Updated March 12, 2020
During the week of March 2nd, the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), Quality Matters (QM), University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), and WCET (the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) released a joint statement on the spread of COVID-19 and academic continuity planning. Since then, a number of institutions of higher education have either transitioned face-to-face instruction online or are making plans to do so.
As leaders in the field of online learning, the four organizations would like to express appreciation and admiration for the leadership that online educators and administrators are taking in helping minimize academic disruption across the nation. Facilitating the development and offering of high-quality online courses and programs can be challenging under the best of circumstances. Facilitating the transition of classes designed for face-to-face pedagogical practices, including the potential development of new types of assessments, into an online format during an academic term is challenging work.
Over the next several weeks, we anticipate there will be increased conversations about the effectiveness of online education, the role online education can and should play in continuity planning, how to effectively transition face-to-face courses online during a crisis, and how to best support both faculty and learners who might unexpectedly need to navigate online learning spaces. These are all critical conversations that the four organizations are working to address, both independently with their members as well as collaboratively for higher education. We will shortly be releasing plans for joint research, writing, and sharing of information about online education during the upcoming year.
In the meantime, we would like to offer the following thoughts and advice:
- Acknowledge differences in face-to-face courses migrating online in an emergency vs. courses designed to be online. Many institutions are either engaging in or planning for the online delivery of face-to-face courses. This is a critical part of continuity of operation plans for many institutions, but is different than online learning. Online learning involves the careful and deliberate development and implementation of courses and programs that are designed to be offered online. High quality online courses and programs should be guided by instructional design and pedagogical practices specifically created for online education such as those found at OLC., Quality Matters, and UPCEA. We certainly honor the heroic work of the faculty and staff working to transition face-to-face courses online in this emergency, but are sure they would enjoy more time and design support in improving that conversion process.
- Provide faculty with needed academic, design, and technical support. Even in the midst of a crisis, perhaps especially in the midst of a crisis, instructors will need extra support to successfully navigate the online delivery of face-to-face courses. Such support might include instructional design assistance for faculty as they work to adapt or develop new ways to engage students electronically as well as new or modified assignments and assessments.
- Help students access the technologies they need. Not all learners or even instructors will have the same access to the technology necessary to navigate face-to-face coursework that has been transitioned online. Some learners may not have access to stable or fast internet connections and may rely upon campus wifi networks or public wifi networks. Learners may also have inconsistent access to technology hardware. For example, one college is seeking to find loaner laptops for students who usually used a campus computer lab. As a result, some learners may depend upon mobile devices to access instructional materials that have not been designed for accessing on mobile devices. This can limit the ability of learners to access fully functional online learning materials.
- Ensure that all educational materials and activities are accessible for all students. Accessibility is sometimes a significant challenge for institutions, but it can be made even more challenging when face-to-face courses are suddenly delivered online and may involve ensuring that all materials are in fully accessible formats for all learners. While time might not accommodate the need for full accessibility in the short-term, be sure that faculty and students are aware of avenues where they can seek help. Also, students are often hesitant to self-identify with disabilities, so encouraging them to do so helps to identify problems early on.
- Expand academic support services in the online environment. Institutions should also find ways to make appropriate academic support services available to all students including library and tutorial services, advising, study groups, and faculty office hours. In fact, some students may need greater academic support if they are encountering non-face-to-face instruction for the first time.
- Don’t judge the effectiveness of online learning based solely on the outcomes of face-to-face courses migrated online in an emergency. Instructors who are new to teaching online or who distrust online education may need extra resources and assistance in delivering high quality instruction online as online instruction requires different pedagogical practices than face-to-face instruction. As a result, the effectiveness of delivering face-to-face courses online may be less than the effectiveness of either traditional face-to-face courses or deliberately developed online courses. The success of online delivery cannot be solely based on its effectiveness in the time of a crisis.
We support institutional leaders that are considering the delivery of instruction via online technologies and are cautiously optimistic that once COVID-19 concerns abate that those same leaders will more deeply engage with online learning pedagogy, strategy, and quality assurance practices reflective of the needs of those engaged in teaching and learning online.
OLC, QM, UPCEA, and WCET all understand that it may be difficult to assess and act on information, especially in rapidly changing conditions such as the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). We encourage individuals to monitor information and updates provided by the CDC, and to abide by their guidelines. The CDC has created a special COVID-19 page and just issued “interim guidance” for higher education administrators that is a must read.
Further, our organizations are hosting or supporting dissemination of information via:
- OLC’s Continuity Planning and Emergency Preparedness Resources.
- UPCEA’s Curated List of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources
- WCET’s COVID-19 Updates and Resources
- WCET 1:1 Interviews
- Gerrit T. Bakker, Senior Director, Public Health Preparedness, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Gerrit and Megan Raymond (WCET) discuss general preparedness, current progression and warnings across the United States, and strategies for messaging students, staff, and faculty.
- Pat James, a consultant and a Facilitator with @ONE Course (a service of the California Community Colleges Office of the Chancellor) who has vast experience dealing with continued instruction during natural disasters and emergencies. Pat and Megan Raymond talk about California’s experience with disasters, moving courses online, financial implications, and compliance concerns
- QM Emergency Remote Instruction Checklist for Higher Education and K-12
Undoubtedly in situations as fluid as the COVID-19 outbreak you may have questions that have not been addressed in the resources above. Please contact us with any questions that you may have about academic continuity planning and online operations – we’re here to help.
Email: WCET (WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) Twitter: @wcet_info