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I ’ve been in higher education for almost 8 years after leaving a career mostly in pharma and biotech. My experience with higher education IT has always been one in which IT was an integral part of the background but never really progressed to the forefront. Operational, not strategic. It was that way, at least until last February 2020.
We began planning sort of innocently, in terms of big picture what-if ’s. UCLA Anderson was fortunate that we were already teaching a few classes in a hybrid format for our FEMBA (Fully-Employed MBA) students, but to a person, no one ever thought we could fully pivot to teach, administer exams, or even host events in an entirely online format. Two weeks later, we made the switch to all online, and the rest is history, as they say.
Conversations started to be more strategic, and IT was involved in most of them. Online proctoring tools, Zoom webinars, touchless audio solutions in classrooms all became part of the conversation. Better quality cameras, updated recording studios, higher production qualities all were to be considered.
Fast forward to the end of February 2021, almost one year later. A faculty/ center director reaches out after the Golden Globe awards and essentially says, “I want that”. He’s not entirely off-base, as outlandish as the request may seem onthe surface. It turns out that we learned a lot during the pandemic about everything hybrid. This includes remote teaching via Zoom as well as continuing to host events with panels and speakers as we have always done.
We had some astonishing results upon initial review. Speakers who were always hard to get became a little easier since they, too, were remote. Alumni who might not have had the opportunity to get to campus for a variety of reasons were also remote, and they decided to engage. We achieved an increase of about 67percent year-over-year in number of alumni engaged in the hybrid format. We were also able to overcome some of the physicalboundaries previously in place, such as the number of people we could physically fit in a classroom. So for us, hybrid programming looks like it’s here to stay.
Nevertheless, the hybrid programming format type will continue to provide higher education technology leaders with both opportunities and challenges. While we are excited about higher engagement numbers and the possibilities, there are still plenty of questions. Are we able to create the same exact experience for in-person and virtual participants on a higher education budget? Do we have enough resources to ensure all transitions between in-person and virtual participants is seamless, both from a dollar and a dedicated employee perspective? I’m not sure we’ve even been entirely able to elicit all of the potential requirements in play to ensure we can satisfy the ask.
There is good news, however. We continue to learn as we lead more classes in the hybrid modality, while some inperson instruction is allowed, yet either faculty or students (or both) remain remote. This modality is likely to be with us even through next fall. We’ve figured out that audio is still kingand how to accommodate for that experience. We know that as we continue to deliver, we will continue to figure out the mechanics and deliver an experience that’s likely here to stay.