An emerging grievance among postsecondary students – when you take the time to listen to them – is the disconnect between a learning experience that is totally online and no reduction in tuition cost.
To be clear, tuition costs have been escalating in many universities for years. Students know this. They also know the stories of the debilitating debt loads that many students carry with them for years after graduation. But still, students continue to view a degree or diploma as their ticket to a prosperous future.
Today, their question is simple – why is there no drop in tuition when there has been a significant change in the way that education is delivered and consumed? With classes moving online, there is no physical limit to the number of students who can be admitted to in-demand universities and programs. In the minds of some students, tuition to a degree reflects an element of scarcity. With those limits removed, where’s the adjustment to the price they’re paying?
Another big factor in their argument for lower tuition relates to the whole university experience. In a normal year, students get the chance regularly to meet and interact with classmates and professors. Sitting at home or in a dorm room is not the same, and some students feel shortchanged. In their mind, going virtual diminishes the experience and value that they are receiving.
Improving the remote experience
So, what’s a university to do? Like many organizations, salaries and benefits comprise the single greatest operating expense. Professors still need to be paid as do admin staff. Physical infrastructure needs to be maintained. These costs don’t go away when courses move online.
One thing immediately comes to mind – treat students like customers. Because they are customers.
Students make a choice about the services they consume. They have powerful word-of-mouth networks, and they aren’t shy about sharing their thoughts and experiences. While parents factor into the equation, particularly when it comes to the choice of institution and making tuition payments, it is the students who are the users – the ultimate customer for a college or university’s services.
Two main things can impact a student’s remote experience – how clearly they’re able to hear the instructor’s voice and the teaching style and resources that instructor uses to enhance the remote experience.
Hearing is everything
I can’t emphasize enough that the ability to hear the instructor’s voice clearly is critically important.
Yes, the prof may have prepared materials to share in the class – whether that’s via Microsoft® PowerPoint® or some other application. But rarely, if ever, do these slides encapsulate all that the instructor wants to communicate. Slides are supplementary. They aid in emphasizing important points, but they are not comprehensive.
Ensuring remote students can hear means that IT staff need to take care of three things:
- Choosing the right audio conferencing system (also called a microphone-speaker system or bar)
- Ensuring adequate bandwidth to host up to hundreds of simultaneous class sessions, each potentially with hundreds of students with full audio, video and data
- Making tech support available should there be a disruption to the class
Students need to experience a quality standard that allows them to hear and learn – with nothing to get in the way.
Teaching style and resources
To think that moving to virtual classes and lectures would not require adaptation would just be wrong. Thinking that lecturers and professors can make this transition on their own is equally wrong. So consider the following possibilities.
1. Expand teaching techniques – Guide instructors to add new teaching strategies to their repertoire that demonstrably include remote students. Pausing and asking if there are any questions from remote students, or asking remote students to answer a question, are a couple of small things that make a big difference.
2. Take advantage of screen sharing – Help instructors in hybrid learning scenarios understand how screen sharing can help them connect in-room and remote students. Remote students can share their screens with everyone – online and in the room – increasing participation and engagement. Plus screen sharing helps students feel like they’re in the same class, even if they’re not in the same classroom.
3. Reduce the tech learning curve – Support instructors to become proficient with the technology tools that are now so crucial to their success. This could involve training sessions on effective use, but also having tech support available in standby mode.
4. Share resources – Help instructors provide online resources for their students, in addition to the captured lecture. At the very least, this shows students that lecturers appreciate that they need help that goes beyond the class recording.
Engage with students
Engaging with customers is always a good strategy. Sharing, advising, reacting, evolving, answering – and sometimes apologizing – can go a long way. Keep the communication channels open and keep engaging.
We all know that life in this pandemic is different than what we know and want, but it doesn’t have to be awful. Virtual learning means that education is still moving forward for students. They will get their credits and courses, though perhaps not as they or anyone expected. Students will graduate.
At some point, life may go back to what we know and want – and we’ll all be grateful. But it’s good to remember the current reality has some of its own advantages and richness. Taking action to make the most of where we are now could be just the ticket.
Checklist: 8 audio essentials for HyFlex and hybrid learning
Does your audio system pick up student voices in your entire learning space – while still being easy to install and maintain? These are just a few crucial items that higher ed audio needs to deliver. See what else is on the list – download your checklist today (no email address required).
Posted on October 28, 2020