With COVID-19, higher education faces unprecedented challenges.
Adapting the way institutions teach, support, and engage students to be completely online in a matter of days is a huge undertaking nobody saw coming. While this daunting task isn’t for the faint of heart, higher ed staff are proving to be both resourceful and resilient.
Indeed, many administrators are still trying to wrap their minds around how to adjust their in-person efforts to online experiences that achieve the same or similar outcomes. This is all while balancing their own physical and mental well-being amid COVID-19 and being sensitive to the well-being of their students, whose lives have dramatically shifted and who all vary in their resources and ability to cope with this new change.
Of course, simply putting education online is not the same as online education, as those who specialize in it will tell you. While you may not have the expertise or time to completely transform your in-person courses and programs to online efforts, you still have options to make changes that will help you and your students be as successful as possible during this difficult time.
Knack is ready to be an ally in that process. Using technology to power peer learning relationships, our online platform helps institutions enhance programs and improve outcomes that impact student success. Right now, Knack technology is available at no cost to tutoring centers that want to virtualize and scale their tutoring team while in-person centers are closed due to COVID-19.
In addition, we want to support our higher ed colleagues with other resources that can help them adapt their work to an online format. Here are a few key areas where we have some suggestions.
Campuses that use Microsoft Office already have Outlook as a standby scheduling choice, but Calendly is another great tool that can help. In fact, they are currently supporting free integrations with video-meeting tools Zoom and GoToMeeting to help make connecting easier during the COVID-19 quarantine. With Calendly, you create the rules of your calendar, share your Calendly link with someone, and they choose a time to meet, which is automatically added to your calendar. Features of Calendly include calendar and other integrations, control options, and time zone intelligence.
GoToMeeting also has a free service option, which includes the ability to schedule and host 40 minute meetings, meet with up to three participants, share screens, and have mobile or browser-based meetings. You can also use their in-meeting chat to communicate with colleagues as needed.
Microsoft campuses can also check out Microsoft Teams. It’s dubbed as “a collaboration app that helps your team stay organized and have conversations, all in one place.” Here, you have teams and channels, with the ability to share meeting requests in channels. You are able to view your synced Outlook calendar by the day or the week. Lastly, you can share content from your device during meetings and even record meetings if you’d like.
Microsoft Teams also includes file sharing ability. Your team can share a file in a channel conversation, which enables team members to edit a document or share thoughts in one place. This video, which is less than five minutes, shows you the versatility of the file sharing capabilities.
There are other file sharing options that you are likely familiar with and may already be using. Many institutions, for example, already use DropBox for collaborative work like search committees. One Drive is an option from Microsoft Office, or there’s Google Drive if that’s preferred. Unsurprisingly, all of these are top choices by Computer World, who also offers other choices you might not have heard of yet. Many of the suggestions below include file sharing as well.
Zoom has been a favorite among many during this time of mass remote work. The video service provides a “unified platform for meetings, webinars, conference rooms, phone, and chat.” The company offers a free personal account including an unlimited number of meetings, meetings up to 40 minutes, and the ability to host up to 100 participants. Paid accounts for teams and larger businesses offer even more features.
It turns out you don’t need to have a Gmail account to participate in a Google Hangouts meeting, one of the video call options from GSuite. Google Hangouts is primarily known for its chat feature, but it has the ability for video calls. Google Duo, however, focuses exclusively on video calling, and you can create groups in Duo to easily facilitate staff meetings. Lifewire provides an overview of Duo while TechJunkie offers a comparison of Hangouts and Duo.
Skype is also a reliable choice for video calls. It features smart messaging, screen sharing, and live subtitles. If your campus uses Microsoft Office, you already have access to Skype for Business because Microsoft Teams has consumed it. This option is an easy foray into everything else Microsoft Teams offers to centralize your team’s needs. For a comparison of Skype, Facetime, Hangouts, and Duo, CloudPro offers some insights.
Lastly, UberConference offers free video conferencing, while also offering the option to dial in and join by audio only. During COVID-19, their free option allows longer call duration and up to 50 participants.
How can your office answer and make calls remotely without having to share your personal cell phone number? Luckily, there are a few options. Google Voice, for example, allows you to use your cell phone without having to give out your actual cell phone number. It’s available on all devices.
