The “onlinification” of face-to-face lectures is terrible

Cancel This Semester. Adopt a Coronavirus Student Bill Instead (Inside Higher Ed): “Some people may claim that remote learning can be very effective. But we are not dealing with faculty members who want to teach remotely, who have had much experience with it or who have had time to develop courses. And we are not dealing with students who prefer online courses, who have had time to acquire proper computer equipment or who can ask their dorm roommate for assistance. So the experience of remote learning now upon us is likely to be worse that what we’ve previously seen. ¶Moreover, a fair amount of evidence suggests that, even under good conditions, online education does not offer the same quality of education that face-to-face classes do.”

Forced off campus by coronavirus, students aren’t won over by online education (NPR):

“What we’re creating is not the ideal of what remote instruction looks like,” said Robin Garrell, dean of the graduate division at UCLA. “It can be really exciting to think about, but no one has time to think about it right now. What we’re creating is not going to be representative at all of what is possible.”

Colleges, be honest about distance learning failures (NY Daily News):

Like many Americans, I’ve tired of the endless lies, exaggerations and baselessly optimistic predictions about the coronavirus crisis brought to us by the president of the United States. […] But our universities — operated mostly by Trump-hating liberals, like myself — are playing their own game of evasion and fabrication. Almost every school moved to a remote-learning format back in March, replacing face-to-face classes with online ones. And our party line is often depressingly similar to Trump’s: We’re good.

This is online learning’s moment. For universities, it’s a total mess (Wired metered paywall):

“We just spent four weeks in pure panic and confusion, not knowing what we were meant to be doing,” says West. “For things like essays, all the support we’d normally get just wasn’t accessible, because we weren’t in [class] and it wasn’t very clear where to get that help. So there were a lot of people struggling.”

As thousands of students logged into their university’s systems at the same time, poor connections and technical problems were the norm – and for the most part, teachers were left alone to troubleshoot issues, fix poor audio and video quality, and follow up with students individually to make sure they could access any missed content.

Online college isn’t worth $15K? Class-action suit against Rutgers seeks refunds for remote classes (NJ.com adblocker blocked)

75% of College Students Unhappy With Quality of eLearning During Covid-19 (OneClass)

Related: How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Shattered the Myth of College in America (The New Yorker)

posted by not_the_water (82 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

With two kids in college this fall, this has been weighing heavily on my mind. The quality of education from online-only classes, the risk of going back too soon (which this fall will be, no question), the lack of socializing and networking, the over-priced/value-loss aspect from a financial perspective, etc. The younger generations sure are inheriting a lot of problems from the people who were supposed to be looking out for them.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 10:02 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]
I can attest that my colleagues and I are well aware of how suboptimal online instruction is for our particular college courses. And I’m up front with my students about it, too.

That said, students have to make the difficult choice: put their studies on hold for a year until they can enroll in face-to-face classes, or take the online option. There are opportunity costs either way. And those costs are not always distributed equitably.
posted by darkstar at 10:14 AM on June 16 [20 favorites]

That first piece (“cancel this semester”) refers to what happened this year (i.e. it was written in April)! It shouldn’t be in a discussion on what’s happening now.

I’m fulltime faculty. Summer is the time we should be developing courses. Everyone knows this calendar (and likely this academic year) is going to be significantly online. Our college and other ft (and adjunct!) faculty and admins….and others around the world are busting their asses to get online stuff better than the shitshow that was this spring. It’s 12 weeks till fall – we’re gonna fucking do it.

Under capitalism in the USA, if students don’t go to college, colleges fail, and imho, if they die they will be replaced by kaplan or devry or worse. There are many many many many structural issues with college in the US: adjunctification, structural racism sexism (+other isms), inflated fees, credentialism etc etc etc but to kill 100+ years of the most diverse and intellectually and societally productive college ecosystem in the world (yes, I said it!) because we can’t deal with 1-2 years of a pretty nonlethal virus pandemic (there are bigger pathogenic organism and ecosystem challenges than COVID-19 comin’ down the pike!) and replace it by default with race-to-the-bottom McEducation….not great, and another nail in the coffin of the fuckin’ enlightemnent

And before you say ’bout time re that nail, think what happens to societal initiatives that die at scale without a backup plan that is ready to go politically and institutionally. it isn’t glorious revolution, it isn’t decolonisation, it isn’t fuckin democracy, it’s cannibalism and death
posted by lalochezia at 10:14 AM on June 16 [50 favorites]

I know the guy who used to be the design lead for Blackboard, one of those online education portals that lots of schools are turning to. He’s an incredibly smart guy and is not there any more and I’m not surprised. It is immensely frustrating that Blackboard Inc has been a public company since 2004 and still is a piece of shit.
posted by nushustu at 10:18 AM on June 16 [10 favorites]
I feel like universities are in deep, deep denial about the Fall. There is no way to make a dorm safe right now. If, like my university, you have a lot of first-year students who live in dorms and go home on weekends, dorms are totally going to be super-spreader venues. We are seriously going to kill our students’ grandparents, and I don’t understand why anyone thinks it’s ok.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:19 AM on June 16 [31 favorites]
I know this post is geared to colleges, but as someone with a 3rd grader who did 3 months of distance learning, and as a dad who has volunteers in her classes a dozen or so times year, I think outsiders don’t appreciate how incredibly hard effectively teaching 25-35 kids is, even when they are in the same room. Add in the largest disruption to daily life of the last 100 years? Yeah, there are going to be some growing pains.

However, as a non-college graduate who is doing well career-wise, my hope is the whole “you will die in a ditch without a college degree” way of thinking takes a large hit, just like the “if everyone works remotely the company will instantly go bankrupt” definitely has.
posted by sideshow at 10:20 AM on June 16 [13 favorites]

I mean, my learning significantly improved when we switched to online. Online classes, even done poorly, were much better for my disabled ass. But I acknowledge that it’s worse for a lot of other people (including many disabled people). And I’m privileged to have had a kind advisor to lend me an actually functional laptop to take home, or I’d probably be suffering more. But I am going to be deeply disappointed to see the online option disappear, because there’s no way they’ll keep it just for disabled people like me.

But it’s been a nice semester, at least. Other than the ever-present threat of death, of course.
posted by brook horse at 10:27 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]

My institution is opening as usual in the fall, with the caveat that everyone must wear masks at all times on campus except students in their own personal dorm rooms can take them off I guess (where the students are intended to be eating: not clear), except that when Thanksgiving break comes everyone is expected to just move home.

I am trying to figure out what kind of mask is least uncomfortable to wear, most effective, and most importantly least likely to fall off while speaking frequently and moving around a room, because this is going to be necessary for me in the fall. I am not happy about it, to put it lightly.
posted by sciatrix at 10:28 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]

I don’t think universities are in denial so much as we are doing everything in our power to overhaul our own systems and processes in eight weeks so we can continue to teach. There are multiple possible scenarios: fully on-campus, fully-online, a mix of the two, alternations between them…. it’s dizzying to try to plan for. Worse, many staff are still WFH so crappy Zooms/Teams meetings are the venue. It’s very much changing a tire while you drive on two wheels.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:32 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]
I have a college freshman and a college senior who I am sending back to their campuses this fall. I feel pretty good about it, based on what those schools have shared of their plans. Then again, at home we wear our masks and we don’t socialize too much and we wash our hands a lot, so we’re the weirdos.

A friend has a child who will start at Northwestern this September, and their president said that because of the quarter system they start classes a month later than everyone else — and they plan to take advantage of that delay in order to see what happens. *shrug* I wish the .edu where I work also had more time, but honestly, higher education is like a shark, and if we stop moving forward, everyone but the top dozen or so universities will die.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:39 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

There is no way to make a dorm safe right now.

That’s kind of ridiculous: can’t an apartment be made safe? Once someone is done with a two-week quarantine, do we brick up the room where they stayed? That’s just cleaning — and in a dorm, the university can send through crews several times per day to scour high-touch surfaces, to refill gel dispensers & change the trash bags, and to fumigate periodically.

Mind you, the students are going to be really tough to coerce into good behavior…

But so are the faculty: yesterday in our big town hall event, one of them asked if they could remove their mask to teach since it muffled their voice. (The CDC says that a transparent face shield is not a substitute for a fabric face covering, so no. But you may wear both.)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:45 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

That’s kind of ridiculous: can’t an apartment be made safe?

I don’t typically leave my apartment door open for friends to wander in; I don’t typically hang out in the hallway of my apartment building; I have yet to my knowledge shared a bathroom with my fellow apartment-dwellers; I don’t eat with my fellow apartment-dwellers in a cafeteria.
posted by Automocar at 10:50 AM on June 16 [34 favorites]

This past Sunday’s Patriot Act episode (Is college still worth it? Hasan explores how universities became corporatized over the past few decades and if the rising costs of college are still worth it in a post-pandemic world) touches on some of these issues.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:53 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]
So, I made the wise choice to go back to college just a week before the shutdown hit, so I’m in a unique spot to view all of this. I’m currently taking two online courses with the plan being to start face-to-face classes in the fall (assuming they’re face-to-face, of course).

The school that I’m attending has a pretty large online and distance learning curriculum because it has a significant number of military students. The online class design has been pretty solid, although there is still a hole where the face-to-face component usually resides. I don’t know how that can ever be replicated in an online format (Zoom meetings as classes definitely aren’t it). Now, I am just taking BIO 100 and ENG 102, so the content is general enough that I don’t think I’m really missing much.

I am concerned, however, that I do have courses related to my major (secondary education-industrial technology) that simply can’t be taught online. How do you teach automotive repair remotely?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 10:58 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]

As someone with a.) a child scheduled to enter their freshman year at college and b.) a long career in online education, these issues are top of mind in our household right now.

A few weeks back, there was a series of tweets from a professor of economics that added some interesting fuel to the fire. This gentleman has a strong opinion that deferring next year is a bad idea.

He then goes on to explain his opinion, largely from an economic perspective. Many of his points are debatable, to say the least, but our family has found it useful as a way to discuss the future.

As someone who has been producing online courses, largely for an “adult education” audience instead of collegiate, I am extremely aware of the limitations of what we can offer. Despite having been around in some form for at least 20 years, I think online education is still in it’s infancy and yes, it’s hard to do well and I can tell you experience that the transition from in-person to online instruction is not easy for most.

A great in-person instructor does NOT necessarily translate to a great remote or virtual one. The type of work and preparation between the two modes is very different, and I’ve had at least one instructor swear off doing online courses because they weren’t up for the time and effort required.

Being a parent looking at a massive tuition bill for traditional college, while also involved in an industry that has an implicit mission of replacing said traditionalism, is a strange place to be. I questioned the value of a college degree even before coronavirus, but had (somewhat) made my peace with it. Now, with the prospect of paying for an online semester (or 2, or 3, or who knows?) for an experience that is subpar (especially with my knowledge of the process) I am deeply on the fence.

Going back to the tweets above, there was one point that did resonate. So if a student decides to defer in the hopes that in 12 or 18 months things will be back to “normal”, what are they doing with that time? I can tell you from the last few month’s experience, there are limited options.

  • Traveling abroad? Umm no, if even possible, this was an early one to go onto the Nope list.
  • Getting a job or internship? Well, easier said than done. That job will either be remote itself or one with an increased chance of getting COVID. In both cases, is that actually better than getting a remote education? Very hard to say with all the variables in play.

Looking at it from the other side of the fence, I would really hate to be a college administrator right now. My child’s college of choice is being very good about communication, I’ll give them that, but the whole process right now feels a bit like a game of chicken. On their end, they have to be freaking out that they’ll be seeing a huge wave of deferments and therefore lower tuition revenues come Fall 2020. On our end, I’m sure I’m not the only parent taking yet another hard, strong look at the whole justification for the absurd cost of college in America.
posted by jeremias at 11:13 AM on June 16 [14 favorites]

I know the guy who used to be the design lead for Blackboard, one of those online education portals that lots of schools are turning to. He’s an incredibly smart guy and is not there any more and I’m not surprised. It is immensely frustrating that Blackboard Inc has been a public company since 2004

Was the smart part the IPO? Because the design is and has always been terrible.

A great in-person instructor does NOT necessarily translate to a great remote or virtual one.

Could easily be the reverse.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:20 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]

Like many Americans, I’ve tired of the endless lies, exaggerations and baselessly optimistic predictions about the coronavirus crisis brought to us by the president of the United States. […] But our universities — operated mostly by Trump-hating liberals, like myself — are playing their own game of evasion and fabrication.

Ooo! Ooo! I know what incentive system the two share in common that leads to the observed similarities! It starts with “c” and ends with “apitalism”!
posted by eviemath at 11:24 AM on June 16 [7 favorites]

And, while I’ve had a lot of bad online classes, it’s not like in-person classes can’t just as easily be phoned in (heh) with PowerPoints, hand outs, “study guides” (i.e. giving the answers to a test in advance so they can be memorized) and openly not giving a shit what students are doing on their laptops and phones or if anyone has done the reading.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:24 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]
Also in the middle of this! My kids (10 and 13) will be facing some (as yet undetermined) mix of in-person and online learning in the fall, the company I work for does K-12 software and is hip-deep in helping districts deal with online learning, and I teach a graduate-level course at Berkeley starting in August and made the call to make it online-only.

Berkeley (or at least my corner of it) is handling this by making it officially possible to do in-person learning where needed, but with enough stringent safety requirements that it makes sense to move fully online if at all possible. Which sounds like I’m complaining but after hearing from friends at different schools dealing with administrators who seem terrifyingly blasé about the whole pandemic ting, I don’t mind being nudged into the safer direction.

I’m lucky — I love teaching in person, but my subject lends itself super well to online and I’ve spent the last few months practicing similar skills for work. But writ large, this is all messy as heck.
posted by feckless at 11:26 AM on June 16

We thought about what our son could do instead of starting his freshman year of college:
– Travel abroad? Literally impossible.
– Get a job? Competition is fierce, and his current hourly gig (a local pizza joint) loves him but it’s a treadmill.
– Volunteering? All the opportunities have the same limitations of in-person classes.
– Sit around and play video games? He does that anyway.
– Scout camp is cancelled, and council has warned us off any events of two hours or more.
– Hang out at the beach with his friends? Sunburn, dissipation, sloth. :7)

And in nine months, he would be back where he is now, trying to decide if it’s safe to go to college — but he’d be a year behind everyone, and with even more competition for every opportunity than he has now.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:26 AM on June 16 [11 favorites]

how about a few online classes with a local community college, supplemented with Khan Academy or the like? Not a complete drift, but not full steam ahead, either. Lower risk, while we see how things pan out?
posted by one weird trick at 11:34 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]
what our son could do instead of starting his freshman year of college

Learn and practice a craft or skill? Depending on what your environment and budget can accomodate.

There’s all the domestic stuff that’s been visibly trending like cooking, baking, preserving, gardening, etc., but also could be creative writing, or visual art, or music. Or coding, hobby electronics & radio, 3d modeling & printing, leatherworking, woodworking….

he’d be a year behind everyone

This is really not such a big deal, especially intellectually. Socially, maybe.

A lot of those things require more actual study than I did my first year of college.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:36 AM on June 16 [6 favorites]

Re: the community college option, it’s harder to get in as a transfer, and often transfers get less financial aid. Which is bullshit, but there it is. And given how many people are likely to take this option, it’s going to be even worse next year.
posted by brook horse at 11:37 AM on June 16 [3 favorites]
My state recently made CC free for everyone, and the system is creaking under the flood of traffic. So many new students, even before COVID, and not like there are more library books, seats, PCs in the labs, professors, or parking spots.

It’s total Tragedy Of The Commons. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 11:39 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

wenestvedt, is your son fluent in any non-English language? Intensive study along those lines might offer an advantage against the competition you mention, and is useful in general.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:41 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]
Here in Indiana, a state legislator has introduced a bill that would cut-off all federal and state funds to any school or college that does not re-start in-person classes this fall. Yes, he has an R next to his name.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:41 AM on June 16 [4 favorites]
Our institution is moving to 75% occupancy for dorms, with the goal of moving any class over 50 students to solely online, and smaller classes to blended learning. In a recent email to faculty they plan to have research back to 50% capacity when school starts for students, and have started planning football practices. I can understand the urgency of getting back to relative normality, especially since years of neo-liberal mismanagement at the institution, federal, and state level have left our university as a beggar to the whims of the market and donors, but I simply do not see this plan working.

There are plans in place to stop oubreaks. Daily monitoring, contact tracing, greater restrictions on students and staff. All an outbreak takes is one slip-up in a nearly infinite series of individual choices (e.g. a student sneaks out to an off-campus party to see a crush, contracts the disease, transmits asymptomatically during a study session with 5 other people). Adults who are even more susceptible to dying with this disease haven’t shown themselves to have restrain, I can’t imagine a small city of 10,000 young adults will do better.

I have a feeling that as outbreaks rip across college campuses there will be too much political pressure to close, and you’re going to run into situations where you’re once again asking you faculty to move to online learning at the drop of a hat along with parents and students who are (rightfully) outraged at paying full tuition for online instruction.

I don’t see any of this going well for higher education, and frankly I doubt that the fascist American right wing could be any happier about that.
posted by codacorolla at 11:42 AM on June 16 [9 favorites]

In the wider context of that article from the New Yorker listed at the end of the post, I’m put into mind of this from previously

When, whether and how to start is a conundrum.

As for the students who are somewhere already in the middle, having invested time and expense towards a degree but aren’t there yet? Honestly, I think state educational regulatory authorities should at the very least mandate that time-to-degree restrictions be extended.

Not gonna happen probably because the colleges and universities would pitch a fit about not being able to fill the seats. But in addition to giving students and their families some breathing room to decide what’s really best for them rather than for their mounting pile of educational debt, it might also save some colleges and universities from their current denial, and give them some leverage with their boards of trustees/regents/visitors that it just isn’t going to be responsible to try to operate in the black for a year or two.

Here in Indiana […]

Or, yeah, not going to happen because of that.

sigh
posted by one weird trick at 11:50 AM on June 16

I have a kid ostensibly starting this fall. As shitty as most online learning is, I’d expect a 40% tuition discount, and waiving all campus student fees: student center, sports, bands and comics, gyms and pools, libraries, uni wifi, physical plant expenses…
posted by j_curiouser at 11:52 AM on June 16
one weird trick: … the colleges and universities would pitch a fit about not being able to fill the seats.

Complicating that, some pre-professional programs — e.g., nurses and teachers — have a layer of licensure and accreditation on top of the university’s own accreditation, and I don’t see that particular oil tanker doing a 360-degree turn any time soon.

When my daughter’s college sent the kids home this spring, only the nursing students stayed on campus in order to finish out their placements so they wouldn’t fall afoul of the regulations.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:54 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]

And in nine months, he would be back where he is now, trying to decide if it’s safe to go to college — but he’d be a year behind everyone, and with even more competition for every opportunity than he has now.

College isn’t free, so whatever money he spends on a subpar education he would be able to save or avoid in debt and invest in education when it’s better.

College is also a great equalizer – people who are there are of various ages and stages in their life. I was in second year courses at 18, 19, and again at 25 when I returned. Nobody noticed or cared. Being 19 in first year would not be a particularly noticeable thing, particularly with every student at his age struggling for the next school year.

College is not a guaranteed “take advantage of opportunities” move anymore given the cost and the limited benefits – even ignoring a pandemic and probably a recession are on us and that will disproportionately hit new grads looking for work. I know a lot of people who went to college simply because they didn’t know what else to do had regrets about the debt they incurred. I can see lots feeling this way if online education does not come a long way by September.
posted by daveinpei at 11:58 AM on June 16 [5 favorites]

I’m involved in a few ways:

– since I’m laid off, I’m starting a UX/UI (depends on electives) certificate next week! I’m stoked to have the time and the ability to do the online courses and getting to go back to school is exciting. I am feeling pretty hopeful about it and like this is kind of a neat time to join up with an online-educated cohort.

– my grade 9 son’s teachers are SO NOT online educators but I have been super impressed with how quickly they responded, and they clearly have shared information together. I would say the downside is in some courses (math) he’s covered probably 3/4 of what they would have in person, if that, but they are aware and there’s a remediation plan. His teachers were open that they were learning too and modelled lifelong learning so strongly. Socially distanced hugs to them all.

My son has really engaged and he is taking an online class voluntarily this summer. But he’s also using the time to learn skills he wouldn’t have time for usually. Power tools (scroll saw, drill, eventually a miter saw) are coming up.

I don’t think I would send him for a first year of university that was all distance education at this point. My bias is that had I taken a year off of university when I had health issues, I think I would have been so much better off…but I had this idea that I had to keep going or I would be ‘behind.’ As a result I’ve been behind permanently, because it sucked. I feel like this situation could be similar for some students.

– my grade 3 son’s teacher was opposed to online learning for equity reasons. She was a really strong classroom teacher. His online experience has been abysmal and embarrassing; he’s been filling out the same two templates daily since March. He now hates learning online and possibly hates school more than ever before.

– Google Classroom probably can be set up really well but the way our schools have used it, it’s confusing as hell (and I have used a ton of products in my time) and has been an impediment to learning or tracking information. My university uses Canvas and I’m really hoping it’s better.

– moving Martial Arts instruction online, I have really come to appreciate the equity issues in online education..the slices of our students’ lives that I see on Zoom range so much, and that’s still a narrow and relatively privileged slice. A multi-generational family in a small space can make concentrating so hard, never mind everything else.

This has been a lesson in how online education is really different and requires a different skill set. I agree that we’re not there, and I think it will be very individual what works and what doesn’t. For my own certificate, being able to do it from home on my own time is great. For my littlest guy it’s a total loss. We can’t apply one solution to all situations.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:01 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

It’s interesting that none of these discussions spend much time on the possibility that the Covid situation might be better, not worse, as we get into fall. We have two students about to start their first year of college in August, and I feel actually great about it. Both because they plan to room with each other (limiting contact with other roommates) and because they’ll likely be in a suite that opens onto an outdoor breezeway, and on a campus with a lot of sprawling outdoor space to eat and study. Communications from this school have been clear about lecture sizes, sports events, and other large gatherings of students, and I feel like the approach is very reasonable so far. And, in another way that we are (I need to stress this) extremely fortunate, they’re both very conscientious and germ-aware and already prefer to wear masks everywhere.

Also because, say they come home in November and bring a virus or two home with them? I’m guessing that a lot more will be known about Covid in November than is known now, or was known back in April. Just today, there’s a new effective (and generic!) treatment in the news. How many more of those will we find between now and November? Probably a few! Not all effective, much less miraculous, but you’ve got a much better chance of recovering today than you would have a few months ago, and I see no reason why that trend wouldn’t continue.

I guess my TL;DR on this is that, if we’re moving towards a better understanding of Covid as a treatable illness, the risk/benefit analysis of closing colleges or moving exclusively online starts to look like a clearly bad choice.
posted by witchen at 12:06 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

This hits home.

I’m supposed to teach two seminars this fall, and our university is in the midst of planning. In fact, I read the comments here between two webinars (so-called “town hall meetings”) on the subject. Short version: if the school’s entirely online, they’ll lose a lot of money. So they’re planning for some kind of HyFlex combination of f2f with in-person. I’m planning on that mix, and might teach it remotely.

I’m also teaching a class right now (gaming and education), which is entirely online. I’m trying a lot of practices to see how they enrich the student experience.

Meanwhile, our son is staying with us. He was taking classes in person at his university, 533 miles away, but moved in with us in March when they went wholly online. He also took a summer class entirely online – wasn’t that happy with it – and is worried about fall options.
posted by doctornemo at 12:07 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I guess my TL;DR on this is that, if we’re moving towards a better understanding of Covid as a treatable illness, the risk/benefit analysis of closing colleges or moving exclusively online starts to look like a clearly bad choice.

I agree with this – that what was known about covid in March was so small that all sorts of wild ideas were rational – now we are getting better and more information about it, and the ultimate decisions are going to be better, and that opening schools (based on science-based covid outcomes) is not careless.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:13 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I am fortunate not to have to fight for equity & services for my kids, but I have real fears of what services can/will be provided should some of the more radical plans be enacted in elementary schools. (This applies to college students, too, to a lesser extent.)

I heard that one nearby town was considering moving all the middle- and high school kids to F/T distance learning, while every school building in town was converted to K-5 in order to space out the desks. They would need so many new teachers! They wouldn’t be able to pay the teachers & aides they have now! But they would need even more aides!

Ugh, this could be awful for those families. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 12:19 PM on June 16

I don’t see that particular oil tanker doing a 360-degree turn any time soon.

I don’t see any sober ship’s captain making a 360-degree turn.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:23 PM on June 16 [11 favorites]

Professionally, I study higher education with a focus on its future development.

I appreciate the selection of articles in this post, as they mostly give a good sense of how people negatively viewed online education (or “remote instruction”) during spring term 2020. I was especially happy to see the one that polled students and those which interviewed students.

I don’t think it’s a useful collection for looking ahead to this fall.

First, it’s essential to distinguish between the extraordinary leap online made in March – with no advance planning, at incredible speed (for academia), and often in an ad hoc way – with what we can achieve this fall, for which we have months to prepare. One popular distinction to make that explains this is the difference between emergency remote teaching and well-planned online learning. I’m not saying the latter will be easy or automatically splendid. But the different between the two settings is striking.

Second, none of the linked articles acknowledges that folks have been teaching online for decades. We have tons of practice and experience to draw upon. There are professionals, too, at nearly every campus who have studied this: instructional designers, academic technologists. IT folks in general and librarians have also played roles in making online classes not only possible, but better. And many of these people have written about their work. It’s really easy to find. We’re not inventing this stuff from scratch, in other words. And – gasp! horrors! – people other than faculty members might have something to contribute.
(These folks did heroic work in spring 2020 and have received nearly no recognition for it. I would love to replace the next kvetching screed by a tenured prof about how hard teaching is online with one about academic computing people who worked 16 hours days for weeks.)

Third, thinking of online=bad, f2f=glorious is really a mistake on multiple levels. It ignores the huge range and diversity of experience. It romanticizes in-person education, which is boneheaded as even a minute’s reflection points out. As snuffleupagus points out, there’s plenty of lousy in-person teaching, which the romantic binary obliterates.
posted by doctornemo at 12:27 PM on June 16 [16 favorites]

Kirth Gerson: I don’t see any sober ship’s captain making a 360-degree turn.

