Chris Oldham, Public Sector Lead, Citrix

2020 saw the education sector forced into an abrupt shift. The move to widespread remote education defied decades of conventional wisdom, and required obligatory changes to the way teaching - and learning - was performed. Whether it was parents home-schooling their children while working from home, or students joining lectures via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, schools and universities had to act fast to ensure their students weren’t left behind following government-imposed lockdowns due to COVID-19.

In response, schools and universities have rallied to deliver the best possible experience for students during this difficult time. We’re now at the stage where schools, colleges and universities are closed, due to high numbers of transmissions within schools, requiring education to take place via digital channels at home.

While vaccination programmes are being rolled out, a return to the ‘old normal’ isn’t imminent. But has this enforced change resulted in some improvements to the way we teach and students learn?

Recent research from Citrix found that UK university students' sentiment towards online classes is quite positive.

Looking beyond COVID-19, while the largest share of those surveyed (45 per cent) would prefer attending all classes on campus, two in five (39 per cent) said they would prefer a hybrid model of on-site and online lectures.

A further 12 per cent would like to adopt an entirely remote learning experience. So over half of university students have a preference towards at least some remote learning capability, with a significant percentage preferring a combination of classes and remote work.

Building on a positive start

UK university students appeared to have had a positive remote learning experience from a technology perspective. In fact, the majority (77 per cent) reported that they were able to easily access the necessary information, apps and data remotely that are normally accessed at university computer labs or university libraries.

 While this is certainly encouraging, making changes when forced upon us was one challenge. The next is to learn from what worked and what didn’t. Significantly, nearly half (46 per cent) reported that they were unable to take any remote classes prior to COVID-19, so the switch to online classes marks a dramatic change for UK universities.

This serves as a reminder of the importance of developing a long-term technology strategy. Universities deployed what they could quickly, and mostly to good effect according to our findings.

However, with social distancing likely here to stay, now is the time to look forward – understanding how students’ learning habits are changing and catering to these new demands.

Combining technological and cultural change

As many employers have discovered over the last nine months or so, technological and cultural shifts were required to enable home, and now hybrid, working. Universities, as well as students, will need to go through a similar overhaul of cultural norms and expectations – in terms of the delivery of teaching and learning – in order for this to become the standard.

This means delivering based on the needs and expectations of students. For example, this could be harnessing the cloud to ensure all students have the same secure access to applications and files, whatever device they are using. Cloud computing can also simplify and accelerate the process of adding new PCs to the university network, ensuring all students have the same access to digital learning, even during peaks in demand.

It is clear that the sector must establish unified online environments for education that can be activated on demand at short notice, while being secure and easy to use for everyone. This will be vital if schools, colleges and universities are to ensure the same access to learning is provided wherever students are.

While we can begin to see light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the pandemic, leaders in education should take the time to review and refine processes based on what we’ve all already learned from this atypical moment in time.

Chris Oldham, Public Sector Lead, Citrix

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