Microsoft Teams has a call feature that allows you to answer and make calls from your laptop while showing your office number. It also has an app that allows you to answer your office phone from your cell phone. Their voice calling and phone systems format is found here. Be sure to check out the 35 features of their phone system as well. Note that the “Direct” and “Calling” Plans are the ones that enable people to make and receive calls.
Jabber from Cisco is another option for your department. It allows you to forward calls and offers a range of features, such as messaging, chat, video calls, and conference. Cisco also has some COVID-19 info here with some free services and training to support remote workers across the globe.
Class Instruction & Workshops
When it comes to teaching a class or running a workshop, many love Cisco’s WebEx, which is good for large groups. In fact, it enables you to host webinars for up to 3,000 attendees and stream for 40,000 attendees. This tool also includes video conferencing, collaboration, and online training capabilities.
Descript, which helps educators and schools move to online lectures and storytelling, is providing free producer accounts to educators for the next three months. They also allow audio and video editing as well as a way to produce transcripts. This could be a useful tool for faculty, as well as any other other higher ed professionals who want to deliver programs to students.
Blackboard has been a long-time favorite of educators, offering a range of options for higher ed from assistance with teaching and learning to student services. Their learning management services portfolio includes the popular Blackboard Learn. The company also offers Blackboard Collaborate, which allows for a more interactive virtual classroom experience and is also a great option for teams looking for a virtual space for online collaboration.
Lastly, Canvas is another well-known option for online instruction. To find resources and connect with others as an instructor, check out this landing page. There is also a free classroom option. EdScoop suggests Canvas edges out Blackboard, but you can compare both here.
Remote Work Tools
For online platforms that help your team work together virtually in a variety of ways, the world of remote work offers plenty of choices. Many include some of the features mentioned earlier, like video calling or scheduling, but these are just individual components of the “one-stop-shop” many of these aim to be for your team.
For project management, check out AirTable and Trello. AirTable makes it easy to get started and offers templates to get you brainstorming, while also providing the ability to organize your project with a great deal of detail and a wide range of options. If you’re looking for a comprehensive choice to keep your team on track, this is worth a look.
Trello helps you hit the ground running with a more basic but functional format. Organize projects of any size, upload file attachments, and invite people to your board. Trello offers a free account for teams, but you can upgrade to Trello for Business for additional features. To learn more, check out this quick overview video on Trello and this comparison between AirTable and Trello. Microsoft Teams fans, you have access to Planner, which is the Teams answer to project management and is similar to Trello.
If you want an “all-in-one workspace” for your department where you can write, plan, collaborate, or get organized, Notion might be a suitable choice. It can help you organize your notes/documents, while powering a central knowledge base, helping you track tasks/projects, and allowing you to build databases. Not sure how to conceptualize these? They tell you what each of these features could replace for you. Notion notes/documents, for example, could replace Google Docs. Even better, Notion is free for educators and students.
Basecamp is another “all-in-one” option. It positions itself as “the premier project management + internal communication tool” for remote teams. With a message board, scheduling, file sharing, and chat, there are plenty of features to keep your team on track.
To keep inboxes from getting overloaded, check out Slack. This communication platform features messaging, channels, and threads of conversation that you can create with co-workers. Slack channels like #kudos and #rollcall enable groups to be social as well as functional. Yonder suggests 10 Slack channels that can strengthen any team’s culture. With Slack, you have the ability to share files, video and voice call, and connect with other apps.
If there was ever a time for chatbot assistance, it’s now. GeckoEngage is offering a free COVID-19 chatbot for higher ed, which can be up and running in an hour or less. Their other chatbot services and resources may be of interest as well.
Scribd offers 30-day access to enjoy books, magazines, audiobooks, and documents for free. JSTOR is working to expand on the amount of free content available online to students accessing the database through its subscribed universities.
It’s also helpful to look at peer institutions to see how they have been managing remote work. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Madison provides resources for their advising and career services staff to utilize Microsoft Teams, and Colorado State University is providing students with virtual options to keep them engaged with the institution and other learning experiences while they are not on campus.
Finally, make sure you check out how Knack is helping campuses thrive during COVID-19.
Written by Priya Thomas
Priya Thomas is a wellness and leadership development director and consultant with 15 years of experience in higher education and student affairs. Her expertise includes wellness, mental health, student leadership and involvement, and fraternity and sorority life. She enjoys discovering local restaurants, travel, and learning new things. Connect with her on Twitter.