*squints thoughtfully* How many accreditation cycles have you been through? It can be…weird.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:28 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]

Under capitalism in the USA, if students don’t go to college, colleges fail, and imho, if they die they will be replaced by kaplan or devry or worse.

Betsy DeVos will be waiting in the wings, making rules that proliferate and enrich these low-quality, for-profit replacements, so that she and her business and religious friends can reap the windfall.

Unless we all get together in November and vote her and her boss out.

In any case, students perform better at the undergraduate level, on average, if they take a gap year. With the threat of coronavirus, taking the year to do something else — including getting out the vote — may be the smartest thing in the long-term view.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:28 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

Here’s a network graph of Cornell.

Right now, I’ve just sent my toddler back to daycare, in an area where case numbers have been dropping, and we didn’t have any in our county in the last couple of days, and it’s still a little nerve wracking. We’re adding 9 additional close contacts (+ their families) now to our pretty contained bubble.

From that thread:

Key findings: the average Cornell student shares courses with a max of 529 other students over a week of classes. (Actual will be lower, because attendance is not 100%.)

We can break up that graph a bit with smaller classes, especially focusing on big lectures. But that graph doesn’t even take connections outside of class into consideration.

So, if you’ve got a kid in school, your mental model of “Kid goes back to college” should definitely not be “Well, it’ll basically be like it is right now”, unless you’re routinely seeing 500 people each week.
posted by damayanti at 12:30 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

Since the giant state college near me has become a diploma mill more concerned with extracting money from foreign student-tourists than actually educating, I’d quite frankly love to see the entire ponzi scheme collapse.

American higher education needs restructuring, and as much as this sucks for the kids stuck in the middle, maybe this is our opportunity to do that.
posted by madajb at 12:36 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

“Moreover, a fair amount of evidence suggests that, even under good conditions, online education does not offer the same quality of education that face-to-face classes do.”

I have not taken any online college courses, but I routinely had 300 people lectures for things “Core Requirements” classes.
I can’t see how an online lecture could be any worse and in some ways I feel it could be a lot better.
posted by madajb at 12:43 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

– Google Classroom probably can be set up really well but the way our schools have used it, it’s confusing as hell (and I have used a ton of products in my time) and has been an impediment to learning or tracking information. My university uses Canvas and I’m really hoping it’s better.

Maybe a little off-topic but: Google Classroom is confusing as hell unless you’ve got a teacher who is really expert at it, uses a consistent format and you’re used to it as a student. It’s fine for what it is (free, better than nothing, did I mention free).

Canvas is really pretty decent, considering, on both the student end and the teacher end, and is far more robust than Google Classroom. I am really excited that my district is mandating Canvas for all teachers next year; it was *awful* for parents to have teachers using a mix of whatever they were personally comfortable with, although I understand why it happened. I- and a lot of public school teachers I know- am spending a lot of my summer planning how to best teach my class online or in a hybrid of online and in-person. Because of my subject area it’s a losing game and is inevitably going to be a hollow shell of a normal class, but it should at least be better than the emergency situation we had in the spring. I don’t think that face-to-face= good and online=bad, necessarily, but a
since I teach a skills-based class that is most effective with immediate iterative feedback for students it’s super-hard to figure out how to transform that into something that students will find valuable and engaging at anywhere close to the levels that they find face-to-face class engaging.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:44 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]

I’m fulltime faculty. Summer is the time we should be developing courses… It’s 12 weeks till fall – we’re gonna fucking do it.

I’m adjunct faculty. Summer is the time we teach courses, just like Spring, except with a newly mandated online-available textbook. The textbook change would have required the entire course to be redesigned even if it was being taught in person. It’s actually quite a bit more stressful than the Spring was.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:58 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]

I can’t see how an online lecture could be any worse and in some ways I feel it could be a lot better.

I have done both and I mostly prefer the online format to the large lecture, provided the instructor has assistance or is able to properly mic/film themself.

The advantages of small, in-person courses for many people are quite clear over online versions. These advantages mostly disappear in large lectures. There is very little pedagogical benefit to watching someone talk from 30 feet away, and I’ll take seeing someone’s face clearly over having to interpret their body language any day.
posted by aspersioncast at 12:59 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]

Don’t get too comfortable with Canvas. The private equity firm that bought Canvas’s parent company laid off a huge portion of their staff earlier this year, all but guaranteeing that the product will stagnate.
posted by schmod at 1:10 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]
I work at one of the big state university’s that is planning (very vocally! catch our president on CNN talking about it!) to open back for students in Fall. For whatever reason, our brand new president is super chummy with our governor (R), so not only are we opening, but we’re going to test everyone for antibodies, because surely this is all so overblown that most of us have already contracted the virus and is now immune/s. You know what we’re finding? Less than 1% of the general population in Pima county, AZ has the antibodies. You know what the university is not doing, due to an agreement made with Banner, who bought the hospital that our med school uses – doing our own RT-PCR test (my lab is a CLIA facility with it’s an FDA approved RT test). Which is what we need to be doing. I. Can’t. Stand. It.

We had an all hands Zoom town hall maybe the day after the university shut down. It was presented that if we went all online for 2020-2021 school year, the university would loose 350M. I had no idea how much money the university was depending on from foreign students paying full tuition, which we’re not going to get back this year, anyway.

So anyway, we’re opening. One of the members of the “re-opening committee” is in an office in my cube space, and he likes to take open door conference calls. The focus is all on testing testing testing students (which we haven’t been cleared by Banner’s lawyers to do so). I have yet to hear a thing about what to do about the faculty and staff, who just by virtue of being older, are higher risk. My lab was closed for maybe a week, then we were told that we were essential, so we came back. No additional safety protections were offered in our work space, no masks required, custodial staff and outside contractors were wandering around our workspaces unmasked. We as a lab came up with our own policies, as the university said it was up to each department to implement policy. This has changed, thankfully, but only the last few weeks. Again, I don’t know if it’s the anti-mask gov Ducey’s influence, but for the fall semester, it’s “up to each professor” to decide if masks should be worn in each classroom.

I’m sorry for the rambling, I feel like I have a lot to say about this, but I kind of just made it about my workspace. Uh, university opening is complicated.
posted by lizjohn at 1:11 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]

We can’t re-work the US university system unless and until people can get jobs or climb the employment ladder without advanced degrees. My daughter wants to work in conservation. She’s been working toward that goal since she was 12. She can only get so far with a high school diploma, and she wants to go farther than that hard line, so she has to get at least a bachelor’s degree (in biology, zoology, ecology, or another related field). Without the BS, she’d be stuck. You’d think that experience would count, especially for conservation/animal husbandry, but no. Gotta have that degree.

