READER LETTER | Higher education learning forever changed

Even if we return to campus tomorrow, we will never go back to the way communication happened before. The Covid-19 pandemic has irreversibly launched us into the digital communication universe.
Even if we return to campus tomorrow, we will never go back to the way communication happened before. The Covid-19 pandemic has irreversibly launched us into the digital communication universe.
Image: 123rf/ Dusanka Visnjican

Even if we return to campus tomorrow, we will never go back to the way communication happened before.

The Covid-19 pandemic has irreversibly launched us into the digital communication universe.

Within this new universe, the role of communication in SA’s higher education sector is more important than ever before.

Communication divisions in our universities have become an essential service, with integrated teams working round the clock with our faculties, operations, IT and web divisions.

As always, the content and communication needs to be targeted, clear and authentic, but the added factor is that it needs to be delivered in a way that people feel the human touch.

Online and virtual communication via webinars, microsoft teams, zoom and WhatsApp has become the norm.

It instantly widens our world, but it requires rapid adaptability and agility to shift academic curriculum events that normally happen in physical venues to webinars, and to make sure everyone knows what is happening, when, and how to participate.

However, the shift to digital platforms is not easy. There are so many differences between physical classroom learning and teaching vs online.

At the same time, we are acutely aware of the economics of the digital divide.

At Nelson Mandela University, 35% or ±9,450 of our 27,000 students don’t have suitable learning devices such as laptops or smartphones.

A temporary solution NMU has put in place for the next three months is to loan laptops to students who don’t have one and provide all students with 30GB of free data per day.

Students without connectivity will be prioritised on our intensive face-to-face lecture pathway as soon as they return to campus.

Others with access will pursue a combination of digital and face-to-face pathways.

We are also busy with student recruitment for 2021 with a strategic approach under way to expand fully into the online recruitment space.

— Chantal Janneker, senior director of communication at NMU 


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