Create an optimized, immersive experience for students using lessons learned from the pandemic


COVID changed the way we do pretty much everything, and there is no better example than higher education. Lockdowns and other restrictions mean students are accessing their education mostly through online courses with some face-to-face interaction. At the same time, enrollment dropped 3% in Fall 2020 when compared with Fall 2019, and enrollment continues to trend downward.


The changes wrought by the pandemic forced institutions of higher learning to take a close look at the way they do business. They realized they had to, and must continue to, adapt in order to remain financially viable.


In the future, the hybrid model will be further expanded to include everything offered by an institution, including services such as academic advisement and career counseling. The model will make institutions more centered on students, and this holistic shift will create the “hybrid campus.” Let’s take a look at the features of this shift and how it might be implemented.


The features of the hybrid campus


Many aspiring college students have difficulty finding a pathway to a degree that works with the rest of their life, and about three-quarters of undergraduates are considered “nontraditional college students.” Yesterday’s nontraditional student, however, is today’s traditional student – most are on their own when it comes to money, often caring for elderly parents or children, and full-time employees.


This means that few students can focus just on their education due to responsibilities outside the classroom. The hybrid campus will go far to make college fit into these students’ lives through increased flexibility, making a college education possible for anyone who wants to undertake it. 


Technology enables the hybrid campus, making it an immersive digital experience that merges the online and real worlds. Rather than focusing simply on hybrid classroom instruction, it can bring students everything offered by that institution with a blended online/face-to-face approach.


The hybrid campus has been compared to the current retail model, which leverages both brick-and-mortar stores with an e-commerce site. Almost everything available in the store is also available online, for a seamless experience.


But technology is one thing. There’s a fundamental need for institutional leaders to embrace, embody, and evangelize a new operational and cultural framework that will move this model forward. Much was learned in the last 18 months, when the emphasis was on triage rather than a strategic approach.


Going back to the retail model, a hybrid campus requires a cohesive experience online and off. Institutions must decide when the best experience is delivered face-to-face and when online delivery is more effective. 


Reimagining the experience: Creating the hybrid campus


The pandemic taught institutions of higher learning that their tried-and-true legacy framework could be restructured to support students as the world and education moved online.


The transition to a hybrid campus means reworking how things are done in three key areas: 


The academic portfolio
The campus workforce, work, and workplace
The student experience

Reconsidering the academic portfolio


As of July 2021, 75% of college students want either in-person or hybrid learning. What is delivered in each instance should be part of your strategy. Should face-to-face meetings concentrate on experiential learning and classroom material delivered online? 


The likely scenario is that campuses will provide technology-enabled classes that seamlessly blend the peer learning experiences found in the classroom with those of in-person education. Leveraging teaching and learning centers to develop faculty member experts in course redesign and instructional formats is one way to implement this successfully. 


The academic calendar also requires another look to move beyond the usual semester schedule to one that better utilizes the campus and gives more options to students for shorter degree programs and allowing students to work while they attend school. 


Other things to consider include:


Use data: Where will the jobs be? Take a look at real-time data that reflects the changing needs of the workforce, and then create programs that cater to those needs. Develop programs that allow students to graduate with a traditional degree supplemented with an industry-wide recognized credential that qualifies them for an immediate job. 
Form alliances with other institutions: It helps to share courses where there is low enrollment in critical areas. Go beyond your own institution to combine resources.
Create a robust remote internship program: By connecting with employers, you can set your students up for future success.

Another idea to enhance the academic portfolio is to pair alumni and undergraduates for virtual job shadowing.


Taking a new look at campus work


While a hybrid model is student-centric, it’s important to adapt to stakeholder needs, including staff and faculty. This requires a holistic view of how and where work should be performed. Take a look at automation tools that can create more efficient and productive workflows.


To move toward a hybrid campus, check your technology. Do you have the proper collaboration tools? Do you have robust data analytics? And how about connectivity? Provide help to students by giving them a connected device and provide access to Wi-Fi across campus for faculty and staff as well as students. 


It also is important to train faculty and staff and give them the emotional support they need to share ideas and concerns. Other things important to your hybrid campus development include:


Breaking down silos
Examining how services are delivered and how evenly
How best to share accumulated knowledge in a virtual environment

When moving to a hybrid campus, the most essential element is the willingness of institutional leaders and faculty to embrace and adapt to new structures and processes. COVID provided the impetus for rapid change that would have ordinarily taken years and utilizing and expanding on the learnings and investments in remote education can help students reach their educational goals. 


Kwall: For a website that engages students and keeps them learning


You can count on KWALL to support the development of your higher-ed website, help you implement a CMS, and support you while you use it. We can also help you create a maintenance and support plan that works so you can manage content through a content management system.


KWALL specializes in helping colleges and universities increase student engagement through the quality of their websites. Reach out and contact KWALL today to talk about how we can help you.


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