COVID-19 Has Thrust Universities Into Online Learning?—How Should They Adapt?

from Brookings

There is one golden rule for flying with an infant or toddler: Do whatever it takes to get through the flight peacefully with no harm done. Every parent knows this means relaxing their standards. Planting your kid in front of an iPad screen or giving them not so healthy treats might not win you a “parent of the year” award, but it’s what is needed in the moment.

In like fashion, much of the global higher education community is suddenly thrust into an unplanned, unwanted, and fraught experiment in online learning with the COVID-19 pandemic. For many of those participating—institutions of higher education (IHEs), faculty members, and students?—it’s not what they want, but it’s what they are stuck doing through the end of this academic year. How should they proceed?

As president of Southern New Hampshire University, which had a large online learning presence even prior to COVID-19, I offer four guiding rules.

More here.

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63 Comments

  1. This article is very similar to an article I did a blog post on about 3 weeks ago involving universities closing there campuses overseas due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this article also mentioned how a large number of campuses in America had begun to move all face to face classes to online remote classes in order to prevent any more spread of the Covid-19 virus, now after weeks have passed all public schools and universities have been ordered to move online. As a college student I have only taken one online class in the past, and to be honest for some important core courses I feel like I need that face to face contact learning in order to really grasp the concepts I’m being taught, with that said not all classes require that face to face contact in order to be successful, either way during these hard times I am trying my best to keep up with my courses. Whether you’re a student who loves or hates online classes we need to learn to adapt, and as of right now no one knows how long students will have to be forced to use online classes. In this article the President of Southern New Hampshire University, Paul LeBlanc points out 4 main rules students and teachers should follow in order to adapt to online courses. The first is “DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET THROUGH THIS PHASE.” LeBlanc is basically saying in such trying times you can at least give some type of effort, even if that is the minimum effort it can be enough to get you through this pandemic as we look for things to go back to normal as soon as possible. The next point LeBlanc brings up is “STUDENTS MATTER MOST”, LeBlanc mentions that in so many Universities depression and anxiety runs rampant among students, as college life can be a very stressful time if you are actually looking to succeed in your studies, with that said life during a pandemic can make life much more stressful than it already is, teachers need to give their students some lee way and make it somewhat easier for students in terms of accessing courses and handing in assignments. The third rule is “PLAN FOR THE LONG HAUL” this point is somewhat self explanatory as I feel most students are already looking to the future and starting to plan for when this pandemic is over, on the other hand as a student I personally am mainly focused on my courses right now as I feel I need to give extra attention to some courses now that they are online. Finally the last point LeBlanc makes is “MINE YOUR OWN RESOURCES (QUICKLY)” meaning that as a student you should take advantage of the resources given and do it quickly, as everyones also trying to take advantage of these resources.

  2. With no cure immediately known for the Coronavirus, it placed the government in between a rock and a hard place with what they should do to try stop it as they had already taken too long to come up with an effective plan. One of the better decisive strategies that the government did come up with was to enforce social distancing in an attempt to halt the diseases spread as with people being home; the disease will spread slower. By doing this, however, it made it so that universities had to close and shift to online classes, a completely new frontier for not only the schools but the student as well. With this being the case, many schools don’t know what to do; a recent Brookings article titled COVID-19 has thrust universities into online learning—how should they adapt, by the president of Southern New Hampshire University, Paul LeBlanc, some solutions have been offered. The first of them being that universities need to do whatever it takes to make through this phase as having students getting stuck behind should be the absolute last resort. Simply as this is not only bad for the students as they may have to cram to graduate on time or they simply just have to go to school for an extra year, which as a college student myself self I can ensure that no one wants that. It is also bad for the schools as well, as if their students fall back, it shows that the school didn’t have their head on straight and couldn’t handle themself well in a time of crisis. If that is the case, then it will damper the school’s reputation, which will lead to fewer students applying, which could significantly hurt the school. Therefore, doing whatever it takes to move forward is the most essential thing as it not only helps the schools but helps the students as well, being a mutually beneficial relationship. The second of the four pieces of advice that the author gives, which in my opinion is the most important, is for universities to prepare for the long haul as according to the author “for countries not managing their pandemic response well, there is the very real possibility that campuses will not reopen in the fall”. With one of those countries being the United States as it isn’t a secret that the U.S. response to the virus’s outbreak was nowhere near adequate, therefore, making it so that the closing of universities may be prolonged throughout the country. If this is the case, then schools are going to have to figure out what to do for the upcoming fall semester because if they don’t, their students will just fall further and further behind taking the reputation of the university with them along the way. Thus, planning for the future is vital as planning will keep their students happy and on track will upholding the university status. Therefore, if universities want to stay ahead of the eight ball then utilizing the entirety of their resources and focusing on the future is beyond important, as doing whatever it takes, while preparing for the future should be the main things on the minds of college administrators.

