How COVID Reshaped College Pt. 2 – Physical Spaces

How COVID Reshaped College Pt. 2 – Physical Spaces

Colleges faced unique challenges in 2020. Many campuses are the physical space in which their students study, work, live, and play.

When COVID-19 emerged, the shutdowns forced higher education institutions to find a path forward. That path included all of the obstacles that workplaces, housing complexes, and schools were subjected to. So what did that path look like, and what changes may become permanent in post-secondary settings?

In this limited blog series, we will take a look at how COVID-19 changed higher education in three areas: classes, physical spaces, and community.

The Chronicle of Higher Education released their latest issue, “Rethinking Campus Spaces: How to Prepare for the Future of Learning and Work” (available for purchase here). In this issue, they spoke with leaders of colleges that had decided to bring people back to campus after the shutdowns in the spring of 2020. This study provides the framework for this limited blog series.

In part 2, we’ll discuss the changes surrounding campus physical spaces that took place in 2020, and what they will look like post-COVID.

Physical Spaces on Campus Were Changing before 2020

College campuses have been in transition for a number of years in terms of physical space allocations.

As newer generations of students continue to voice concerns about student debt and rising tuition costs and university budgets continue to shrink, higher education institutions have been actively looking for ways to create more value for their students. Prestige and status have fallen by the wayside – students and parents aren’t looking for sprawling grounds, elaborately decorated classroom buildings, or dorm rooms with lavish amenities.

In place of these extravagances, people are looking for physical spaces that encourage and inspire them to make the most of their time on campus. And even before COVID-19 emerged, campus leaders were restructuring things in big ways.

Many colleges were on the path to increasing the flexibility of physical spaces. Lecture halls with tiered seating were replaced with flat-floored classrooms that featured reconfigurable tables and options for creating multi-use floorplans based on each meeting’s or class’s needs.

Large, private faculty offices were reconfigured as conference-style spaces, while professors and other instructors were given desks in more shared and collaborative spaces.

These changes weren’t universal, and some of the best ones continued to take individual faculty members’ preferences into account, but the big theme of the last several years was reducing waste in terms of physical space. This included things like selling or repurposing buildings to accommodate the creation of more student housing or laboratory spaces that could be rented or booked by students and faculty alike for coursework.

How COVID Shaped Campus Physical Spaces

Though the focus always seems to be on how colleges and universities are implementing new technology to allow for more remote learning, there are still many things happening on college campuses across the country.

Libraries, administrative offices, faculty offices and areas, and even classrooms, labs, and student housing are still being used, with updated safety and social distancing setups, of course.

Because many learning spaces have been slowly updated to allow for reconfiguration and multiple functions, creating COVID-friendly configurations was one of the least difficult pivots colleges had to make. Lecture halls were no longer being filled to the brim, but rather being used to house smaller classes that could effectively practice social distancing.

Some institutions decreased class sizes and others created schedules to allow for smaller groups to meet on one of the three class days, again shrinking class sizes without hurting any students or their educational journeys.

The biggest issue was housing. Many dorms and student living areas were created with pairs or sets of students living in and sharing the same sleeping areas, kitchens, and bathrooms. All of these areas had to be re-evaluated to account for COVID-19, and sometimes it was unsuccessful. And when outbreaks occurred, some colleges set aside housing areas specifically for quarantined or isolated students.

Two of the few good things that have come out of these terrible times are the increase in the use of campus “green” spaces and some colleges’ re-evaluation of the ventilation and air filtration systems that are currently in place. Outdoor areas are a perfect answer to social distancing class struggles. In areas where the weather allowed, many schools used their courtyards, quads, and other grassy areas to hold classes.

Some schools, like Kansas State University, evaluated their ventilation systems for the 2020-21 academic year. As many campuses have older buildings, these spaces are not held to the same modern standards when it comes to air filtration and ventilation. COVID-19 highlighted that shortcoming this year because the airborne virus gave administrators the chance to visualize the importance of clean air in their campus buildings.

The Future of Campus Physical Spaces

The future of campus physical spaces is an interesting one. Administrators are now evaluating all the rooms and buildings on campus and asking what can be done to create more multi-purpose spaces.

