In an ever-changing educational environment, the only guarantee is that our modes and methods will continue to develop. From purely on-campus environments to hybrid and fully-online solutions, institutions need to evolve with the present circumstances. Naturally, the question on many people’s minds is what the future of online education will bring. As universities digitise thousands of courses around the world, we have a better idea of what is to come and how an online campus can fulfil all of a student’s needs. Here are some “traditional” campus features that will require you to reimagine to be part of your virtual campuses.
Have you ever needed a very specific resource and struggled through rows upon rows of bookshelves before finding what you need? Online libraries provide an easy yet full-featured solution. Imagine your students having access to all the notes, books and articles the university has in their curriculum while being able to search, research and find information better and quicker than ever before. Students will gain the same access to information, but they can find the required resource through simpler means.
As an example, the Bookboon library allows students to search for information with a specific or advanced search, as well as through A-Z lists of databases and eJournals. Alternatively, they can contact a librarian for questions, feedback or online appointments.
This is how we can imagine online campus libraries to function. Students can access a wealth of knowledge through a web interface that embodies efficiency. If a student wants to look through journals and books on their own, they have the freedom to do so. If they need assistance, a librarian is just a few clicks away.
Psychology has a lot to say about study halls. According to StudyStream, the psychology of mimicry and accountability plays an important role in education. Mimicry is effectively imitation. If you watch other students working, you will likely follow suit. Similarly, the psychology of accountability suggests that people “behave differently when they know that they are being watched.” When you take both of these concepts into account, it makes sense that students work harder when they’re in a study hall.
So, how will this play out on an online campus? Ultimately, these concepts work the same way in virtual study halls. StudyStream is one example of existing software that allows students to study together while physically apart through online meetings. Another example is Study Together, where more than 200,000 students can learn together in a “global Zoom community.” They can enter an online study hall and will be less likely to procrastinate. The future of online education will come fully equipped with the positive reinforcement that students receive from group dynamics. We will create an online community for students from universities around the world to study together and motivate each other.
Just as students can complete their education online, they can also have virtual alumni events after they graduate. When done properly, these events can increase engagement and participation. This engagement provides several benefits, such as networking and mentorship opportunities, as well as career support.
There are many ways that you could conduct these events. For example, Tushar Agarwal explains that networking is an exceptional motivator for alumni to attend events. You can arrange a virtual meeting for past students to come together and connect with “like-minded people.” If they want to expand their professional network, this will be the encouragement they need. Another idea that stands out in the article is a memory lane of sorts. Social media platforms have used memories as a way to remind users about what they were doing one or more years before. If you use the same method for alumni, it becomes an opportunity to bond and connect over their shared history. Agarwal mentions the following examples of using nostalgia to connect people:
- A Pictionary event where people can imitate memorable moments from their student years
- A memory board where alumni can attach their favourite photos and explanations of what happened
- Inviting previous instructors
Many people look back on their student years with fond memories and cherish alumni events. Online education doesn’t need to be any different and, when you utilise some of these virtual meet-up ideas, we can enhance the overall alumni experience.
Online clubs and societies
In an online environment, parents may wonder how their children will learn to socialise. Where will they engage with other peers? How do we replicate the real-life student experience? Clubs and societies are an incredible way for students to meet peers with the same interests. In an online learning environment, they can also reduce the potential sense of isolation. As a result, they are that much more important.
The online edition of these groups can be even more beneficial. For instance, imagine yourself as a student who has an interest in politics. If you could connect with politically-minded students from across the world, you would be able to learn so much more. Instead of connecting with students within your vicinity and only discussing your own political climate, you could find out how another system of governance functions. Similarly, a student interested in culture could learn about the subtleties of a culture on the other side of the globe. With a greater reach, students can create worldwide connections through online clubs and societies. They would essentially become a tight-knit global student base.
One of the most memorable parts of a student experience is the people you meet and the connections you form. As the University of Cape Town explains, “societies allow students to enjoy being part of a community on campus that is stimulating and opens up new challenges and opportunities for them.” The rapidly approaching online campus will be no different. Online societies will bring students into the fold of a larger community where they can share their opinions and bond over mutual experiences. There will be the same variety of student organisations, including those based on academia, faith, nations, cultures, politics and other interests. We could use similar methods for club and society events as those we discussed for alumni events.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, everyone knows how lonely, stressful and unmotivating it can be to live isolated from real-life engagement with people. Tertiary education is often a stressful experience. Students need to have support from their academic institution to ensure that they are able to complete their course while avoiding any mental health crises. In an online environment, what will this look like?
Rotar suggests that different types of support should be available depending on the stage of the student’s learning cycle. It should be an integral part of the learning curriculum through “an embedded, holistic approach.” One of the growing trends in this area is using social media platforms and technology to better design the support structure. When the institution provides support services to online students, Rotar includes these methods as viable options:
- Mentoring and peer support
- Creating a sense of community
- Personal advising and counselling
As we’ve all experienced in recent times, falling victim to isolation is incredibly easy. If the majority of the student’s experiences are distanced from others, it is even more critical to reach out and nurture their well-being. Technology has made several advancements that make this possible with an online campus. Whether you use emails, virtual meetings or instant messaging, we can ensure the mental well-being of students with an online support framework.
Sports and fitness
Sports have always been a crucial form of student engagement, comradery and school pride. It’s a social benefit of playing and attending sports events that draw people together and unite them. Online campuses can also include systems to play sports and keep fit with fellow students. Applications, such as Find a Player, allow universities and colleges to connect their student base for sporting activities. You can create your own private section on the platform where students can access related “clubs, games and events” that they can participate in together.
The future of online university sports could utilise software like this to retain a focus on fitness and team activities. With these systems in place, students wouldn’t need to choose a physical campus purely based on a need for sports. An online campus can provide the exact same sports programmes as physical campuses, giving students more comprehensive online options.
Pioneers of education
These aspects and more are within our reach as we gear up for EdTech’s future, but it won’t happen on its own. As educators and EdTech professionals, we need to imagine and reimagine what an online campus is capable of. An era of instant access to knowledge and fluid online learner experiences is dawning – join the movement!
What else do you think a fully online campus could include? Head over to our LinkedIn page and let us know!
Agarwal, T. (2022). 5 Virtual Alumni Meet Ideas to Boost Alumni Participation [online]. [accessed 20 April 2022].
Carlton, G. (2021). 10 Benefits of Joining an Alumni Association [online]. [accessed 3 May 2022].
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Li, C. and Lalani, F. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how [online]. [accessed 3 May 2022].
Rotar, O. (2022). Online Student Support: a Framework for Embedding Support Interventions into the Online Learning Cycle. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning [online], 17(2). [accessed 21 April 2022].
Stellenbosch University. (no date). Library and Information Service [online]. [accessed 20 April 2022].
StudyStream. (no date). StudyStream [online]. [accessed 20 April 2022].
Study Together. (no date). Join Our 24/7 Zoom Study Rooms [online]. [accessed 3 May 2022].
University of Cape Town. (no date). Overview | Department of Student Affairs [online]. [accessed 20 April 2022].