QS recently spoke to the team at the New York Institute of Technology to learn how they’ve made the adjustment to remote learning during the coronavirus crisis.
As higher education institutions from around the world continue to innovate in response to the ongoing global health crisis, we wanted to ask higher education professionals in New York City—a major epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic—how they have made the adjustment.
We spoke to the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), which has campuses in both Manhattan and Long Island, about how they have operationalized their response. We explored how communications with students have changed over time, and what industry-wide recommendations they would suggest to best respond to the pandemic.
For this interview, we spoke to Nada Anid, PH.D., Vice President of Strategic Communications and External Affairs at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), and Nichole Barbe, M.Ed., Senior Director of Graduate and International Admissions at NYIT.
How has your school changed its operations in response to this ongoing health crisis?
Nada Anid (NA): In an abundance of caution, we decided in the second week of March that we could not return to in-class, person-to-person teaching for the week following the end of our spring break. Our institution, like all others, moved swiftly to remote, synchronous teaching using Zoom in response to the emergency. As New York City and Long Island became national epicenters for COVID-19, we continued to use Zoom for over 1,200 courses and, because of fast action by our faculty and IT staff, we were ready when our state governor asked every citizen to shelter in place.
We responded to other student issues as they arose, including instituting a pass/fail grade option, providing US$1.2 million in room and board refunds to residential students, establishing a student emergency fund, extending the semester by one week to decrease stress, and delivering computers and other technology support to students who needed them. As this semester just ended and our region begins to reopen, we now need to look at where we are and the way ahead.
Nichole Barbe (NB): From the admissions perspective, all operations were shifted online quickly and within a short period of time. Previously planned on-campus events for prospective and admitted students were shifted to online events, including virtual information sessions, virtual admissions counseling appointments, and online meet and greet sessions with school deans and faculty. Thanks to existing student information system and CRM technology, even with all of our admissions staff working remotely we have been able to maintain a streamlined admissions review process and keep students engaged throughout the cycle.
How have communications changed in the past few months? Have you noticed anything that has really resonated with students at this time?
NA: A task force of university administration comprising academic, medical, and communications areas was formed early on to commence university communications that began in February. Regular email updates offering information regarding COVID-19, university operations, medical, counseling and wellness resources, and academic/student life information were sent, and a special COVID-19 microsite was established offering information for students (with specific FAQs for residential and international students), faculty, and staff. A form was developed for students to request information, and it was very well–received and utilized. We’ve noticed that student engagement in providing feedback has been very positive, and we had higher-than-usual response rates to student surveys.
NB: While we’re noticing that students are still applying and going through the regular admissions process, we’re finding that they are increasingly looking for regular updates on the situation on campus and what the fall term will look like. We send out regular email communications with updates while trying to be conscious of not inundating them with emails either. With everyone stuck at home, we’re seeing more participation in virtual information sessions and advising sessions, whereas in the past students were more reluctant to participate. We’re also providing additional outreach via phone calls and text messaging and that has garnered increased engagement, as well as appreciation that we’re taking the time to reach out to them individually.
How have your students and staff responded to activities being moved online? Are there any insights that your team gained from online learning? What are its benefits and drawbacks?
NA: Our community has risen to the occasion in an extraordinary manner, finding ways to integrate and leverage technology in the classroom. One faculty member shared observations, which others have echoed, regarding the positives of remote teaching. Our IT and academic affairs staff have gone to great lengths to increase resources available to students and faculty, including sharing best practices and tools.
NB: In addition to classes moving online, our faculty, staff, and students were able to successfully transition co-curricular and club events to virtual environments that were engaging and well attended. This ranged from our regular Academic Senate meetings of nearly 100 faculty members to online research groups that focused on topics relevant to the COVID-19 crisis and our annual School of Health Professions research conference.
Has the way in which you offer mental and emotional support to students changed? What are some new challenges in offering support, and how are you addressing them?
NA: Our Counseling and Wellness Centers provided regular communications to students offering continued guidance and support; it set up tele-health and Zoom counseling in one-to-one and group sessions. The obvious challenge was making sure we connected with and were able to support our students, and through email, phone conversations, and platforms like Zoom we were able to do so.
How do you think the higher education sector can best respond to the coronavirus outbreak? What industry-wide approach and messaging is the best strategy?
NA: The best response of any sector, including higher education, is to be resourceful and strive to provide our students with the best educational experience we can while carefully following governmental restrictions that safeguard our community. We need to be agile and nimble enough to meet these types of challenges and to prepare our students to do the same. Our messaging should always include that our students’ health and well-being is our highest priority, and that we are all in this together — as a community— and that we will get through challenges that arise together.
NB: Higher education as we have known it will be different for future incoming classes. Including future students and bringing them along with us in the developments that are taking place will be important in reassuring them that universities are doing what is best for our students.
To find out more about the higher education sector’s response to the coronavirus, please visit the QS COVID-19 Resources Hub.