One considerable change that many colleges are entertaining is the idea that certain administrative offices be restructured to aid in educating and serving first-generation and low-income students by structuring financial aid, bursar, and academic advancement offices in a more collaborative way. Rather than having separate spaces dedicated to each service, some colleges are creating a shared office where any student can come in with a litany of different questions, and common questions will be answered in that shared space. For more in-depth or private conversations, conference rooms are available.

And this model is being adopted by many faculty areas as well. We mentioned before that dedicating thousands of square feet to house a few faculty members creates an enormous waste, especially when most of the faculty are now teaching remotely.

Another area that could see great change is the library space. As more and more students enroll in online classes, they will crave a place outside their home to work on projects or meet for group assignments. And libraries have been in a state of transition, dedicating spaces to group work and even housing different types of tutoring and writing labs within different rooms or areas so as to make the most of this academic space.

As for campus housing, the trend has been moving away from multi-person rooms for the last few years, and with the advent of COVID-19, student housing will continue to move toward more single rooms, nano suites, and smaller, apartment-style rooms where showers and other high-traffic areas will be shared by 1-4 people, rather than the whole first floor or the entire building.

The need for more collaboration and community will be a hallmark of campus physical spaces in the future. We’ll dive into the topic of community in part three of this limited blog series.

Whether on Campus or Off, You Need Great Collaboration Tools

Tomorrow’s classroom experience will still need a few things – technology, collaboration, and people. But people and technology aren’t always perfectly matched. So what can you do to make the most of your classroom – or workplace – online experiences? Explore Meet Me In The Cloud’s managed services and collaboration services.

Whether you need training and education, event assistance, or other collaboration-based support and services, contact us today.

How COVID Reshaped College Pt. 1 – Classes

How COVID Reshaped College Pt. 1 – Classes

Colleges faced unique challenges in 2020. Many campuses are the physical space in which their students study, work, live, and play.

When COVID-19 emerged, the shutdowns forced higher education institutions to find a path forward. That path included all of the obstacles that workplaces, housing complexes, and schools were subjected to. So what did that path look like, and what changes may become permanent in post-secondary settings?

In this limited blog series, we will take a look at how COVID-19 changed higher education in three areas: classes, physical spaces, and community.

The Chronicle of Higher Education released their latest issue, “Rethinking Campus Spaces: How to Prepare for the Future of Learning and Work” (available for purchase here). In this issue, they spoke with leaders of colleges that had decided to bring people back to campus after the shutdowns in the spring of 2020. This study provides the framework for this limited blog series.

In part 1, we’ll discuss the changes surrounding college classes that took place in 2020, and the future of higher education post-COVID.

Class and Education Trends before COVID

Tuition costs and student debt were hot topics before the pandemic hit. Many institutions of higher education were looking for ways to survive 2019 and 2020 budget cuts while also providing cost-effective degree programs for a generation that faces the highest college costs in history.

Online and hybrid class models, and even full degree programs, have been increasing in popularity. But before COVID-19, these tracks were most attractive to students who were non-traditional (adult students heading “back to school” after having a family or separate career), budget-conscious, or looking to complete certain courses on a more flexible schedule.

All of these reasons – financial, flexibility, learning preference – created a demand for a class experience wholly unlike the large, packed lecture hall courses we often see in the movies.

So if the classroom experience was changing before the pandemic, what is its impact on the college classrooms of today and the future?

Attending Class in Unprecedented Times

When the pandemic shutdowns began, colleges – like many businesses and institutions – scrambled to create an environment that would allow for the continuation of classes and also keep students, faculty, and staff safe from this new threat.

Colleges and universities handled this new challenge in the ways they thought best. They switched applicable in-person classes to online platforms. They also decreased the number of students allowed in classes that couldn’t be replicated online, including trade skills and other hands-on classes like science labs.

Lecture halls, which many college leaders, architects, and designers had been seeing trends move away from in favor of more flexible and reconfigurable spaces, were now suddenly the perfect place to hold smaller classes and to allow for proper social distancing.

