Maintaining Academic Quality in the Midst of a Pandemic

I think most of us are in a bit of shock. I never expected to experience something that would impact the whole world the way this COVID-19 pandemic has. We are all forced to do things differently. This calls for evaluating what we are doing differently to determine if we are doing things in the best way we can.

Academic quality is something that I, like most of you, have worked most of my adult life to achieve. Just as we thought we had reached that goal, the term “continuous improvement” came along and altered our way of thinking. Academic quality isn’t a destination but a journey. We now continually work to improve academic quality.

Fast forward to the first quarter of 2020, when the world entered what many call a “new normal,” with everyone sheltering-in-place to flatten the curve of this global virus. For our members, that meant a quick shift from face-to-face classes to online for the remainder of this semester. Although some of you were used to that modality of teaching, most of you were transitioning to online teaching for the first time.

This “new normal,” which I refer to as “abnormal” has again caused us to rethink how we measure academic quality. It has caused some of our members to question how it’s possible when all classes shifted online.

ACBSP understands and recognizes that our accredited schools must prioritize the health and safety of their students. All accredited programs will remain accredited even as course delivery changes to online delivery. We will continue to support our accredited members as they find creative and innovative ways to provide a quality education to their students. And remember, ACBSP accredits business programs, not the modality with which those business programs are delivered.

The best way to conquer the new challenges this new “abnormal” presents is to meet the situation head on. Our members had to do just that in record time. But take heart; there is a silver lining. It is what Baldridge calls “organizational learning.” How do you use your knowledge and resources to embed learning in the way a business school operates online? The knowledge and resources are your faculty members who have been teaching online.

You probably have people in your business programs teaching online. They are your online knowledge experts and it is important for them to facilitate “organizational learning.” They need to be teaching/mentoring your faculty members who have not taught online. That is one way to help maintain academic quality.  

Creating an excellent online course can take a year of development and collaboration among people with different skills. An experienced faculty member can mentor an inexperienced faculty member. Faculty members who are not familiar with the online learning management system will have to be mentored to create an excellent online course.

It is also important for faculty members to make themselves available by as many means as possible while preserving privacy, through Facebook, Twitter, email, WhatsApp, and Zoom, to name a few. Ask students to suggest ways that you can stay in touch with the class and how they prefer to connect with each other. By asking for their input, you’re including your students in the process of rethinking education during a pandemic.

Here are some questions to consider as we contemplate ways to maintain academic quality during this unprecedented time in our history. These questions apply to you, your institution and to ACBSP:   

  1. What specific steps can we take to scrutinize quality as institutions that have been primarily reliant on either ground-based or blended learning are now almost exclusively online?
  2. What standards can be modified or created to address quality in extensive distance learning environments?
  3. Are there any practices we can develop that focus specifically on examining quality in an environment of large-scale distance delivery?
  4. What do we need to focus on with faculty teaching online for the first time and curricula that are being adapted for online for the first time?
  5. What types of student support and academic advising are available online for the first time?
  6. Are there other practices or policies that would ensure quality in large-scale distance learning environments?

I would love to hear your thoughts about these and any other questions or concerns you might have. Contact me at any time at sparscale@acbsp.org.

Additional Resources:

We are pleased to offer additional resources to support you as you work remotely. Please join us every Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM-CDT for Coffee & Conversation, an informal virtual chat that allows us to answer your questions about accreditation, teaching effectiveness or membership. These virtual chats began in April and we continue to see participants returning week after week to continue a discussion they began the week before.

We are introducing Coffee & Conversation—Evening Edition beginning on Wednesday, May 6 at 8:00 PM-CDT for members who aren’t able to join the morning session. These chats will be offered every other week.

More than 1,000 of you have participated in a series of complimentary webinars we’ve offered during this challenging time. These webinars are now available on demand through the ACBSP Events page.

I hope to see you in-person soon!


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