With many institutes of higher education looking to move the majority of their course offerings online for the upcoming fall semester, demand on institutes’ virtual ecosystems will be higher than ever. As there is no uniform student, there will never be a one-size-fits-all platform to solve all of an institute’s needs. Instead, faculties will have to – and indeed already have – cultivate an ecosystem of platforms and teaching styles that allow each student to access the services and learning styles they need.

To optimize the use of this ecosystem, we suggest that administration create a simple directory of the platforms and services offered in a central location, such as the student website home page. By laying out the entire network in one place, students and faculty can easily see how every piece fits into the puzzle, increasing the use of each platform.

In 2019, the Qatar Foundation sponsored a report on the future of higher education. The extensive literature review and interview program was conducted between August and December 2019, and among other findings, came to the conclusion that educational institutes will have to shift an increasing focus onto leveraging new technology to “deliver more accessible, impactful and cost-effective programmes.”

Offering a program that seamlessly blends online and in-person educational strategies is no small feat, as the range of learning needs expressed by students is incredible. Some students may be able to master theory simply from textbooks, while others will be able to tune into a pre-recorded online lecture and develop an understanding of the material simply by listening. Other students will guide their own understanding through emails and video chats with professors, while still more will realize their potential through hands-on projects. The majority of students will require a blend of all these tools – this concept is not new.

What is new is the pressure for institutes to greatly expand their online education platforms to encompass this diverse range of needs. These expanded ecosystems need to be ready for the upcoming fall semester and the return of the student body to campus, whether that campus be virtual or physical.

In addition to responding to its effects, higher education institutions must leverage advanced technology to deliver more accessible, impactful and cost-effective programmes.

New Schools of Thought: Report on Innovative Models for Delivering Higher EducationThe Economist Intelligence Unit

Students are not uniform, and as such there will be no one-size-fits-all platform for virtual education. Campuses will instead have to procure a complimentary set of platforms and messaging strategies to meet students where they are.

Institutions will need to pursue multiple strategies to serve this increasingly diverse pool of students.

New Schools of Thought: Report on Innovative Models for Delivering Higher EducationThe Economist Intelligence Unit

An example of a typical ecosystem may include the following:

  • Video chat platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangouts allow large groups of students to tune into a lecture or seminar – and has great options for face-to-face conversations
  • File sharing systems such as Microsoft 365 and Google suite allow teams to collaborate on the same documents, and see where others have left off
  • Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard Learn and Brightspace allow faculty to organize courses, post content and communicate with students
  • Tutoring platforms such as Nimbus Learning allows students to search for a tutor or mentor on a specific topic they’ve identified they need help with, and then provides a safe interactive platform to connect on
  • Interactive whiteboards such as Miro and Explain Everything allow teams to visually collaborate on projects – great for brainstorming and illustrating ideas

Key to the offering of a virtual ecosystem is a centralized explainer – like on the student website homepage – that links to each platform and briefly explains what it is for and how to use it. Too often institutes pour time and money into cultivating this ecosystem but then communicate its benefits to students through fragmented messaging. By laying out the entire network in one easy place, students and faculty can easily see how every piece fits into the puzzle, increasing the proper use of each platform.

An explainer page also has the added benefit of being static – that is, it won’t be buried under future social media announcements. These multiple methods of communication (e.g. your typical announcements on social media, emails, explainer page) increase the probability that students and faculty will get the information they need, improving the overall experience of virtual education.

“Students who are drawn to online learning have already figured out how to bridge the gap between a cyber and physical experience. What you think would be a sterile, lonesome, dry experience in fact turns into an engaged online community.”

Richard DeMillo of Georgia TechNew Schools of Thought: Report on Innovative Models for Delivering Higher Education

The Nimbus Learning Platform supports higher education by facilitating easy connection to institute-approved tutors and mentors. The new online platform offers video chat, text communication and a whiteboard feature for both desktop and mobile, giving both learners and educators the flexibility to communicate the way they need. Click here to find out more.

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