The COVID-19 pandemic allowed higher education staff members to accelerate the use of online learning and helped campus communities to see the value of technology applications in higher education, according to a new report.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Strategic Tech Decisions During the Pandemic” report surveyed 665 senior administrators from colleges and universities and found the pandemic was a “game changer” in accelerating the ways colleges use technology to meet their missions.

“The pandemic was higher education’s burning platform,” said Susan Grajek, vice president for partnerships, communities, and research at Educause, an association focused on higher ed’s tech needs. “Faculty, administrators, board members, alumni – all those places where you typically find the entrenched defenders of the status quo as the only template for the future – all those people had no choice but to agree to the notion that remote teaching and learning and working and everything else were viable options for keeping institutions open during the pandemic. In fact, the only option.”

Grajek said campus communities were able to see the utility and benefits of technology during the pandemic, as technology was the “key tool” that helped them adapt to new ways of teaching and working.

According to the report, 74 percent of staff members who work in technology agreed with the statement, “My institution’s technological capabilities and systems were prepared for remote operations and remote education during the pandemic.” However, just 60 percent of top administrators, including presidents, and 58 percent of top finance officers agreed with that same statement.

Although not all staff members agree they were prepared for the rapid shift to remote operations, the report said “the pandemic forced higher education to make big decisions about technology at a much more rapid pace than is typical” and “accelerated and broadened” the adoption of technologies, such as online learning.

“We were not prepared, but were able to leverage our resources and capabilities to successfully provide a remote-learning experience very quickly,” one administrator respondent said in the survey.

By experimenting with different ways of remote learning, one university – Framingham State University – even found success in piloting the use of virtual reality for chemistry labs.

“Trying to do the labs through virtual reality gives a sense to the students that they are present even though they are physically remote,” said the university’s president, F. Javier Cevallos. “I anticipate that this kind of technology is going to be moving forward and all of us will have to stand up and take advantage of it.”

Going forward, the report said integrating technology into the culture of a college or university and changing “entrenched behaviors” will be key.

“What we’ve been seeing in the last 12 months is more institutions are moving to accept that technology is strategic, and they’re beginning to look at how to embrace technology and incorporate it into their planning for the future,” said Michael Zastrocky of Lbcio, a higher ed organization. “I don’t think very many institutions today think they can survive without a good technology infrastructure and plans for how to utilize that to transform the institution.”

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