The events of 2020 have changed the way students across the country live and learn.
Despite primary and secondary schools having reopened for this academic year, higher education institutions remain seriously - and perhaps permanently - affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
In many universities, lectures and seminars are now taking place exclusively over Zoom, exam dates have been pushed back, student accommodation has been restricted and many young people are finding it more difficult to socialise.
And with many of these undergraduates feeling isolated or anxious about the future, student mental health services are receiving more visits and calls than ever.
While we hope that most of these changes in higher education will be temporary, a lot of the impacts of the pandemic - including a major shift to digital learning - may be here to stay.
Moving forward, it’s important that we consider how universities can offer a high quality of online education and support, as both students and staff navigate this new world of studying and working remotely.
The challenges posed
To say that few industries were prepared for the events of 2020 would be an understatement, but particularly in the realm of higher education, many universities and colleges were caught completely off guard by a sudden and complete shift to online learning.
For example, according to a recent report by Educause, less than 5% of college budgets have been dedicated to IT spending over the last few years, and the US Department of Education has also reported that only one third of all American college students had any type of online course experience before the pandemic.
Essentially, higher education is one of the least digitized and most people-intensive economic sectors. This has meant that the sudden need for edtech investment, new staff training and remote learning tools has posed a huge challenge to colleges and universities everywhere.
Even outside of the classroom, student life - as we have always known it - is changing dramatically.
For example, student housing and accommodation norms have been seriously impacted by the virus. George Mason University, for instance, has announced that their student housing will be reduced by about 25% in order to reduce the number of students in high-density spaces. And they’re not alone in doing this, as many colleges in both the UK and the USA are working to adapt their accommodation to be more COVID-safe.
The rise of technology in higher education
As unprepared as the higher education sector may have been for this year’s events, hundreds and thousands of higher education institutions around the world have been rising to meet these new challenges.
Things are changing - and they’re changing quickly, with technology-driven learning experiences coming very much to the forefront of higher education.
For example, according to investment intelligence firm HolonIQ, the first half of 2020 was the second-largest half year for global edtech investment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, at $4.5 billion, it was three times greater than the average 6 months of investment over the previous decade.
And Mike Huseby, CEO of Barnes and Noble Education, says the coronavirus pandemic has also accelerated a trend his business has been anticipating for years — the rise of digital textbooks.
Clearly, higher education institutions are rapidly adapting the way they see and carry out remote learning processes. But rather than being a temporary measure, this adoption of new technologies and digital tools may be the change that was already long overdue.
Providing support outside of the classroom
As well as rethinking their remote learning processes and investment in edtech and other technologies, colleges and universities around the globe also need to think about how they provide pastoral care and support to students.
Students’ medical needs, accommodation questions and wellbeing concerns have to remain a top priority for higher education institutions. This is potentially more important now than ever, as so many students are dealing with separation from friends and family, concerns about the future or the difficulty of securing a graduate role in a struggling economy.
Not only do student support services need to be fully accessible online, they also need to ensure that conversations with students remain personal and student-focussed - even if they now have to take place digitally.
The power of voice technology in education
At telbee, we’ve always believed that voice technology has the power to transform education - right the way through from nursery to higher education.
Voice recording and messaging tools help students to talk to their teachers in the easiest, most natural and personal way possible, and to also receive better feedback, while giving teachers more options when it comes to setting targeted spoken assignments and monitoring students’ progress across the board.
We’ve seen the power of voice tech for education firsthand, as tools like our online voice recording and messaging platform are creating new opportunities for students to improve their speaking skills, build confidence and receive extra support while studying at home.
One of the key benefits of voice technology for education is in the realm of foreign language learning, helping students communicate with teachers verbally and submit spoken assignments to help check their pronunciation, improve their fluency, build confidence and prepare for their oral exams.
We believe that after the events of this year, voice technology has become essential rather than optional. After all, with so many students now studying completely remotely, what will happen to languages departments if students aren’t given opportunities to practice their speaking skills (outside of their weekly Zoom calls)?
As well as assisting with pronunciation and language learning tasks while students are working remotely, voice technology provides a personal way for students, universities and campus support services to speak with each other in a way that’s far more personal than email or text.
This academic year marks a major turning point for colleges and universities around the world.
Institutional, student and employer behaviours are all shifting and changing, making this a critical time for businesses to find new ways to keep remote learning - and support - easy, natural and personal for everyone.
Basically, if higher education institutions want to thrive during the pandemic and beyond, they need to adapt and revamp their approaches to digital learning and student support.
The institutions which seize the moment to transform will reap huge benefits in the long term - from happier students and higher grades to more satisfied staff and higher admission rates each year.
To find out more about how our online voice recording and messaging platform can help your higher education institution improve your communication with students, please get in touch with the team at telbee today. We’d love to hear from you!