Always ON™ Higher Education
The official blog of Omega Notes
Student retention has long been a challenge facing higher education, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated the struggle of keeping students enrolled. Lost income negatively impacts a university’s ability to carry out its mission, but even worse is the tragedy that many of these lost students will never realize their full potential without a complete education. In 2019, on average 26 percent of students postponed or stopped their education according to the NSC Research Center. The long-term consequences of COVID-19 are still unknown, but most sources predict that universities will see at least an additional 20 percent loss in their student body.
This loss will be devastating. COVID-19 has unearthed deep underlying issues institutions, educators, and students face which will be ever-present in a post-pandemic world. Katherine Streeter said it best in her Chronicle of Higher Education article, How Your College Can Survive the Pandemic, “The problem goes beyond the immediate need to manage through Covid-19; Rome is burning”. How can you stop this inferno from consuming your university’s future?
One fact is clear; historically universities that invest in innovative solutions are those that retain students and thrive in times of uncertainty. No one solution can address these challenges, and there are dozens of technology companies that promise results for an institution’s bottom-line. However, over 90 percent only offer piecemeal products delivering facts administrators are already keenly aware of. Collaboration and education quality challenges caused during the sudden transition online forced by COVID-19 is a perfect demonstration of why not every EdTech tool is a must-have. To address retention, tools need to be comprehensive, approachable, and affordable. Here is what to look for in a retention solution.
Often retention solutions are nothing more than a data aggregation platform used to report facts and figures an institution is already collecting. While there is value in identifying trends in data, these solutions fall short in addressing the underlying issue affecting retention. Rarely are retention challenges made clear with broad problem identification. Students leave institutions for well-documented reasons, some of which are controllable. Above all else, student engagement stands out as a core retention metric that is very much within an institution’s control.
To be successful, the student equation needs to be a fundamental piece of an analytics platform. Data aggregation needs to go beyond reporting a problem and be a primary source of gathering actionable data. Ask yourself, in order to mitigate the risk of lost retention, is the data we are gathering and the trends we are observing inclusive of proven student learning satisfaction analytics? And, because we want a positive impact on the student body, is it a technology students can actually use as part of their daily learning both on- and off-campus?
There are few solutions that offer both a powerful analytics interface for monitoring student learning layered with an engagement solution for keeping students collaborating and involved in their coursework. In order to improve your retention rate, are you ready to elevate the big data strategy at your institution?
Improve the Experience
While it may sound like “improve the experience” is so obvious it is not worth saying, I am constantly surprised at how often this basic fact is ignored. Ask yourself, do students genuinely enjoy the technology experience at your campus? All too often technology infrastructure challenges are crowded by business needs over those of student learning. It is easy to get lost in the process of maximizing efficiency. The irony is that this disjointed approach to improve the bottom-line can negatively impact financial progress as students frustrated with the user experience are those that find themselves disengaged. These disengaged students are the first in line to leave your institution.
Of course, it is necessary to have technology focused on operational effectiveness, but be wary that this does not detract from other priorities. As the line between “education” and “education technology” blurs, the user experience becomes even more essential. Take a page from Apple’s book; making an interface that is intuitive, responsive, and creates value leads to user satisfaction. Do not put the user experience second. Clearly there are other significant challenges in education, such as equitability, that Apple does not face. This is still no excuse to discount your student’s user experience. In a technology-driven world filled with digital natives, priorities need to be reevaluated, and higher education needs to contend with the fact that they must deliver the experience students need.
It is important to note that improving the user experience does not mean more technology. Often it means dramatically improving existing platforms or eliminating complicated and worn solutions with new and innovative products. Layering technology into an increasingly complicated stack did not work in the past and it will certainly not work in the future. Be on the lookout for ways to eliminate complexity.
The need for effective learning communities is more important now than it ever has been. While it was heartening to see such a concerted effort to transition learning online, the pivot to distance learning was far from perfect. At the beginning of the COVID panic learning communities were all but abandoned. The result has been a sense of isolation and depression that has the highest percentage of students to date choosing to take a gap semester for the Fall semester.
The transition online left a lot of students wondering, “What’s the point of going to college in a world where all the information I need is freely available at my fingertips?” I want to clarify that this is not a constructive or well thought out argument. But this rising concern amongst students still does not change the reality that this is a sentiment faced by many students, and you should be able to empathize with them.
