The outbreak of the Coronavirus has placed renewed attention on the value and potential of online education, particularly in terms of planning to keep teaching to campus-based students. In this regard, there is increasing reason to believe that online education is about to go mainstream.
In China, for example, with the opening of schools pushed back to March, millions of students have been asked to go online to continue their study. Accordingly, it’s estimated that China’s online education market is expected to more than triple by 2023 to a value of around $100 billion (Forbes, 2020). While there is a long history of distance learning, with more recently the MOOC movement having established itself as an evolving feature of the global higher education landscape, the focus is now on how to harness the potential of online education to fully support campus-based students should the need arise. Indeed, on Friday Stanford University announced that from Monday March 9th classes will not meet in person and where feasible teaching will be moving to online formats.
With the situation in most countries evolving on a daily basis, it’s important to plan for different scenarios. In Ireland, for example, most universities already have plans in place should they be needed to offer online classes and exams in case of campus closures (Irish Times, 3rd March 2020). This is certainly the case at Dublin City University (DCU) where through Loop and the DCU Connected platform we have a long history of online education.
Beyond Ireland, there is evidence from around the world to suggest that over recent weeks universities and educational institutions have been reviewing and updating their business continuity plans,. From a brief analysis of many leading university websites along with a published table of related continuity plans, it would appear that some institutions are better prepared than others. With this observation in mind, the examples below from five U.S. universities help to illustrate the different types of things to consider in terms of quickly scaling up for online education. They offer examples of how best to support people and present key information in order to keep teaching if campus access is restricted.
As already observed, the level of preparedness and type of information available to staff and students appears to vary greatly across universities. Therefore, the following guiding principles may be useful in helping to update your own institution’s Continuity Plan and in deciding what key messages and types of information you wish to communicate to your staff, students and wider community:
- Plan ahead for all scenarios
- Ensure everyone is plugged in
- Prioritise to cover the essentials
- Focus on already familiar online tools
- Offer both self-directed and real time options
- Promote awareness of open educational resources
- Keep it simple but don’t be afraid to go a bit further
- Ensure people know where to reach out for help
- Build an online community to share good practice
- Manage expectations and keep your students informed
Coincidently, later in the month the #OpenTeach project team in the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL) at DCU is offering a free online course for anyone wanting to learn more about how to teach online. The #Openteach course which takes approximately 10 hours to complete starts on March 23rd and continues through to the start of April. The course aims to:
|#1. Demonstrate awareness of teaching and learning pedagogy associated with online learning.|
|#2. Facilitate online communication and discussion forums that engage
students in learning.
|#3. Create a supportive community of learners using online teaching
|#4. Develop and facilitate online collaborative activities that support
|#5. Design online teaching activities that encourage student
participation and learning and reflect on personal learning from this
|#6. Use digital tools effectively to support online teaching.|
You can register here to sign up for this free online course. If you want some reading before the course starts, then we suggest you download and familiarise yourself with our recent report which offers useful tips and suggestions for effective online teaching and learning.
Finally, online learning is not restricted to just students and with many educational conferences scheduled over the next few weeks and months, this draft workbook on how to successfully host an online academic conference in the backdrop of the Coronavirus may be useful. Already a number of high profile events have been cancelled, including the ASCD conference and American Educational Research Association (AERA) conference which both typically attract upwards of 10,000 delegates. Currently online options are being explored to ensure virtual conversations and meaningful professional dialogue can continue.
The upside, as some educators have begun to speculate, is that these revised plans and cancellations in the face of the current health situation may be the “black swan” for online education. Indeed, they may well spark a boom that no one could have foreseen or predicted as recently as the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning that DCU hosted in November 2019 in Dublin.