Higher Education in a Post Pandemic World

Autor: Douwe Wieberding

Let me preface this article by stating that I am writing this from experience and insight from the United States. That said, my experience as the former Director of Urban Planning at The University of Senor de Sipán in Chiclayo provides context to write about higher education in a post pandemic world in Peru.

Nothing has had a greater impact on education than the Covid-19 pandemic and I believe it will continue to do so for some time. At the time of publication, 10 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in Peru, which is close to 15% of the population. This is not nearly enough to reach herd immunity and to remediate some of the impact, therefore universities must resort to fully remote learning.

In the United States, various remote learning pedagogies were already on the rise before the pandemic and are advantageous in certain situations. Much of what we learned over the past 18 months may have a lasting impact, not only for institutions in the U.S. but in Peru as well.

One of these changes in teaching techniques is the increased use of asynchronous learning. Based on prerecorded coursework, asynchronous learning allows students to work independently and at their own speed. Though this was a trend before the pandemic, it accelerated during the pandemic and proved to be successful for certain course material. Because the coursework is prerecorded, slower internet speeds can be used when compared to synchronous remote learning, which requires high internet speeds for high-quality streaming content. In particular, in areas where the internet is slow or cost prohibitive, asynchronous learning has large benefits. Preloaded content can also be customized for more affordable, ubiquitous hardware. One example of this is the Wawa laptop, a Peruvian made competitively priced laptop that can use solar as a power source and has individual upgradable components.

However, not all learning benefits from being remote and asynchronous. Some people prefer the interpersonal connection, some subjects are better communicated in person, and some things just cannot be done remotely, e.g. a physical examination of patients.

International Planning and Design firm Perkins Eastman (my current employer) works continuously with institutions from all over the world to understand how higher education is evolving. One of these exercises was to identify what the future of learning could look like. Five topics were identified and can be partially applied to the Peruvian higher education sector as well. A Perkins Eastman white paper provided five key questions that universities must face in the next couple of years:

  1. Expand Reach to Expand Equity

For many Peruvians, higher education is inaccessible. There are many geographical, cultural, and financial reasons for this. Looking forward, universities can consciously connect with marginalized populations. Through smarter use of resources, such as the Wawa laptop, larger populations will finally be able to afford going to a higher institution.

  • Teach Professional Skills Holistically

Across the world, there has been a high demand for bespoke educated professionals. As a response, universities have provided increasingly vocational and professionally focused programs. However, professionals benefit from understanding the larger context. Teaching professional skills holistically means placing value on teamwork, leadership, and communication just as much as the technical expertise associated with a specific discipline.

  • Elevate Life Skills

Higher education does not only develop professional skills. To become an effective citizen and serve society in a valuable way, life skills need to be developed as well. Collaboration, communication, and self-care are only some key components of becoming an effective citizen. In order to help facilitate this holistic thinking, one can think of converging academic and student affairs, two disciplines that are often seen as separate pillars.

  • Build Lifelong Networks

The strongest social and professional bonds are often forged during your time at a traditional higher education institution. Much of this can be attributed to students going from adolescence into adulthood, one of the most important transitional periods of ones’ life. Creating intentional class cohorts can lead to better student persistence, educational outcomes, and lifelong bonds. Students will benefit from these relationships throughout their lives, socially, and professionally.

  • Campus as the Essential Ecosystem

Peru is still experiencing remote/virtual classes. The impact on the student’s experience cannot be overestimated. The power of place to bring students together, removed from the distractions of everyday life, has been disrupted by Covid-19 and cannot be gained back. Only time will tell how much damage this disruption has done but it has been proven that the on-campus experience remains as valuable as ever before. Yes, certain aspects of education can be done virtually but resources such as labs, equipment, and machinery will need to be provided in person. Working together on complex materials is one of the strongest differentiators for in-person classes.

I realize that the trends provided above are general and many topics have not been covered. One such examples is the need for the workforce to be on-site all the time. To that end, bespoke strategic planning will be needed for each university. However, we can say with certainty that there will be a different demand on how universities operate in the future. Now is the time to think and plan for that future.

For more information on Perkins Eastman’s white papers, please visit: https://www.perkinseastman.com/white-papers/

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