These students were suddenly asked to abandon their campus network and community that administrators and professors have been cultivating for years. The dorms, clubs, libraries, and serene beauty of the university campus was gone in an instant. Students felt removed from their professors, their fellow students, and other campus services. In most cases the substitute offered was little more than an LMS discussion board, video conferencing, and an email client. Clearly this is no way to foster a community of learning.
There are a select few social learning solutions out there that are designed specifically to motivate students to connect with one another and their professors. Equally important is the fact that these solutions help administrators keep intune with student sentiment and conversations. While social learning platforms will not entirely substitute the campus environment, they will keep the community alive and allow your students to have their voice heard. Reconnecting students back to your university environment will be paramount if you expect to keep them at your institution.
Student, parent, and institutional surveys indicate that social learning will be all but required in our post-pandemic world. Even when students return to campus, social-learning platforms will be the answer to many of the questions on the minds of everyone involved in the educational community. How will institutions service international students or even out of state students? Will students be forced to return if they are afraid of getting sick? What about students who need to care for family members in the midst of economic duress? Social learning offers a tool to keep students engaged in the learning community regardless of their location. I guarantee you that a social learning tool is what most administrators wish they had implemented prior to COVID-19.
Gain Actionable Insights
While I was critical on technology focused on data aggregation, that was not to discount the significance of learning analytics. We live in a world of big data that has presented challenges unto itself. While it is easy to collect data, it is far more challenging to translate that data into useful information and actionable insights. There are three key challenges with big data; velocity, volume, and variety. Most platforms struggle with all three, but velocity is often an understated component.
Velocity is essentially a measure of how quickly data can be gathered and compiled into information in a relevant manner. The unfortunate fact in education is that this data is often not delivered fast enough. Real-time analytics give an institution the ability to be proactive with their education rather than reactive. When an institution understands where and how students are struggling, they are better positioned to retain that student by catering to their learning needs during the course rather than responding after a negative event.
The Bottom Line
No one chose for this virus to fundamentally interrupt education, and it is impossible to fully control the situation. With that said, indecision is a decision unto itself. While higher education’s response to COVID-19 thus far should be commended, there is still much to do to improve the post-pandemic teaching/learning experience. Students need professors and administrators to be forward-thinking in their technology selections. Technology is not the solution to every problem we face, but it will play a fundamental role. Institutions who are unwilling to deliver better technology solutions and improve existing infrastructures will be those who students abandon. Will your institution continue fulfilling its mission, or will you be frozen in uncertainty as others innovate around you?
Education Technology Specialist and Operations Manager at Omega Notes
The sudden pivot online forced by COVID-19 has been tough for students, faculty, and administrators. We at Omega Notes commend these efforts. Despite the challenges, higher education has pulled through and will continue to do so. These short term victories are something to be proud of. Yet, higher education has not come out unscathed, and there is an even rockier road ahead. The temporary EdTech solutions piecemealed together have brought everyone this far, but the wear is starting to show. We’ve hit a point where the virtual duct tape and super glue is starting to peel away; higher education needs a permanent technology solution as soon as possible.
Classes will undoubtedly return to campus, but that reality still has many asking, “Will higher education ever be the same again?” For some that statement causes a resounding eye roll. Some may ask themselves:
- Will higher education’s future consist of an education dystopia where all students are forced into cold tech-driven isolation against their will as professors are quickly replaced by their AI robot counterparts?
- Or will all faculty and administrators adopt new EdTech solutions and live harmoniously in a technology utopia as all of their problems are solved forever more?
Of course, neither of these futures hold merit, but it does bring to light a confounding narrative in higher education thought. Techphiles who’ve been pushing EdTech for years see this as their big opportunity to avalanche into technology while traditionalists opposed to tech-driven solutions are doubling down on their opinion that technology can create more of a burden than a solution. Fortunately, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
The upcoming technology changes will be ever-present and we need to approach this reality quickly and strategically. Students and educators alike are returning from their battle-hardened education isolation with a newfound perspective on EdTech. Some opinions may have changed for the better, others may be more skeptical than ever. Regardless of opinions, EdTech is here to stay; and make no mistake, this is a good change. Universities and colleges will need to adapt to thrive. The industry needs to take a rational look at the options available. Now is the time to implement a permanent solution everyone can take pride in.