As the pandemic wore on, more and more solutions and services were being offered online. Academic advising, mental health appointments, and financial aid services migrated, in many cases, to Zoom or other online discussion and collaboration platforms.

The world, and younger generations, are constantly trending toward more flexible and digital options, and COVID-19 pushed many elements of the college experience to digital platforms as well.

Another widely appreciated change during this unprecedented time has been the inclusion of more outdoor classroom settings. Courtyards, quads, and grassy areas that were previously underutilized have now been converted into classroom spaces, on campuses where the weather is warm enough to have all or part of a semester’s classes outdoors. New awnings and other shade structures were built, campus WiFi was ramped up to reach these spaces, and outdoor outlets were installed to accommodate computers and other learning devices.

According to U.S. News, “research by the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College in North Carolina, which is tracking institutional COVID-19 responses, finds that nearly 1,400 schools have transitioned to online instruction for the spring” of 2021.

But what happens when the pandemic ends?

The Future of College Classes

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, some COVID-inspired changes will become the preferred method of the classroom experience.

Now that so many students, faculty, and staff have had a taste of remote education, it is very likely they will want more opportunities to learn via online or hybrid methods.

The biggest lesson this pandemic has taught us – all of us – is that everyone wants more flexibility. When people can tailor their class schedule and method to match their learning preferences and busy lives, not only do more people want to pursue higher education, but they are almost guaranteed to have a more budget-friendly and engaging college experience.

Administrative leaders are also taking note – hybrid and online learning are great ways to increase class availability and make classroom use more efficient. If classes only meet once a week for hands-on or group work, rather than meeting 2-5 times a week, more classes can utilize the space each campus has to offer.

We’ll talk more about physical spaces on college campuses and the effect COVID-19 had on them in part 2 of this limited series.

The Future of Education Lies in Technology and People

Tomorrow’s classroom experience will still need a few things – technology, collaboration, and people. But people and technology aren’t always perfectly matched. So what can you do to make the most of your classroom – or workplace – online experiences? Explore Meet Me In The Cloud’s managed services and collaboration services.

Whether you need training and education, event assistance, or other collaboration-based support and services, contact us today.

How Remote and Blended Learning Are Changing Education This Year

How Remote and Blended Learning Are Changing Education This Year

Remote and blended learning are not new concepts. For years, students of all ages have been exposed to classroom concepts using online platforms for many reasons: geographic location, accelerated or specialized educational needs, or unfavorable school experiences (like bullying or a lack of resources for those with certain disabilities).

But what is blended learning? And how does remote learning fit in? Let’s take a look at how the act of learning has changed this year.

What is Blended Learning?

Blended learning is the combination of different digital content and activities with face-to-face learning. The beauty of blended learning is the ability for each child, class, school, and institution to customize the education to their preferences and needs. Remote and blended learning can not only offer several different tools for learning the same material, but blended learning can also accommodate those who need that personal connection.

Whether it’s 50/50 or 90/10 online vs. in-class learning, a blended approach can be tailored to fit any schedule and even be used to foster progress and education during a global pandemic. The TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) has a great infographic that breaks down the tech side of blended learning.

The 2020 Effect

2020 has given rise to many different educational solutions for the unique landscape that’s been created by COVID-19. There are so many technology solutions that can be used for hosting educational courses and projects, it is overwhelming to think about.

Fostering Creativity

In an article from The Conversation’s Blog, one huge benefit to remote and blended learning is their ability to foster creativity and critical thinking. There is no one-size-fits-all model anymore: specialization is now being accepted as the best way for children (and adults) to really grasp the concepts they are learning.

Allowing students the ability to harness different technologies to create presentations and complete projects reinforce the lessons being taught. It also creates a passion for these ever-changing online and virtual tools.

Remote Learning Hedges Out Blended Approaches

In recent news, many K-12 and post-secondary schools prepared all summer for a half-and-half model where students would be in the classroom on certain days and learning from home for the rest of the week. But as COVID-19 cases surged during the weeks leading up to the start of the school year, many ended up scrapping those plans and incorporating a remote approach to keep their students and staff safe.

