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Postsecondary Education in the Digital Era

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Postsecondary Education in the Digital Era

An Interview with Géraldine Borde, Postsecondary Education Executive

The Effects of COVID-19 on Postsecondary Education

1. In your opinion, what will the main long-term effects of COVID-19 be, in the area of postsecondary education?

Postsecondary education will definitely draw a few lessons from this crisis.  

First of all, the need to be flexible and adapt quickly to changes in teaching methods and criteria.  Today, all educational institutions (or the ones that are still around, at least) have adapted to online teaching, with varying degrees of success.  

In the future, this will become an important deciding factor for students and their families, and will guarantee full success in their studies.

This will involve : 

  • an improved online network, faster and stronger than before
  • an adaptation of the course material to be taught online
  • a new pedagogy based on this type of teaching
  • a complementary set of competencies for teachers to develop and display

2. What are the greatest challenges that students will face in the years to come?

Our students will have to develop the ability to adapt and cultivate a large variety of skills, in a rapidly evolving environment, constantly on the look-out for ways to implement the necessary changes successfully.

They will also have to take into consideration the international dimension of the current work market.

Management methods will be essential to guarantee these students find what they are searching for in the field of their choice.

Digitalisation in Postsecondary Education in France

3. How would you compare postsecondary institutions in France to those in other countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom, in terms of digitalisation?

France aspires to digitalisation in the context of the European market, which encourages this type of initiative. However, not all institutions have managed to meet the challenge to the same degree.

Private institutions have a head start, since they have greater financial resources.  However, the general mindset is still stuck in deeply-rooted ancestral habits and there is a lot of resistance to these changes brought about by an unusually chaotic set of circumstances.

Our British friends were able to adapt quickly, in their universities especially, and this allowed the students to continue their studies in an organised and logical manner, inevitably.

4. Which part of the value chain will be made possible by digitalisation : Admissions/Class (teaching)/Exams?

Admissions, quite evidently, because of its financial aspect, will incite institutions to adapt their teaching methods and materials.  Admissions are truly the entrance gates to any institution, displaying the image of the school, and provides the student with guarantees and promises that he or she will find exactly what he or she is looking for.  For this reason, schools over-invest in digital material to capture the student’s attention, engage their interest, and maintain contact throughout the budding commercial relationship.

With regards to teaching, it is important to consider the training of face-to-face teachers, as well as the investment in teaching tools and methods. Not only does the school need to commit to providing the necessary tools, it also needs to train the pedagogical team, and to convince them that the system is both useful and efficient.  There is still resistance among some, in view of the time it takes to learn these new skills, and which these teachers will see as precious time lost and unpaid.  Since each institution will create its own independent system, teachers will have to be flexible enough to be able to move from one system to another without getting mixed up.

And last but not least, the evaluating system : one of the main pillars of the whole learning process, throughout the duration of the training program.  

Examination  – based on the grade, or on being promoted to the next level – was easily managed in person-to-person teaching, but is much more difficult in long-distance learning.  What is scariest for most institutions is the possibility of cheating, an aspect which is intrinsic to the concept of examination.

Exams – Online or In-person?

5. Have institutions changed the way they look at examinations?

Today, due to the pandemic which has kept students at bay from the university campuses, examinations are a real challenge for schools.  They are not on the top list of priorities at the beginning of the year, since the school calendar allows them a bit of time to ponder.

Nonetheless, organising exams, coordinating the needs and  expectations of everyone involved, and compiling the results, is a dilemma that needs to be solved as soon as possible in order to : guarantee a practical, dependable solution ; to guarantee fair results and convey a sense of justice ; and to meet the needs of all involved (schools, students, and monitors).

6. What role will technology play in exams and assessments?

Once a dependable and reliable system has been set up, technology will provide the safety net that schools are searching for.  Exams will be arranged with indicators before the exam (identity verification) and afterwards (inspections and identity checks at each step).

7. Are online exams and assessments a viable long-term solution? 

In my opinion, this solution will be put into practice by each school according to its needs.  

We have switched from 100% person-to-person teaching to a higher and higher percentage of online examination (to get around the restrictions on physical travel).  The benefits (saving time and money) will help increase the use of online exams little by little.

Once this system has become trustworthy and technically sound, digitalisation will step up to its rightful place.

8. Are online exams better or worse than in-person exams?  Why?

Performance criteria in an exam depend mainly on the requirements and expectations of the participants.

Online solutions help us to evaluate the students’ skills.  The examiner must be able to guarantee this fundamental aspect of the evaluation, in order to determine whether or not the student has successfully acquired the knowledge and skills in question.

Once this has been done, the trustworthiness of the technology will guarantee the rest (timing, exam methods).

Online examinations allow us to : 

  • save a considerable amount of time (supervision, preparing the classroom, tidying the classroom)
  • increase availability for participants (pedagogy, examiners, supervisors)
  • increase security measures (recordings)
  • increase flexibility in exam organisation and coordination

9. How can offering online exams and assessments benefit institutions?

I strongly advise doing the exam in real time, using the pedagogical team.

To implement this system, it is necessary to weigh the advantages and to identify and adress any blockages against it.

The exam should be short, free of charge, and supervised, to allow for further follow-through and re-use on a larger scale.

10. Will there be an impact on international students?

As far as I know, there is no distinction on international students at this step of the evaluation process, after the admission of prospective students to the program.  At the moment, judging from my own experience, online options are still too feeble and weakly structured. 

How to adapt to our technological needs

11. What would be the best way for schools to work together with EdTech start-ups?

I think that start-ups need to make themselves known to the schools, and present their technological solutions according to the schools’ needs.

Here, the main obstacle is people’s mindsets, and helping them to change their habits and ways of doing things, in the current context where time is a rare commodity, indeed!