So, back to university she’ll go in the fall, online or in person or whatever mix her university ends up offering. I’m actually glad she and her friends decided to get an apartment off campus; I’d hate for her to be in a dorm next school year. At least this way they can better control their exposure.
posted by cooker girl at 1:14 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I have a kid ostensibly starting this fall. As shitty as most online learning is, I’d expect a 40% tuition discount, and waiving all campus student fees: student center, sports, bands and comics, gyms and pools, libraries, uni wifi, physical plant expenses…

Lol. They’re more likely going to charge you a 40% premium for the honor of going online.
posted by jmauro at 1:31 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

none of these discussions spend much time on the possibility that the Covid situation might be better, not worse, as we get into fall

Well less planning is needed for that, right? In the best case scenario where things are better, students just go to school.

I think its extremely unlikely, though. Cases are going up. All the stay-at-home/distancing/etc helped, but everyone has given up on that, so its going to get much worse before it gets better. Even here in California where we initially took it seriously, we’ve given up (very few wearing masks anymore, everything is reopening despite cases going up, etc). [The governor today tried to defend all this, but the TLDR was ‘people don’t want to do it anymore]. And even things that are easy and would allow people to go out more (wearing masks) are not happening.

I would love it if things were better in the fall, but it seems extremely unlikely.
posted by thefoxgod at 1:36 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]

Universities are so broke they can’t give discounts. Or have much in the way of staff any more now, I’ve been told.

I wouldn’t bother with a “gap year,” since as others have pointed out, there is literally nothing your kid can do otherwise (probably can’t get a job, definitely can’t go anywhere) except play video games, and you might as well do some form of school. Also, what if this isn’t over with in a year and goes on for 2 years or forever (thanks, everyone writing that there may never be a vaccine)? Hell, you might as well do online school even if it’s not great. If I had a kid I’d say to do community college online, though obviously that’s overloaded now too.

How do you teach automotive repair remotely?
I’m told my cousin was learning how to do surgery in vet school remotely/electronically, so if they can do that….

As someone who doesn’t leave her apartment, it’s pretty safe if you’re living alone and not leaving. Dorms, on the other hand, have tons of traffic. The school I went to had apartment-style dorm areas minus kitchens so that would be better, but dorm dining commons….were pretty buffet from what I recall.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:40 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I’m fulltime faculty. Summer is the time we should be developing courses.

Maybe it’s different in the US but summer here in the UK is when we catch up on the research we’re contracted for, especially important this year following issues arising from Covid and the nine months preceding that which were a shitfest for anyone with EU funded projects as a result of Brexit. So we’re expected to do everything else on our plates plus learn new teaching methods.
posted by biffa at 1:44 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]

They’re more likely going to charge you a 40% premium for the honor of going online.

I suspect the costs of networking infrastructure and IT staff will be proffered to split the difference and keep tuition about the same.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:44 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

Honestly, the best approach I saw in my CompSci degree was a ‘flipped classroom’ approach, before that term was popular. All the lectures were pre-recorded, in perhaps the world’s worst video playback system (this is before the era of youtube and twitch, or let alone html5 video). The classroom time was split into three things: 10 minute quizzes at the start of class, 5 minute review of the quiz in Socratic style, and then either a classroom exercise, or team project work time, with the professor and TA wandering and available for random questions / debugging.

If I’m trying to translate that approach to distance learning, the lectures are the least affected by the transition. Whats likely to be missing from the distance learning approach is the social pressure stemming from ‘Nathan, please explain why first fit is used in memory allocation algorithms.’ I wouldn’t be surprised if motivation is a major driver of distance education failures.
posted by pwnguin at 1:45 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

I am trying to figure out what kind of mask is least uncomfortable to wear, most effective, and most importantly least likely to fall off while speaking frequently and moving around a room, because this is going to be necessary for me in the fall. I am not happy about it, to put it lightly.

Let’s just remember that the reason all of us have to do shit like research which masks actually work and then buy those masks for ourselves is that the Federal response has completely failed under Trump.

In a functional government we would have tested mask standards by now and they would be free for all essential workers. Instead we have people wearing loose bandannas for fashion since the local bodega requires a “mask”.
posted by benzenedream at 1:48 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

Yeah, Zoom and MS Teams and Cisco WebEx and Amazon Chime licenses are not cheap, and everyone is having to buy tons of them — to say nothing of VPN licenses & hardware for everyone WFH.

Higher ed IT expenses are going to skyrocket this year just to cover what was built last spring. Even with all the projects that got dropped on the floor to free up techs to set up laptops and web cams and cover help desk shifts and everything else, costs will be well over budget.

And if there are crazy bills for bandwidth overages, that’ll be a Sophie’s Choice for sure. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 1:48 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I’m fulltime faculty. Summer is the time we should be developing courses.

Maybe it’s different in the US but summer here in the UK is when we catch up on the research we’re contracted for, especially

It may be time to recognize that the world’s best researchers are not automatically the world’s best teachers, and that having 500 of professors produce variations on the same course without collaboration, review, or comparison is ineffective.
posted by pwnguin at 1:50 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

For those calling for steep discounts because of online teaching, online teaching does not cost any less to deliver. It is certainly more strain on the faculty, even the ones who were prepared and do it well. There is a reason why online classes tend to be smaller under normal circumstances. But calls for steep discounts, along with the loss of fees that support things like the recreation center, athletics, student organizations, etc. has a big part in the determination of colleges and universities to reopen their campuses.Whether that’s a good idea or a bad idea we are going to find out.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:54 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]
The idea of someone suing and winning because face to face lectures were replaced by online ones — I find that frightening. I mean… I’m employed by one of those places so I guess I’m hardly impartial. But I’m not a teacher and (assuming anywhere is hiring) I don’t have to work at a university. I could find employment in another sector. I’m there instead because the thing universities do matters to me. And from that perspective I am terrified of those lawsuits because I do see the sense, and what if they win? Do we really want to destroy American higher education, to let its loss to COVID be another example of the truism “whatever Trump touches dies”? Yes, everything is different now, mostly worse, but the same is true of the rent landlords are not getting and the work we’re not getting done and we all just have to deal. We’re in a pandemic! How ghastly it is to try to win at each other’s expense!

(Incidentally that’s how I feel about campuses reopening too soon, too. I worry that such decisions amount to the reverse: campuses ensuring their financial health at the expense of the bodies of the community members who will die.)

An educational leader of my acquaintance (not my employer) made some offhand comment about wishing he could offer reduced tuition, knowing that the services he’s able to offer are worse despite being more expensive to produce, and I wanted to reach very politely through the screen and clap my hand over his mouth. Do not even hint at this thing, you cannot do this thing, do not encourage your people to think of themselves as customers in this way. Not unless your school has some extremely rich uncle hidden in a crypt somewhere. Preserve the institution, consistent with what you have to do to preserve its people too. Without it, where do they go?
posted by eirias at 2:23 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I’m fulltime faculty. Summer is the time we should be developing courses.

