American universities are reworking their courses and their business models too

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is presenting an immersive VR experience called “The Enemy” through its Media Lab. It invites the visitor to discover firsthand, through 360-degree imagery, the testimony of soldiers on both sides of the conflicts.

In Canada, the McGill Symphony Orchestra is virtually bringing together musicians for rehearsals and has completely rescheduled its season as a virtual experience. On an even larger scale, the Savannah School of Art and Design sent Google Cardboard VR headsets to 30,000 newly admitted students so they could take a virtual tour of campus.

The seismic impact of Covid on university life has catalyzed a big shift in the higher education landscape. Innovation in learning technologies is being leveraged to support increasingly hybrid learning models that will remain at the forefront.

Five faces of change

Shift in digital pedagogy

Instead of passive lecture-based learning, technology is leveraged to enhance learning by engaging students with hands-on, project-based approaches. A dynamic example would be a business professor designing compelling what-if scenarios that respond to student feedback. Another would be that of a music teacher who reveals detailed annotations of musical scores in sync with a recorded performance.

In response to the critical need to go beyond the Zoom format of online education, the virtual ecosystem is growing, breaking away from the constraints of a computer to interact with the physical world through augmented reality, leveraging real-world smart objects, such as whiteboards and smart assistants.

Gamification is also rapidly gaining traction – by designing lessons as a game, educators encourage students to achieve various goals, while promoting knowledge retention. Notably, the University of Washington created a video game called “Foldit” for the College of Engineering – protein folding software.

Game participants identify different ways to perfectly fold a selected protein structure and competitively deduce all possible protein shapes. This information has been used to research different diseases and create biological innovations to combat the accumulation of toxic waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Emphasis on applied learning

Expect practical experience to be an essential component of their undergraduate studies. Many universities have incorporated project-based and customer-facing work assignments, consulting projects, and mandatory internships to give students a head start in their careers long before graduation.

According to a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) report, less than 40% of American graduates who received a job offer before graduation had no internship or co-op experience. Employers appreciate students who have not only applied their knowledge to achieve desirable grades, but used it to accomplish a productive and necessary task.

Solving interdisciplinary problems

The STEM to STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) movement has grown and is universally recognized as a positive educational solution to truly address the needs of a post-pandemic economy. When embedded skills in the arts and humanities are incorporated into traditional STEM courses, students are able to connect their work to real issues facing their communities.

Competition intensifies

The most selective four-year U.S. institutions, private and public, saw an unprecedented 17% increase in applications last year. While universities with more than 20,000 students saw the biggest jumps, smaller liberal arts colleges also received a boon, with applications to Swarthmore College and Haverford College rising 12% and 16%, respectively. Surprisingly, the University of California system saw freshman applications increase by 28%, likely due to public schools suspending the SAT and ACT exam.

In 2022, college applications are expected to continue to rebound from the pandemic crisis. College waiting lists are expected to be active for the next few months – a strategy by universities to protect their performance. In order to maximize and protect their yield, colleges will want to accept very few students who do not actually plan to attend.

Thus, a key consideration for students (especially those aiming for elite universities) is demonstration of interest. Only his GPA and test scores are unconvincing on their own; emails to admissions counselors, mailing list signups, extensive college research, and campus visits are variables that convince colleges of students’ desire to attend.

Admission tests

Many admissions officers talk about the experience ignoring test results extending far beyond the coronavirus crisis. Several Ivy League schools, including Harvard, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania, have said they will not require test scores even for next year’s applicants, most of whom are currently high school students. .

Without tests, however, an admissions officer’s gaze is very likely to fall on the rigor of the course. Along with a critical review of the student’s high school curriculum, he or she will be assessed on the types of academic challenges they have overcome.

Undoubtedly, 2022 will see education experience its watershed moment. After two tumultuous years of unimaginable change and discovery, universities are focused on one powerful and singular outcome – giving students personalized and intentional educational outcomes that connect them to meaningful career opportunities.

As students question the value of their education and the job-skills gap widens exponentially, it falls squarely on higher education to address the issue. The vehicles of technology-infused teaching, competency-based learning initiatives, and renewed global student mobility are pushing the education landscape toward institutional innovation, with the goal of optimizing learning as never before.