As remote and blended learning gain prominence in the classroom and the workplace, there are many options out there for you to access education safely and effectively. Meet Me In The Cloud has a solution for every preference – from onsite training to a host of e-learning courses.

What Back-to-School Can Teach Us About E-Learning

What Back-to-School Can Teach Us About E-Learning

As we send our children back to school (from K to college-age), we are acutely aware of how different Back-to-School 2020 will be. Many schools and workplaces that had planned (near the beginning of the summer) to be back to pre-COVID operations by now are slowly migrating some or all of their functions to a more permanent, virtual home.

Melanie Kitchen, in an interview with Cult of Pedagogy – a business sharing insights for preparing and supporting teachers and educators – said of this new virtual schooling: “All of these things that are really good practices can still be done virtually. It just might look a little different.”

So what does this new virtual learning landscape look like? According to Kitchen, there are two areas of focus: instructional design and community building/communication. For the sake of this piece, we’ll be looking at how certain back-to-school preparations can help you, your staff, and your business transition more smoothly to more permanent e-learning and virtual operations opportunities.

Instructional Design

The first and biggest takeaway from this new era in e-learning is that educational content needs to be simplified and slowed down. This means asking some big questions like: What knowledge is essential? Are there concepts or learning tools that can be harnessed over multiple content areas of online education or virtual office procedures? Having access to streamlined e-learning resources can not only help any student learn faster and build confidence but stripping away the excess can often mean the information learned is kept and used for much longer.

Ease of Use and Multimodality

Secondly, Kitchen says, instructions should be “easy to find, explicit, and multimodal.” But what does that mean? For teachers, it means creating user-friendly projects and assignments that take into account the added difficulty of finding help and project materials in each student’s vastly different home environment.

For businesses looking to educate their staff? This means sharing access to these materials in easily accessible places on your VPN or intranet networks. It also means embracing a flexible and multimodal educational platform: your staff of learners has just as much variety in learning styles as a kindergarten classroom, so you must make sure there are resources like videos, written instructions, or tutorials that cater to those differences.

Facilitate Feedback

Kitchen also talks about the importance of giving feedback over grades, since each student’s home learning environment is unique. But since number and letter grades aren’t a major part of on-the-job education, let’s narrow that focus to this phrase, “Good feedback is a necessity”. If you want your staff to learn how to master a new technological platform or virtual process fully, giving good feedback on their performance is critical to helping them (and you) see where the pitfalls and tricky spots are so you can address and alleviate them efficiently.

Rethink Your Meeting Schedule and Strategy

Lastly in instructional design, Kitchen talks about how synchronous activities like face-to-face (or Zoom) meeting times should only be used for active learning. That means rethinking those “meetings that could’ve been emails”. Save the screen time for items that are of the utmost importance and let your virtual collaboration tools do the rest.

Community Building & Communication

Leave Time for Acclimation

Kitchen’s first order of business during back-to-school is a fundamental and often-overlooked directive, and that’s to take time to acclimate your students to this new normal, with a heavy emphasis on making sure they get comfortable with the technology assets before jumping into educational content.

The same is applicable to your staff of students. Having the ability to familiarize themselves with the technology before being expected to perform all of their job duties within it often makes for less stress and easier adoption.

Give Your Staff Agency in Communication

It is also important to offer multimodal communication in tandem with multimodal educational tools. This gives your staff some agency in choosing where and how to best communicate with peers, superiors, and outside clientele if applicable. 

Virtual learning is a luxury that has quickly become a necessity. Take a look at Meet Me In The Cloud’s catalog of e-learning offerings. For all of our online educational solutions, click here.

3 Tips for E-Learning Success

3 Tips for E-Learning Success

We’ve been talking about all the benefits of e-learning, but let’s take a moment to remember: online learning creates a less formal and more flexible approach to learning, which may lead your trainees to think they don’t have to take the courses seriously. Here are 3 tips to set yourself and your team up for e-learning success.

