How Morehouse College activated remote learning with Microsoft Surface

2020 saw educational institutions around the US switch rapidly from ‘business as usual’ to remote learning – at scale. While some institutions already had the infrastructure to thrive, many didn’t. Here’s how Morehouse College made the switch and came out on top.

December 6, 2020
 

Even before Covid-19, the education sector was under pressure from a range of factors: reduced state and federal funding, shifting demographics and changes to funding and sustainability models to name just a few. Then, seemingly overnight, came the enormous challenge of large-scale remote learning: the need to switch off ‘business as usual’ and switch on ‘digital everything’, from remote classroom sessions right through to virtual graduations.

While some institutions had the infrastructure and technology in place to facilitate the switch, many didn’t. Morehouse College, a private, historically black liberal arts college for men, was typical of the many schools whose plans for digital transformation were still just plans.

From low-tech to highly-remote in just a few weeks

Founded in Atlanta in 1867, Morehouse College’s mission has remained steadfast: to produce academically superior, morally conscious leaders for the conditions and issues of today – whether ‘today’ is immediately following the civil war, or in the midst of the 21st century’s first global pandemic. 

Prior to 2020, the college provided no capacity for remote learning. This was a conscious decision by the college, which preferred to focus on growing the intellectual and character development of its students through on-campus learning, travel and volunteering. 

“We were a campus that was 100% about the campus experience, says Monique Dozier, Morehouse’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement. “We had no remote classes. We had no distance classes. The entire experience for our students was here on premises. And that was intentional, because part of our mission at Morehouse is that student care is a primary focus… as well as academic rigour, it’s about the making of a man at Morehouse and all that entails.”

When the pandemic hit, however, the college realised it needed to pivot – and fast. To ensure there was no interruption to students’ learning and wellbeing, the college’s aim was to create a flexible environment in which students could learn remotely in a way that suited their specific learning needs and preferences.   

However a key area of concern for the college was the fact that up to 90% of their students have financial needs and already receive scholastic support for their tuition. The vast majority of students did not own a quality device or laptop and were dependant upon the technology provided by the campus.  

“Some [students] did come with their own machines, but even they were heavily reliant on the computer labs to support their academic experience,” says Dozier.

“Our response had to be very, very quick… we knew our students need support. We knew that due to Covid we were going to be distanced. So how do we ensure that their experience, and their academics, are not compromised?” she adds.

Microsoft and Morehouse: a ‘partnership with purpose’

Realising the urgency of their students’ needs, Morehouse’s leadership team quickly partnered with Microsoft to find a solution.

In just a few weeks, Microsoft and Morehouse worked together to design a plan for providing a new digital environment for students. This involved gifting its existing and enrolling students a Surface Go 2-in-1 tablet with Office 365 software, as well as providing extensive training opportunities for both staff and students.

“Through our ‘partner of purpose’, Microsoft, we were able to procure Surface Go 2-in-1 tablets for all our incoming students this year, as well as provide technology support for existing students who were now going to be displaced and sent back home,” says Dozier.

One of the key reasons Morehouse chose to partner with Microsoft, according to Dozier, is their shared values of progress and equality, as well as their superior technology offering.

“Our partnership with Microsoft means so much to us, because it’s not just about the onboarding of technology, or us trying to figure out a way in which we could provide technology for our students, but it was also about providing them with the right skills to be able to maximize that technology for their experience here at Morehouse,” says Dozier.

“One of the reasons that we went with Microsoft is that we have a shared value system. In our communities of colour, the digital divide is very real. So for us it was about finding a partner that had shared value propositionss. We are two organisations that are trying to make an impact, and we were charting this journey together,” she adds.    

More than technology: a rich learning experience

For Morehouse College, their new Surface devices were just a part of a broader remote learning package delivered to staff and students. This included Office 365 software on all of the devices, as well as ongoing training and learning opportunities.

As many of Morehouse College’s students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, internet connectivity remained a problem. The college responded by partnering with alumni chapters and clubs across the country to provide Wi-Fi hotspots for those unable to connect at home, as well as bringing students into socially-distanced spaces where they could collaborate when needed. The college even managed to provide some students with temporary Airbnb accommodation whilst the campus remained closed.

An ongoing journey

Even though the on-campus experience remains of prime importance to Morehouse College, their uptake of technology has been extremely successful – the students’ new Surface devices are now part of a rich and multi-faceted learning experience.

“[The students and staff] love the technology that was provided…  this has been a real game changer for them being in a remote environment when they really, really want to be on this campus because of everything that this campus brings and the traditions that they would share,” says Dozier.

“In lieu of not being able to be at our campus, they’re definitely now in a position of being able to stay connected with one another, and with all of us, as well as with their fellow students as they join the ranks.”

“We’re very excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish. Very honoured to have Microsoft as a ‘partner of purpose’, because it’s not about the dollars that we raise, but about the impact of the partnerships that we have that can make a difference in the lives of our young students.”

Find out more

To learn more about Morehouse College’s experience with creating a hyflex environment, you can watch the full webinar. Or you can also learn more about Surface devices for education here.

 

 

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