  3. This article was really interesting to me. When I saw the title I could already guess what it was going to be like. It was going to be tips on how to adapt to virtual learning everyday. While this was indeed the case, this article is little different and more unique than others. It is written by Paul LeBlanc, who is the president of Southern New Hampshire University instead of a normal journalist. He provides the rules he will abide by when dealing with his university as inspiration or tips for his fellow university presidents around the country. This was interesting to me because you do not typically get to hear from a university president’s perspective. These rules can also help us students as well.

    The first rule is to “do whatever it takes to get through this phase” which I believe is a must. Universities have to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices and decisions in order to get through this pandemic. Seton Hall has already made some decisions like providing pro-rated refunds and implementing a furlough program. Universities must act with urgency and not be afraid to do what is necessary. This also applies to us students because we must do whatever it takes to adapt. We have to do what is necessary to adapt to virtual learning, some examples are doing more work or being more prepared for future classes and work. The second rule is that the “students matter most”, as a student I completely agree. He points out that anxiety and depression heavily exists in students already, the pandemic is only likely to increase and strengthens this. Universities should not be putting more stress on the students as it could have huge ramifications. The third rule is about planning for the future, which is extremely important. Many people believe that his pandemic will automatically end and everything will go back to normal. Universities cannot have this mindset. There is a chance that campuses will remain closed in the fall and classes continue virtually. Universities must plan and prepare for both possibly returning in the fall or continuing virtual classes in the fall. You do not want to be the University that opens back up and make more people contain the virus. Us students must also temper our expectations and preparations. We must prepare for the worst case scenario, that we will not be back for the fall semester. The last rule is about protecting your own resources. This is important because it lets everyone know you have a plan and care. You are prepared and are protecting what is necessary for the university.

    Overall I think all the rules were good and would be helpful if applied. It will be interesting to continue to see the actions that Universities all across the country make. Only time will tell if they were effective actions and decisions. Keeping the rules that LeBlanc gives in mind, will increase the likelihood of those decisions paying off.

  4. I like the points presented in the article. I also like the comparison to babies on flights — at least in relation to this current semester. I think this is the worst situation for students to be studying in. Being displaced, in the middle of a crisis, and all the other issues that arise only create a stressful situation. So yes, I think that there should be an emphasis on just trying to finish up the semester.

    The real concerns come when we consider the future. Let’s assume that we will still be feeling the effects of this global pandemic, and we are forced to have classes online for the fall semester. First, colleges will NEED to lower their tuition. There is no reason that students should be paying a similar price, while not having access to any amenities that the school provides. On top of that, the quality of education is CERTAINLY lower. Speaking from personal experience, my amount of classtime has depleted by nearly 80% I
    ‘d say. Ontop of that, interaction with both my teachers and other students has also substantially decreased. Keeping this in mind… how many students are likely to continue for the next semester if this problem persists? I know many students who, if we are in the same situation next semester, claim that they will be taking a semester off. In my opinion, this is understandable; one of the things that I’ve struggled with during this half of the semester is the motivation for my classes.

    Regardless, universities MUST adapt. There will be no excuse come fall for teachers and staff to not understand how to utilize technology needed to hold classes.

