Online pivot – the present

via GIPHY

Following on from the look at how the past is important in understanding the online pivot, I’ll now shift to the present. HEIs now have to plan for multiple scenarios in September which include options around fully online, rolling half populations on campus and half online, fully on campus for some, fully offline for others, and all variations in between. They are also having to do this while imagining severe economic impacts arising from loss of international students, research funding and secondary income such as food, accommodation, bar expenditure from students. Oh, and then there’s the physical health of students and staff which is at risk if you get it wrong.

It may have been the case that a single university has had to manage such issues in the past, but never all of the universities with all of the problems all at the same time. In 2008 the financial collapse caused much head scratching, but these outcomes could be imagined and planned for. The consequence of getting that wrong wasn’t the probable collapse of the university or the death of students. I know it’s an over-used term, but heck, this really is unprecedented (in the modern era anyway).

Juggling all these variables is an impossible task. Previously there were people who did know what would happen, you just needed to listen to the right advice. But now, no-one knows. We can plan for possible scenarios, but it’s anyone’s guess. A particular tension at the moment is the balance between what can and should an institution do for September versus what they should be putting in place longer term.

Stephanie Moore, Phil Hill, Simon Horrocks and Rajiv Jhangiani all have excellent posts that aim to bridge this current and future gap. What they all have in common, in my reading, is that the present and the future are intertwined (I know that’s obvious, but bear with me). Decisions we make about how to realise the September offering will shape how future online provision is realised. A quick fix might work for now, but will be expensive to undo and sustain. But it is also the case that a long term staff development plan may not realise what is needed in the short term. Similarly, a desire to recreate the current pedagogic and assessment model may lead to putting in place poor practice (such as proctored exams) and missing the potential of online, but a radical shift in pedagogy and practice may cause issues for support for students who are already studying in an unfamiliar manner in terms of distance ed. There’s a lot of traps to fall into here and no perfect solutions.

What is useful is to have some model for planning these changes, and a framework for discussing the possible options. There are a lot of Technology Acceptance Models out there. I’m going to be lazy though and suggest one I’ve worked on, namely the OOFAT model developed for ICDE. Although it was developed pre-Covid, the OOFAT model was aimed at helping institutions plan to develop online, open and flexible models of educations around the three core elements of content, delivery and assessment. The model allows you to develop a visual representation around these aspects as shown below. You can see some of the different models existing HEIs have deployed here.

The benefit of this model is that in constructing the spider diagrams, it provides a basis for where the institution currently is, what elements can be expanded and to what extent in the next phase, and then further ahead from that. I’ve run sessions based around this model and others have applied it to their institution. The report even has a handy guide on running such an evaluation. What is useful in these is the discussion it surfaces, and provision of a common framework then to base decisions on. Other models do this too, but I’m just bigging up my own one because I’ve used it. The point I would suggest is to choose some model that allows the institution to make the changes required, without there being a solution baked into it already.

One Comment

  1. How big are the effects of the covid19 pandemic on the UK Open University?

    I presume the university is no longer holding residential schools. While they will be missed, were they central to all modules in all programs?

    Presumably course teams no longer meet face to face, but did they not previously meet virtually, and is this a big change to their operation?

    While we all miss catching up with colleagues in person in seminars and conferences, presumably OU academics and staff are more accustomed to meeting digitally

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