Pandemic ‘Lessons Learned’ detailed in new higher ed report

A collection of articles from ReportOUT looks at how colleges and universities have adapted to this crisis moment and what will make them successful in the future.
By: | February 2, 2021
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The national non-profit SynED unveiled a comprehensive 107-page review in the publication ReportOUT that examines the sea changes and outcomes that have swept through education during the past year – both at postsecondary institutions and in K-12 schools – and what could come in the future.

Led by former Antioch College faculty member and Dean of Educational Programs at Santa Barbara City College Guy Smith, Beyond the Pandemic: Lessons Learned from COVID 19, Volume 8 showcases the efforts and movements that have been made that have forever altered how colleges and universities will operate moving forward.

Though the challenges have been monumental and many institutions will continue to struggle to overcome financial hardships over the next year, their ability to be transformative has provided a window into what’s possible in campuses across the U.S. and for the next generation of students.

“COVID-19 has amplified existing problems in our community and in education, but we should be excited by the fact innovation has suddenly moved from the margins to the center of many education systems,” said Smith, the executive editor of ReportOUT. “Another lesson from the pandemic is that we can operate smarter at a number of levels. We’ve learned that some higher education functions can be done remotely with few, if any, negative consequences.”

The report is a collection of 13 articles from experts and faculty that address some of the most timely topics facing higher ed, along with some mythbusting – from financial aid assistance to the increase in certificate and credential offerings to student cheating to meeting students where they are in their college experience. Eventually, institutions will be expected to better deliver more robust technology and remote learning experiences, including the eventual transition from 5G to 10G. For now, authors in the report say a more “personal touch” may be required.

“We found that many of the promising innovations were on the margins of education systems and not at the center of how learning takes place,” said Emiliana Vegas, a senior fellow and co-director of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution. “These include 1) innovative pedagogical approaches alongside direct instruction to help young people not only remember and understand but analyze and create; 2) new ways of recognizing learning alongside traditional measures and pathways; 3) crowding in a diversity of people and places alongside professional teachers to help support learning in school; and 4) smart use of technology and data that allowed for real-time adaptation and did not simply replace analog approaches.

The lead article, “What Higher Ed Has Learned From COVID So Far” addresses several predictions that were largely dispelled because of the work colleges and universities did in adapting to the moment:

  • “The pandemic would quickly subside
  • Fall would be a financial bloodbath for colleges
  • Students wouldn’t come to campus in a pandemic
  • The pandemic affects everyone equally
  • It takes colleges forever to change
  • The pandemic could open the door to a more digital future”

The last is perhaps the most eye-opening. Although students like the idea of the online learning experience – depending on how smooth it is – they do prefer that in-person campus experience, as noted by a Dillard University president Walter Kimbrough in the text.

Among the other articles worth exploring:

  • “Pandemic Lessons From Community Colleges” which examines the six-year paths of 30 students at a pair of two-year institutions from their start in 2014 and how their experiences shaped how they view learning at those colleges in a pandemic.
  • “The Speedy Future of Delivering Online Learning: 5G to 10G Confusion and Potential” which asks the question: Is your institution prepared to handle higher bandwidth and lower latency to deliver labs and other curriculum remotely?
  • “Dear Faculty, Keep Walking” which gives faculty insight on handling crisis moments, caring for students, adding “hope and solidarity” to curriculum, and letting unanswerable problems go.
  • “Teaching and Learning in the Post Pandemic College” which offers up a few musts for the future of instruction in higher education: the embrace of technology, the need for expanded professional development and the embrace of inclusivity and diversity.

University of Texas at Austin professor Steven Mintz also addresses equity in his piece “K-12 Trends and the Future of Higher Education”.

“Long before this spring’s lockdown or this summer’s protests, public schools had already begun to reckon with gross disparities in learning outcomes and multiple barriers to students’ academic success,” he said. “Colleges and universities have much to learn from their struggles to eliminate achievement gaps and promote educational equity.”

Mintz outlined seven key trends from K-12 that higher education stakeholders should embrace:

  1. Prioritize Equity
  2. Embrace Differentiated Instruction
  3. A Skills and Outcomes Focus
  4. Life Skills and Social Emotional Learning
  5. Redesigning Assessments of Learning
  6. Addressing Nonacademic Barriers to Student Success
  7. Building a Learning Ecosystem and Wraparound Supports

“We will never go back to where we were before COVID, but if we pay attention to the data and listen to what our communities say they need, we can make incredible strides in education that will be felt for generations to come,” Smith said.