Maybe it’s different in the US but summer here in the UK is when we catch up on the research we’re contracted for, especially important this year following issues arising from Covid and the nine months preceding that which were a shitfest for anyone with EU funded projects as a result of Brexit. So we’re expected to do everything else on our plates plus learn new teaching methods.

oh no, I agree. this is part of the 120% workload!! summer for me & research is normally sacred.
I had to close my lab this summer because it’s in nyc….and I thus have more “time” to develop courses, while my research lab atrophies to death :<
posted by lalochezia at 2:38 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I admit online classes were rough for spring semester but there’s no real option other than to enroll for Fall 2020 despite being unsure if there will be in-person classes or not. My main problem is the lack of actual space for learning and the constant distractions for distance learning.

I know some classes have Zoom sessions but I find it difficult to focus than and set times were a pain if I was busy at the moment. Also, I didn’t realize how much better it was to be on campus for most of the day vs just sitting in my small noisy room.
posted by chrono_rabbit at 2:58 PM on June 16

My alma mater just officially announced they are going hybrid. Sigh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:06 PM on June 16
The private equity firm that bought Canvas’s parent company laid off a huge portion of their staff earlier this year
TIL! I completely missed this somehow.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:09 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]
I vacillate between (a) wanting to develop a superb online lecture experience for my students this fall, and (b) wanting to give myself permission to not deliver a top-tier lecture for one semester because this is a once-in-a-century pandemic and concomitant social upheaval that the whole world is struggling through together.

I’m working my ass off to pull together as good a course set as possible, but know it’s not going to be ideal. And, ultimately, my students and I have to be okay with that, because there’s not much of an alternative.
posted by darkstar at 3:15 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

“Ideal” is out the damn window with great force this year.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:18 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]
Luckily the end of the fiscal year is already seeing layoffs of support staff, so already overworked faculty will have even less support.
posted by aspersioncast at 3:20 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]
When, whether and how to start is a conundrum.

Indeed. As with businesses, sports, theatre, and all the rest, no one really knows when the best time to reopen everything. Start too soon, a sharp new spike in casss shouts up, leading to entirely avoidable deaths. Start too late, and the economy slumps into a recession.

So really, it’s a question of whether you think our political and economic leaders have a better chance of reviving the economy or of raising the dead.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:24 PM on June 16

So really, it’s a question of whether you think our political and economic leaders have a better chance of reviving the economy or of raising the dead.

Leaders?

This is America: you’re on your own
posted by mr_roboto at 3:26 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

For those calling for steep discounts because of online teaching, online teaching does not cost any less to deliver

The problem with this is that for years students have argued that it’s ridiculous to pay their fees for (say) 4 hrs of contact time per week and it works out to £x00 per hr and how is that justified? And the universities respond that they also get beautiful campuses, buildings, labs, libraries, sports centres, etc for their fees. If you get taught online the universities now want the full whack but all you do get is the contact time and in a way that is less immediate and pretty alien, especially for those coming into their first year. Fees look pretty steep from that perspective.
posted by biffa at 3:43 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

It’s annoying because paying their fees for that 4 hours of contact time also includes all the lesson planning, adapting course materials, grading assignments, designing assignments and exams, making copies, figuring out how and when to schedule material, creating a narrative of the course, gauging whether it’s too difficult or too easy….

but never has THAT been emphasized, either.
posted by sciatrix at 3:46 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]

and waiving all campus student fees: student center, sports, bands and comics, gyms and pools, libraries, uni wifi, physical plant expenses…

…all of which will continue to exist, require staffing even if campus is online, and have to be maintained?

As someone else said above: online teaching isn’t inexpensive at all. The campus has to be able to support the server load, train faculty who don’t know how to make full use of the CMS, and considerably expand their IT staff. A surprising number of faculty offices do not actually have computers equipped for video, depending on the campus computer refresh cycle, so you need webcams, microphones, and in some cases entirely new machines. Oh, and then multiple someones have to be on call to repair all the machines (let’s not get into the issues with faculty who aren’t allowed on campus and have to supply their own equipment and WiFi). We were having all sorts of trouble with our CMS (material not uploading, dragging video, and, oh yes, a total outage of the electronic grading system right before grades were due), which just wasn’t installed and supported with the intent of several hundred faculty using it to teach online simultaneously.

Moreover, on my own campus, lead time to register and design a new online course is normally one year; here, we’re translating courses into 100% asynchronous delivery in the space of a couple of months.

I’m in SUNY, so we’re at the governor’s mercy when it comes to our overall instructional delivery method. Even if you meet F2F, there are suddenly all sorts of things that have to be discouraged: discussion, almost certainly (have everyone text and project the responses up on the whiteboard?); workshopping and any other form of group work (I suppose they can all stare at their computers while they’re in the same room…); even handing things out. I normally walk about the room while students are doing group exercises and peer review, and that wouldn’t wash, either–it would be like I was there and not-there.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:12 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]

Not to mention all of the support staff that make all of the lesson planning, adaptation, grading, copying and so on possible. And that connects students to the resources the campus offers — and those connections are maybe even more important now (want to make sure every student has a laptop that can works for remote learning? It’s not just the cost of the laptops; somebody has to distribute, perform tech support, make sure the laptops aren’t being used for something horrible; if they’re collected later, someone has to clean them for redistribution; someone has to deal with the students who lose theirs or spill something on them or drop them or…).

Blugh. Anyhow, online learning *can* be great, but a summer to prepare when adjunct faculty are teaching and research faculty are trying to perform research in crazy new circumstances and nobody can meet in person– is nowhere near enough. Officially my university knows this, because I (randomly and non-covid related) was not teaching this past semester– because I had teaching relief due to online course development! Online course development that is trying to replace a course that is flipped-classroom on ground, so there’s a bunch of extra stuff we’re trying to do to provide some of the classroom interactivity we usually have with something online. So I am one of the few people at my university who knows what they’re doing in the fall, because I’m teaching an online course that was always going to be online.

But because of that I know exactly how much prep it takes on the part of me, the staff supporting me, and the students (who need to make sure they have the required technology and know how to use it). One eight-week summer when you’ve got another fulltime or more job isn’t enough.

(Also, to the UofA commenter above– you could be ASU, who only recently decided having any plan at all is a good idea.. at least UofA has *some* sort of testing plan. They need to change it to active virus instead of antibody, but having some system setup is better than what we’re getting.)

(Also also, major ugh on canvas having been bought by vulture capitalists. This is why we can’t have nice things!)
posted by nat at 4:18 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

I’m also here to chime in on I’d expect a 40% tuition discount – I’m on staff at a small public university, and I seem to remember that 80% of our operating budget (the one that tuition pays for) goes to salary and benefits. Weirdly, we don’t need fewer people to do online education, although with budget cuts on the horizon (aka in 2 weeks) we’re going to somehow have to do it with fewer people anyway!

