Thoughts on the Next Frontier of Higher Ed Digital Learning, Delivery Modalities, and WCET Summit 2021

This month WCET wrapped its two-part epic mini-series Practical Considerations for an Uncertain Future. Both sessions were filled with, as our Executive Director put it, never-ending and only slightly miserable chess/Queen’s Gambit, Star Wars, and Star Trek references plus amazing sessions and discussions with the superstars of digital learning in higher education.

Episode 1 – The EdTech Gambit

In our first episode, we focused on The EdTech Gambit, where we discussed what we’ve learned through the implementation of new (and sometimes old) technologies during an emergency situation. Our opening session touched on best practices gathered from the pandemic and how best to serve students, whatever delivery modality their class or program may be. Attendees brought up great questions such as the use of Cares Act funds on technology tools and considerations about keeping the purchased tools up to date plus how students may feel about asynchronous versus synchronous online/blended learning moving forward. The breakout sessions from exciting higher education leaders included:

  • A preview and discussion with authors about the upcoming Caring for Students playbook, from the Every Learner Everywhere Network,
  • Chats on the future landscape of educational technologies,
  • Ways to ensure we are always keeping edtech accessible, and
  • A great discussion about what faculty really want administrations to know.

The final session was an entertaining and incredibly valuable panel who discussed edtech evaluation, purchasing, adoption, and implementation. The critical factors included in the discussion were the importance of accessibility, equitable access, and privacy and security of student data.

Episode 2 – WCET Discovery: Where No Educator Has Gone Before

The second episode, WCET Discovery: Where No Educator Has Gone Before, showcased what’s in store for the future. Our opening session was a high-level discussion of that future, complete with Stark Trek references and space themed Zoom backgrounds. My biggest takeaway was trying to keep the focus on student (and staff and faculty!) mental health and individual success with better assessment and engagement strategies, even once we are approaching “back to normal” (whatever that means for us now). The panel ended with each presenter talking about what gives them hope for the future of higher ed. The panelists spoke so highly of the students who keep us doing this work, the creativity and innovation that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, administrators who practice what they preach and are active lifelong learners, and finally the renewed focus on social justice, not only in higher education, but all over the world.

And, yes, we know, it was highly illogical that we mixed Star Trek with Star Wars Day, but please set your phasers to stun, because it was all in good fun!

One of the discussion topics narrowed in on the ways institutions are defining different modalities offered for classes. John Opper, Executive Director, Distance Learning and Student Services with Florida Virtual Campus and Megan Raymond, WCET, provided a definition table based on FVC definitions of primarily face-to-face (Primarily Classroom), Hybrid, Flex, Primarily Distance Learning, and Fully Distance Learning. The table includes sections to track terminology variations for each modality, the unique faculty/instructor skills needed for each mode of delivery, the faculty development for each mode of delivery, student engagement and support needed for each mode, and policy issues that can be identified for each mode.

This type of table or exercise would be useful for institutions to complete, as it would allow the campus community to understand the differences between the various modalities available PLUS administrators could then use the information to develop or tweak faculty development programs and policies.

Attendees were invited to review the table and make suggestions, or use the table as an example to create a similar resource for their individual institutions.

Here at WCET, we have written a few times about the overwhelming number of definitions possible for course delivery methods. You can review our thoughts through the following posts:

If you’re interested in seeing the table from FVC (thanks John!) please check it out and feel free to add comments and suggestions!

The breakout sessions for this episode included:

  • A discussion about how higher education institutions and alternative providers can help bridge the skills gap,
  • A presentation about the WICHE Knocking at the College Door report, which considers the changing demographics of learners and what this means for higher education,
  • Reflections on faculty development and how this has changed through and because of the pandemic,
  • An exercise to prompt post-COVID strategic and operational planning, and
  • A roundtable discussion about the roles of instructional designers and how these important team members can help faculty (and how to get faculty interested in working with IDs!).

We would like to share a special thank you to our student panelists who joined us for both sessions. We were so impressed by the students who provided their expertise and lived experiences through their educational journeys, especially during the pandemic.

Feedback

We appreciate the good feedback on our events, it helps us to know what we have done well so we can continue to do well! But we always take the time to review the suggestions for improvement our event attendees provide us. I did want to share two comments that made our events team smile (!) but I also want to include that we have noted the suggestions for what we can do better next time.

“I have been to about 6 virtual higher ed conferences this year and WCET programming is far and away the best! I absolutely love how you consistently gather brilliant people and let them engage one another and the audience in relevant and meaningful conversation about topics impacting the community. True thought leadership.”

and from our second episode:

“The panels were expertly constructed. I especially enjoyed the opening conversation as it was very thought provoking about significant strategic considerations in higher education post-COVID.”

Live Long and Prosper

Our entire team thanks this year’s Summit attendees and sends a huge thank you to everyone who participated as presenters, panelists, and discussion leaders. We learned so much from each and every one of you. We certainly have a lot to think about as we boldly go into the future! It doesn’t feel like too much of a gambit with such an exceptional community around us.

Want to steam the recordings of the Summit episodes? No worries, we DVR’d them for you. Registered attendees can stream recordings for both episodes through June 30, 2021. Recordings will be housed in wcetMIX after June 30 for WCET members. 

We have several other great events lined up over the next few months. Keep updated on our events page!

Lindsey


Lindsey Downs
Assistant Director, Communications and Community
WCET
ldowns@wiche.edu | @lindsey0427

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My name is Lindsey Rae Downs. I am the Assistant Director of Communications and Community for WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies. I work remotely from beautiful Helena, MT.

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