  5. The Corona Virus has negatively impacted the whole world. It impacted universities and college students specially in the United States. After the pandemic, all of the universities including Rider University, have converted all their in-person classes into online classes. Some students find it very hard to take an online course, they find it hard to teach themselves everything. It was very challenging for students to learn remotely and there were a lot of challenges that faced them. Students who never took online classes were the ones who were challenged the most. They were challenged by their assignments, meeting their due dates and doing well on their exams. Students were responsible for teaching themselves as well as trying to do well in all of their classes to maintain a good GPA. As it was mentioned in the article, LeBlanc says,” It’s not what they want, but it’s what they are stuck doing through the end of this academic year. How should they proceed?” As a response to this question, the president of the Southern New Hampshire University, offered four guiding rules. One of them was to do whatever it takes to get through this phase. This rule stood out for me because that was the rule, I was working with to get through this hard time. I had to do anything just to get through the spring semester. I worked hard for it and I knew it was going to pass. The article made me feel that I wasn’t the only one who was suffering and stressed from everything going around me. Also, it gave guiding rules that could be helpful for me if the same situation happened again for the fall semester.
    It didn’t only negatively effect students, it effected professors as well. In the Forbes article, Depietro says, “The effects on teaching and learning has been very mixed.” Professors and students had a confusion on how to teach their students and how their students learn. A lot of professors weren’t trained on how to teach an online class. Some of them didn’t get bothered by making zoom meetings for their lectures, but rather they only relied on emails as a way to get connected to their students. Getting connected through emails weren’t enough for students to get taught by their professors. It was very tough for some students including me, because I find very hard to teach myself everything especially teaching myself my core courses that are strongly needed to be understood when I start a real-world job. I had a hard time trying to understand the material, I was sure that I wasn’t going to understand anything as well as I was going understand when I take the class in person. In the article, the president of the Southern New Hampshire University, mentioned another one of his guiding rules is “students matter most” schools need to work more with professors, to give students what they need during this uncertain time.
    Overall, my experience with the remote learning is not very great now but surely in the future if school continues to be online my experience will get better.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewdepietro/2020/04/30/impact-coronavirus-covid-19-colleges-universities/#64b1a43661a6

  6. I like the points that were made in this article. I think it is also unique in the fact that upon reading this title, I expected to read about how universities specifically should be adapting to this pandemic, instead it is mainly about students and how to make this situation manageable. The president of Southern New Hampshire University, Paul LeBlanc write this article and it shows his dedication to the betterment of students and also presents a guide for other schools.

    I think it is important that this article mentioned mental health and the students home environment, because I know many students are currently facing this challenge. Students who come from toxic or abusive home environments must be having the worse time now, since school is an escape to many of these students. Students mental health can deteriorate with the combination of a hard home life and still managing to stay on top of their classes. I think what also makes this situation difficult is the fact that your home is not made to be an educational environment. At school there are resources that you do not have available at home. Although some professors have tried to make this time manageable for students, there are still some individuals who are still trying to adapt to this situation.

    Adapting has been hard for many people, especially some professors. I have had a few professors this semester who did not use canvas or online sources in general. This makes communication key, by keeping professors updated or asking questions.

    Overall, I completely agree with this article, as universities have to prepare for anything at this point because no one can predict when this pandemic will end and how long it will affect us. Also, our closets resource during this time is technology. Thankfully, we are still able to operate with technology and complete our semester remotely. There are also many online resources students can utilize to better understand certain topics. Last, I appreciate the authors point of being aware of the student’s situation, and being more lenient.

  7. Outside of this article, something I learned is that educational institutions are highly resistant to change and this pandemic has shown it.When it comes to universities, some courses can be taken online and many universities provide online courses already. A statistics course could easily be taken as an online class since notes and video-recorded lectures are a sufficient enough replacement for an in-person class as an example. However, for any music course that requires practical application, i.e. playing instruments, an online course has issues. One would be sound quality. An instructor needs to hear their student play and a normal person does not have access to high-end microphones, so the teacher may not be able to give correct feedback. Simply put, some courses cannot be easily fit into an online format as they require face-to-face class time and discussions or are just not compatible. And this only applies to higher education. Primary and secondary education have little practical application when it comes to online learning since all classes take place in person while homework and studying at home are meant to reinforce topics with no alternatives. In addition, having in person classes and seeing other students and friends can help maintain a good mood when classes may not be enjoyable. Self-study, on the other hand, requires students to be 100% self-sufficient and to personally fill in the gaps in knowledge that an in-person class would have had.

  8. For the outbreak of Covid-19 it hit the United States hard and fast. One-day people were living their normal lives then the next we as people couldn’t leave the house and had to wear masks everyday. Colleges were told to extend spring break for a week then they would asses the situation if they were coming back to school of not after that. So for teacher and students there was a very short warning on what was going in terms of education and if we were even going to come back to school. Teacher and students alike were so new and clueless to what was to happen. No one was ready for what was to come. Therefore, certain classes are extremely hard to transition to online and takes so much time to do so as a teacher. They would have to record lectures, give online assignments, and try to find a way to reach the students and still provide the education they are paying for. Not every class is designed to be online and is based off of class participation and in class assignments. Most of the teachers I had were very quick and proficient in this transition not skipping a beat even though some stuff was different. There is always one teacher, however, that just couldn’t keep up and it is of no fault of his own but the class just wasn’t meant to be online. He would record lecture and such to keep up into the class but it just wasn’t the same because I am the type of person that likes to ask questions if I don’t understand something. Nevertheless, student and teachers alike were not ready for a world pandemic to hit the United States closing colleges, so doing the best we could as a team is really what helped get college student through this 2020 spring semester.

