Higher education will not return to the pre-epidemic business as usual. What our academic future might look like is controversial. We don’t know how fast online learning will change. We are also unclear about the role that alternative certification and non-degree online programs will play in traditional residential institutions.
At this point, it is unclear how many days a week academic staff, initially working remotely over the past few years, will spend their campus office. And we’re all wondering how moving to virtual meetings will affect the culture of our campus organizations.
There is much about the future after the epidemic of higher education that we do not know. However, there are some things that are clear about the future of the academy. One of these areas of transparency revolves around the skills that academic staff – and especially alternative educators (alt-acs) – need to improve in the new higher versions. Post-epidemic Alt-ac skills include:
Ability to make the most of campus time:
It is very difficult to do something new in higher education. The long-term horizons and the regulated environment that defines the post-secondary sector mean that our institutions are highly risk-averse. To do new things, therefore, requires the development of networks and trust.
The need to develop internal confidence is particularly acute for alternative educators. We often run campus-wide projects that rely on alliance building and resource sharing for their success. Top-down mandates are rare in academia and do not work when attempted. Colleges and universities deal with relationships.
The next question is how to build those campus networks when they are not on campus? How do you build a trusting relationship without the informal connections that enable a dense campus experience?
Virtual meetings work well for colleagues who already know and trust each other. But Zoom is bad for building new relationships and strengthening trust.
One of the most important Alt-ac skills is figuring out how to make the most of campus time. We need to find out how to use the personally valuable days to build and collaborate with them (us). Spending private days on campus in zoom meetings would be a waste of time. Successful alternative educators will be visible, engaging, social and collaborative on the days they are on campus.
Leading position-agnostic team and expertise in projects:
The role that alternative educators play on our campus is often to lead projects, initiatives and programs. These activities often extend the organizational boundaries of the campus. alt-ac These projects usually need to be conducted through a soft process of alliance building and cooperation, not through explicit authority.
How can Alt-ac get things done at university when the coworkers who have to do the work are hybrid and remotely working? How do leadership projects and team work change when we don’t see each other face to face every day on campus?
Alt-acs who specialize in leading projects with hybrid / remote team members will have high demand. The skills required to lead an enterprise with hybrid / remote teams differ from the skills required for full campus-based groups. Communication, coaching and project management strategies need to be developed to accommodate a new flexible campus workforce.
Develop a reputation for adding value across organizational boundaries:
The epidemic has destroyed the viability of the existing campus organizational structure. Organizing the work of a university by the building in which members of a particular campus organization were employed has (perhaps) made some sense of pre-epidemic. After Covid, many of the existing campus organizational departments serve as barriers to innovative institutional work.
The organizational structure, and especially the organizational structure of the university, can be sticky. Although many schools have been reorganized, large and small, these changes are likely to be as strong as the destroyed silos.
Effective post-pandemic alt-ac needs to develop the ability to transcend existing campus organizational structures. To do this, they need to establish a reputation across the organization for adding value to their projects and initiatives. This reputation building will require alternative educators to communicate their work with an institutional lens. They need to build connections and relationships with colleagues outside of the campus organization they work for.
What other skills do you see as important for post-covid alt-acs?