The Class of 2024 are slowly but surely starting on their higher education journey – with more than a few obstacles in their way. In order to help students safely overcome these obstacles, universities are having to approach the new academic year in an innovative way.
Although it’s not been an easy year for anybody, we should definitely spare a thought for the children and teens who have seen their education under threat by lockdowns, viruses, and uncertainty. As students’ academic futures have hung in the balance, we’ve seen schools and colleges forced to innovate. Now, universities are in the spotlight.
As first year university students start their higher education journey under very unusual circumstances, and returning students make their way back to a campus and a way of working that they may not recognise, many are wondering how universities will cater for learning in a new world. Here’s what we know so far.
When lockdown was initially introduced, teachers were immediately concerned for their students’ education; for most students, classes take place outside of the home, so how would they switch to remote learning at such short notice?
Microsoft was one of the first organisations to come forward with a solution through their Microsoft Teams collaborative tool. The tech giant offered educators a 6-month free trial, allowing many students and teachers to get to grips with virtual learning for the first time. Teams allows for messaging, audio and video calls, file transfer, and much more – all within a secure framework that keeps students safe and protects lessons from interruption.
For international students – especially those who are unable to come to the UK due to travel restrictions – virtual learning is even more crucial. The inclusivity provided by a solution like Teams allows them to still interact with their teachers and pupils in the same way as everybody else. Savvy educators are continuing with Teams to facilitate virtual learning for this academic year and beyond, providing top-tier education to students, no matter where they’re based.
In traditional classrooms, knowledge usually travels in one direction: from teacher to student, but in a collaborative classroom, the emphasis is on knowledge sharing and cultural exchange. Universities are embracing collaborative environments because they reflect the working world much better and also improve communication, but this goes way beyond teachers setting the occasional group project.
Students are encouraged to think critically about subjects, to decide on their own goals within the framework of the class, and to work in groups frequently, teaching them that a group can accomplish a lot more than any individual can alone. Mixed student grouping is common, further reflecting the reality for most working adults who share space with employees of different ages and cultural backgrounds.
Rather than hindering this practice, lockdown has demonstrated how vital collaborative environments are when students are learning remotely. Microsoft Teams’ group functions facilitate group work seamlessly, while Microsoft’s 365 suite allows for secure file transfer and project management. Lecture materials can be shared quickly and securely, with access control that ensures only the right users are able to open and edit files. In this new landscape, forward-thinking educators are embracing tech to continue to enhance their collaborative learning framework and keep things secure.
As high-resolution video technology becomes more affordable, lecture theatres equipped with cameras and a microphone system are now quite common. Educators are using this equipment to record quality video versions of their lectures. This can be quickly adapted for remote learning, where not only are lectures delivered on camera in real time but can also be sent to students after the session. This frees up teachers to plan lessons and deal with student enquiries, while also offering students the ability to pause the video and take notes easily.
Lecture theatres and classrooms weren’t designed for social distancing, but universities are coming up with ingenious solutions to get around this issue. One option is the hybrid learning environment – where half of the students attend lectures as normal, while the other half experience the lecture from home, via a recorded video that’s sent to them, or live via Microsoft Teams. Teams has even developed Together Mode that stitches together attendees’ webcams to create a virtual lecture experience. The groups will then swap over for the next lecture, and alternate from there.
With this solution, students get the best of both worlds – the IRL university lecture experience and the convenience of taking notes from home – while remaining socially distanced and safe.
As is clear from the list above, technology sits at the heart of how universities are learning to cope, though there’s still a long way to go until students and staff are fully comfortable with the new setup. In the meantime, it’s promising to know that tools and solutions are on offer to help keep students’ education intact. We look forward to seeing how these adaptations continue to evolve – and for the days when Freshers can once again enjoy classic milestones of the university experience.
If your organisation has embraced remote learning and now wants to take connectivity to the next level, check out our Teams Connect for Education solution to get the most out of Microsoft Teams.