Survey: The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Ed Institutions

July 21, 2020 Kris Babe

When higher education campuses closed for in-person classes in March 2020, students, faculty, and staff faced extraordinary challenges. How would they continue to provide instruction while maintaining mission-critical processes that inform decisions and drive improvements in teaching and learning?

In May 2020, Watermark set out to learn about those experiences, conducting a national survey of higher education professionals. In total, 858 respondents representing 706 institutions shared the effects of COVID-19 disruption on processes including assessment, student feedback, faculty activity reporting and reviews, and catalog and curriculum management. They also shed light on expectations for Fall 2020 and beyond, and suggested practices and technologies institutions can apply in the new, COVID-altered landscape.

COVID’s impact on key campus processes

Respondents indicated a significant impact on core institutional processes and the increasing importance of continuing to gather data to make meaningful improvements to student and institutional outcomes:

  • 91% said they are maintaining or increasing prioritization of assessment
  • 2 out of 3 respondents said COVID-19 has impacted plans for 2020-2021 faculty review
  • 43% are facing challenges documenting curriculum review and revision
  • 98% place high priority on using student feedback to provide insight into the curriculum and student experience for purposes of institutional improvement

The silver lining: opportunities arising from disruption

The extraordinary work done by faculty and staff to convert face-to-face courses to remote learning in this emergency made something abundantly clear. As one survey respondent noted: “What used to be thought of as teaching and learning models which would come in 5-10 years, are now needed immediately.”

COVID-19 has created significant disruption at most responding institutions, but some respondents report that they are taking advantage of this opportunity to:

  • Increase focus on learning outcomes and evaluate these through direct measures such as student artifacts
  • Use assessment and course evaluation to better understand student experiences and support their success
  • Support faculty as they prepare for future online instruction and participate in service to the institution, including assessment, activity reporting, and review committees
  • Convert mission-critical campus processes from manual to digital to ensure continuity and facilitate the work

Support for instructors, instructional designers, and other staff involved in reimagining courses for Fall 2020 and beyond will be critical going forward. So will technology that eases the burden on faculty and staff.

These findings are just the start. To read more about respondents’ experiences in Spring 2020, the effects of COVID-19 on their institution’s practices, processes, and policies, and their expectations for Fall 2020 and beyond, download the full report.

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