An Inside Higher Ed blogger, Dr. Josh Kim, recently penned an article posing the question, “What if everything stays online forever?” Dr. Kim acknowledges that not everything is online now, and certain functions like construction, maintenance, and hospital services have to remain face-to-face.
After his acknowledgement that not everything can be online, he asks, “What if everything that can be done online stays online?” Given that many people have worked successfully from home for the past six months, could those workers be just as successful if they worked from home for the next six years? When will employers decide that the savings from the remote workforce outweigh the benefits of having everyone in an office? I wrote about the latter question, which was posed by The Economist, in a recent article.
Dr. Kim asks whether or not allowing employees to travel to in-person conferences provided a return on investment to the company or to a university. Would attending online conferences at 20 percent of the cost but 80 percent of the benefit be a reasonable trade-off?
Dr. Kim then poses the question that any academic engaged in online learning would ask — will face-to-face learning ever be the same again? His answer is no. He believes that residential learning will return, because students and professors miss the classroom.
However, in-person classes will have digital components. Experiments in flipped teaching will become the new norm. The Learning Management System (LMS) will be a platform for collaboration and interaction, instead of just an online repository for the course syllabus and other materials. Office hours will move mostly online.
I agree with Dr. Kim. At the same time, I believe that savvy professors and other administrators will see opportunities arising from expanded digital interaction in the college experience. Digitizing collaboration and interaction in a class means that there is an opportunity to reflect and analyze what actions improved engagement and learning and what did not.
Additionally, classroom data can be more easily shared. Course materials, in particular those from the Open Educational Resources (OER) world, can be evaluated and shared with colleagues in your department or colleagues at other universities.
My formal education occurred at traditional universities. However, I was privileged to lead a virtual university for nearly 18 years.
The research available for improving teaching and learning using digital tools is phenomenal. If the online experiences from the past six months increase the number of faculty willing to utilize and embrace digital tools, I believe that colleges and universities could substantially improve student learning outcomes. I hope Dr. Kim is right, and I believe increased digitization of the higher ed classroom will provide benefits for years to come.