What Does “Academia” Mean in 2020 and Beyond?



Noun: the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.


Seemingly overnight, academia has been forced to take a good hard look at itself.  Innovation and adaptation to changing educational needs and sociodemographic shifts have incrementally occurred in the higher education sector, but this time, we appear to be at a critical inflection point. With the emergence of the 2020 global pandemic, colleges and universities around the world are finding that their legacy models of delivering education are vulnerable to partial or complete disruption of a magnitude never imagined, and for which most institutions were largely unprepared.  While short-term fixes have been put in place to help us all muddle through, it is unlikely that we will settle on the current status quo as acceptable, let alone optimal.

It seems clear that moving forward, colleges and universities need to be prepared to quickly move to high quality teaching in a distance learning format should the need arise, as well as explore more ways to blend distance learning with traditional face-to-face formats to meet today’s students’ needs and create a broader set of learning opportunities. However, higher education’s centuries-old model is built on a presumption of face-to-face interaction between educator and learner. Despite upward trends in distance learning and with the exception of private for-profit institutions (whose course offerings are largely on-line), over 2/3 of higher education students in the U.S. have never taken an on-line course.

But distance learning alone is not the panacea. The definition of academia, as described above, ascribes significance to the role of context. It is not simply the pursuit of knowledge, but the environment and community in which this pursuit happens that gives meaning to the word. In 2020 and beyond, how do we ensure that the community context of academia remains vibrant and strong, with built-in continuity in the face of unexpected upheaval?  Students, as well as faculty and staff, want to feel part of something. As we are currently seeing, however, building and sustaining a sense of community when faculty, staff, and students are physically apart, in the absence of prior efforts to create an infrastructure for doing so, is extremely difficult. 

Prof2Prof was built with the intent of creating a higher education “ecosystem”, where individuals in a variety of academic positions engaged in a range of different tasks are supported under one virtual roof. The platform is meant to facilitate the many functions that occur in higher education settings by supporting the exchange of resources for teaching, research, administration and the provision of student support services, and offering a mechanism for students, faculty, and staff to organize and communicate around various learning experiences in and out of the classroom, research, mentorship needs, and many other activities.

In the event that classes cannot resume as normal in Fall 2020, ensuring that students feel part of an academic community is a critical ingredient to offering an experience that students and their families feel is a good return on their investment.  A digital academic ecosystem in which the students, faculty, and staff engage can foster and help build students’ professional identities, culminating in a standout digital and interactive resumé by the time they approach graduation, all the while cultivating a sense of belonging and commitment to their academic community.

Faculty and staff can use Prof2Prof in the same way.  Prof2Prof is a platform for elevating a broad range of intellectual and creative contributions to academia, higher education, and society.  Because scholarly impact takes on many different forms, its assessment is not easily standardized.  It is complex and nuanced, intertwined with service work and activities that may not be extolled or even recognized in the metric-sphere of other platforms.  Faculty and staff can use their Prof2Prof profile as a professional website or landing page where they can tell their own story about their work. They can also establish profile pages for labs, research teams, and projects, as well as academic units such as centers, institutes and departments. By situating these profiles within a larger academic ecosystem, their work and contributions are more easily discovered by others. Students also benefit from seeing the range of resources and activities associated with their instructors, faculty employers, advisors, and program administrators.

We are at a pivotal moment in academia.  How we move forward will shape the nature of higher education for years and even decades to come. A reliance on the legacy models of primarily in-person instruction and interaction will remain both necessary and desirable, but the expectation that this model can withstand large-scale disruptive events in society has been proven false. Academia needs a built-in mechanism for nimble and rigorous responses to situations like we face today. It also stands to benefit from a mechanism that strengthens academic communities, within and across institutions, so that the value of a higher education regardless of the mode of delivery remains strong and intact. We believe that Prof2Prof offers this solution.


If you are a higher education administrator, feel free to contact customerservice@prof2prof.com for our report on Envisioning Academia in 2020 and Beyond.


An owl stands behind an image of a globe.