POV: What Comes After a Year Like No Other?

2020 was a year like no other. Due to COVID-19, our faculty and students were forced to rapidly shift to different, and for many, unfamiliar, modalities of teaching and learning. In March, the entire university switched to fully remote teaching and learning with less than one week’s notice. In the Fall, a large number of courses transitioned again to the Learn from Anywhere hybrid instructional model.

Change is never easy. Sudden change is even more difficult. For many of our faculty, teaching with technology was a new experience. There was anxiety. There were false starts. There were hiccups and glitches as we collectively learned how to best use the tools that are available to us to continue delivering high quality education to our students.

The results from our 2020 experiences have been mixed. Faculty and students adapted to the fully remote modality with reasonable success. In a recent faculty survey, 80% of faculty teaching fully remotely reported that they are somewhat or very satisfied with how their classes went. The transition to LfA proved to be more challenging. Simultaneously engaging in person and remote students is a significant challenge that requires both sufficient technology support as well as new ways of conducting and managing the class. Faculty and students have had difficulties with the room technology – audio quality was a particularly sore point. Keeping both audiences equally engaged proved to be no simple feat. And faculty found themselves faced with a Catch-22: those who succeeded in making the experience for remote students as engaging as that for in person students discovered that students were then tempted to no longer come to class!

The genie is out of the bottle. Innovation in teaching and learning is only going to accelerate and we are excited to help all our faculty dream the future and support them in making their dreams a reality.

Despite all these challenges, Boston University succeeded in remaining open for the Fall term and delivering all its classes. Furthermore, by the end of the year, virtually every BU faculty and students has had exposure in teaching and learning with technology.

LfA will remain in place for the Spring semester. One of DL&I’s priorities in 2021 is to continue to support faculty in making the best use of the LfA modality and incorporating the lessons learned so far into their teaching. The Faculty Coach program that is managed by our Center for Teaching and Learning has been extended through the Spring semester. Our 130+ coaches have accumulated a lot of experience and are eager to help. Our popular Lightning Talks in Remote & Hybrid Teaching and Learning series will also continue, disseminating insights and ideas directly from our faculty. For those who missed our past events, we have built a repository of past talks.

Even when COVID-19 is over, my assessment is that teaching and learning at Boston University will not be the same as before. One of the best quotes I heard about COVID is that “such crises do not create new trends but accelerate existing ones.” For years, there have been conversations around more active learning, fewer large lectures, more flexible degree programs that combine internships and study abroad in a more substantial manner than before. Our experiences in 2020 have made us more prepared to consider some of these ideas. There is at least one strategic implementation group tasked with imagining how our residential teaching will evolve in 2030 and what lessons from our recent experience should we keep moving forward. Informing and supporting that conversation will be another focus for DL&I in 2021 and years to come.

Beyond COVID, in 2021 DL&I will continue to work closely with Questrom to produce their online MBA, BU’s first experiment in offering an affordable online degree at scale. The online MBA is already leading to innovations in teaching and learning, especially in how one can leverage peer to peer learning to generate engagement in large student groups.

Our Digital Education Incubator remains as active as ever and our next call for proposals is due May 21, 2021 (but good ideas are welcome at any time!). For the first time this year, in addition to internal funding, the Incubator will assist interested faculty in exploring external funding opportunities for promising ideas in teaching and learning innovation.

The genie is out of the bottle. Innovation in teaching and learning is only going to accelerate and we are excited to help all our faculty dream the future and support them in making their dreams a reality.

Chris Dellarocas spoke of the future of education at the SingularityU Summit Greece Fall 2020.

BU DL&I Chris DellarocasChris Dellarocas is Boston University’s Associate Provost for Digital Learning & Innovation and Shipley Professor of Management at the Questrom School of Business. As Associate Provost, Dellarocas leads the advancement of activities that enhance education at BU through the strategic use of digital technologies.

Lead Image Photo by Janice Checchio for Boston University Photography