A Permanent Ed Tech Solution Offers a Solid Continuity of Teaching Plan
Public health officials are still very uncertain exactly when key elements of the economy are opening. Most universities have wisely decided to transition classes online for the entire duration of the Summer. Now the question on everyone’s mind is, what is going to happen in the Fall? A few universities have already come out publicly with a continuity of teaching plan that may extend through the Fall. And if the fears of the CDC are realized, we may have a resurgence of COVID-19 that could force many businesses to press the reset button on social distancing. We should not be pessimistic, but administrators would be wise to have a strategy in place. And, those institutions with a permanent, comprehensive EdTech solution, will be the ones with a competitive advantage.
The Demand for Online Education Will Increase
The unknown is what makes the COVID-19 pandemic so hard to manage as a university. What will be the ‘new normal’ once these social distancing measures are lifted? Economists speculate that entire industries will be changed permanently. Social scientists echo this sentiment and point out that the workplace and learning environment(s) of tomorrow will be more virtual than ever before. Distance learning will spike for both practical and economic reasons. Some students will come out of this with a new-found confidence in socially-guided online environments, while others will have no choice but to remain home to help support family during the projected economic downturn. No matter how you cut it, there will be a much higher demand for socially networked distance education and the associated tools after life returns to ‘normal’.
Blended Learning Will Become the New Norm
Students will return to campus with new expectations, and fortunately, faculty and administrators have a new arsenal of tools at their disposal. Blended learning was already trending in popularity before COVID-19, and soon it will become a necessity. Mind you, this necessity will be driven by far more than student expectations. Blended learning offers an opportunity to eliminate overhead while still offering a quality campus experience. Some institutions, such as Penn State University, have seen great success piloting optional online lectures of certain courses taken on campus. Done correctly, growing blended learning offerings through EdTech will reduce overhead, improve student satisfaction, and save faculty valuable time.
With a Looming Recession, Institutions Need to Stand Out
It is not an exaggeration to say that the market disruption caused by COVID-19 has never been observed before in modern history. This fact could not be more true for higher education. Recent polls indicate that 1 in 5 high school seniors have postponed or canceled their college enrollment. Just as disconcerting are the number of existing college students, estimated around 20%, that are not planning to return for the fall semester. It’s challenging to make any decisions when you’re unable to see the forest through the trees. But alas, history belongs to the bold. Those institutions who innovate during a time of uncertainty are going to be the ones who come out with a strong competitive edge.
The technology solutions in place right now have been implemented largely out of necessity; often these EdTech tools are relics of a past generation built on old technology. As with any tool, EdTech is most useful when it’s leveraged properly. The advantages of distance education have long been the convenience and affordability for institutions and students, but most have struggled to replicate the vibrant learning environment found in the highly desired on-campus learning communities. EdTech providers like Omega Notes have designed tools to address these concerns, but it’s challenging to build any distance learning community without a level of permanence to deliver a sustainable and highly functional solution. With the looming challenges coming over the horizon, it’s time to throw out the partially used rolls of tape and invest in a hammer and nails. Institutions who build permanent learning solutions now will be prepared to weather the storms ahead and leave this crisis stronger, more competitive, and more financially sound than they were before.
The sudden transition to distance learning caused by COVID-19 caught students and professors alike off guard. Despite the trials and tribulations, the education community came together and made the best of a very difficult situation. It has been heartwarming to see educators and students alike quickly adapting to the new norm of online lectures while still trying to inject a little bit of fun into an otherwise anxiety provoking situation. To celebrate the enduring resilience of the academic experience, we’ve assembled our favorite moments from social media we’ve found in the best few weeks.
Trying To Teach With Children
I can certainly relate to this challenge as someone with two kids who suddenly became home-schooled after Spring Break. We’re all in this together!
Source: Twitter @HLCDANCE
Students Having Fun With Backgrounds
A lot of students are experimenting with the background effects in Zoom and other video conferencing platforms. At times these attempts are distracting, but most are in good humor. This student, for example, is still trying to capture that lecture hall vibe!
Source: Twitter @lydpnew
“This Is Fine”
Not be be undone, teachers are having a bit of fun with custom backgrounds too. Pivoting to teaching online quickly isn’t easy. We’re happy to see some professors sharing the challenge with students in a lighthearted way.
