Responding to the global pandemic has accelerated Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) ability to deliver online instruction and could be the wave of the future, according to President Larry Robinson, Ph.D.
“Like educational institutions across the nation and perhaps the world, at Florida A&M University we made an amazing transformation from a once predominant mode of in-person educational delivery, to 100 percent remote instruction in less than two weeks during the spring semester. This was crucial to the success of our students but also to the survival of the University,” Robinson said in his speech to the Economic Club of Florida Tuesday.
As part of its strategic plan, “FAMU Rising,” FAMU had set a goal to deliver 15 percent of courses online, but “the pandemic has accelerated its achievement,” Robinson said.
Before the pandemic, the University increased our online class offerings by 40 percent between 2018 and 2019. Still online instruction was 6.25 percent of course offerings before COVID-19 struck. To accommodate the transformation, when all classes were taught remotely or online after spring break, the University had to address significant technology needs of our students and our faculty, Robinson said.
The University purchased hundreds of computers, provided cameras and “hot-spot” devices to allow students online access and trained hundreds of faculty members remote and online instruction.
“We are moving forward with our ability as an institution to operate in this new normal. If anything, COVID-19 has accelerated our movement toward a future involving more technology in higher education and has clarified, in my mind, the need to have a society in which those discontinuities and disparities that have long existed in access to technology, education and training, use and employment are eliminated,” Robinson said.
“You might say that the future is now,” he continued. “It is likely that when we get our arms around this beastly pandemic, we will embrace a new online presence. We will have to in order to reach a new threshold and remain competitive. We will not be able to entirely go back to the old model.”
In his 25-minute speech to the Tallahassee-based group, Robinson also addressed the theme – the important and impact of FAMU and historically Black colleges and Universities (HBCUs). He spoke of HBCUs’ role in creating the Black middleclass and their disproportionate contribution in minting minorities with undergraduate and graduate degrees.
In terms of FAMU, Robinson lauded the University’s numerous research initiatives and partnerships with corporations and non-profit community organizations.
He reminded the group that FAMU has hosted a free COVID-19 testing site at Bragg Memorial Stadium that has served more than 66,000 people over the past six months. FAMU has also received $1.5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to open and operate its own COVID-19 lab testing facilities with $2.5 million in equipment and supplies from Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Despite the progress, challenges remain. Robinson acknowledged the current climate and the issues regarding the future of schools like FAMU.
“This is a critical time for HBCUs, as there are brewing debates around the nation, in both academic and political spheres, about their relevance and sustainability,” he said. “While these institutions are obviously relevant, as proven by their successes, clearer plans for sustainability are crucial for the future. These vital plans must and should reflect the historical impact of Florida HBCUs, while addressing their respective challenges and opportunities for forward momentum.”