My final version before the edits is published here.
Social distancing implemented by countries across the world to combat the spread of coronavirus has caused unprecedented changes in our daily lives. The situation posed a great challenge to educational institutions across the world, causing them to cancel lectures and graduation ceremonies, and, where applicable, ask students to vacate their halls and accommodation.
In adapting to the situation, most institutions have adopted online learning. For many traditional institutions this is the first time that they are trying to use technology on such a large scale. In their hurry to adopt technology to overcome the immediate threat of not being able to continue, there is always the danger of institutions rushing into using technologies without proper appraisal (accessibility, security and privacy concerns, for example) or adequate user training.
There is also the possibility of excluding groups of users who are not able to engage with the technologies for various reasons. Some may not possess the required level of digital literacy while there could also be issues of accessibility both for people with disabilities and people who do not have the luxury of broadband connectivity. Therefore, it is important that decision makers address these issues. For example, if a student with a hearing disability had a note-taker in class how could we support them now with online lectures? Or now that most overseas students are in their home countries, can we conduct online classes and expect them to be present despite the time differences? What if the technology we adopt is barred in some countries where our students reside?
Living or visiting a developing country, you may have experienced the difficulties in accessing the internet away from city centres. The unreliable connectivity often cannot support high-definition videos while in some rural places you would be lucky to get electricity!
I hope these points are considered by leaders at institutions currently going digital.
In my role as a Learning Technology Researcher and Chair of the Online Learning Research Centre at University College of Estate Management (UCEM), I scan the horizon, assess educational technology and consider how we can use it to enhance our students’ experience. We are always thinking about the practical aspects and accessibility of the technology we appraise.
As the leading provider of supported online education for the Built Environment, UCEM is better placed than most to face this difficult situation. Sharing our experiences of online learning will hopefully help other organisations learn from us.