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The Next Normal in Higher Education: CIO Plans for Return to Campus

As students and parents look to the fall, awaiting decisions about whether their school or university will open or close, many institutions are reimagining the possibilities and overall improvement of their education system.

Universities and K-12 Education Institutions are rapidly building out capacity to support remote learning for:

  • Educators – enabling them to gain access to the learning management systems, research and training labs to move from the classroom to online classes.
  • Administrators – enabling them to remotely gain access to enrollment, student and finance systems to maintain university operations
  • Students – enabling them to directly access online classes, collaboration team sites and virtual training labs allowing them to complete the semesters course work.

As a result, university CIOs are reconsidering everything from academic services, enrollment, student services, housing services and athletics. Given each scenario, from open to locked down campuses, how CIO’s prepare to support campus operations is based upon the depth and scale of the pandemic containment.

Scenarios that are being considered as part of Service Planning are:

  1. No Mobility Restrictions on size of gathering.
  2. Some Controlled Mobility Restrictions on size and type of gatherings
  3. High Mobility Restrictions on size and type of gathering

Many CIOs are using a grid-like approach to help their planning exercises.  This approach allows the business areas to think through the impact and their response.


Given the scenarios (open, limited access, closed), CIO’s  are helping their business units identify problem areas and look for how best technology, data and information can be used to address the problem and move their campus through digital transformation from physical to digital.

Common advice to faculty during this “unclear” planning time is to use this time to prepare for online distance learning, preparing for a mobility-restricted and social distance-controlled campus. These recommendations focus on a strategy that can: 

  • Grow and strengthen online course offerings and remote student support and engagement opportunities
    • Focus on quality in online instruction and design
    • Transition as many remote learning courses to fully online courses as feasible and appropriate to course objectives
  • Identify courses with instructional components that must be delivered in-person, as well as those that are best delivered in-person, and determine the impact of physical distancing and gathering size restrictions:
    • Scheduling of classrooms and labs based upon physical social distance requirements resulting in use of large classrooms and facilities
    • Facility needs change as the need for larger classrooms, reshaped classroom layouts and need to provide classroom deep cleaning between classes.
    • Faculty workload increases due to the need to offer more classes and labs to accommodate physical social distanced facilities.

As CIOs work with together across various universities and colleges to plan for this digital transformation, their planning process includes some key questions to help with preparation:

  • What learned lessons have come from closing down campuses?
  • What strategies implemented during the spring COVID-19 response would be beneficial to continue or augment for fall semester?
  • What feedback from students gained during the spring COVID-19 response could inform strategies for student support structures, and how would this vary within each of the possible scenarios under consideration?
  • What resources exist within the community that could be utilized to strengthen remote student engagement opportunities?
  • What additional technologies could support online delivery of student support services?
  • How are you thinking about student employees for fall? What provisions can/should be made for continued employment of student workers?

Considering these options and questions may not be easy, but it is necessary to deliver on what it means to be operationally resilient while delivering exceptional student and educator experiences during these turbulent times.


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