  9. As this pandemic continues, I am beginning to realize all of the conveniences that come with online learning, some of which include being able to wake up 5 minutes before my classes start, being able to take my classes from the comfort of my own room, and the elimination of the 20 minute commute back and forth from school every day. This article made me realize that not everybody may be having the same experience that I am. The anxieties of not having a stable home life, availability of food, or financial insecurity may be thrown into the mix along with all the challenges that come with being a college student during this unique global situation. Many of my friends have enjoyed their time back on campus, and I believe our college has done a good job of leaving that option open for students who find it more appealing, or for those who believe it gives them a better environment to focus on their studies. Another issue brought up in the article is that we do not know how long this virus will truly last. I am sure that at the time this article was written, many considered the possibility of online fall classes to be unlikely, but now we’re here. The global situation is constantly changing and that may impact many students’ ability to effectively devote themselves to their studies. This is especially true in working families whose jobs are constantly under different regulations as this virus evolves. For example, I work at a local grocery store where we were given a two dollar raise that was supposed to last the duration of the pandemic. That raise has since ended and we are still left with the burden of wearing masks and gloves as well as being required to wipe down our registers on an hourly basis. I can only imagine how a similar situation would affect a parent who has to support a family. I agree with the article’s position that using our resources is the most important thing we can do in the face of the situation we find ourselves in. Given the academic nature of our college environment, we have people who specialize in a variety of industries. If faculty members who are more skilled with technology are not being utilized to make this transition to online schooling a smooth one, they certainly should be. During this semester, I have had experiences with teachers who have varying degrees of technical ability. It would benefit those professors who are having a difficult time if there was some unified effort by the university to help these people become accustomed to this new way of teaching. Overall, I believe that out university has been one of the better ones at making the online transition a smooth one.

  10. The outbreak of COVID-19 during the middle of last semester took most students, professors, and universities at large, by surprise. Moving back home, students were required to learn remotely while professors quickly transitioned their classes from in-person to virtual. This experience was especially challenging for professors who typically did not integrate technology into the classroom, as they were then required to teach, grade, and communicate through a screen. These challenges trickled down to students, which could not only be frustrating, but ultimately affect their learning experiences. With the fall semester again online, most universities returned more prepared, holding information sessions over the summer to assist students and professors with the transition of course learning. While there have been significant improvements in the virtual classroom experiences from last semester to this semester, students are still facing challenges such as “Zoom fatigue,” as they are now spending dramatically more time on their computers. Attending lectures, completing homework, meeting with group members, and participating in extracurricular activities online can be both mentally and physically exhausting for students. Additionally, with most individuals at home, students face the challenge of locating a reliable place to learn, as they are also in the same space with other siblings in school and parents/relatives working from home, increasing their amount of distractions and responsibilities. Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, offered great advice in this article regarding these difficulties, as his institution has had a large online learning presence even prior to the impact of COVID-19. He stated that universities across the country should be providing students with “supportive accountability,” in efforts to not only help them retain course information, but to do so in an understanding and helpful environment. This is only achieved when professors foster a classroom environment that focuses on students as human beings—ones with families, friends, and careers—before they view them as students trying to meet deadlines, finish essays, and achieve good grades. When interactions are made more personal, students feel they are valued, understood, and appreciated not only improving their academic performance but also boosting their mental and physical health. Professors at my institution have implemented open communication policies, weekly Zoom meetings outside of initial class time, and flexibility with assignment due dates in order to achieve this supportive classroom environment for students. LeBlanc furthered his discussion sharing another statement that resonated with me, “In a volatile world, “rigid” equals “brittle,” and institutions that cannot figure out how to work differently may not work at all.” This statement holds truth, as schools that do not provide their students with resources and/or additional assistance during these challenging times will eventually see their students find these support systems elsewhere. Thus, schools should strive to maintain real and genuine student interactions while still providing quality academic services. Institutions that refuse to update their university resources and available programs will face disadvantages as they outperformed by their competitors seeking new and innovation solutions for their students during this crisis.

