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- Covid-19 Migration to Online: Entering the second phase
Covid-19 Migration to Online: Entering the second phase
As dozens of colleges and universities canceled face-to-face classes and moved to online delivery of these classes since March 9th (i.e. not the same thing as intentionally-designed online education), the US postsecondary system appears to already be entering the next phase.
Phase 1: The Rush to Zoom
Phase 1 could be considered as all-hands-on-deck, do whatever you can to have some educational presence for all classes online. Commenters have rightly pointed out that students’ and educators’ health and safety are more important than worrying about quality course design or even equitable access. In the EdTech world, think of this phase as Put everything on Zoom and worry about details later. Substitute Microsoft Teams or Webex or Collaborate for Zoom, as so many instructors opt for the comfort of synchronous video discussions to replace the face-to-face experience.
It is important to recognize, however, that we have yet to see the actual spike in online delivery of these classes. Thanks to the timing of the migration around many Spring Break, many schools have extended or moved these breaks, with actual online courses starting next week or the following week. This timing coincides with the end of winter term for many quarter-based school calendars, with the biggest impact thus far on end-of-term exams.
As seen from the data collected by Bryan Alexander, Ithaka S+R, et al, it is likely that the actual spike will occur on one of the following Mondays (Mar 23 or 30), more than doubling the number of emergency online courses by enrollment and by number of institutions.
I would not be surprised to hear of service disruptions for some EdTech platforms.
At the same time, it has become quite apparent this week that any view of these emergency shutdowns ad online migrations as only taking a few weeks is mistaken. We are likely at the point where the full spring term for both semester and quarter-based institutions will be delivered fully online, if at all. And there are plenty of scientific analyses suggesting that the disruptions will last at least until late Summer. The Chancellor for the California Community Colleges issues this guidance on Monday:
Phase 2: LMS Integration and Addressing Equitable Access
What I believe is happening is that we are entering the next phase, where it is no longer acceptable to ignore issues of equitable access and course design. In our work with schools we are seeing a significant shift this week in the focus on doing more than handling the pure emergency delivery. Colleges and universities are starting to more fully deal with the question of quality of emergency online delivery of courses, as well as true contingency planning.
This shift in emphasis coincides with US Department of Education guidance on Covid-19 transitions. The department has allowed blanket approvals for moves online for this term and next (essentially, through the spring) as well as relaxing of financial aid rules, allowing great flexibility for schools to respond to the emergency. What they have not done, however, is ignore issues such as accessibility for students. As CooleyEd has summarized:
We are also seeing a grown movement of students asking for refunds on room & board and questioning whether they should pay full price for an educational delivery they did not agree to. Richard Arum and Mitchell Stevens noted this point today in the New York Times.
In the EdTech world, think of this new phase as Make sure Zoom or Microsoft Teams is integrated with the campus LMS, and someone figure out how to do transcriptions and make allowances for low bandwidth and phone-only access. For better or worse, the modern LMS was designed to handle privacy, reporting, course rosters, and documented interactions with students. Things that are not sexy but are required by federal and state regulations, and more importantly, things that should be done as soon and as well as feasible. I am not sure how well the rushed Zoom usage will hold up when dealing with lower-income students.
It is important for institutions to quickly find ways to at least begin ensuring equitable access and questioning how to improve the quality of online delivery, even during this emergency.
Phase 3: The New Normal
This section will be short because, well, there’s a lot we don’t know. But at the very least be aware that the old normal is gone. The impacts of Covid-19 on higher education are irreversible – it’s chaotic now, but a new normal will emerge. Perhaps not for a year, but it will emerge.
If you haven’t done so, read Laura Czerniewicz’s guest post from Monday sharing lessons learned from emergency shutdowns in South Africa in 2015-17.
In the meantime, at least we’re finding some humorous examples describing the need for quickly improving online course delivery.
And I love this McSweeney’s article as well.
It is remarkable how fast change has been thrust at colleges and universities in the past week and a half, and it is equally remarkable how quickly schools are reacting. People are pulling together with heroic efforts. But the job only gets more difficult as we enter this second phase.
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