Essential Skills For Higher Ed Faculty in a Post-Pandemic World
As colleges and universities look ahead to the fall 2021 semester, many faculty members are wondering how more than a year of virtual instruction will impact their roles in years to come. What changes—initially forced by COVID-19 shutdowns—will alter the higher education employment experience going forward?
In a December 2020 study of more than 1,700 faculty and administrators from across the United States, 88 percent of respondents said they would make changes to their "pre-pandemic teaching" once the pandemic was over—with 26 percent saying their teaching is now "very different" than it was previously. More than half of respondents said they are now more optimistic about digital materials and online learning.
Even as institutions of higher education aim to provide as much of an in-person experience as possible, it is undeniable the pandemic has left its mark on the college experience. Long gone are the days of the tweed-wearing professor lecturing in front of a dusty chalkboard. Today's professors need to be nimble with digital instruction and materials—and still able to provide the human touch for students. To do that, higher education faculty will need to heighten several skills in a post-COVID world.
A year ago, everyone had a steep learning curve with Zoom, and we were all sympathetic to fumbles. Now, not so much. Not only do professors need to know their content inside and out, but they also must be able to use content delivery platforms smoothly, whether that is delivering synchronous hybrid instruction via Zoom, navigating a learning management system, or uploading course materials to a cloud-based platform. Professors need to up their game to make sure their audio is clear, their lighting is flattering, and their online proctoring tools work properly come exam time.
We've all experienced Zoom fatigue during the pandemic. The human connection is easily lost in translation to the virtual environment. When professors and students had no other option due to public health restrictions, one could potentially get away with being less than engaging. But when university life returns to its "new normal," that will not be the case. Those teaching online will need to rethink their approach to pedagogy by incorporating more opportunities for student engagement in their instruction. Think polls, class discussions, guest speakers, flipped classrooms, etc.—again, lecturing for an hour will not cut it anymore.
Just as instruction loses its human element when it moves online, so does one-on-one interaction with students. Nonverbal communication cues such as body language and tone can be difficult to interpret in a video conference, and email is infamously easy to misconstrue. When there is a chance you might never meet some of your students or colleagues in person, you will need to work double-time to communicate effectively. This could look like communicating instructions in both written and video formats, using an online scheduling tool such as Calendly to make it easy for students to schedule video chats with you, and finding ways to learn about your students as individuals. For instance, you could ask them to submit a short video as their first assignment sharing their preferred pronunciation of their names.
Teamwork with colleagues
One of the attractions of academic life (for those with tenure, anyway) has been autonomy. In many cases, professors determined what they wanted to teach and how they wanted to teach it. What you want to teach is still a matter of academic freedom—but in a virtual or hybrid environment, some teamwork is required to teach it. You will likely need to work with IT staff to understand and access various tools. You may be collaborating with non-academic professionals to develop course materials.
Higher education has traditionally been on the forefront of diversity and inclusion movements and given the nationwide conversations on systemic racism and social justice that have occurred concurrently with the pandemic, such initiatives will only increase in importance. Higher education faculty must continue their leadership in this area, being sensitive and alert to implicit bias, varying student needs, and accommodations necessary to increase equity.