Schools are recording steep declines in attendance during this pandemic. Higher ed institutions must reevaluate how to keep 2021’s students engaged and coming to classes. 


By the end of 2020, school and civil authorities were grappling with the reality of having students away from campus, or totally unreachable, due to the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic. That disassociation has continued into 2021, and schools across the country are reporting low in-person attendance and engagement. 


To overcome the obstacles COVID-19 has thrown up to a healthy learning experience, schools must put their shoulders to the proverbial plow and think up novel, practical, and inventive ways to reassure and reengage students in 2021.


A significant part of this exercise will be making an honest assessment of the problem and its moving parts. Then, take stock of your technology assets and capabilities before deciding how to put them to the best possible use to ensure no student gets left behind.


3 keys to understanding the COVID-19 disengagement problem


1. The response so far: The response from schools to the coronavirus pandemic was swift and decisive: remote learning was introduced, and institutions leveraged their websites to sidestep the empty classrooms necessitated by the pandemic.

This rapid response, which broke any lingering stereotypes about educational institutions being impervious to change, should rightly be considered heroic. However, those efforts did not overcome the disengagement problem at hand.

As far as the disengagement of students in general, and higher ed students in particular, is concerned, a lot remains to be done to address the problem, in spite of all that is already being done. Even at this late stage, after “remote learning” became a thing, tens of thousands of students remain without digital access to the resources provided by schools.


2. The demands of reengagement: The problem of reengagement goes much deeper than access and persists even among those who do have access to remote classes hosted by their colleges and universities. Remote learning is yet to fully deliver the lively, engaging atmosphere that is concomitant with the classroom and which so many students desire when they think about higher education. 

In fact, for some students, the digital equity gap became even more glaring as they faced problems with inclusion, accessibility, and engagement. There have been several reports of increased fatigue resulting from staring at glowing screens for too long and even increased amusement over the possibility of remote classes being “Zoom bombed” or invaded by outsiders.


3. New expectations in the new normal: One would be tempted to think these ongoing issues are temporary and can simply be waited out until students are allowed to return to campuses. But that assumption would be wrong, and even risky.


Schools would be more prudent to ask themselves: 


– ​​​​How has the remote learning experience impacted student expectations?

What should constitute the new normal for classrooms when campuses reopen?

When students and faculty are asked whether they expect to be able to join any class remotely going forward, or whether there are elements of remote learning they expect to see, the answers are largely affirmative. Students want to return to classrooms, yes. But they also want to be able to join any class remotely and be able to watch it later and contribute their thoughts in an asynchronous environment.


Higher ed institutions looking to reengage students in the era of COVID-19 need to get comfortable with these realities. They need to understand that the technologies that have enabled remote learning will become a mainstay on the educational landscape, just as capabilities will need to be improved upon to ensure the flexibility the learning process needs to become more inclusive, accessible, and engaging.


Communication strategies for reengagement and making students feel safe  during the pandemic


Above all else, colleges and universities need to show support and empathy to reengage a population that is currently questioning almost everything it once believed about the safety of everyday life. Understanding the problem of reengagement and student expectations is one thing. Communicating that new understanding well enough to quell student’s and family’s fears is another. Here are four communication tips to help guide your efforts:


1. Be transparent: At this point, trust is everything. Students need to know their schools are being upfront with them about the pandemic. You may be worried about the negative PR that would follow an outbreak, but the last thing you want to do is sweep things under the rug instead of being transparent with your students.


2. Learn from errors: If an outbreak does occur on campus, nothing would pacify your student body more than a visible, sincere effort to learn from the mistakes that led to it. Make use of your website as a medium to talk about what happened and outline changes you will implement to ensure everyone’s safety going forward.


3. Leverage your website for better remote learning and updates about the pandemic: Your website is the lynchpin in all this. You can make the most of it by:


​​​​​- Encouraging and promoting remote learning through your website and committing to making it as engaging and inclusive as possible

Sharing updates and info about coronavirus-related events on-campus using a dashboard. A competent web developer can even ensure the dashboard is automatically updated

Share key details with the student body through your website’s dashboard

Provide context and comparisons for the data you share through your website, so students know how things stack up compared to the rest of the community and the country



4. Post updates over social media channels: Use social media to update your target population about key events like campus closures, free testing clinics, and vaccination availability, to name a few examples.


You want the college’s commitment to students’ welfare to shine through all your communications and reassure scared and disengaged students.


Empower your school to make students feel safe after COVID


The right digital partner can equip your higher ed Institution to build an online presence to meet the new expectations of post-COVID education. KWALL helps colleges and universities win online with powerful web experiences that help establish an effective, on-brand web presence. If you’re looking for ways to meet students at their point of need, contact KWALL today.


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