The COVID-19 pandemic upended the education sector, but institutions admirably adapted to these new virtual times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused tectonic changes for businesses and non-profit organizations. The education sector, which has long relied on face-to-face teaching and operations, has undoubtedly been one of the most impacted.
From academic institutions to teachers, to career advisors, to support services staff; every actor in education has had to shift their operations to a virtual format.
Some institutions already had a strong virtual presence, but most were forced to completely reimagine the way they impart education, engage with students, and deliver key services.
Consequently, educational actors heavily relied on robust technology to adapt and support virtual interactions. With that in mind, we have reviewed how education stakeholders leveraged technology and virtual event platforms to continue their essential work.
- Virtual Teaching
- Virtual Campus Visits / Open Days
- Virtual Career Fairs
- Virtual Education Conferences
- Virtual Student Orientation
- Virtual Graduations
- Virtual Support Services
The central part of education has experienced nothing short of a revolution. The figures say it all. While 35 % of US undergraduate students took a distance-education course in 2018, nearly 100% did so in 2020.
This major disruption has come with upsides and downsides. Indeed, a majority of students remain worried about whether higher education delivers a clear ROI given the current situation.
That shouldn´t come as a surprise, as many classrooms have simply opted for video calls tools such as Zoom. That is an uninspiring, if not inadequate replacement for the dynamic interactions that characterize in-person learning.
At certain academic institutions, virtual event platforms have come to fill that need for genuine connection. Crucially, they provide an environment conducive to engaging and interactive learning, elevating collaboration, and social networking.
Distinctively, they also promote that sense of belonging to a wider community akin to in-person classes. That is in stark contrast to the social isolation of streaming to a one-directional webinar.
Virtual campus visits / open days
Faced with the challenge to recruit students despite shut-down campuses, colleges turned to virtual campus tours and virtual open days.
While these were somewhat available previously, colleges have invested further in them, aiming to offer an immersive and captivating experience.
Facilitated by digital tools and virtual event platforms, they have been able to showcase their available courses creatively and bring their unique proposition to life.
For instance, the University of Stirling offers a unique virtual open day experience. At first, students are invited to complete their profiles and watch a walkthrough video guiding them around the features of the virtual open day.
Then, students can watch presentations covering student life at Stirling, applications, funding, and accommodation. Course-specific chat rooms allow prospective students to chat with directors, lecturers, and current students. Added to that, a virtual tour showcases the university´s campus and facilities.
Besides being potentially as engaging as in-person open days, virtual open days are more accessible. Indeed, they have expanded the number of prospective students that colleges can reach, since anyone can engage from across the world.
Virtual Career Fairs
As part of academic institutions´ efforts to connect students with employers, career fairs are vital. They allow students and alumni to network with employers, improve their interview and resume-building skills, and learn about job opportunities.
While in-person connections are not possible, virtual career fairs have comparative advantages. Indeed, they can attract more digital-driven businesses and can reach a wider pool of potential candidates.
The University of Colorado Boulder is a great example, as they offer regular career fairs, industry nights and panel events specialized by course, industry, and profession. And, they provide step-by-step resources for students to prepare ahead of the events.
Virtual Education Conferences
From the global to the regional, conferences have gone virtual. Education conferences are no exception. Confronted with the challenge to deliver important information to educational leaders at a critical time, conference organizers stepped up.
For instance, Online Educa Berlin (OEB) – the annual global cross-sector conference on technology-supported learning and training – set up a global virtual event experience for its 2020 event.
The conference featured virtual learning cafes, special interests group sessions, lunchtime mindfulness breaks, topic-focused networking, and matchmaking.
At the regional level, educational agencies were not left behind. IU5, a regional educational service agency hosted its flagship annual event – the SAS Institute – on a virtual event platform despite having no previous experience with virtual events.
IU5 effectively engaged educators. offering a personalized event journey and providing crucial insights on state educational initiatives.
Virtual Student Orientation
Student orientation is a period before the start of an academic year that equips students with all the necessary resources and information to achieve academic success.
While many institutions have not been able to welcome their students in person, they have not sacrificed student orientations.
Now more than ever, students have doubts about where to attend classes and how to register for them, how to access financial aid, career and support services, etc.
Thus, successful virtual student orientations have provided seamless event journeys. They have made navigation between resources easy for students and offered a degree of personalization according to their needs.
Supported by virtual event platforms, student orientations have also promoted connections between students and academic advisers. They have raised the awareness of the array of support services available to students and bolstered student community bonds.
For instance, the California Polytechnic State University offered a comprehensive orientation experience. It included a day of fun virtual activities, self-selected workshops, panel discussions, and info sessions.
As the pandemic prevented traditional graduation ceremonies, colleges and universities had to be creative in setting up a memorable event for students.
Evidently, this milestone day had to be more than a boring webinar. The event had to celebrate students achievements and honor the magnitude of the occasion.
For instance, the University of Missouri created a 24 hour virtual graduation. The event started with a recorded video greeting from the chancellor, went on with a social media campaign around the hashtag #MizzouMade and offered graduation-themed graphics for students.
In a showcase of the ultimate hybrid graduation ceremony, the Business Breakthrough University used mobile robots to virtually walk students across the graduation stage.
Virtual Support Services
Alongside teaching and events´ shift to virtual, student support services have also had to adapt to a virtual format.
Support services cover a broad variety of areas such as financial aid, academic advising, wellness, career services, and telemedicine.
For instance, since the move to remote learning, the Georgia State University added new risk factors for academic advising. Helped by virtual analytics, the university was able to evaluate how engaged students were with their classes and trigger alerts to academic advisors when students failed to log on.
In conclusion, education and academic organizations have demonstrated an admirable ability to adapt to virtual within a short period of time. Remote teaching has become prevalent, and traditional events such as open days or graduations have effectively been hosted in virtual environments.
The huge disruption and transformation of operations has brought key learnings. Many institutions are now reconsidering whether all events must happen in-person in the future and whether all staff should conduct their work in-person.
Undoubtedly, the education sector is moving in giant steps towards a flexible hybrid model, where events and services will have in-person and virtual components.
Did you like this content? Check out our blog resources and sign up to our newsletter to keep updated on the latest trends, features, and more regarding virtual events across the world: