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Stanford Digital Education undertook this review to ensure that the university would learn lessons from its experience with “emergency remote instruction,” beginning in March 2020. We use that term to describe what occurred in the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic rather than “online education,” because the latter involves careful planning and mindful design. Nevertheless, emergency remote instruction succeeded in providing academic continuity and is worthy of study. Some of the innovations from that time could be of great benefit to education at Stanford in the future. 

While making no claim to be comprehensive, this review covers how the Stanford community responded to the pandemic over a 22-month period, from March 2020 through December 2021. Although we seek to highlight potential advances made during this period, our report recognizes the difficulties that the Stanford community suffered. Existing inequities were exacerbated, and the mental health of many took a turn for the worse.

 The authors’ observations are grouped thematically in four chapters.

  • The first chapter examines steps taken at Stanford to adapt teaching and learning to the virtual world. 
  • The second chapter details the roles, communities, practices, and resources established to meet the challenges of remote education. 
  • The third chapter discusses how the deluge of information — the infodemic accompanying the move away from campus — led to new professional networks that transcended organizational silos.
  • The fourth chapter documents how remote learning made more apparent students’ emotional difficulties and aggravated existing educational disparities, and it tells how efforts arose to address student well-being, with more of a focus on the whole student.

 The closing chapter summarizes the lessons learned and lists questions for Stanford to consider as it returns to campus-based learning. We hope that readers will share their thoughts about those questions on this website and help Stanford Digital Education to use the learnings from this review to shape the university’s digital strategy.

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Stanford Digital Education is dedicated to bringing together Stanford’s human and technological capabilities in novel ways to make Stanford’s teaching and learning more meaningful, accessible, and equitable.