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Where Does Higher Education Go from Here?

May 8, 2020

At KI, we’re conducting a six-week interview series about distance-based learning. Each week we will check in with students or educators to understand how they’re navigating and feeling about their new virtual education environments. We hope to gain insights from those who are actually going through it. During this time, we’ll share our thoughts about similarities, differences and what can be learned as we all embrace a new style of learning and instruction.

In our 4th week of student interviews regarding distance-based learning, we find ourselves in arguably the most volatile section of academia, higher education.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, colleges and universities were beginning to see declining student enrollment. Parents, students and society alike were questioning rising costs and the traditional value proposition that higher education offered. The pandemic has magnified these issues within our higher learning institutions.

This moment in time is perhaps the most powerful learning experience now that students are having to fully embrace technology and learning online. Are we witnessing a shift of an on- campus experience and campus community?

We interviewed two students, asking them the same control questions from our previous interviews. When you read their answers, ask yourself what patterns align with what you’ve seen across the primary K-12 segment we’ve already interviewed, and what might be different.  

Share your thoughts on the future of higher education in our comments!

Interview #8, College Freshman

KI: What grade are you in?

Freshman: Freshmen (just ended).

KI: What are you studying?

Freshman: Marketing major, entrepreneurship minor.

KI: What’s your summer routine looking like?

Freshman: Summer sales internship and some work at a country club pool.

KI: What do you like about distance-based learning?

Freshman: Controlling my own schedule and routine is the best part of it. Being able to do my work when I want versus going to a 9am course because it’s all I could register for.

KI: Why do you like controlling your schedule?

Freshman: Once I found my routine (“swing”), I saw it as no different than regular school aside from “live” class conversations. My classes didn’t require live chats, so I could do my work at night, when I’m more efficient rather than standard 9-5 work hours.

KI: What do you wish was different about distance-based learning?

Freshman: Going online half-way through the semester made it tougher than just starting online and being on “live” Zoom classes.

KI: Why was that tougher?

Freshman: We had to make the switch eight weeks into a 15-week semester. At that point, group projects and general flow of routine are established. Upending that routine was a lot more difficult than if we had simply started the semester online.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you had fun with?

Freshman: I really enjoy writing, specifically the research brief I recently did on the topic of potholes in Milwaukee. Yes, I know it sounds boring, but I had fun getting deep into research on effects and strategies to remedy.

KI: Why do you enjoy writing?

Freshman: A writing course is not vastly different when it’s online, but the adjustment in scheduling allows me to write out my entire thought stream in a day or two and then have a week or two of space and time to refine and edit it in greater depth. 

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you did not enjoy?

Freshman: There are two:

1) The IT Management course I’m taking is harder online than in person (which seems like it should be the opposite). 

KI: Why is it harder online?

Freshman: Because the software necessary lags quite a bit.

2) My Public Speaking class really stinks online.

KI: Why?

Freshman: Talking to an application is not the same as speaking to an audience directly. Tracking audience reaction is nearly impossible online.

KI: When things return to “normal,” would you want to continue some amount of distance-based learning?

Freshman: I am actually going to make one of my five courses an online course, so 20% for me.

KI: Why are you choosing an online course?

Freshman: So that I can have the flexibility of scheduling while still getting the college experience. 

KI: Any additional thoughts?

Freshman: One thing I think is really interesting is my professors keep thanking us for being engaged - every week they email the class saying: “thanks for being so engaged in school.”

To me that doesn’t make sense because, “dude we’re in college, you’re paying to do this and should do the work because only you lose if you don’t. You want the credit, do the work.”

Interview #9, College Sophomore

KI: What grade are you in?

Sophomore: Sophomore (just ended).

KI: What are you studying?

Sophomore: IT.

KI: What did you have for breakfast?

Sophomore: Chocolate Chip Muffin.

KI: What do you like about distance-based learning?

Sophomore: There’s not a whole lot that I liked about it. The one thing I did like is that it gave me the option to determine when and where I could do classes and assignments. Being in a classroom from 8 – 10am for a lecture is different. I could do that from 2-4pm independently. I guess flexibility.

KI: Why did you like the flexibility?

Sophomore: Being able to change my schedule as I want, gives me permission to do what I want, when I want.

KI: What do you wish was different about distance-based learning?

Sophomore: That it never happens again.

KI: Why?

Sophomore: With a global pandemic, it makes sense that we actually have to do this. I guess that should be the only reason we’d ever have to do something like this. I just don’t see a lot of positives associated with it.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you had fun with?

Sophomore: For coding language, I did two projects at home. One of them was designing an adventure game. It was difficult to not be with the professor, but it was still fun to do it.

KI: Why was it difficult not being with the professor?

Sophomore: Some of the classes I’m taking are becoming more difficult, and I’m still pretty new to all of this. I don’t need someone to hold my hand and walk me through this, but having a professor near if I have questions is helpful. When I’m doing something that I don’t know anything about, it helps to have someone who knows about it nearby.

KI: Can you tell me about a project or assignment you did not enjoy?

Sophomore: I had to a write a 10-page paper and presentation about a new start-up company that had to be wired for servers, printers, routers, etc. Our professor had just introduced this all to us, and we suddenly got sent home from the pandemic, so we didn’t really know yet what to do.

KI: Why was that not enjoyable?

Sophomore: Because I didn’t understand it yet. I loved this class and that content, and the professor was visiting, so the communication wasn’t the best.

KI: When things return to “normal,” would you want to continue some amount of distance-based learning?

Sophomore: No.

KI: Why?

Sophomore: I just don’t see any benefit to it. Personally, I need to be in person, working on something. If I’m doing homework, I need to be at the library. I just need someplace that is anywhere but home.

by Jonathan Matta  National Education Leader

Jonathan Matta is KI's National Education Leader, supporting organizations in their pursuit of solving complex challenges by applying the power of design. Matta previously served as the Vice President of Design at RXBAR, where he led a design team that applied a variety of design strategies, chiefly Design Thinking, to a multitude of organizational challenges. Jonathan holds an altMBA from Seth Godin's program, along with completed courses from Stanford University's "d.school" and IDEO-U. He received his undergraduate degree from DePaul University.

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