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What Deltacron & The Return to Remote Learning Means for Higher Education

By: Aylin Dunham
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The Deltacron variant is causing a revival of remote education, with millions of college students across the US moving back to online and hybrid learning.

Stanford University, Michigan State University and the University of California are just a few of the many institutions that began their semesters remotely this year, while Syracuse University and the University of Chicago delayed the start of theirs. To ensure a smooth return to remote learning, institutional leaders must pay greater attention to the challenges presented, including current and expected enrollment declines, student accessibility needs and struggles with regard to student engagement levels and their well-being.

As cases increase, so do the challenges

One of the biggest challenges facing colleges across the country is the decrease in overall college enrollment. Despite vaccine mandates and masking efforts intended to slow the decline, enrollment dropped by 2.7% in fall 2021—a decrease that hasn’t been seen in 50 years.

International student enrollment and opportunities, which formerly stood at over 1 million in yearly enrollments across the US, have also been greatly affected. Border restrictions continue to present significant difficulties for international study, with online-only experiences appearing less enticing to students from abroad.

Other institutions are increasing random testing, sustaining indoor mask mandates and even changing the requirements for being vaccinated to include booster shots in some cases. These changes all come with large amounts of controversy surrounding them as well.

As higher-ed leaders look to make key decisions to counteract and account for common challenges, there are some proven tactics from the past two years that they can keep top-of-mind to increase their chances of supporting effective hybrid and remote learning for all students in the meantime.

Image of a student using their laptop.

Useful ways to support online learning & students

Students have different or additional needs in remote and hybrid learning settings. Some support elements that can contribute to a greater and more inclusive experience for remote students include:

  • Offering resources to promote mental health and well-being: Educators can implement programs that support students’ mental health and well-being to address common anxieties they’re likely to be experiencing. Schools like the University of Michigan are offering free, confidential services and resources that benefit online students, such as 24-hour phone support and remote screenings.
  • Communicating clearly and often: With 75% of students preferring personal interaction, making sure that communication is consistent and clear is important when shifting back to online settings. Use technologies that allow for direct communication, like discussion boards and VoiceThread, which allow students to record voice comments and collaborate with peers. Hosting more video-first meetings on platforms like Zoom also help instructors connect more with their online students as tones and body language also go a long way in creating connections and instilling meaning.

Overhead image of a student using their laptop at a desk space.

  • Prioritizing accessibility: Accessibility needs often become greater when students are remote. More than half of students don’t report their disability needs, meaning that there are likely many online learners who aren’t coming forward and can struggle more than they would in in-person scenarios. Students with disabilities, including those who are Deaf, hard of hearing, blind or have low vision, need technologies like captioning, transcription and audio description to effectively participate and learn. To meet accessibility benchmarks like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 99% accuracy must be provided to students. Accessibility technologies like AST’s can deliver on this need to support universities looking to deliver truly accessible online experiences to their students. Plus, many of these accessibility tools can increase learning comprehension for all students who are remote.
  • Continue to provide flexible learning environments: Flexible learning environments give students more choice as they learn with a variety of distractions at play. Providing multiple participation options for assignments, such as submitting a video presentation instead of an essay or extra time to complete tests are tactics which proved to be helpful and successful during pandemic learning. Developing plans for students who fall ill to provide them with more time or methods to complete their assignments, are also needed to proactively ensure these students don’t fall behind. Eastern Michigan University leaders offer flexible learning by setting up courses that allow students to choose how they engage with lectures and collaborate.

Image of a male student using their laptop at a desk space.

Invest in technologies that make a difference

While Deltacron presents its challenges, investing in flexible programs and tools and technologies, such as captioning, that can include and engage all learners with varying needs, are just some of the strategies to support online learners and keep them enrolled. Schools like North Carolina Central University (NCCU) demonstrate the effectiveness of these investments, with their online courses and support services leading to increases in enrollment.

AST can help to offer captioning and transcription to serve as additional visual aids and note taking solutions to assist all students during these challenging times, but especially ensure students with disabilities remain supported with accessible environments they need to stay enrolled. Contact us to learn more.