Coronavirus pandemic: ‘Rapid change can deliver long-term benefits’

What positives can universities and colleges draw from the COVID-19 pandemic? Disruption can spark creative approaches, says Andy Powell, Cloud CTO at Jisc

The coronavirus pandemic has brought trauma and catastrophe – but I’ve also seen great generosity and kindness. For our colleges and universities, it has demanded change at pace, implementing new ways of working and communicating.

Off-site and online

The most fundamental change in education has been the rapid move to complete online delivery. In normal times, I can’t think of anyone who would advocate replacing classrooms with digital environments altogether – but in the current climate, providers have been forced to do exactly that.

This proves that digital transformation has long since been possible. The technology used to deliver online and remote learning has been around for a while, yet, for many, it’s taken this crisis to make it work. And while staff and learners will, sooner or later, return to campus, there is also value in recognising the value of remote working. The sector definitely can and probably should augment classrooms with a hybrid, mixed mode of delivery that embraces both digital and physical environments.

No turning back

Even after this episode, I don’t think teaching and learning will ever be the same. I hope that university and college leaders will review what’s happened, scrutinise how changes in approach and delivery have worked well – and where they haven’t – and build up from there. Academics, teachers, researchers and learners can do the same. And while, through these months of uncertainty, mistakes will be made, education is about progress; we can learn from the crisis to function differently at every level.

Amid the trauma of the crisis, we’re discovering cloud-based tools that enable us to work, collaborate and impart knowledge more productively and effectively

A balanced approach

Given this fast-changing landscape, we need balance. In the fullness of time, colleges and universities may ask whether the specific online and distance learning solutions they reached for when the crisis hit were the right ones for them. So far, the transformations made in the midst of the coronavirus crisis have mainly been led by technologists. But teachers and lecturers in all sorts of different subject areas are suddenly having to think, ‘how am I going to run an online tutorial?’; ‘how can I best respond to this disruption?’

As for learners, it’s a sad truth that, while many will flourish through this lockdown, others will struggle.

In the short-term, the winners will be those with decent broadband, access to devices, and the physical space and support to take advantage of the transformation of their learning. There’s much to reflect on if online and remote learning is to be taken forward for the benefit of all.

Skills for a brighter future

In my role at Jisc, I look at how public cloud can be used to support service provision and internal collaboration, and at how we can help members in their use of public cloud. One positive to come out of the pandemic has been a greater awareness of the role public cloud services can bring to society – from ‘virtual pub’ get-togethers among friends right up to the way the cabinet operates. Amid the trauma and the crisis, we’re discovering cloud-based tools that enable us to work, collaborate and impart knowledge more productively and effectively. This will be true in the longer term as well, even as we emerge from the current lockdown.

The public cloud means educators and learners can use online teaching and learning tools from anywhere at any time. Beyond immediate uses, education is exploring emerging technology – such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT and augmented and virtual reality. The public cloud will drive and support further change.

We’ve seen how rapid transformation can deliver benefits. Let’s make them last, long-term.

To find out more about Jisc, visit:

You might also like: Jisc pledges support to UK education sector through a range of free resources


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