How educational institutions can learn their way forward after a crisis

In a crisis, it’s critical to focus on the immediate tasks.
Managing a crisis
New ways of doing things

With education institutions returning to normal following the pandemic, we are beginning to understand the long-term implications of a prolonged period of confusion and disruption. With 90 percent of the world’s student population impacted by COVID-19 (1), institutions and individuals were tested on resilience and creativity.

A crisis such as COVID-19 presents an opportunity to learn and grow. We’ve seen the education community respond with an outpouring of support as they grapple with new approaches to online learning. It’s important to now reflect and use those learnings to refine our approaches to pedagogy following a crisis.

Evaluate in order to improve
In a crisis, it’s critical to focus on the immediate tasks. During COVID-19, institutions facing campus closures prioritised helping their staff and students adapt to remote education. The next step was adapting back into the classroom, altering teaching plans as they went.

However, it is important to evaluate and ensure gaps in knowledge and skills can be recognised, so strategies can be improved for future planning.

Surveys of stakeholders are a good place to start, asking how an institution’s response was perceived. This can quickly identify areas that may not have been considered or discover new trends. 

A comprehensive analysis on technology usage, its reliability and fail points is also critical. Take time to understand the response to key questions, such as how many teachers and students were using technology before and during the campus closure. How scalable were your existing technology systems and did they prove reliable when the pressure was on? It may be useful to see if some departments were better at shifting online than others and if any courses fell through the cracks.

Knowing what did and didn’t work, will help in the reflection process, highlighting areas for improvement in the event of a future campus closure.

Offer ongoing workshops on teaching continuity
The recent pandemic revealed that few Australian institutions offer regular training for faculty to shift online in an emergency. This training should be a staple for professional development to maintain awareness and help teachers prepare.

Training should focus on knowledge and abilities for remote teaching, such as the importance of regular virtual communication, sharing essential materials in an online format, and technical help when needed.

Faculty should begin creating course websites that support their students in advance. Establishing a foundation in online learning can in turn be used to support blended learning, but ensures the groundwork is in place for an emergency.

Inspire staff to continue the blended and online learning trajectory
A pandemic can drive some teachers towards online teaching for the first time, but we can't expect a single event to transform the culture of institutions.

The reflective period after a crisis can be a great opportunity to inspire further learning and development. By focusing on well organised online content, we can provide information that supports education and limit extraneous cognitive load. Building online discussions can increase student participation and equity, develop a sense of community, and enable peer-to-peer support. Simple tools like self-check quizzes can add repeatable active learning to engage students better.

The recent pandemic has demonstrated the importance of being prepared. Online learning has offered a flexible solution when our system needed it most, and built the foundations to support and strengthen our future education system.