Monday, September 14, 2020

From Digital First to Digital by Design: Education for the Post-Pandemic World

I’m truly excited to be joining eCampusOntario today. Thanks to everyone for the warm welcome to this integral organization.

The eCampusOntario team has done an amazing job of managing the pandemic pivot, led by Interim Co-Executive Directors Lena Patterson and Jamee Robinson. Their message from 3 August 2020 outlines the critical role eCampusOntario plays in the Ontario post-secondary education system, from supporting the student experience and faculty innovation in pedagogy and the use of educational technology, through to broader strategic goals such as furthering the development of micro-credentials and sector collaboration. We really are all in this together.

As we go forward we need to be mindful of the current social context. This includes the imperative to join the fight against anti-Black racism and anti-BIPOC racism, and to support Equity, Decolonization, Diversity and Inclusion in everything we do. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated challenges for people experiencing marginalization in our society. We will seize this moment to rebuild and support an environment that prioritizes inclusion, representation and voice.

I take the helm of our organization at a time when what we do at eCampusOntario is more important than ever before. The team has done a superb job of helping the PSE sector pivot into digital first. This work will take on even more resonance as eCampusOntario leads efforts to enhance the learner experience across all campuses in Ontario.

And we should remember that while we are navigating a wholesale transformation of society, not least the post-secondary education environment, these changes are not necessarily all new. The internet has been with us for several decades. My own undergraduate learning experience in the mid-1990s included online video conferencing classes with learners from across northern British Columbia campus connection sites. This enabled learners to access courses and credentials without travelling far from their homes. These were formative experiences for me, confirming that we could take new technologies and ways of communicating and create meaningful learning and access opportunities.

Having worked in Ontario’s post-secondary education sector for the past 20 years--10 years in colleges and 10 years in universities--I am struck by the incredible opportunity before us. We can position Ontario PSE to collaborate to compete together, supporting pandemic recovery and resilience.

Following the pandemic pivot, our focus can now shift to Digital by Design. Where the pandemic forced us all to scramble to put everything online, we now have the opportunity to more mindfully and artfully design digital learning environments that support all learners. For the future of digital learning must be about options: options to facilitate learning in distributed, online environments, to scaffold face-to-face and in situ learning via mediated communities of practice, and to provide ways for learners to access microcredentials that ladder into certificates, diplomas and degrees in support of ongoing career progression.

Over the next three months, eCampusOntario will consult broadly with stakeholders as we create a new strategic plan to take us through the next 3-5 years. How can we support system transformation and stability through digital by design learning? How can we create meaningful education when face-to-face interaction is limited? How do we ensure all learners can access education and support for ongoing career and personal development?

I look forward to learning with and from our community in this process. We are interested in your thoughts, your innovations, your caveats and cautions, and the excellent research that will help guide the way. Stay tuned to hear more about ways you can get involved, including at our upcoming annual conference, being held 20-21 October 2020.

Image showing a person looking outward with a telescope, atop a cloud with an arrow pointing up, signifying strategic planning