UC Answers: How has COVID impacted higher ed?

Efforts to stop spread of coronavirus challenge instructors and learners alike

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic and efforts to stop its spread have sent shockwaves through every industry. Shelter-in-place orders, social distancing and other measures to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 left no one unaffected.

That includes higher education. To comply with coronavirus prevention requirements handed down by the Ohio Department of Health, the University of Cincinnati was forced to temporarily put an end to the traditional methods of delivering education. 

Dean Marianne Lewis, PhD, oversaw the efforts of UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business to quickly get instructors back to teaching and students back to learning. We asked Lewis to reflect on the situation and what she learned from it.

Q: Can you speak to the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it's had on institutions of higher learning?

Lewis: In many ways, the COVID pandemic has accelerated digital transformation in higher ed. Really, for well over a decade, at every international meeting of deans and university presidents, we hear again and again, with the rapid changes in technology and the changes in our markets, students and employers need more flexible online offerings. There's been a very big push to be more digital. 

I think we're seeing this acceleration of digital transformation through our own learning. We've known for quite some time that the technology is there, the interests are there, the demand for more online learning. But having moved over 550 courses in this business school alone to remote learning, we now know what's possible. It wasn't perfect. We had so much learning. Now is the opportunity to step back and move forward with new options.

Q: What concerns arose, and in what ways did your faculty rise to the occasion?

Lewis: The pandemic raised a number of challenges for faculty, but it was really about how to support our students. On the one hand, they were moving entire courses, entire programs to remote learning and student services for that matter. So thinking about it at a macro level, how would you move an entire course online, but then at a personal level, how do you also respect the diversity of learning styles and personal needs that were widely varied throughout the situation? And I think that was the ultimate challenge, thinking about the whole and respecting the individual.

I think the ultimate challenge was how to serve the whole, support the collective in the move to remote, and respect the diversity of individuals, their needs, their learning styles.

Q: What challenges did students face, and how did they rise to the occasion?

Lewis: The students absolutely rose to the occasion when we pivoted to remote learning. We always think about learning as co-creation — it's a collaboration among the faculty and the students, not just as individuals but as a group. In the move to remote, it was remarkable how open the students were to all the change because things weren't perfect. Through their feedback and their engagement, we were able to learn faster about what worked for them, what helped accelerate their learning and really took the courses to a different level. I'm looking forward to seeing how people — both the students and the faculty — put that to use in the fall.

Q: What were some observations you made after the university switched to remote learning?

Lewis: I think the biggest surprises throughout this situation has been the remarkable innovation, collaboration and care shown by the Lindner community, by our faculty, staff, alumni, leaders, really people working together, to not only get through this situation but to actually help each other thrive. We're an institution of higher education. The point is to learn, and we were doing that together. And while I say that's a surprise, it's really not. The Lindner community is why I returned to UC. So I know how wonderful the people are, but to see everybody come together when individuals have their own personal challenges was truly inspiring.

Q: What do you think you'll take away from this?

Lewis: I think there are many lessons to take away from this experience, certainly in terms of remote learning and services, but also through our conversations with employers. We've learned a great deal. It helps being the leader in co-op and internships here at UC. Co-op means cooperation, and we do cooperate very closely with our employers. And what we know now is that, more than ever, they seek increasingly agile and digital professionals. So moving forward for us in the business school means, how do we develop students who are exceptionally capable of working, learning, collaborating and leading through technology? That's the future. That's what's being demanded by employers, and our students are going to be exceptionally well prepared for that future.

As we've been talking to our partners, our employers who lead us and work with us so closely on co-op seek professionals who are agile — meaning they're flexible and they're adaptable. They know how to work with technology, collaborate, lead and learn digitally. I think moving forward, whether it's a large organization to a startup firm, we're going to see more and more firms wanting those students to have that adaptability and technological savvy.

Featured image: UC Lindner College of Business Dean Marianne Lewis, left, chats with a colleague in the college's new facility, which opened on UC's campus in 2019. Photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative+Brand

See how UC is putting valuable lessons into practice

While the coronavirus has challenged us in many ways, it has also forced UC to lean into one of its strengths. UC Online has been offering high-quality virtual learning for more than two decades. Find more UC Answers to your important questions, check out UC's Lindner College of Business or connect with your advisor.

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