Customer Experience

The reopening question: How schools are using Qualtrics to navigate COVID-19

Originally published on Forbes.

As schools across the country have reopened, the pandemic has forced students, teachers, and families into an unfamiliar environment, and with a new school year starting, education leaders are tasked with a complex challenge that will undoubtedly require creative solutions: how should schools physically reopen? And how do they do so safely?

This entails schools making difficult tradeoffs – choices that are compounded by the reality that different students, whether by health, age, learning ability or otherwise, will naturally require different approaches.

Capturing the real-time sentiment and impact on topics like health, technology access, and student engagement has never been more important. Creating a safe and effective learning environment will require the ongoing pulsing of students, staff and families, support for stakeholders, and a data-driven system of action.

As part of Qualtrics’ WorkDifferent event this week – a free, online event featuring conversations with leaders who have led through change over the past several months – we asked three education leaders to share their experiences in adjusting to COVID-19 and how they’ve made real-time changes for their students and staff.

University of Miami

At the University of Miami, with students, faculty and athletic staff preparing to return to campus in June, the university needed a flexible, credible way to do contact tracing and monitor symptoms. Symptom checking is the first step in identifying possible individual exposure and group hotspots – and quickly following up on those results is critical.

Using Qualtrics, the university leveraged:

  • The Staff / Student Symptom Checker & Self-Certification solution, which asks respondents to report symptoms, recent travel, and exposure to people with COVID-19. Respondents and students’ families receive an automated notification, aligned to CDC and WHO guidelines, indicating if and when they may return to campus.
  • The Contact Tracing solution, which provides institutions with confidential tracing in an automated environment. Through an opt-in platform, the solution asks individuals who have tested positive and/or are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 to confidentially upload contacts and locations with whom they have come into contact. Individuals who are impacted are then automatically notified and instructed on next steps to take appropriate safety measures while maintaining individual confidentiality.

Using an app accessible through a QR code, the UMiami app or website, students, staff and faculty answer a set of questions and receive an automatic notification either clearing the individual or requiring contact by student health.

“It’s been working terrifically well,” said Ernie Fernandez, Chief Innovation Officer at University of Miami. “We had started doing contact tracing earlier in the spring and 96% of the people that our contact tracers were contacting were agreeing to participate. So we really didn't want this to be technology first. We wanted it to be human first, but where the technology could help us scale knowing what was in front of us.

“This collision of digital technology and a global pandemic has enabled us to move at speeds we've never thought were possible before. And I think we're going to be able to leverage that as we return to a new normal.”

Fort Worth Independent School District

In Fort Worth, one of the largest school districts in Texas is preparing for the 2020-21 school year. With 84,000 students, many of whom face a number of socioeconomic challenges, the Fort Worth Independent School District is using Qualtrics to make real-time adjustments for its stakeholders and ensure that all students have equal access to education.

“We're working on a plan right now to make this coming year as robust and consistent as we can for every child, despite the current health crisis, but we aren't doing that in a vacuum ...” said Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Dr. Kent Paredes Scribner. “... This new school year will be unlike any other in Fort Worth ISD history. And we will use what we've learned from our stakeholders to ensure we are making the best possible decisions.”

The district first leveraged Qualtrics for their initial study in May, receiving more than 24,000 responses. One of their immediate findings showed a large digital divide, with a number of families citing a lack of access to technology and internet. They purchased 24,000 laptops and hotspots for families across the district – and as they prepare for the new school year, Fort Worth ISD has spent an additional $2.4 million on 10,000 more hotspots, ensuring equitable internet access.

The ability to quickly capture sentiment and act has proven critical as Fort Worth ISD kicks off the 2020-21 school year: a second pulse in early July, including teachers and principals to track suggestions on how to successfully reopen, found that teachers preferred reporting to a school building, regardless of whether the school year would be virtual or in-person. Scribner says that teachers will operate from either a classroom or professional development center this year.

The study’s findings also demonstrated the value of collecting data in real-time – something that’s become even more important in the midst of a pandemic. More than half of the district’s parents preferred in-person learning, with about 47 percent choosing virtual in July. As case numbers rose across Texas and the rest of the country, that number’s shifted.

“It's important for us, as a school district, as a society, to listen to our stakeholders …” said Scribner. “The only way we're going to be able to navigate these difficult times for our students and their families is to make the best decisions possible with the most current and accurate data.”

Maricopa Community Colleges

Maricopa Community Colleges is a 10-college community college district in the Phoenix metro area, consisting of roughly 140,000 students across 10 colleges.

In May, as schools across the country face massive declines in enrollment, Meredith Warner, District Director of Integrated Student Support within the Academic and Student Affairs Division, says Maricopa projected what could potentially be a 40 percent decline in enrollment in the fall semester from this time last year.

Maricopa used Qualtrics and Walker, a leading customer experience professional services firm, to pulse 40,000 students – those who had un-enrolled for the fall 2020 semester and students who had completed the application process for one of the 10 colleges but hadn’t yet enrolled in classes.

“What we learned is they want us to connect remotely,” said Warner. “They want to feel us and know us and know that we're there, even though our campuses are closed. And there was always an association: ‘The campus is closed, I have no one to reach and therefore, I'm not going to enroll in classes.’”

The study’s findings led to Maricopa reaching out to thousands of students, which ultimately drove the decline in enrollment down from 40 percent to under 20 percent.

“Continuing to connect and engage with our students across the education journey is critically important,” said Warner. “Staying on top of exactly what that student experience is is only going to help us be better at our jobs … Our partnership with Walker Services and Qualtrics will only enhance what we're doing and provide us with the tools to help our students complete what they start and ultimately graduate within a short period of time.”


Learn how Qualtrics can help your students return to learn safely

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