Saturday, February 8, 2020

Ten Tips for Educational Institutions Coping with Off-campus Students

Yesterday I was asked for some tips on how to provide courses for online delivery, for students who are unable to get to class due to the Novel Coronavirus. Here are ten tips, added to those previously provided.
  1. This is Not About China: Procedures should not refer to "for China". Instead "students who can't attend campus". By referring to China, this will stress the students and may make officials less cooperative. Also, it may well be that other countries will be affected, as well as domestic students.
  2. Don't stress funding implications: While there may be a cost to educational institutions, the emphasis should be on helping students, not ensuring cashflow.
  3. Educational standards still apply: Government regulators may have indicated that some rules for international students are being waved. However, principles of quality education still apply, as do professional ethics and the law. A university can't graduate someone who the public depends on in a life and death situation, until that person is fully trained, and tested. The training and testing may be carried out differently but must meet the same standards.
  4. Distance Education techniques are available: There is no need to make stuff up. Some educators have been refining techniques for education remotely over the decades. You can draw on this experience, tools, and techniques. There are likely people at your institution trained and experienced in how to do this.
  5. Contact your overseas colleagues: This is not just a problem for Australia, but educational institutions around the world. You may be able to offer help to those in areas impacted, as well as request assistance from others. This would also be useful for reassuring students, family, friends, and government officials in those countries, that your institution is respecting their local customs and laws.
  6. Do not attempt to circumvent national security restrictions: Nations restrict what services work on-line across their borders. It is tempting to circumvent these restrictions to allow your usual online tools to work for remote students. However, this may be considered a crime. Check for alternatives.
  7. Don't handle this as a "special consideration": Large numbers of students are unlikely to be able to attend campus for an extended period. So you need to design courses, materials, and assessments for this. It is not practical, and is unfair, to have each student apply for special consideration of their circumstances. There will still be a need for such special consideration, in many cases, but educational institutions need to be able to offer an alternative routine for most students.
  8. Deliver clear messages: Students, staff and parents will be stressed. This makes it more difficult for them to understand instructions. Also, rumors will spread. Put out simple clear messages. Have senior staff appear, to provide a human face to the institution. This doesn't need videos, a text statement with a photo is sufficient.
  9. Keep domestic students informed: Domestic students need to feel their education is not being neglected, and excessive resources, and special consideration given to international students. Tell all students what is happening, and offer all the new flexible education options, such as online lessons, to them. Offer virtual mentor and tutor programs to domestic students to help their international colleagues on-line.
  10. Look after yourself and colleagues: Online students expect instant replies from administrative and teaching staff 24 hours a day, and can be scathing in their criticism. Give students reasonable expectations of how quickly they will receive a reply and ensure there is sufficient staff to do this. Try to answer common questions via a forum, rather than to each student individually. Do not reply to intemperate language from a student in haste, or anger.

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