1.  Be Prepared

Every course is different. Make sure you have a reliable internet connection and the correct class “hardware” like a computer with adequate video and audio capabilities, as many e-learning courses incorporate interesting videos, graphics, quizzes, and more.

Allocate a good study space: be sure you have an area that works for you while also minimizing interruptions. The empty cubicle near the water cooler may be great from an efficiency standpoint, but it could create too many distractions for your employees who are trying to focus on mastering new material.

2. Set Goals

Create a schedule that also fits into your employees’ schedules if you can. Remind them to set goals for the day, week, and for the course as a whole. Make sure each goal is specific and measured easily: not only does this track progress, but it is also a great way to keep employees engaged as they complete each goal.

As you or your employee sets these goals, keep in mind that the best way to learn is in steps. Tackling one task at a time creates an easy environment to learn in. It will prevent you from being overwhelmed and also eliminate that “rushed” feeling while you try to complete too many things at once.

3. Participate

The old saying is true in life and in e-learning: you get out of it what you put into it. Participate in online forums and discussions, if applicable, and don’t forget to reach out and ask for help. If you’re struggling to understand a specific topic, talk to your classmates or the instructor. Taking charge of your own learning is the only way to achieve e-learning success.

E-Learning Offerings

If you want to implement e-learning elements into your own employee training programs, Meet Me in the Cloud can help. Learn more about our e-learning offerings here

 

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Collaboration and E-Learning

Collaboration and E-Learning

Collaboration software makes tackling collective projects much more efficient, but it doesn’t work unless your employees know how to use it. That’s where e-learning comes in.

Making the Decision to Migrate 

Have you already implemented a collaboration software but you don’t feel everyone has adopted this new technology? Are you trying to find the right way to introduce new software? No matter what stage of the process your employees are at, e-learning can help.

Adoption is Not Easy

Migrating from older technology to something new and shiny is hard. You want everyone to dive in and start using this wonderful new tool you’ve provided, but not everyone is convinced it’s worth their time. Or, more commonly, employees have adopted a part of the new software, but are still clinging to parts of the old process. 

According to Forbes, there’s one reason collaboration tools fail in the workplace: lack of planning for social adoption.

E-Learning Can Help

Underutilizing technology is like buying a luxury yacht for the sound system: you’re wasting time and money by not taking advantage of everything you paid for. Technology is a big driver of efficiency in the workplace, but it’s only as good as its user. 

An engaged, informed workforce will not only increase the positive outcomes, but it will also decrease the negatives. 

Close Skill Gaps

Your employees all have different levels of understanding and ability when it comes to learning new technology, which means a large-scale rollout may have to be scrapped in favor of a more targeted approach. One of the most common migration challenges is skill gaps. Good training is the best way to close those gaps. 

Prevent Data Loss and Corruption

Data loss and corruption are more common when employees are running duplicate solutions at the same time: if they are using the old system and learning the new, it’s easier to make costly mistakes, and harder to catch them. 

Accelerate Adoption

E-learning courses focus on specific areas to help you and your team learn how to use your new collaboration platform. Interactive elements like videos and quizzes give employees a more well-rounded experience, allowing for some hands-on learning. 

E-learning courses also create a multi-level education system, meaning each employee can take specific courses created for their job level. 

All of this is in addition to the tried and tested instructions that are organized into helpful steps so your employees don’t feel overwhelmed.

Collaboration and E-Learning

With e-learning, employees have the tools to tailor their training to their own learning style and skill level. For those who need a top-to-bottom course on the communication software, a longer and more in-depth E-Learning Course is most helpful. For more tech-savvy team members, short, on-demand training videos (like those found in our Microlearning Library) are perfect as a refresher course or for filling small knowledge gaps.

Meet Me in the Cloud has a wealth of e-learning offerings to help accelerate the adoption process of your new collaboration platform by offering an interactive approach to learning Webex, Zoom, Microsoft Teams. Our offerings simplify each platform for you and your organization, so everyone can start using the new platform quickly and easily – at their own pace.

Allowing employees to take control of their collaboration education will not only lower costs and speed up adoption, but it will also give them a more positive work-life view. Take a look through all of our e-learning solutions

 

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