As colleges and universities near the end of a truly remarkable spring semester, institution leaders around the world are preparing for the possibility that students may not be able to return to traditional, in-person learning experiences anytime soon due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This uncertainty will require higher education administrators to rapidly build and scale the digital infrastructure necessary to support continued remote learning through the summer and fall 2020 semesters. Throughout this process, it is critical institutions do not lose sight of four priorities that must underpin all efforts to provide quality online education opportunities for students:
Administrators and faculty must take steps to ensure the online learning tools and course materials that they’re requiring of students are accessible for all learners. Accessibility features, including but not limited to font resizing, alternative text, and annotations, promote usage among a diverse student population. Additionally, we must remember that not all students have reliable broadband access to support all-online learning, so it’s critical teachers and professors are given access to tools that embrace alternative avenues to connect with students.
As the unemployment rate continues to climb, some reports indicate as many as a fifth of students who had planned to begin college in Fall 2020 may no longer attend. Students are also losing paid summer job and internship opportunities at a rapid pace as companies are forced to cut employment. Higher education leaders should explore any opportunity to help curb costs for students and eliminate unnecessary burdens that can make it harder to access postsecondary education. This is an opportunity for university leaders to consider the implementation of different distribution modalities, including Digital Quick Start and Inclusive Access programs, which provide all students with the affordable, day-one access to their course materials digitally, removing the burden of seeking out course materials and ensuring students can purchase materials at or below-market rates.
In the rush to provide rapid digital learning solutions, we must not lose sight of appropriate privacy and security measures designed to protect students’ sensitive data and personally identifiable information. At VitalSource, we take a “Privacy by Default” approach, and have spent decades not only adhering to industry standards but creating them with our partners. We invest in privacy and security because we believe students should not have to sacrifice privacy to access meaningful digital learning experiences. To learn more about how we are modeling the way, see the latest blog by our Chief Technology Officer, Al Issa, where he shares his insights on the questions that decision makers need to be asking to make sure their students’ privacy is protected.
Above all, we must remind ourselves that this situation is far from normal. Students are dealing with any number of challenges, from campus closures and job loses to family struggles, anxiety, and mental and physical health fears. A recent podcast produced by The New York Times, “The Daily”, underscores this message and is worth a listen. We all must exercise patience and understanding and seek opportunities to provide the needed flexibility and emotional support students are craving – and deserve.
At VitalSource, we know that meaningful, digitally-enabled learning means that every student can securely and safely access the experiences and materials they need to succeed – anytime, anywhere. While we never could have predicted the current climate, we are deeply experienced in developing and scaling access to holistic digital learning solutions, and are ready to support the rapid, safe, and protected evolution of the student experience in this brave new online world.
Kent Freeman is the President of VitalSource. Follow him on Twitter at @kwfheels.