Source: Twitter @coles_nicholas_
It’s Never Too Late To Learn New Tricks
We understand that some professors are a bit more tech savvy than others. Given the timeline, not everyone had the luxury of time to learn how to use web conferencing platforms like Zoom. It’s been wonderful to see the lengths educators have gone to deliver a quality academic experience to their students.
Source: Twitter @macho_montana
Watch What You Catch On Camera
We’re not used to having live cameras capturing a little piece of our personal life during online lectures. Don’t forget to double check those coffee cups!
Source: Twitter @sofiehogestol
Let’s Not Get Too Casual
Sure, you can be a little more casual at home when watching a lecture online. Let’s make sure we don’t take that too far. Students are still required to wear shirts to class.
Source: Twitter @DanTheManDimes
Keep Learning Fun
Most college students may be digital natives, but they’re anxious about this transition to distance education too. We appreciate the effort professors are putting in to try and keep learning fun during this period of isolation.
Source: Twitter @foodgovernance
Thank you to everyone for your positive attitude as we move through the COVID-19 crisis together. Keep up the great work!
By Matthew Compton-Clark
In response to COVID-19, more and more institutions are scrambling to quickly find distance education solutions allowing them to transition their traditional classrooms into an online environment. Fortunately dozens of EdTech companies have offered their services and platforms for free during this time of need. The following is a list of free online tools professors or administrators can use to move their students online expediently.
Zoom has become the go to platform for video conferencing. Zoom has a variety of packages including a free account for new users. Typically this free account has a 40-minute limit for video conferencing, however this limit has been lifted temporarily for those impacted by COVID-19.. Zoom is an excellent option to deliver lectures directly to students in both a live and recorded format.
Omega Notes offers an online collaborative learning experience designed to extend the community of learning found within traditional classrooms. The Collaborative Learning System is an excellent social and content hub for students and professors. In response to COVID-19, Omega Notes is offering their advanced support package and collaborative platform for free offering hands on support to any institution struggling with the online transition.
Google Docs is the go-to free option for students looking to work collaboratively on class projects. Put simply, Google Docs is a web app for cloud-based document editing and collaboration. Google Docs is easy to get setup requiring only requiring an active Google account. Google docs also integrates seamlessly into Google Classroom.
Microsoft offers a comprehensive suite of software with Office 365 to keep students informed and engaged, Included in Office 365 are well known products such as Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, Access and OneNote. Professors can create an account free with a valid .edu address. Some of the more advanced tools require an enterprise account.
Facebook provides a familiar environment for students and professors to interact on their platform within a group setting. Building a Facebook group for your course only takes a valid Facebook account and it can be easily discovered by students via facebook’s search function or a unique group URL. For added security, you can require user authentication to make sure only students enrolled in a course are able to join.
Easyclass is a platform where educators can create online courses. These courses can host materials, assignments, quizzes, and exams. Easyclass is a great system if your institution doesn’t have an established LMS. Instructors can create an account for free which students join via a unique access code.
Zoho offers a comprehensive suite of online apps many of which can be utilized for free by educators. Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show, and Connect are all great tools to share and collaborate around course content.
Basecamp is an excellent project management tool used by both educators and business professionals. Basecamp does not have a free product package, but they do have an extensive 30-day trial which should help address the immediate needs of an online environment for your students.
Articulate is a course authoring and development tool. The e-learning platform, Articulate 360, offers a variety of apps and a huge collection of content to choose from. While not free, the generous trial will certainly address any immediate needs you and your students might have.
Twiddla’s Online Whiteboard is simple yet powerful in its execution. Their digital whiteboard is great for sharing markups with small or large classrooms. If activated, students can even contribute to the board creating a collaborative drawing experience. Getting started is free and easy.
At Omega Notes, we have been closely monitoring COVID-19 as it’s swept across the international landscape. We have been in constant contact with our customers, and our employees, to offer support where we can as the number of remote students and educators spikes exponentially.
We commend the growing number of institutions who are allocating whatever resources they can to help contain this contagion. It has been inspiring to see the response and commitment as the entire education community has pooled resources together to make sure no student’s education is negatively impacted by COVID-19. The assembly of freely available resources, such as the Remote Teaching Resources for Business Continuity Google Doc, makes me proud to be part of an international higher education network.
We know that many institutions are still grappling with exactly how maintain education continuity to keep students engaged amidst the spread of this virus, and we promise to do everything in our power to ensure a community of learning is maintained effectively.
