Edtech should work to replicate universities’ social experience

The events of the pandemic disrupted the way in which students form relationships and interact with each other. CEO and founder of Perlego Gauthier Van Malderen explores the social experience of students in the remote learning era

The university experience is about more than what takes place in the classroom. Many students choose their university specifically for the campus facilities, extra-curricular calendar, and social opportunities.

University is a rite of passage during which young people discover who they are, their values, and their opinions. It also provides them with an opportunity to establish important friends, mentors and relationships, many of which they carry through the rest of their lives.

As universities moved online during the pandemic, an emerging challenge is to replicate the real-world social experiences of universities in an online environment.

While many social media giants have brought social interaction online, they have been geared towards the general public, and therefore are not built for the specific needs of students. There is an opportunity for purpose-built technology to provide solutions that are specifically designed to create an academic community.

Online campus 

The university campus is often pictured as a cathedral to academic pursuit and a safe haven for students to discover themselves, but as universities adopt more remote practices there is a gap left for greater social interaction and support. Campuses are the home of most student services offering advice, counselling and resources for students to succeed during their studies. Universities have a duty of care to their students that now extends to their homes around the world.

Edtech innovators should be looking at physical campuses and identifying which features can be replicated online. For instance, many universities like UC San Diego have created a virtual student union that offers social meet-ups and online yoga classes alongside online counselling and legal services. This last year saw the Greek community hold its first virtual rush week.

These initiatives, while creative and innovative, still primarily relied upon adapting existing technology like Zoom to fit their needs, leaving great opportunities for custom edtech solutions to help improve how these communities adapt to online life.

Online study environment

The classroom has traditionally been the focal point for the relationship between professors and students. The traditional open-door policy held by many lecturers has extended to email correspondence, but more deliberately marrying physical classroom interaction with virtual classroom interaction can deliver a new way for classmates and professors to interact with each other. And, if these technologies facilitate mentoring programmes for students, they have the potential to improve learning outcomes and success after graduation.

Currently, lecturers are often confined to just giving feedback rather than facilitating a more dynamic dialogue with students. There is an opportunity for edtech to build an online study environment where information can be shared and explored.

For instance, on an online learning platform professors could provide pre-class content that prepares and informs discussions within the classroom or seminar, and then supports post-class assessment and course work. Throughout this process professors and students could share and comment on class-relevant content, such as textbooks, research papers and other multimedia, as well as offer critique and share opinions and arguments.

This model can extend beyond the individual professor-student relationship into group study where there are opportunities for students to act as peer mentors, helping to collaborate and support each other both in formal group projects and their own independent study regardless of their geography.

Building a blended experience

Throughout the pandemic, universities have proven adaptable and tenacious in embracing existing technologies. Edtech should be providing them with personalized solutions that work for students beyond the classroom and replicate the physical campus. After all, for many, the social experience of university is just as important as the quality of the education.


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