TLC Europe Online 2020: Insights Into How COVID-19 Has Impacted Teaching and Learning


Bill Ballhaus opening keynote address – the summary

“While we’re distanced physically, it’s never been so important to find ways to stay connected.” These were the opening words and the central message from our Chairman, CEO and President Bill Ballhaus in his keynote address to TLC Europe Online 2020. Speaking from his home, he said this year’s online conference was the best opportunity for “facing the unprecedented challenges together.”

The high levels of interest in this year’s Teaching and Learning Conference show that many people share Bill’s sentiments. Registrants are more than triple compared to previous years, with record numbers tuning in to hear the opening address, making 2020 our largest conference ever. The keynote addressed how we have catered to the unprecedented surge in demand and usage of the VLE with reassuring thoughts about how best universities can cope with the uncertain future.

Rising demand

The rise in the usage of our technologies in recent weeks has been exponential. By April, we saw a 100% increase in students learning online and 1.5 million downloads of alternative formats. By May, we had 100 times more users of Blackboard Collaborate on European servers on the same day compared to 2019!

To meet this demand, Bill explained how we’ve used Blackboard Data to track rates of usage across Europe. And highlighted the importance of a close partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to expand the provision for cloud resources “well in excess of expectations” to continually deliver effectively for all our customers.

Support for the wider community

During the pandemic, we’ve been doing everything in our power to help the wider community. This has been achieved through sector insights in our blog content and hosting more than 80 faculty webinars for more than 20,000 registered members. In addition, we’ve provided free training resources and tool kits, including “getting started” video tutorials, alongside our community site with live forums to engage with other users.

The impact over the next 6-12 months

Bill acknowledged the challenges of the lockdown period and how some institutions were “better prepared than others.” A lot of universities have had to move quickly, rapidly increasing the adoption of the VLE to support its students and staff. This has proved demanding for many of their instructors and has resulted in temporary changes to assessment policies that will have a lasting impact on course completions.

But even more important is what happens over the next 6 to 12 months and how we address the challenges ahead. Especially as we expect falls in student numbers with a growing number of institutions developing financial concerns. Our Chief Financial Officer Edwin Scholte explained how a “deep and prolonged recession” was likely and that universities would need to address the commercial models of education with the need for greater flexibility in course structure and delivery.

They both explained that to adapt to the “new normal,” universities will need “a fundamental shift of approach,” including a strong focus on retention and engagement policies. While all universities will have to transition to blended learning models.

Key technology trends

Bill told listeners that never in the history of education had the benefits of SaaS (Service as a Software) programmes been so evident. The pandemic has “dramatically accelerated” existing trends, particularly the move to cloud-based technologies where availability is no longer restricted.

We have also seen the increased adoption of the Blackboard Ultra interface. Bill said that in this new world, the emphasis on dual modes was “driving clients to want to put students and instructors on the most modern, seamless user interfaces.”

One of the biggest technology trends, he alluded to, is the growing use of Blackboard Data Analytics, which was introduced last July, helping to create “more personalized and dynamic experiences” for students. With younger generations spending more time in virtual worlds we will introduce interactive components similar to those they are used to in retail and entertainment environments to provide a more engaging and valuable experience.

Final message

TLC 2020 provides a space for us all to uncover the opportunities ahead of us. Bill’s view is that “no one has all the right answers and there isn’t one right answer for every institution.” But now we have the time and space to engage in dialogue on all these vital issues. Though there are uncertainties ahead, when we share ideas we can “face the future with optimism,” he concluded.

Free interactive sessions and panels for TLC Europe Online end June 5th. Reserve your spot to get in on the discussion.