Irregardless of the Pandemic

While the New York Times reports on faculty who are reluctant to go back to the classroom for health reasons and Inside Higher Ed adds the decision-making process to the mix, the more interesting objections come from a pedagogical perspective. 

Kevin Gannon writes about our prejudice for face-to-face instruction. “Students do not learn simply because they are physically present in the same space as other students and the instructor,” he argues in an excellent blog post, titled “The Summer of Magical Thinking.” As John Warner puts it, “I am among the crowd who both believes that online learning can be done quite well, and that there is something irreplaceable about the experiences of face-to-face learning, when that learning is happening under reasonable conditions that is.”

It will be tragic if we lose an opportunity to reimagine and improve higher education and advance the online experience, in our attempt to do the impossible with an on-ground semester. Instead of a leap forward, AY20-21 could very well be a lost year, which would match what other sectors of the economy (sports, theater, music, etc.) are also about to experience.

Everyone is eager to get back to the classroom once things return to normal. But the chances that our mitigation strategies are insufficient seems quite high. Not returning after Thanksgiving seems to be the norm, but we’ll be lucky if we make it to mid-October, before we realize that campus life is simply unworkable.

The only thing we know for sure is that spring will be easier since we will know more about what works and what doesn’t. Since nothing is likely to change between now and January, other than the onset of flu season, we’ll probably just all be online from the start.

More Coronavirus News
Penn State announced yesterday that one of its students, Juan Garcia, died due to coronavirus-related respiratory issues. Juan was only 21 years old.

Students at the University of Alabama are, inexplicably, having Covid-19 parties. The University of Washington system reported over 100 positive cases after an outbreak in the Greek system. And the University of Georgia remains a hot spot, with 143 cases reported there so far. 

Over 700 faculty at Georgia Tech have written a letter to the Board of Regents against the institution’s plans to reopen in the fall, which include mandatory masks for faculty but not for students.

Cait S. Kirby, a doctoral student in biology at Vanderbilt simulated a day in the life of a student on campus in the fall, which went viral, especially among faculty. Spoiler alert: it’s not pretty. Meanwhile, researchers at Cornell contend that an online semester there could actually cause more infections, as it loses the ability to control and monitor student activity. 

A summary of research on online teaching, mentioned in Forbes, of all places, found that online courses should have no more than twelve students in them. They also propose limits of 18 and 17, for unground and blended models, respectively. Bring this up at your next faculty meeting.

Two schools, University of South Florida and Western Carolina University, have instituted policies against refunds for room and board, should the dorms close. It seems rather tone-deaf not only to economic matters, but also to the health crisis. It also gives students a large reason to take their tuition dollars elsewhere.

Quick Hits
The University of Bridgeport in Connecticut will soon be closed. The programs and grounds will be acquired by Goodwin University, Sacred Heart University, and the for-profit Paier College of Art.

The City University of New York has laid off 2800 part-time faculty, or 25 percent of its total pool, to go along with a 25 percent reduction in its course offerings.

Florida State has reversed its silly policy prohibiting parents from parenting while working at home. The policy, which has been removed from its website, originally read: “Effective, August 7, 2020, the University will return to normal policy and will no longer allow employees to care for children while working remotely.”

Boise State has cut its baseball and women’s swimming and diving programs, for budgetary and coronavirus-related reasons.

The Webster-Merriam dictionary has added “irregardless,” which is a huge blow to grammar Nazis and a boon to everyone else. Thankfully, it denotes it as “nonstandard,” so all is not lost.

The most recent episode of the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast, with Maria Andersen, focuses on strategies for the fall. EdSurge has a nice article on how faculty are planning for the return to the classroom. And TeachThought has a nice collection of verbs for digital learning. Love those verbs!

Required Reading
As a break from the terrible news and social unrest, go read Ksenya Kiebuzinski’s essay on the virtue of paper books and libraries—a great casualty of the pandemic.

Let’s have a great class!