As an education technology company, it is our responsibility to maintain the highest possible standards for students, faculty, and administrators in need. We believe that every EdTech company has the social responsibility to provide resources and support during this time of crisis.
Emergency Transition Support
As a courtesy to faculty and administrators looking for immediate solutions, Omega Notes is offering free advanced support to help transition any content and collaboration needs into an online environment. Fortunately, our technology is powered by Amazon’s powerful and secure AWS platform. We’ve already expanded our platform’s capacity in anticipation of the immediate need to ensure a seamless and expedient experience for any new courses.
Support for Current Customer
Omega Notes will continue to address the current and growing needs of our existing customers. Since our founding 5 years ago, Omega Notes has held the quality of our educational experience as our company’s core value; we will continue fulfilling that promise in your time of need. Omega Notes is extending our advanced support offering to any existing customers who need to further expand the footprint of their distance education offerings.
Best Practices for Supporting Remote Education
Omega Notes provides an excellent social learning experience for your institution’s students and educators. This social experience will be in dire need as students and professors accustomed to the inperson network offered in a conventional course are forced to work and learn remotely. Our platform is designed to bridge the communication and collaboration gap by offering the best tools possible to continue conversations around course content outside the classroom.
Omega Notes is committed to doing our part to help the higher education community through this challenging time. With Omega Notes, your institution can continue fulfilling your mission and education vision regardless of where students are learning.
By Matthew Compton-Clark | Operations Manager | Omega Notes
Often discussion boards are the core of many modern courses, particularly those hosted online or with blended learning elements. Discussion boards offer a productive environment where students can communicate with one another 24/7 while sharing information and offering new insights that contribute to the learning process. However, these LMS discussion boards are riddled with limitations, student disengagement, and faculty frustrations. Left unaddressed, these problems fester and completely negate the effectiveness of a collaborative student environment.
Fortunately, collaborative learning systems exist to overcome these LMS shortfalls making course discussions engaging for students and easy to monitor for faculty.
Improving Your Students’ Comprehension
Discussion boards are functional for specific types of assignments requiring detailed reflection after a reading or lecture. For all other purposes, discussion boards become a cumbersome burden for both professors and students.
Collaborative learning systems, such as Omega Notes, capture the learner’s journey as it’s happening by integrating directly into course content and assignments. As students are learning, they have the ability to takes notes on their thoughts for their personal use or even share their notes with other students. When they’re ready, students can contribute to the course learning objectives by posing thought-provoking questions, commenting on their peer’s contributions, or by leaving detailed posts confirming that they understand the heart of the assignment or text.
Ease of Access and Student Engagement
An LMS does offer a convenient environment as discussion boards are an integrated part of a learning management system. Fortunately, this same type of integration is achieved through LTI or API integrations with a collaborative learning system. As a value add, collaborative learning systems also offer course content and robust analytics eliminating the need for additional technology silos and driving forward an essential element of interoperability.
Furthermore, individual collaboration contributions link directly back to the exact point of a text, assignment, or course module. This integration with content makes it easy for a student’s peer and professor to understand the exact context of a student’s note, question, or content submission.
Collaborative learning systems offer a significant upgrade over conventional LMS discussion boards for measuring and encouraging student comprehension and engagement. These systems offer tools to eliminate complexity while delivering content and collaboration in a medium that the digital native generation wants to use.
Saving Faculty and Students Time
The analytics available within most learning management systems are shallow at best. Collaborative learning systems, however, give professors the ability to dive quickly into key measurements covering who has and has not completed required readings, course assignments, or contributed to the course discussions. Detailed sentiment analysis gives professors an unprecedented level of comprehension and engagement measurements not achieved within discussion board metrics.
Collaborative learning systems mimic the engaging and intuitive nature of social media environments offering an easy place for students to manage and share their course contributions. This, combined with the content aggregation power of many collaborative learning systems, gives students one easy access point for course readings, assignments, study tools, and a central place to track conversations with their peers.
Implementing a collaborative learning system eliminates the need for faculty and students to shuffle between discussion boards, assignment objectives, required readings, and communication tools all while offering 24/7 convenience for students. Having everything you need in one intuitive environment leads to more genuine student engagement and a lighter workload for busy professors.
By Matthew Compton-Clark