For more than a decade as a law lecturer, I met my students every day in a classroom with a large whiteboard and trusty marker. Then in 2020, as we all know, everything changed. My trusty marker has been decommissioned.
This spring, President Joe Biden announced his $1.8 trillion (£1.3 trillion) American Families Plan, which includes a once-in-a-lifetime investment in community colleges to make them free for all students. If the president’s proposal becomes law, it will be a major win for college access and will ensure that no student has to drop out in their first two years of college because they cannot afford tuition.
Proficiency with technology is critical to living well in a global, networked society. Digitalisation will shape the future of work, requiring new skills and knowledge across all sectors. Technology has become essential to daily interactions needed for personal and community well-being.
Higher education plays a key role in preparing students for this digital world, whether they are school-leavers studying for their first degree or experienced professionals engaging in lifelong learning.
“Do we really have to attend your diversity training?” challenged one member of faculty after I announced that we would be making justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (Jedi) education mandatory for all members of search committees.
“I mean, we can do all the training we want. The problem isn’t us; the problem is that there isn’t a pipeline for women and scholars of colour in our discipline,” he continued.
As we begin to emerge out the other side of the pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that a large and growing demographic of adult learners − historically underserved by traditional higher education − was disproportionately affected.
While they strive to complete degrees and credentials while re-entering or navigating the workforce, many find that colleges and universities are ill-equipped to respond to their needs. This ongoing demographic shift comes as no surprise, so why has the sector been so painfully slow to react?
The dust has settled on results day and thousands of young people will soon be heading off to their higher education destinations. While an astonishing surge in results has led to record numbers of accepted university places among disadvantaged students, it is less certain what the longer-term consequences of the pandemic might be for young people’s post-18 decision-making. Strong, place-based information, advice and guidance (IAG) will be imperative to ensure that all young people can make informed decisions about their post-18 futures.
I taught my first university course as a second-year graduate student. Luckily I’d just finished a graduate teaching seminar that we were required to take in the psychology department. In that seminar, we learned the fundamental aspects of HE teaching. One of the principles stressed was that we were to treat every student the same. The instructor told us it would inevitably turn out bad if we allowed one student to make up an exam and not another student or allowed only some of our students to turn in work late.
As we all know by now, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced online education on to teachers and students alike all over the globe. On a positive note, learning online does theoretically make it possible for students with limited flexibility and resources to obtain world-class education through a single internet connection.
Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, many were dubious about the prospect of moving the world online. Despite having more technology than ever, we were told that turning up to the office or classroom was simply an inevitability if you didn’t want to miss out. Most of us are now a bit sick of Zoom calls, but the pandemic has certainly proved that what we once viewed as impossible is, in fact, possible. And a blended approach to education is not only feasible but has the potential to bring about great social change.