When An On-Campus University Goes Fully Online
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When An On-Campus University Goes Fully Online

After 4 years of managing and watching relevant growth in my online learning system at an on-campus university Asces-Unita University (PE - Brazil), I see an amazing online community of more than 3,000 students and 200 teachers who deliver more than 700 online subjects, providing us today with a rich online learning ecosystem formed by many services and technologies.

Interestingly, although this virtual community has easily exceeded one million hits/month over the last few months, it started humbly, with a single teacher, 3 classes, and a group of 200 (reluctant) students. Today, the virtual dimension of learning is the heart of the institution (a face-to-face campus) supported by a deep and rich education digital ecosystem, and there is a general consensus among students and teachers that, after the SARS COVID confinement, face-to-face teaching will not go back to what it was. Now that it has already been deeply influenced by the virtual dimension of the learning experience, it will not revert to pre-COVID pedagogy, which is so often disconnected from the virtual dimension.

In this path of immense findings and challenges, I summarize in 10 points the key factors for the sustainability of this project, that despite having been impelled by the COVID pandemic in the last months, it was especially pushed forward by previously acquired knowledge and by the effort of pedagogical transformation that began some years before. Thus, grounded on experience, the key points are the following:

1. Online Learning Lives More From The Learning Experience Than Learning Content

Convert your discipline into an interactive digital experience oriented toward digital environments, including media diversity, interactivity, and a non-linear script. For that, you will need an LMS that delivers a flexible learning experience and uses a multi-device output. In other words, focus more on the experience you want to witness and not so much on the content.

2. Train Your Teachers Permanently And Use Simple Collective Intelligence Mechanisms To Share Knowledge

Choose the teachers who are the most enthusiastic and promote informal groups (via WhatsApp or other social media) to help and encourage other teachers. Online teaching is more a form of performance and belief than a specific methodology. Although eLearning pedagogy has been studied for many a decade, the transformation it carries relies more on a deep belief in the modality than on the dominion of its theoretical background. A teacher needs an interior pedagogical conversion that leads him to investigate new approaches and invest in new technologies to implement a new interaction and online communication-based pedagogy.

3. Promote A Well-Designed Learning Experience

Start by promoting a well-designed discipline (learning experience) and good content, with the aid of a well-prepared teacher, and give full support to this project. The first experience at the institution will leverage the next steps and little by little the experience of online learning will show results that should later be replicated.

4. Give Maximum Support To Students

Fast feedback is one of the great advantages of online teaching. Distance and lack of feedback kill any eLearning project. Create collective intelligence mechanisms such as support forums that provide swifter feedback than that of face-to-face, ideally in less than 24h. In a hyper-stimulated society, it is necessary to give a clear signal that online learning benefits from quick feedback and personalized service.

5. Promote Gamification Mechanisms In Your Disciplines

Gamification is important to promote new behaviors, such as participation in online activities. You can create active forums, with social recognition of the most relevant contributions and, in addition, you can use gamification modules adjusted to the pedagogical plan. For example, promoting a bonus or a public ranking of the most active students.

6. Use Deep Integrations

Prepare your LMS to be as open as possible. Start by centralizing and managing the institution using the same enrollment/classes and discipline structure that is used in the face-to-face model. Try to use SSO (Single Sign On) with the academic system and integrate your LMS with repositories and virtual libraries without having to use new user data. Moreover, if possible, integrate it with cloud storage like GDrive or One Drive. Finally, so that all the components fit together, ensure that this expanded LMS experience is as user friendly as it is pleasant.

7. Manage User Enrollments Via API

Use enrolling automation and do not waste human resources on this task. Analogical and bureaucratic procedures in eLearning systems are a contradictory signal and greatly compromise the success of an eLearning project. Render onto the machine the work that belongs to the machine and to people what only people can masterfully deliver. Captivating eLearning is not possible without humanity, for that we need to allocate the maximum of human resources to the pedagogical and human domain and leave machines to systemic and recursive tasks, such as enrollments and reports.

8. Go Social

All disciplines and online courses must have channels and forums open at all times—collective intelligence is one of the pillars of efficient eLearning. Communication and quick feedback are critical to the success of an online discipline. The feeling of distance is one of the students’ main complaints, especially when they are not successful on online platforms. If necessary, use social media to complement your LMS.

9. Go Mobile

You can only be social (and close to students) by being mobile. Navigating the web through a mobile device accounts for more than 80% of the total traffic. The current generation of students is part of this group and also uses the internet to study. For an LMS to have an efficient response to this student profile, it must therefore have active forums in all contexts and active push messages. Mobile means proximity and efficiency.

10. Use Learning Analytics (LA)

It is important to use the information generated by smart reports in order to make smart decisions. Learning analytics allows you to dynamically monitor the students’ discipline, engagement, and to predict potential problems related to little social interaction and/or little interaction with the content. LA can also help create triggers that notify teachers and tutors to act regarding students who are not following the disciplines as they should in order to achieve the expected results. In other words, LA analyzes a large amount of data through Machine Learning mechanisms, thus providing relevant insights that may allow the correction of more negative behaviors. This way, the students' chances of success increase. For example, it may recommend sending messages to those who are participating less or recommend publishing new content to help the students raise their scores.

Conclusion

eLearning is a modality that requires a collective conversion to a new pedagogy. It is necessary to show evidence of positive results permanently, as well as mitigate and help to prevent the misuse of technology. In this sense, I also recommend that you publish and divulge good pedagogical examples taken from your institution and from national and international educational and eLearning events. The internal and external recognition of the changes that this modality brings are usually of great help in order to sustain an online teaching project. Furthermore, they provide teachers with support regarding training needs, and the acquisition of technologies to face any challenge.

Post-COVID education will naturally be hybrid (or blended) and greatly influenced by the digital transformation that, however moving at a slow pace, has finally and irreversibly come to education. In this sense, the needed digital transformation for a new pedagogy in the post-COVID era may be put forward based on the key points aforementioned. In our case, and with limited resources, the ecosystem was built based on Moodle LMS. Naturally, similar results, or even better, can be achieved with most LMS systems.

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