Reflecting on the year in education and what’s to come in 2022

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As 2021 came to a close, we asked a handful of our subject matter experts to reflect on the year in education, innovations they saw from clients, and their expectations for the year ahead. Here’s what they said.  

What were you most surprised or heartened by in 2021?  

Darcy Hardy – Dr. Darcy Hardy serves as Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs and leads Anthology’s Center for Advancing Learning. Her work focuses on the online learning ecosystem and how it impacts all parts of an institution or organization. 

Looking back over 2021, major kudos to institutions, faculty, staff, and students who figured out how to navigate in the world of “remote” learning. I’m heartened by those who understand remote learning is not online learning–there are significant differences—and I’m proud of those schools that are taking necessary steps to bring their current programming to the highest level of quality online courses possible. As a result of experience in 2021, I hope to see reimagined, redesigned, and remediated course design and faculty development processes going forward. 

Joel Armando – Dr. Joel Armando leads Blackboard Academy, Anthology’s professional development program for educators. She has 20 years of experience in higher education working on online and blended learning projects and fulfilling different roles, including leadership, curriculum design, learning design, research, and teaching.  

I was really heartened by the resilience that institutions, educators, and students demonstrated over 2021. In a year where many institutions hoped it’d be possible to return to past teaching approaches, they found themselves having to deal with a great amount of uncertainty and immersed in a crisis that required constant innovation. Educational institutions, and sometimes educators, have a reputation for being reluctant to change. I think 2020 and 2021 showed us the huge capability for innovation that educational institutions have, along with the resilience of its actors to welcome change and innovation amid this prolonged crisis.

Richa Batra – Richa Batra is the Vice President of Student Success at Anthology. She leads a team focused on using student engagement tools and data insights to help identify at-risk students, tailor interventions, and improve outcomes which increase student satisfaction, retention, and graduation rates. 

In all of the conversations I have with institutional partners, I am always so impressed with the dedication to ensuring students are supported. This is at all levels of the institution and from various functions, including the office of the president, enrollment, IT and financial aid. Especially with what students have gone through over the last two years, institutions are going above and beyond to be student-centric and make sure every aspect of their experience and support allows learners to persist. I saw clients work late nights and weekends to ensure every student had what they needed and had all barriers removed so students can focus on their courses.

Tara Zirkel – Dr. Tara Zirkel is the Director of Community College Enrollment and Retention at Anthology. Dr. Zirkel works with community college partners on issues ranging from strategic planning to enrollment management, and retention measures to student success strategies. 

I’ve been incredibly inspired by the acceleration in having real conversations, and testing real solutions, regarding interventions focused on stabilizing students’ basic needs. We’ve seen countless colleges deploy “basic needs” surveys, open food pantries, offer remote Wi-Fi hubs, and develop strategic partnerships to address housing, transportation, and childcare insecurities. I know we have always cared about our students as holistic people, but this past year has given gravity to how we can rebuild higher education to have interconnected, systemic supports.   

Lee Blackmore – Lee Blakemore is President of K-12 Community Engagement, Anthology’s new K-12 business unit. Lee and his team enable K-12 institutions and organizations to solve complex challenges by leveraging Anthology’s broad portfolio of capabilities and market expertise.   

I believe one of the silver linings of the pandemic and its effects on education will be the awareness of, and focus on, equity and accessibility. Whether it be the ability to attend virtual classes or ensuring that communications reach all of the intended recipients, we have seen a heightened attention on equity and accessibility, and I believe the impacts will be long lasting. 

What was something a university or K-12 partner did last year that you found innovative? 

Darcy Hardy –  

Oh gosh, so many of our higher education clients did innovative things last year, including adding more support for students, using federal funding to offset expenses to improve the remote learning environment, and increasing levels of faculty development. I also believe innovation can mean recognizing your current state (during a pandemic) will not sustain you competitively in the future. Institutional leaders who now understand the complexity of high-quality online programming, and who are now thinking much more strategically about their vision for online, are innovative leaders. 

Joel Armando –

In Blackboard Academy, we work closely with partner universities that deliver our courses with their facilitators. These universities, and our own Blackboard Academy facilitators, were examples of what makes an online program successful. Sometimes when we think about innovation, our minds go to artificial intelligence or virtual reality, and we forget that the simple best practices that make a delightful online learning experience are still far from fully adopted. Some of our university partners achieved percentages close to 100% in student retention and amazing student satisfaction in their online courses. Analyzing the success of these programs, we can see that success often comes down to high quality online courses designed for learning, careful facilitation, and teacher presence, along with the use of data to continuously improve student engagement and course design.

Richa Batra –   

The increased focus institutions placed on the skills gap and how higher education drives jobs to companies impressed me. A great example of this is Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus. The Innovation Campus is making connections to support WSU and regional startups. With the current increase in focus on the skills gap, WSU’s Innovation Campus exemplifies how higher education is working with industries to create jobs that are the most needed. 

Tara Zirkel – 

I was very inspired by Northern Virginia Community College’s intentionality in proactively alerting students to emergency funds and how the institution is connecting learners with G3 funding. G3 is a state initiative that provides students of low and modest incomes funding that allows these learners to pursue credentials in high demand fields.  

Lee Blakemore – 

There have been so many great examples and it is really difficult to highlight just one, but I do think the past year has provided an opportunity for a lot of great teachers, educators, and administrators around the world to show their creativity, ingenuity, and overall commitment to education. It is a great reminder to us all that at the core of any good education are great people making it happen. 

What do you think the number one trend to watch in education will be for 2022? 

Darcy Hardy –  

I believe the pandemic recovery will be front and foremost–especially as it relates to lost learning. Connectivity issues and the urgency of shifting to remote learning didn’t allow educators and administrators to apply remote learning tools as effectively as possible, which studies have shown is resulting in some students falling behind. I suspect we’ll see something similar (via stop-outs, drop-outs) at the collegiate level as well over time. Student mental health, instructional engagement, and the digital transformation of schools will also be trends for 2022.

Joel Armando – 

After almost two years of different forms of isolation, I believe the trend will encourage “being together.” This doesn’t mean coming back to campus in a traditional format but finding new ways of sharing genuine experiences and creating closeness. I believe this will require not only innovative ways of using technology but also new curricular formats that, for instance, combine intensive bootcamps with micro-courses, residences, etc. 

Richa Batra – 

Student health and wellbeing is an increasing priority. Having wrap-around services to remove barriers for at-risk students so they can enroll and persist is the outcome institutions are looking for. Ensuring students have access to health and wellbeing services will be critical for learners to stay enrolled and be productive in all aspects of their life. 

Tara Zirkel – 

I think we are going to start facing a shift in learner expectations regarding flexibility, program “stackability,” prior learning assessment, and how services are delivered. Now is a great time to innovate around how we customize program offerings and services to really meet students where they are, especially adult learners who have prior credits and on-the-job experience. Those experiences are valuable, and learners are going to start having more questions about how those skills turn into credit. 

Lee Blakemore – 

I think we will see blended and hybrid learning models really settling in to becoming a widespread and permanent fixture in mainstream education.