.
The online teaching platform will also challenge the traditional paradigm since they are better suited for case study-based courses than science and engineering laboratories or a studio in the architecture or visual arts.
There is no reason why higher education can't be paced along with the traditional four years - in-person with online delivery.
Just as consumers have welcomed the choice between physical and online options for everything from banking to paying bills to grocery shopping, higher education should also offer students a choice for physical and online learning or both.
One of the biggest differences with education, however, is the outcome. Online learning may require a shift in expectations of what we're preparing our students for.
In education, the vision is always towards a reflection of where and what the students will be after graduation, and develop a capable workforce, and inculcate them with a set of cultural and social values.
This results from more than just the environment – it's the rigour, the course work, and professionalism.
Companies and offices across the globe have sent their employees to "working from home" which is now a sudden reality and the future higher educational institutions will be highly influenced by what the workplace becomes.
The higher educational institutions should equip the students with capabilities and capacities to respond to the requirement of the emerging and evolving job market.
If done right, the blended/hybrid of in-person and online learning could allow more students to enrol at universities because of the convenience of learning at home or other suitable place and pace.
We could also witness higher completion/graduation rates. While students are using virtual learning, they will have the ability and option to listen, re-listen, and slow down an online learning module until they fully comprehend.
As we have witnessed universities make some immediate, fundamental shifts, these short-term and immediate adaptations could have profound long-term implications for how we plan the future learning space.
A new use for digital platforms and communications channels, changes to work and learning pace and cadence, an individual and systemic approach to resilience and preparedness, imperatives around human connection and innovation around achieving this, and support services (advising, counselling, mental health, financial, moral, etc.) will make an individual learner a truly social, sound and global citizen.
How will these immediate changes play a role in defining what the future university will be? We need to allow for our universities to not only address the immediate pandemic at hand but also plan for a long-term vision to evolve the traditional learning environment, while looking to a future state of a more blended learning experience.
If we take the best practices we have learned from other higher educational institutes that have implemented successfully the hybrid learning programs, make use of the knowledge-base within our university system, and augment the impact for our future generations, this would be a true paradigm shift in higher education that would transform its trajectory for generations to come.
The reality, and the unplanned, large-scale experiment in off-campus instruction necessitated by the coronavirus, make it all but certain that online learning is poised for explosive future growth.
The author is Vice-Chancellor of American International University-Bangladesh