From where I’m seeing, there’s a range of opinions internally that range all the way from “next year should be online” to “I don’t know why everyone is freaking out” — as with any large group of people. Plus there’s a real panic and looking around at competitor colleges trying to figure out what is best going to placate some combination of adult students, parents of younger students, and legislators.
posted by epersonae at 4:30 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]

And the universities respond that they also get beautiful campuses, buildings, labs, libraries, sports centres, etc for their fees.

Students and their parents demanded that, remember. The same parents who didn’t want to pay taxes, so, for state schools, the state portion is 8%? 5%? You voted for this.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:44 PM on June 16 [3 favorites]

I cannot second doctornemo’s comment enough. I also work in this space and it has been extremely frustrating to see people equate the “record lectures and put them online” emergency response with anything like good online teaching practice.

(I admit to being a bit radical on this front: in many subject areas I’m happy for lectures to be ditched entirely in favour of smaller collaborative online project work, or learning discussions, or well-moderated peer-generated content mastery, or collective blogging, or any number of compelling alternatives to traditional instruction models.)

For every student who favours face-to-face teaching I have heard from other students who prefer online. Students who are working part- or full-time; students who have childcare / eldercare responsibilities; students with a disability who have been crying out for these alternative modes for years; students for whom English is not a first language who appreciate the time and flexibility to reread, rehearse, and practice their interactions…

Putting all that aside, the comparison of f2f and online isn’t even the right question. I’ve seen amazing teaching happen in both, but the teacher’s experience and expertise in teaching always seems to count for more than the choice of mode. And what we’ve seen this year is a bunch of teachers who have no experience or expertise in this area being thrust unwillingly into it. When that happens, of course everyone’s first instinct is to try to replicate what is familiar… even when decades of research and practice have established what a bad idea that is.
posted by Paragon at 5:01 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

For those calling for steep discounts because of online teaching, online teaching does not cost any less to deliver.

I wouldn’t be calling for a tuition discount, but the college nearest me has close to $2,500 in miscellaneous surcharges for things like athletic tickets, student union access, a “building fee”, etc.

If I were a student, I’d sure be expecting not to pay a “Campus Activities Fee” for a campus that wasn’t open.
posted by madajb at 5:08 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]

I knocked myself out to provide what I could for my students when we went online, and luckily I already had their cell phone numbers and they had mine. Everyone knew what they were supposed to do and luckily I had already made it clear they could submit early drafts for critique and resubmission. But my courses are on-site practicums that take place in an urban school district. There was no way what we were doing with video could substitute for that. A couple of my undergrads got very ill with this disease already, though they managed to finish the term.

My university is planning to have face to face classes in the fall and the school district is planning to hold some kind of classes somehow, so I suppose my practicum will meet.

But I won’t be there. I’m 68 and I have asthma, my husband is 73 with compromised lung function, I’m an at-will adjunct making a pittance, I never know how many sections I’ll be teaching until just before school starts, and this just isn’t tenable.

People talking about a tuition discount should be aware just how little the teachers are making already. Universities the way they’re run right now aren’t financially sustainable.
posted by Peach at 5:15 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

I’m an adjunct in Australia. We switched fully online in the middle of the first semester and everyone involved on hourly rates was paid extra for the work – once they worked out how much time that was. It was the right thing to do but I know it wasn’t how other universities did it, and it contributed to the almost total lack of adjuncts for the rest of the year. The budget got cut, and die to no more travel/repeat lectures for tenured staff, more of their hours were allocated to classes the adjuncts would usually be teaching.

My classes were rated highly, even with the disruption, and how I managed my small teaching team was praised by students. Some smaller issues but everyone got through. I got called to justify why so many of my students did well – pointing out that I am a giant nerd so the admin and infrastructure was easy for me, I’ve spent time researching and discussing online teaching with experts, and that me and my teaching staff went above and beyond on personal support and guidance seemed to let me escape any consequences. I didn’t point out that FOUR of my students left domestic violence situations during or immediately before the semester. Or that half of them lost their jobs and the other half were working sixty hour weeks. Or that ten of them were recalled to countries with even less healthcare and having to try participate on a different time zone. That most of them returned to lower socio-economic homes with multiple siblings and limited internet. My uni did what they could with bursaries and loans for students but it doesn’t address the enormous gaps they have to overcome structurally.

I was teaching sociology, so my students had ways of thinking about and understanding the infrastructure adding to the inequality. It helped them overcome the tendency to self-blame.

This semester I am one of the lucky few with adjunct work – fully online again, new course and material, second time it is being taught. I have very little existing infrastructure to use because last year was plagued by interpersonal politicking from what I gather. I’ve set up the admin elements but I’m facing having to work within the structure of f2f but online. I’m having to structure online teaching with the expectations of f2f in terms of timing (weekly three hour workshop blocks, due dates etc) when that doesn’t work online. The timetable dictated by f2f doesn’t work for online in a lot of ways.

I’m also using Blackboard – ex-librarian so I’m used to working around products as much as with them – but I’m also teaching film. The dearth of online group watching support is killing me for prep. Finding the film is hard, working out how to get a group to watch them online is a pain, not breaking the law to do so, dealing with everything from 3G to fibre internet, and then teaching it adequately? Having to modify the course for what is available vs what is the best film for the week?

I start teaching again in about three weeks. Yesterday I was hit by the enormous idiocy and fragility of the system, my own inadequacies, the position my students are in, and the fact I still don’t have a full time bloody job out of all this because I’m also supposed to be writing three books.

(That’s not even going into the fact I had to move and get everything set up because as great as the free rent was, two adults working FT from a two bedroom flat and a kid homeschooling was untenable and thank God I was able to but it makes the job aspect even more important)
posted by geek anachronism at 5:16 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]

Students and their parents demanded that, remember. The same parents who didn’t want to pay taxes, so, for state schools, the state portion is 8%? 5%? You voted for this.

I feel like those arguments (“you voted for this”) are unfair and often incorrect. Like, in the limit, the last trans resident of newly incorporated TERFtown probably didn’t vote to have their rights revoked, but it could still happen, because that’s how majorities work.
posted by eirias at 5:20 PM on June 16

Our campus will be open in the fall. Students will be in the dorms, and we are encouraged to have as many face to face classes as we can (possibly required to do so). I am frightened, and having problematic recurring thoughts like “I wonder if I will get tenure if I’m the only person in the department left alive by then.”
posted by pemberkins at 5:26 PM on June 16
I feel like those arguments (“you voted for this”) are unfair and often incorrect.

Just because they are not fair for the minority does not mean that they are unfair for the majority. And the majority should not be able to f hide behind the minority.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:34 PM on June 16

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