By: Carol Thomas, Senior Vice President at Ferrilli
When colleges and universities went remote due to COVID-19, many were quick to temper expectations of a lasting shift toward distance learning. But while demand for the on-campus experience is expected to remain strong in the post-pandemic era, evidence suggests that remote learning and instruction will indeed play a larger role as well.
Back in the fall of 2018, data from IPEDS already showed that “more than 6.9 million students, or 35.3% of students in the nation, were enrolled in distance education courses at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.” Since the pandemic began, that momentum hasn’t slowed. A Digital Learning Pulse survey released in April 2021 shows that 73 percent of college students either “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that they will take online courses in the future.
As a result, institutions are now recognizing the need to upgrade remote student experiences that were — in large part — hastily designed as temporary solutions to a short-term problem. As they do, the institutions that performed well during the pandemic provide best practices by which to move forward. One such example is the Pratt Institute in New York City — one of the world’s leading colleges of art and design.
Pratt used Salesforce Communities to navigate distance learning challenges that were anything but typical. In the process, it provided every institution with three lessons for designing a truly immersive remote student experience — and doing so in a way that keeps pace with a rapidly changing environment.
1. Understand it’s about more than just lectures.
With curricula and coursework that play out largely in labs and technical shops, and a student population more reliant on services that simplify the administrative burden, Pratt’s shift to distance learning and instruction would have to be more complex than most. As such, it built a three-tiered platform that shines light on myriad aspects of remote education that every institution must consider.
The first piece, aptly named OnePratt, serves as a single portal by which students can remotely access all the information and services they need — from registration to advising to financial aid. The second is an application called Launchpad, which uses the cloud to house the sophisticated design software that students would typically only access through on-campus hardware. The third piece is called Production and serves as a centralized location for printing capabilities that are essential to Pratt students’ work.
By focusing on aspects of the student experience beyond student-instructor interactions, Pratt provides us all with valuable insight into what remote students stand to lose should those elements be overlooked.
Pratt broadened its focus to include aspects of the student experience beyond student-instructor interactions.
2. Use design thinking.
With students who spend their days immersed in design thinking, Pratt’s remote student experience had to meet the highest standards of functionality and usability. So, it took steps to simplify and streamline the services outlined above.
On the OnePratt homepage, students are able to access a personalized dashboard that elevates the information most pertinent to them. They are never more than just a few clicks away from their next class, a saved project, or scheduling an appointment. All the while, the information and services are presented with a look and feel that is consistent with the Pratt brand and sense of community.
3. Choose an agile technology solution.
Pratt had a very short window to build its remote student experience, and that experience would undergo a number of revisions before it hit the mark — so, Pratt’s development processes had to be nimble above all else. Salesforce Communities enabled that kind of agility by emphasizing configuration over coding. That meant the team could develop the minimum viable solution, build on it with each new iteration, and keep building on it without having to reinvent the wheel or write new code with each new enhancement.
As a result, Pratt not only designed and built its solution in just 45 days; it is able to keep making enhancements with as little disruption as possible. As Pratt learns more about how students are interacting with the system, it is able to hone and adjust on the fly, ensuring that students always have easy access to the tools they need to succeed.
Innovation that’s here to stay.
“Our foremost goal was to develop something that we would have built even if the pandemic never happened,” says Joseph Hemway, vice president of IT and CIO at the Pratt Institute. “We now have a solution that meets our remote students’ needs, saves them time, and makes it easier for them to bring their creativity to life — and it will serve us well long after the pandemic subsides.”
With distance learning only growing more prevalent in the months and years to come, the Pratt Institute is now well-positioned to use one of the leading trends in higher education today. By following the template Pratt has provided, other institutions can be as well.
Learn more about how you can better support your students’ learning experience.
About the Author
Senior Vice President at Ferrilli