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Lessons from COVID-19: Embracing Digital Transformation to Weather Any Storm
Daryl Ford, CIO, Roger Williams University
Higher education has never been quick to embrace the cutting edge, let alone the bleeding edge, of technology. Not unlike governmental bureaucracies, many higher education institutions are still defined by paper processes, red tape, and archaic systems. Schools that are technology leaders have done so by developing and implementing digital strategies that had transformative impacts on the cultures of their institutions. Not an easy feat. Cultural metamorphosis and digital transformation requires years of planning, commitment, and visionary leadership to execute effectively.
Institutions that are successfully weathering the COVID-19 storm have pre-established technology strategic plans that reflect a mindset of technology prioritization in everyday teaching and learning.
Institutions that have weathered the storm began with a digital strategy, strategic planning created a culture of technology leadership, and the culture enabled a digital transformation
By Spring 2020, higher education was faced with fully online instruction as their only choice, a challenging execution of synchronous and asynchronous modalities many had never before attempted. While institutions that had previously achieved digital transformation were able to quickly pivot from majority in-person instruction, others without digital strategies went into critical survival mode. Absent a strategy, institutions with adequate resources redirected funds to IT budgets for hybrid classroom build outs and mobile computing technology for faculty that had previously only taught in a singular modality. Schools with limited resources erected patchwork hybrid classrooms with low-end audio/visual equipment, creating a subpar learning experience for displaced students. These organizations quickly realized the enormity of the digital divide as students and faculty grappled with at-home bandwidth, endpoint, and audio/video issues. At the same time, remote work, which had earlier been ad- hoc for these schools, went into a parallel crisis mode as they contended with outdated paper-based processes. The lack of a digital strategy left these higher education institutions completely exposed when the pandemic hit and, unfortunately, some collapsed under the force of the storm.
The greatest lesson COVID-19 has taught the higher education industry is that planning is key. But it is just a starting point. Institutions that have weathered the storm began with a digital strategy, strategic planning created a culture of technology leadership, and the culture enabled a digital transformation. The higher education community must learn from this pandemic and continue to build back better or suffer the consequences of more inevitable storms to come.