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Are We Zooming While Education Burns?

"The easiest solution has been to deliver the same face-to-face lectures via Zoom, or equivalent platforms, without a complete utilization of online educational best practices. This has considerably increased the level of accessibility, but has this approach increased knowledge retention?"

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I love education!  I love the opportunity to create and disseminate knowledge that helps develop and enrich our students' lives.  The more people who have access to education benefit our community and elevate the collective quality of life.  Creating access for those with limiting life circumstances is why I have dedicated much of my 20+ year professional academic career to creating online educational programs.  Throughout my journey, I have encountered much resistance to online education because of concerns over things like quality, integrity, and feasibility.  I have also witnessed different levels of appetite for and adoption of online learning technologies across different types of educational institutions.  The past 16 months have forced all institutions, even those that did not have online delivery capabilities, to pivot immediately and introduce online learning modalities. Although this acceleration made online learning feasible, I feel the quality and integrity questions, in many cases, were afterthoughts.  

I am afraid many organizations are delivering classes using a Zoom-type platform and calling this an « online educational » experience.  This ad hoc approach may be « online education » but not a quality one.  The easiest solution has been to deliver the same face-to-face lectures via Zoom, or equivalent platforms, without a complete utilization of online educational best practices.  This has considerably increased the level of accessibility, but has this approach increased knowledge retention?  We mustn't lose sight of the ultimate deliverables of an educational experience, online or in person.  At Swiss Education Group, we are mindful of our students' needs, and we have maintained our commitment to our students by providing quality online delivery of our curriculum in these extraordinary times through a thoughtful and pragmatic approach.  We also continue to measure the learning outcomes of our new online students and compare them to pre-COVID performance to ensure the same results are being achieved.  The critical question that institutions like ours need to address is, So what now?  

As we begin to ease back into normal life, what happens to the resources and newly developed capabilities of delivering online education?  Now that online learning is more widely accepted, will face-to-face offerings cease to exist?  Paraphrasing Mark Twain, the rumours of the demise of face-to-face education have been greatly exaggerated. There is value in being part of a campus community that fosters creativity and thought not only in the classroom but through the social interactions that make the experience so impactful.  There is a sense of place that being on campus provides students, and it is tough to replicate the experience.  

Although the online educational experience, if done well, can create an ecosystem that provides a safe learning environment, there are still benefits for some learners to be on a physical campus. I believe the future of online education needs to be part of any educational institution's strategic plan. Still, I am nervous that institutions will treat online education as the hammer and any educational problem as the proverbial nail.  I agree with Selwyn (2016) that the public tends to talk about online education in a hyperbolic language that focuses more on technology and not on education.  As institutions stumbled their way through the adoption and implementation of technology, I wonder if, armed with newfound « expertise » in technology (Zoom), are institutions going blindly into online education without regard for the quality of their curriculum?  Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.  

I believe a strategic and thoughtful approach to online education is an important aspect of delivering knowledge to our students' development journey. I also think that online education is not a one size fits all approach. For example, at Swiss Education Group, we have four schools and executive education offering a comprehensive portfolio of business, hospitality, and culinary educational programs. Each is utilizing technology and online education in different ways. We have made the conscious decision to adopt technology that supports our students when and where they need it.   

I feel it is also essential to develop a team that will support the adoption of technology as it is used to deliver quality education.  According to JP Morgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, "Whatever your view is of the world's complexity and the risks and opportunities ahead, having a great team of people — with guts and brains and enormous capabilities which can navigate personally challenging circumstances while dedicating themselves to professional excellence — is what ensures our prosperity, now and in the future."   I agree.  

We need academic leaders to not only build great teams but also step forward and embrace technology strategically and thoughtfully while ensuring rigour of the curriculum.  Otherwise, we will be seen as Zooming (fiddling) while education (Rome) is burning.  

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever." Gandhi

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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