In recent weeks, faculty members and their institutions across the nation and around the world have embraced the necessity of transitioning their courses to various remote delivery modes. While most faculty members have had to make some accommodations in their current courses, the necessity of moving to remote course delivery was particularly challenging for faculty who had not previously developed or delivered online courses. Fortunately, with support and assistance from administrators and staff, as colleagues we have and continue to work together to ensure that our students will be able to complete their courses and stay on track for graduation.
For many students, this worldwide pandemic may be the first real crisis that they have experienced. It’s easy to forget that most of our students were either not yet born at the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks or too young to understand them. Students enrolled in my business capstone courses that semester tell me how they remember that we had assigned organizations for their consulting projects the day before the attacks and how the world in which we live, work, and travel changed forever the next day. In class the day after the attacks we engaged in the first of a series of discussions that continued throughout the semester as we considered the challenges of various crises to the survival and continued success of an organization.
While our current students may not remember the events of September 11, they are living the COVID-19 pandemic. It has clearly changed all aspects of our world, including how we, as educators, continue to prepare our students for successful personal and professional futures.
Who would have imagined a time when college and university employees would be encouraged—if not told—to stay away from our campuses for most of a semester and now at many institutions through the summer?
Planning for the upcoming academic year will be more challenging than usual. When it will be practical to resume in-person instruction is also unknown. While there are many things we do not know now and may not know for some time, there is one reality that we should acknowledge: our students will share the common experience of the devastating current pandemic. We need to recognize this and respond appropriately as we, as post-pandemic faculty, prepare and deliver courses to our post-pandemic students.
While in recent weeks we have rightly focused on making a successful transition to remote course delivery, we should now begin to consider how and when to incorporate reflection on the events of this pandemic in our respective classes. While there will obviously be courses where these discussions would probably not be relevant, there are likely more courses than may at first be apparent where it could certainly be appropriate and beneficial to consider the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The relevance of courses designed to prepare business, communications, journalism, medical, psychology, social work, and public relations professionals stand out among the many potential courses where students could benefit from studying the current and other crises through experiential learning activities. The perspective of our various disciplines and programs can deepen students’ understandings of the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic.
As important as the question of how we will deliver courses that provide effective, efficient, and safe instruction is, we should not become so preoccupied with the delivery mode that we fail to take the opportunity at this crucial juncture to consider relevant course updates that align with the “new normal” that our graduates, their professions, and organizations will face in a post-pandemic world. While our recent focus has been on transition, we now have a strategic opportunity to transform the courses we teach to better prepare our graduates for the many challenges of a constantly evolving world. Our commendable accomplishments in recent weeks demonstrate what we can do in a crisis situation. We can certainly rise to the challenge revising course content, assignments, and activities so that they reflect what we have learned about what students now need to know.
Our graduates and the organizations for which they will work expect that our academic programs will prepare them appropriately to embrace and enact their professional responsibilities. If we did not realize it before, the recent crisis events have taught us the important role that various professions play in preventing, responding to, mitigating, and recovering from crises. Now is thus the time to transform our courses to incorporate relevant, discipline-oriented crisis management lessons. There may also be opportunities for value-added interdisciplinary collaboration. Our post-pandemic students expect and deserve nothing less!
Robert S. Fleming, EdD, is a professor of management in the Rowan University Rohrer College of Business, where he previously served as dean. He has an affiliate appointment as a professor of crisis and emergency management.
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