In recent months, faculty members and their institutions across the nation and around the world have embraced the necessity of transitioning courses to various remote delivery modes. While most faculty members have had to make some accommodations in their current courses, the necessity of moving to remote course delivery has been particularly challenging for faculty who have not previously developed or delivered online courses. Fortunately, with support and assistance from administrators, staff, and colleagues, those new to online teaching and more experienced faculty have been able to keep our instructional trains running. We’ve had to adjust schedules and routes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but those of us who provide academic leadership are doing our best to ensure that students complete their courses, stay on track for graduation, and reach their planned career destinations.
For many students this worldwide pandemic may be the first real crisis that they have experienced. Many students enrolled today were either not yet born at the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks or too young to understand them. Students in my business capstone courses that semester still share their vivid memories of how we had assigned organizations for their consulting projects the day before the attacks and how the world in which we live, work, and travel changed forever the next day.
Although many students and some faculty are not old enough to have experienced and to remember the events of September 11, all of us are living the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis is unprecedented in many ways, including its worldwide scope, devastating impact, and uncertainty. It has clearly changed all aspects of our world, including how our institutions prepare students for successful personal and professional futures.
The current pandemic has dramatically changed how our institutions operate. Who would have imagined a time when college and university employees would be encouraged—if not told—to stay away from our campuses? And that all of us would be taking care of the college and its facilities from dozens of different remote locations?
Most colleges and universities have transitioned to remote delivery of courses through the end of the spring semester, with many announcing plans to offer summer courses in this manner as well. A growing number of institutions are considering continuing this delivery approach in the fall and perhaps even beyond, should that become appropriate. It’s a big transition with many challenges that require new thinking and strong leadership.
Planning for the upcoming academic year will be more challenging than usual in a number of ways, including forecasting student enrollments. When it will be practical to resume in-person instruction is also unknown. While there are many things we do not know now and may not know for some time, there is one reality that we should acknowledge: our students will share the common experience of the devastating current pandemic. We need to recognize this and respond appropriately as we help faculty prepare to deliver courses and staff provide the services our students need. Just as many at the institution helped faculty get on the right track for remote instruction, we also have a professional responsibility to help those who attend our institutions understand and process this pandemic crisis in a manner that will prepare them for crisis situations that they are likely to face during their lives and careers.
While during the spring we have rightly focused on making a successful transition to remote course delivery, we should now begin to consider how to incorporate reflection on the events of this pandemic in our courses and across the range of activities our institutions provide. Discussions of the pandemic fit better in some courses than in others, but courses that prepare students for a range of professions could benefit from incorporating the study of the current and other crises through experiential learning activities.
As important as the question of how we will deliver instruction that is effective, efficient, and safe, we should not let faculty become so preoccupied with the delivery mode that they fail to take this opportunity to consider relevant course updates that align with the “new normal” that our graduates, their professions, and organizations will face in a post-pandemic world. While our recent focus has been on transition, we now have a strategic opportunity to transform our courses and curricula to better prepare our graduates for the many challenges of a constantly evolving world. Our commendable accomplishments in recent weeks demonstrate that we can and will similarly rise to this challenge. Our students expect and deserve nothing less.
As educators and academic leaders we recognize our role in ensuring that our graduates are fully prepared for personal and professional success. If we did not realize it before, the recent crisis events have taught us the important part that various professions play in preventing, responding to, mitigating, and recovering from crises. Now is this the time to transform courses and program offerings to incorporate relevant, discipline-oriented crisis management lessons. There may also be opportunities for value-added interdisciplinary collaboration. We can leave this pandemic with our academic programs stronger and more resilient than they were before it.
Robert S. Fleming, EdD, is a professor of management in the Rowan University Rohrer College of Business, where he previously served as dean. He has an affiliate appointment as a professor of crisis and emergency management.
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