The pandemic dramatically impacted how students experienced higher education. Under new guidelines and restrictions, many students found themselves managing the logistics and academics of their post-secondary degrees completely online. Even those who went to campus were in a very different world than they were used to or expecting–there was limited access to buildings and resources, and drastically reduced activities and opportunities for interaction and connection.
The impact on students was clear. Survey after survey highlighted how students missed having casual, regular interactions with peers, educators, and staff, and they craved the community their campus had come to represent.
But what do we really mean by a “community” in the context of education? In truth, it represents many things for students. It’s where they can get reliable answers and access important resources. It’s where they can find each other, build relationships, and establish their sense of belonging. It’s where they can share ideas, get feedback, and learn from others. And it’s a safe space students can turn to when things get tough, where they can find support and get a boost to their motivation and confidence.
As the pandemic disrupted the traditional places for community, many institutions responded with new, digital solutions. They created virtual spaces beyond the classroom for students to connect with each other, faculty, and staff. They opened these spaces up so they were available 24/7 and encouraged students to turn there when they needed information, assistance, or just another person to connect with.
And although many students are now heading back to campus, institutions have learned that there are important–and sometimes unexpected–benefits to these digital spaces and virtual communities, indicating they are likely to persist.
1. A Centralized Place for Communications and Notifications
Providing accurate, updated information is critical, but oftentimes hard to maintain. Websites get outdated quickly, and the process to update them can be long and complicated. Schools find themselves fielding phone calls and emails to keep students in the know, but the repetition drains resources and takes time away from other activities. Digital communities provide a centralized location to post up-to-date information that is readily available and easy to find. Because students often have the same questions and are in search of similar information, the school only must answer once, and everyone benefits.
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