Fall Planning for the New Normal: Moving Higher Ed Online

Evidence of a New Normal: Surveys on Online Services and Courses

During the early months of the pandemic, institutions' and technology leaders' challenges and needs for information were continuously shifting. EDUCAUSE discerned a need for new modes of data collection and reporting that could keep up with these rapid shifts in needs, and so in April 2020 we launched our new QuickPoll program of research that prioritized short surveys, accelerated data collection and analyses, and concise, visual summaries of our findings. We've deployed this new agile methodology to help inform technology decision makers on a range of topics including student success, proctoring, IT budgets, and the technology workforce. More recently our focus for these efforts has shifted to fall planning as institutions prepare for the 2020–21 academic year.

For this study, EDUCAUSE and Cisco partnered on designing and deploying two QuickPoll surveys to the EDUCAUSE membership community. The first QuickPoll survey, disseminated in June, focused on technology leaders' early plans for course delivery in the fall, as well as on the priorities and solutions they were exploring to support campus health and safety. In August, we disseminated a second QuickPoll survey focused on institutions' plans for online course and service delivery and the adaptation and maintenance of physical campus spaces.

June QuickPoll: Early Technology Practices to Support Campus Health

Institutions have many options, few answers. In our June QuickPoll, respondents indicated a wide variety of options and potential scenarios for the fall. Decision makers across higher ed were considering and planning for a range of possibilities for how the fall term of 2020 would play out, with most respondents focusing their efforts and planning on hybrid models of teaching and learning (82% of respondents; see figure 1).

Bar graph showing the percentage of respondents who chose each category (Note: respondents could choose multiple options).  Hybrid teaching and learning options to support both campus-based and online education 82%. Flexible academic calendar to support campus-based education that adapts to changing pandemic-related circumstances 46%.  Returning to in-person education for all or most courses 40%.  Online education for all or most courses 29%.  Other 5%.  Don't know 2%.
Figure 1. June scenarios guiding fall planning (Note: respondents could choose multiple options)

The future is unclear and uncertain. In open responses, the biggest challenges respondents reported were related to the continued lack of clarity about what the fall would bring for their campuses. Respondents reflected on uncertainty and under-communication within their own institution, as well as the lack of guidance from local or state authorities, as some of their biggest unresolved issues. The uncertainty of the future meant that institutions had to expend resources and staff time to prepare for the unpredictability brought on by the constantly shifting situation during a pandemic.

August QuickPoll: Fall Planning for Online and Physical Spaces

Fall 2020 education will be hybrid. When we surveyed EDUCAUSE members again in August, with the fall semester now fast approaching, the 82% of respondents in June who were considering hybrid teaching for the fall had solidified into 76% of respondents planning to offer hybrid courses in the fall. This finding is accompanied by the dramatic shift from very few courses being offered online in 2019 to most courses being offered online in 2020 (see figure 2).

area graph showing the proportion of courses that were online in 2019 vs 2020.
Figure 2. Proportion of courses available online, fall 2019 and fall 2020

Student safety is at the forefront of institutions' decisions. A host of motivations might be driving institutions' decisions to offer hybrid delivery of courses, but unsurprisingly, chief among those motivations are the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, with student needs and preferences close behind.

Institutions favor asynchronous solutions for hybrid learning. Institutions are using a variety of multimodal solutions to hybridize their courses and make them available for remote students using a mixture of asynchronous and, perhaps less commonly, synchronous approaches. Seventy percent of respondents indicated that most or all of their courses would offer remote students the ability to download or stream recorded classroom sessions. For roughly half of respondents, most or all of their courses would offer live streaming, video capture, and microphone and speaker integration. Only about a third of respondents reported that most or all of their courses would include video screens to display remote students (see figure 3).

Bar graph showing the percentage of respondents who chose each category.  Ability to download/stream recorded classroom sessions 70%.  Live streaming of classroom lectures or discussions 52%.  Video capture of classroom lectures or discussions 50%.  Classroom microphone and speaker integration 50%.  Video screens for displaying persons joining remotely 35%.
Figure 3. Percentage of solutions available in most or all courses

Institutional services shift online, but the work isn't done. Most institutional services and experiences have had to move online during the pandemic. Despite these shifts in delivery methods, many institutional staff know that more effort is needed to provide certain services. Labs sit at the top of that list, with 88% of respondents reporting that more effort is needed to move the lab experience online. Other high-effort services include student food and housing support (80%) and student co-curricular activities (79%). The services most commonly reported as having moved online with no additional effort needed were faculty office hours, IT support, and human resources, but even for these services, more than 40% of respondents reported that work remained to be done at their institution to fully move these services online.