  11. The Covid-19 virus has lead to schools and universities switching to completely online learning. For many, this is something they have never been prepared for. A school wide online learning has never happened until now and colleges are scrambling to adapt. Paul LeBlanc, the President of South New Hampshire University has some advice for the universities. Paul has this knowledge because South New Hampshire University “had a large online learning presence even prior to COVID-19.” Paul’s first point of advice is, “do whatever it takes to get through this phase.” This pandemic will not last forever and it is important that universities remain open during this. Universities will have to adapt and bear down until we are through this whole mess. Paul’s second point of advice is, “students matter most.” I think this is the most important piece of advice. Paul mentions how many students suffer from anxiety and depression. For those people, they can get help while on campus but since it is all online it is important to make sure all students are okay. He also mentioned how a college campus is a safe haven for some kids who do not have the best home life. Being online means being home so it can be tough for some kids to focus on their education while not in a good living environment. If schools put the students first then they can be successful with online schooling. Paul’s third point of advice is, “plan for the long haul.” This is good advice because this article was written in the beginning of online school in April, and now in September, school is mostly online. It was smart schools planned for the long haul and did not rush into reopening. If rushed, we could have had another outbreak and been right back where we started. Paul’s last point of advice was, “mine your own resources (quickly)”. With this point Paul mentions that universities need to find which of their employees can help the university adapt. After reading this article and going through online learning, I can say that most universities have taken Paul’s advice. Yes, online learning is much, but most schools have delivered on making sure we get a good education. At my school, Seton Hall university, they were very prepared throughout the whole process. We planned for the long haul and are currently doing a Hy-flex learning schedule. There are tons of smart people in charge at universities, so I am not surprised at all that they figured out how to deliver online learning. I am looking forward to the day when universities fully reopen and all the hard work they did over the pandemic will be recognized.

  12. The Corona Virus has caused an abrupt whirlwind of commotion and change that everyone is still adjusting to. The change most people are still adjusting to are the move to online school. Although, we have had a total of 5 to 6 months of online school, there are still some kinks were still trying to work out. The article talked about how universities and schools need to just push through and get through this tough phase and it is true. Schools need to get through the hard times and once there is a relief of COVID-19, things can start going back to normal, but for now they need to be strong. The second item of topic the article talks about it how the students matter most. As a student in college, there is much more that schools can do to make the student feel they are the priority. During this time, people are losing jobs, houses, and are not financially stable, yet my university, as well as others have increased tuition. This is not what students need to feel they are going to a good college that makes them feel the students are the priority. Another reason schools need to make their students feel like they are a priority is because individuals who are quite and keep to themselves need that college experience in order to break out of their shell, and the move to online school is limiting there college experience that would give them more confidence. Having one on on interactions with fellow students and professors and faculty is important because these experiences are pertinent to make the students feel like they belong there and that the college is trying to make a positive impact on our lives. Online school has changed a lot of things. Students are no longer paying for housing, their meal plan, books are being bought off of amazon and not the book store and so much much more. The colleges are losing money and laying people off which is unfortunate, but making the students the priority and pushing to get through this rough time is what is going to make going through this hard time a little easier.

  13. I enjoyed reading this article. The pandemic has caused a lot of unwanted issues this year. I liked this article because it brought up problems that many college students face due to the epidemic. My favorite rule was that “students matter most.” I may be biased because I am a college student. I feel universities fail to realize that not all students are privileged. I like that this article addressed that many students’ parents lost their job; students’ grandparents may have the virus or many students have less food at home. Students have so much on their plates, and I agree colleges should learn to adapt. That statement was so real because I have many less fortunate friends than me, and they are struggling right now. Many schools are not addressing that situation well. Many schools raised tuition during this pandemic, which is unfair because so many students are going through rough times.
    I recently started online classes, and when teachers ask me personal questions like how my family is, it makes me want to engage in conversation, and it also makes me feel like my teacher cares. I think all teachers and school officials should read this article and consider all the issues students are going through during this unprecedented time. The most important rule to me is “do whatever it takes to get through”. Colleges have to be willing to do whatever it takes to get through the pandemic. Rider University did whatever they could to get back on campus; they took all the safety precautions they could. They are doing whatever it takes to get through this pandemic, just like most people in the world are trying to do.

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