Coronavirus and higher education resources

coronavirus_National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases I currently maintain several resources concerning higher education and the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.  I’ll keep this post about them on the top of my page as long as it can be useful during the pandemic.

I launched this post on March 9, 2020.

(image via National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Posted in coronavirus | 25 Comments

The United Nations publishes a climate report; I ask a question

Greetings from the start of fall in the northern hemisphere.  Here in northeastern Virginia temperatures are oscillating, giving us alternating glimpses of summer and autumn.  The cats are not entirely pleased, suspecting that humans have, once again, failed to arrange things to their perfect satisfaction.

It’s also been an overwhelming month for me.  Professionally, I finished my new book’s first draft (about 70,000 words) and am now revising it, seeing what first readers make of it.  My two fall seminars are under way, taking up more time since each is a hybrid/Hyflex class.  Clients are also engaging me – all for virtual events for the rest of 2021.  Personally, my family ran into three bad health scares, two of which turned out to be real, one treatable, and the other not.  Which is to say: my apologies for being quiet of late.

I’d like to return to the bloghouse with a note about climate change.  A note and a question, really.

It’s about that recent UN report. It has some good news about a group of nations promising to cut emissions over the next decade.  Yet even with that, there’s a very scary finding:

The available NDCs of all 191 Parties taken together imply a sizable increase in global GHG emissions in 2030 compared to 2010, of about 16%.

To translate from the diplomatic bureaucratic: GHG = greenhouse gas.
Parties = all nations which signed on to the 2015 Paris Accord.
NDC = how much GHG countries plan on emitting.

Did you catch that?

After all these years of science, of activism, of big declarations, of innovation, of proclaiming climate change to be an existential crisis for the human  – after all of that, civilization is planning on making the climate crisis worse. 

For some context, here’s what we’re supposed to be doing, according to the same report:

[T]o be consistent with global emission pathways with no or limited overshoot of the 1.5 °C goal, global net anthropogenic CO2 emissions need to decline by about 45 per cent from the 2010 level by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.

We’re not doing that.  Instead, “such an increase [that 16% rise], unless actions are taken immediately, may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7C by the end of the century.”  (That’s nearly 5 degrees F, for Americans.) So we’re blowing right past 1.5C.

It’s worse than it sounds.  All of this is in the open. The UN report is based on public declarations, the figures governments decided to publish.  This is the optimistic projection, the positive spin version. How much worse will the reality be, if we don’t change?

We’re not hiding this idea. We know what we’re doing right now. Instead of cutting back our GHG, humanity is going to make  even more greenhouse gasses and loft them into the atmosphere. We are doing this with our eyes wide open. Yes, even as the weather rages around us, with fires and storms on multiple continents.

This increase in emissions, this deliberate and public drive to worsen the climate crisis, this is what civilization in 2021 proclaims to the future.

Think about how this report and the series of decisions it describes will look to the future. Imagine that world after a 2.7C temperature rise.  When they consider us from their drowned cities, ruined agriculture sectors, acidic oceans, spreading deserts, and staggering human catastrophe, how will they view the human race of 2021? I do not think their judgement will be kind.

The UN report came out last week and the global response looks like… a big shrug. COP21 is coming up.  China just vowed to not build any more coal plants.  The United States is struggling to try passing a watered-down, massively cut bill which could have some climate mitigation measures. Britain is vaunting a green agenda while firing up a new coal plant.  The overall effect is one of resignation laced with a short-sighted drive to get the last goods out of fossil fuels while the getting is still good.

In higher education the report seems to have passed with summer temperatures and the start of fall term.

Overall, the report has not prompted us to revolt in the streets, even though its findings were widely discussed.  There has been no calling out of governments for proclaiming their willingness to hasten an existential crisis.  There is certainly nothing like mass civil disobedience, much less violence.

The very kindest verdict anyone can pass on us at this moment is that we are profoundly unserious about the climate crisis. Perhaps we are too exhausted from the global pandemic. Maybe climate positions have just hardened so much that shocking news like this only confirms each party in their pre-established view.  It could be that there still is little traction for ordinary people outraged by this, beyond altering selected shopping preferences.

What might a harsher verdict resemble? That, I leave to your imagination.

Personally, it’s making my book darker.  It’s harder for me to treat my best case scenario as plausible in any way, and easier to see staggering disaster as scheduled to hit us over the next two generations.

The question I have is: what are we going to do now?

Posted in climatechange | 5 Comments

A modest presidential proposal

My blogging has been slow these past few weeks.  My apologies.  The reasons include starting up fall semester, finishing the new book, and dealing with multiple family health crises.  Hopefully we’ll be past all of these soon.

In the meantime, allow me to offer a barbed entertainment.

A former college president offers a finely satirical column in yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed, and I’d like to recommend it.  The target: campuses refusing to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or masks, citing individual choice.  The conceit: extending this principle to other issues.

brian-rosenberg Brian Rosenberg begins by establishing the theme, quoting and linking to presidents in Georgia who’ve made this argument.  He also jabs at campuses which don’t take the decision or the crisis seriously:

[T]his decision, I assure you, was made after considerable thought and extensive consultation with several people I know…

Please know that we take the current pandemic seriously. We have acquired 60,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, several dozen COVID tests and enough masks for everyone on campus to wear one, in the event that they choose to do so.

Then he cuts loose:

Some have complained that our pandemic-related policies are inconsistent with other long-standing, freedom-restricting policies on campus, and I want to assure you that your voices have been heard. Effective immediately, therefore, I am making the following changes to campus guidelines and offices.

