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COVID-19: How can universities offer student support off-campus?

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The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns around the world mean many organizations and businesses have migrated to working from home. Universities are no exception, and millions of students around the world are now trying to complete their studies remotely and online.

Universities need to offer student support across as many departments as possible to support students through the rest of the semester and possibly even further.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best ways universities can offer students support when they’re studying off-campus and how best to equip them for remote study.

Continuity of education

Particularly in the UK and US, students now pay premium prices for their university education, meaning universities must provide high-quality education and student services. While this is difficult with closed campuses, many universities have made the switch to remote study for the foreseeable future. It may not be the same as offering education on-campus but ensuring continuity of education as much as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic will maintain the best student experience and keep students satisfied.

The best methods for providing continuity of learning and student support include:

Producing online lectures

One of the key ways to offer continuity is by moving lectures online and offering remote study opportunities. This involves ensuring students and faculty staff know which technology and software to use and that everyone is using the same channels. Where possible, keep to the regular timetable for classes as this will allow students to keep to a routine, know what to expect every week and it will help them to feel as close to university life as possible.

Providing tutor access

The ability to speak to tutors and faculty staff is key to maintaining student experience, even when off-campus. Students will likely have questions or queries about course material and assignments so ensuring tutors are available through a variety of channels will help students to continue feeling supported.

Maintaining office hours

With so many students now off-campus, the demand for student support services, student tech, and IT support will be significantly increased. Students accessing course materials, using remote services, and relying on university IT during the day will need support if something goes wrong, making it vital that student support services are available during office hours.

Making course materials easily accessible

It’s likely you’ll already have online platforms in place that allow students to access lecture slides, course resources, and further reading. Now it is more important than ever that this is well-organized to make it easy for students to find and use exactly what they need. When it comes to submitting coursework and assignments, providing students with clear information on how the process has changed or how it will work going forwards will help them to feel more confident that their work is going to be received and graded. This will also help to reduce stress.


Prepare faculty staff

Promising to deliver lectures and faculty support online to students will ensure students remain supported. However, to provide this, faculty staff must be prepared and equipped to provide this. Tutors and faculty staff need to know which platforms to use and how to use them for lectures to be as effective as possible. To facilitate this, universities can offer support in using the technology and encourage interaction between faculty staff. This puts lecturers in a better position to support student learning and minimize disruption.


Access to relevant technology and software

To study at home effectively, students will need access to the correct technology and software. This means adequate devices, laptops, and desktop computers as well as access to the apps and software required for each course. There may be students who do not have access to the devices they need to study effectively from home, so it’s essential to identify who these students are and provide them with relevant technology, where possible.

However, the vast majority of students and faculty staff have their own devices that they bring on campus with them to access university resources. This can make it easier to provide student support and access to software and resources.



BYOD

A considerable number of universities have now implemented bring your own device (BYOD) policies for their students. While, for many, this is not in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic and is business as usual, it has provided a much smoother transition to home study.BYOD allows students and faculty staff to use their own devices to access university-owned software anytime and anywhere. The biggest benefit of BYOD, in circumstances such as the current pandemic, is that it can be deployed almost immediately.

Other key benefits of BYOD include the following:

  • Students can work on devices they’re already familiar with
  • Students already know how to access the software and resources they need
  • Continuity of education is maintained despite adverse circumstances

Application virtualization

Application virtualization allows students to access the software they need remotely and without having to install it on their own devices. It provides more flexibility around when and where students can access the resources they need to complete their studies. This is one of the best and most effective ways to provide students with the support they need when off-campus. Most importantly, it provides a seamless student experience, not just during the current circumstances but across the full student experience, both off and on-campus.

For more information on providing students with access to the software they need, read our 'BYOD and remote working' guide.

Provide student IT support

Offering both BYOD and app virtualization are great ways to provide an uninterrupted learning experience for your students. For both to be as effective as possible, it’s important that student IT support services are open during office hours. This will allow students queries to be answered online or over the phone.


Student peer support

Alongside offering online lectures and tutor support, students may also miss interaction with their peers. Encouraging them to engage with fellow students through available platforms will not only help them, it will also relieve the pressure on student support services and tutors. Keeping contact between students helps to keep the human element of university life, which is what many students will be used to and missing.


Mental health & well-being support

Aside from the studying aspect of the university experience, many students will also be missing out on the social aspect of being on campus and the collaborative learning approach it provides. Many who find themselves studying alone may struggle and need additional mental health support. While universities may have facilitated remote learning for students, it’s important to ensure they are supported by mental health and student wellbeing services on an ongoing basis.

Encourage faculty staff to support students and provide them with resources that can be shared with students when necessary. In addition, encourage students to offer peer-to-peer support as this will be invaluable for those who are impacted most by the lack of social interaction. Make sure students are aware of the mental health team, support and resources they have access to through student support services.


Regular updates

To ensure students continue to feel supported when they’re off-campus, it’s essential to keep them informed about what your organization is doing to get through the challenges caused by the pandemic and how it will affect their studies on an ongoing basis. You can do this by using the most popular platforms and modes of communication such as:

  • Student email
  • Social media channels
  • Blackboard
  • University website
  • University-specific apps
  • Text messages

It’s likely the way students are expected to complete their work and assignments have changed, so providing regular updates on these changes will help to reduce stress and help students feel more reassured. Open and consistent communication is key during uncertain periods and will help students to feel reassured that their grades will not be compromised as a result of COVID-19.

With high numbers of students to contact and support, providing faculty staff with information about supportive resources is a great way to disseminate information. It will also take the pressure off staff to create and provide this information, allowing them to provide a higher level of student advice and guidance. When students are stressed or facing uncertainty, they might miss information or fail to take it in properly the first time so getting the information through various channels and more than once will help them to absorb it.

Being able to provide students with support off-campus quickly, under unexpected circumstances can be a good exercise for universities that wish to support more remote learning opportunities in the future. Now might be the perfect time to learn from this particular period and apply that knowledge to the future.