“The fall experience on campus will be some combination of a monastery and a minimum-security prison.”
– Robert Kelchen, Associate Professor of Higher Education, Seton Hall University
Campuses will look very different this academic year. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many colleges and universities to switch to either partially or (increasingly) completely remote learning environments. Campus restrictions have shuttered the places that previously provided the heartbeat of community-building—packed football stadiums, buzzing dining halls and impromptu study sessions on the quad. The activities that would normally bring students together are now absent, and even schools that are primarily in person won’t necessarily feel like “college” in the conventional sense. In this environment, a university’s ability to engage students with compelling online instruction is now their primary and, in some cases, only means to demonstrate their value.
In many ways, the remote learning mass experiment of last spring was a success. But what worked in an emergency won’t be enough going forward. Institutions know they need to do a better job of supporting teaching and learning, creating engagement, and building a learning community. For example, the results of a recent Inside Higher Ed survey revealed that only 10% of university presidents believe they were very successful or better in maintaining student engagement during the spring semester. Not surprisingly, the same survey found that nearly three-quarters of university presidents are either “very or somewhat concerned” about a “perceived decrease in the value of higher education” due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.
University leaders are right to be worried, as education “consumers”— students and parents—are increasingly pushing back on the tuition prices they’re paying for online courses. Many are questioning the value of virtual learning, with growing concerns that remote coursework is essentially “glorified Skype.” Students and parents alike are becoming increasingly vocal about demanding tuition discounts for online learning.
Professionals who have made a career of developing, delivering, and researching high-quality online learning understand that colleges and universities have a tangible and achievable opportunity to deliver educational experiences far above the low bar of “glorified Skype.” Studies have shown that higher levels of student engagement lead to better learning outcomes. This means that engaging courses—no matter what modality—have the ability to foster connections and build communities, regardless of where students and instructors are physically located. Effective online courses require a design that promotes active learning beyond synchronous sessions, using technology to present materials in a dynamic way along a scaffolded learning path that’s intuitive to navigate. As a result, students can use their cognitive bandwidth to focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing.
The clock is ticking to enhance the quality of the thousands of courses transitioning online for millions of students this academic year, but time hasn’t run out yet.
CourseBuilder Fast-Tracks the Creation of Engaging Online Courses
To address this need, Everspring has launched a new self-service solution called CourseBuilder, which offers a dynamic set of tools and frameworks that save months of work in the coding and design of interactive instructional materials. Features include the ability to transform videos, images, knowledge checks, polls, and curated resources into interactive content pages. These come pre-built and pre-designed in visually engaging, customizable course frameworks that can be replicated for consistent student experiences across programs.
Rather than building these elements from scratch, faculty can focus on creating the prompts, projects, and lectures that facilitate dialogue and shared learning, drawing from research-backed guides and resources that are built into each framework. Students can enter a term with a purposefully designed learning path that offers clear navigation and the ability to easily track progress. CourseBuilder’s frameworks encourage and motivate students to interact with their classmates and share knowledge at frequent intervals throughout the term.
CourseBuilder is built on top of the Canvas LMS, integrating the same technology and drawing from the instructional design expertise that Everspring’s learning design team has used to construct high-quality online courses for our university partners for the past decade. CourseBuilder delivers the key technical elements and provides guided support, empowering institutions to offer an effective learning environment that exceeds student expectations and protects their legacy.
Fostering Community Across Distances and Devices
Across the country, college life is often boiling down to interactions over screens. That doesn’t mean that students and faculty can’t build meaningful connections with each other. But it does mean that courses need to move beyond just videoconferencing and file repositories. With the right tools in place and following best practices, it’s possible to cultivate authentic engagement in an online setting. The future of higher education might just depend on it.
Brook Corwin has worked directly with university faculty to design, deliver, and support outstanding online courses since 2010, with a focus on adapting on-ground teaching strategies for digital platforms. At Everspring, he’s led engagements to develop fully online, asynchronous degree programs for several universities. He’s also worked on the initial design and launch of CourseBuilder, Everspring’s new self-service digital course creation platform.
Prior to Everspring, Brook served on the instructional design teams at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Brook holds an MA in Interactive Media from Elon University and a BA in History and Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.