Lessons Learned from the Pandemic Will Help Shape the Fall Semester

Now that pandemic restrictions are easing up, colleges and universities will open in the fall to a new normal. Institutions across the country are currently taking stock of the challenges they faced and lessons they learned over the past 16 months to decide how to proceed.

Institutions are also mulling over the progress they made in some unexpected areas, and deciding how to move forward post-COVID-19. For instance, because of the pandemic, more faculty were exposed to digital learning practices and led to positive chances in their receptiveness to and embracing of online and digital learning.

When COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020, more than 17 million undergraduate students had to transition to a remote or hybrid learning environment and faculty needed to alter their teaching style. According to Silver Linings: Digital Learning as an Enabler for Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies,

a May 2021 report from Tyton Partners and the Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO), in the spring of 2020, 91 percent of faculty transitioned a course to an emergency remote teaching format. In the fall of 2020, about two-thirds taught fully online and about a quarter of faculty taught in a hybrid of highly flexible format. To accomplish this, 76 percent of faculty had to adjust courses from the modality they were typically taught, and 72 percent integrated new digital tools.

As classes moved to a remote or hybrid model, faculty perceptions of digital learning changed. The report, based on input from more than 11,000 faculty from 2,000 institutions since the pandemic began, revealed that professors are increasingly using digital tools to support evidence-based teaching practices and outlines how institutions and leaders can support high-quality digital instruction in the future.

The report revealed the most common challenges institutions faced during the pandemic, along with the direction institutions will go to continue to address these issues in the fall.

  • Engaging students was the most frequently cited challenge, and a key priority for the future. About 70 percent of faculty said that engaging students was the most challenging aspect of the transition to remote teaching and learning. About three-fourths (74%) of faculty identified increasing student engagement in class as a priority for the fall 2021 term.


  • About two-thirds of introductory faculty are concerned that their institution is not sufficiently addressing systemic equity and access gaps and identified Black and LatinX students and those without sufficient Internet access as the most challenged student segments. Faculty indicated that institution-wide improvement is needed. Faulty suggested three measures to help remedy the problems: Offering integrated advising, providing tutoring support and increasing mental health resources on campus.  
  • While faculty were forced to redesign their course delivery during the pandemic, many professors made some positive discoveries about digital learning approaches. Practices that will persist after the pandemic include the use of asynchronous, pre-recorded materials, increased modularization of content and learning outcomes, more frequent assessment, increased use of digital tools to engage students, foster collaboration and assess learning and targeted, individualized outreach and support to students in need.
  • A greater number of online instructional practices correlate with increased faculty and student satisfaction with learning. In the future, faculty may be encouraged to increase online teaching approaches.
  • During the 2020-2021 school year, higher education faculty used various digital tools including learning management systems, video conferencing tools, e-textbooks and digital assessment tools to support learning outcomes. Faculty will continue to explore how digital tools can enable evidence-based teaching practices like active learning, transparency and formative practice.
  • Colleges and universities ramped up faculty support for teaching online during the pandemic. Institutions provided sufficient training and professional development for teaching online, which should continue post-pandemic.

Study participants recommended five key areas of focus to support teaching and learning in the future:

1. Provide faculty with support in implementing evidence-based instructional practices.

2. Research and select high-quality and affordable digital learning tools and provide guidelines for usability and implementation.

3. Expand digital learning support and professional development.

4. Evaluate the impact this shift is having on different student populations, and disaggregate data across student populations to understand the impact of practices across student groups.

5. Ensure that all students have access to equipment, Internet and skills so they are prepared to use digital tools.