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The Challenge of Mass Transition to Remote Educational Delivery is an Issue of Scale

GTPE leaders publish an eBook examining Covid-19's impact on higher education globally

During the early Spring of 2020, Georgia Tech Professional Education (GTPE) was called to leverage its decades of experience in remote learning with an urgency unlike ever before.

The unplanned and rapid closure of educational institutions due to the Covid-19 pandemic had left students, faculty, leadership, and communities scrambling to maintain connection, value, and continuity. Within a matter of weeks, nearly all the Universities in the United States shifted completely to online delivery and were facing the downhill rush toward finals and for some students, graduation.

Depending heavily on roots in technology and strong pedagogical principles, GTPE leadership stepped up in a significant way during this new and unprecedented environment. This unanticipated position of leadership was replicated for many others worldwide as higher education institutions across the globe leaned on their professional and continuing education units and their expertise to maintain quality instruction.

It was this collective experience that led GTPE's Nelson Baker and Yakut Gazi, dean of professional education and associate dean of learning systems, to publish an open access book that shares the story from that unique vantage point. Moving Horizontally: The New Dimensions of at-Scale Learning in the Time of COVID-19, serves as an international compilation of institutional responses to the massive shift to remote and online delivery of courses over the last year

The stories recounted in the book represent a wide variety of viewpoints, maturity in terms of infrastructure, and services for remote delivery.

While there is still much to elicit, the book will be the first to pose the response to the crisis as an issue of scale and adds an important perspective to the ongoing discussion around educational transformation. "The innovations taking place due in part to the pandemic will transform higher education forever,” says Baker. “What we have learned from this period is positioning us for transformation and leading the way into a future that offers more equitable access to education for students of all ages.”

Georgia Tech, like some others, had previously been leaders largely on a “vertical” scale, where a limited number of courses or programs are developed that can sustain a vertical growth of enrollment at a level unimaginable in a residential setting. “The strategy of developing at-scale programs to serve an elevated level of students has been central to widening access, driving affordability, and intelligently using technology,” says Gazi.

Doing so on a horizontal scale, or many students distributed over many courses, taught by many faculty, exposed known weakness along with unforeseen impediments, but also offered an opportunity for insights and discoveries, many of which are detailed in the book. “The challenges of the last year were difficult, to say the least, however, the urgent and broadly shared crisis created an environment ripe for innovation,” says Baker.

As pioneers in education themselves, both Baker and Gazi remain clear that true online learning is the most student-centric approach to education and that the experience ultimately will have positive impacts on both faculty and students in the future.

The book also represents the many who continue to stand ready to participate in, lead and affect a more positive and innovative future for higher education and its function and purpose in serving society. "The work of embracing learner-centric cultural and operational tactics and enabling our students to benefit from accessible, quality learning experiences in a radically affordable manner, is just beginning," says Gazi. “We look forward to these changes reinvigorating higher education's role of enabling social achievement, job readiness, and greater quality life experience.”