One of the best measures of any community, institution, or professional discipline is how well it responds to the worst challenge anyone can imagine.
Or, these days, how it pivots and adapts to the all-encompassing crisis that no one could have fully foreseen.
Which is why you want to know about OpenSmartEDU.org, a new, collaborative resource launched this year by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, and Baltimore-based Tuscany Strategy Consulting. In fact, you’ll probably want to bookmark the page.
The site brings together a collection of preparation and assessment tools for return-to-campus planning. But above all, it delivers the message that you can get through this. The resources available from OpenSmartEDU embrace the deep complexity and the incredibly high stakes attached to COVID-19 planning and provide a methodical jumping-off point for a healthy, safe reopening.
Planning for a Different Future
“Retooling for the future, with urgency, involves a significant planning effort to manage the present environment as well as the opportunity to envision new ways to fulfill institutional missions,” OpenSmartEDU states in its COVID-19 Planning and Self-Assessment Guide for Higher Education. “Plans need to address the safety of students, faculty, and staff, the financing of our colleges and universities, and preservation of equity and diversity. They will also need to address short- and long-term investment in academic tools that will be essential for education in the period of COVID-19.”
That statement points to four guiding principles to inform the planning process:
- That all major aspects of higher education can benefit from being “reimagined” to respond to the pandemic and determine what’s next;
- That the health and safety of all members of the academic community, particularly vulnerable populations, is paramount;
- That academic excellence must not be compromised in any mode—in-person, online, or hybrid;
- That a solid commitment to equity and inclusion must span the economic, health, academic, and operational responses to the pandemic.
A Step-by-Step Approach
The guide features what amounts to an organization chart laying out 15 essential focal points for institutional planning—from functional areas like academics, faculty governance, student services, and student life, to the leadership and planning steps to develop and solidify a reopening plan. It identifies five cross-functional areas to guide the actual response: outbreak mitigation and emergency planning, health and safety measures and policy, communications, finance, and legal and regulatory.
And it brings together the essential, granular details in a 96-page document in a checklist that gets at the four critical questions to be addressed by the leadership in any academic institution:
- Are health and safety materials and protocols sufficient to address the unique challenges posed by the pandemic?
- Does the institution have the financial resources to take those challenges on?
- Has the institution developed a quality academic program for the year ahead, with the appropriate mix of on-campus, virtual, and hybrid elements?
- Does the institution have the management and oversight capacity to stickhandle its way through the pandemic?
The guide is the kind of roadmap colleges and universities will need to prepare for reopening, and navigate the day-to-day ups and downs along the way. But the other crystal clear takeaway from OpenSmartEDU is that it’s all about the data, for reasons that bring new meaning to the aphorism that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.
Along with all the other challenges it represents—to academic institutions, and to the communities they serve—COVID-19 carries a razor-thin margin for error, with lives as well as livelihoods hanging in the balance. By providing a step-by-step guide to the reopening process, OpenSmartEDU also opens the door to a necessary conversation about the data institutions hold, the data-gathering tools and processes they already have in place, and how best to redeploy those essential resources before the fall semester is scheduled to begin.
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