Smoking will now be allowed in all campus residence halls and classroom buildings. I hope that people will not smoke in those spaces, and I myself will not do so. But the decision to smoke and to assume the risks of smoking is, in the end, a deeply personal one, and it seems inappropriate to mandate that members of our community not smoke when and where they choose.

Do read the rest.  It’s dark, fierce, and funny.  Appropriate for a Charles Dickens scholar.

Posted in coronavirus, humor | 1 Comment

Reading the new IPCC climate crisis report: part 1

Today we’ll start our reading of the new IPCC climate report.

In this post you’ll find a summary of the “Summary for Policymakers,” along with questions, observations, and some resources.  We’re following the online reading plan laid out here.


The Summary begins by asserting a finding: that human activities have warmed the world.  The document breaks this down by parts of the world (sea, land, different atmospheric layers) and by degrees of certainty, along with room for some unevenness of cause and effect.  Consequences include increased rain overall, decreased ice and snow mass, shifting some storm tracks towards the north and south poles, sea level rise, extension of growing seasons in northern hemispheric temperate regions, “climate zones have shifted poleward in both hemispheres,” and ocean acidification.  How much have we heated the world?  “The likely range of total human-caused global surface temperature increase from 1850–1900 to 2010–201911 is 0.8°C to 1.3°C, with a best estimate of 1.07°C.”

The main human-created sources of climate change start with carbon dioxide, followed by methane. Several sources actually reduce temperatures:

IPCC 2021 causes of global temp changes-B

This human intervention into the climate represents a clear break from thousands of years of history:

IPCC 2021 surface temp changes 1850-1900

The Summary goes on to describe extreme hot weather events rising, including heat waves, great rainfall in monsoons, more rain in general, droughts, and tropical cyclones.  Compound hot weather events are also more likely – i.e., when two or more occur at the same time and overlap. At the same time, extreme cold weather events are gradually decreasing.  The report finds humanity playing some role in making this transformation occur.

IPCC 2021 rain and drought maps

Where excessive rain and more droughts are most likely to occur, seen through a schematic map.

Oceans play by far the largest role in soaking up increased temperatures: “Ocean warming accounted for 91% of the heating in the climate system, with land warming, ice loss and atmospheric warming accounting for about 5%, 3% and 1%, respectively…”  However, if global temperature rise hits higher ranges, the atmosphere will pick up more of the heat.

The 2021 Summary finds that equilibrium climate sensitivity is around 3°C.   ECS is an estimate of how much the world will ultimately warm, once the planet reaches a new equilibrium with incoming solar radiation.

Based on multiple lines of evidence, the very likely range of equilibrium climate sensitivity is between 2°C (high confidence) and 5°C (medium confidence). The AR6 assessed best estimate is 3°C with a likely range of 2.5°C to 4°C (high confidence)…

The Summary continues by offering five different scenarios for how much greenhouse gas output humanity might produce and how that can impact global temperatures over the rest of this century.  Each is named for a different “Shared Socio-economic Pathway,” or SSP:

IPCC 2021 5 scenarios

The report offers several wild cards or unusual events which may have an outsized impact.  One possibility is the chance of a major volcanic eruption, perhaps somewhat greater than those of Mount Pinatubo (1991) or Novarupta (1912). This form of nonhuman geoengineering might cool temperatures by ejected huge amounts of particles into the atmosphere, which then circulate globally:

C.1.4 Based on paleoclimate and historical evidence, it is likely that at least one large explosive volcanic eruption would occur during the 21st century. Such an eruption would reduce global surface temperature and precipitation, especially over land, for one to three years, alter the global monsoon circulation, modify extreme precipitation and change many CIDs (medium confidence). If such an eruption occurs, this would therefore temporarily and partially mask human-caused climate change.

In the opposite direction is the low-probability chance of a suddenly quickened ice sheet collapse. That’s for the most extreme scenario, SSP5-8.5, and would “result… from ice sheet instability processes characterized by deep uncertainty and in some cases involving tipping points…”  This could surge ocean levels beyond anything else discussed:

IPCC 2021 extreme scenario low-probability event

Beyond the year 2100, the changes described so far will last for centuries.  Higher levels of ocean acidification, higher ocean temperatures, smaller icepacks, reduced permafrost, and sea level rise will persist for a long time.  In particular, on oceans:

sea level is committed to rise for centuries to millennia due to continuing deep ocean warming and ice sheet melt, and will remain elevated for thousands of years (high confidence). Over the next 2000 years, global mean sea level will rise by about 2 to 3 m if warming is limited to 1.5°C, 2 to 6 m if limited to 2°C and 19 to 22 m with 5°C of warming, and it will continue to rise over subsequent millennia (low confidence).

What is to be done?  The IPCC summary is quite clear: a mix of zeroing out carbon emissions along with drawing down and storing already lofted CO2.

Achieving global net zero CO2 emissions is a requirement for stabilizing CO2-induced global surface temperature increase, with anthropogenic CO2 emissions balanced by anthropogenic removals of CO2.

Cutting down methane and other GHG is good, too.


Which scenario is most likely to occur, in your view?

How would zeroing out carbon emissions and cutting back emissions impact your life and your academic work?

How can we best communicate the Summary’s findings to a broader audience?

Do the IPCC’s projections look dangerous enough to justify the risks of geoengineering?

What should higher education do in the wake of this new report?


Overall, the new IPCC report confirms much of what I already researched about anthropogenic climate change. That doesn’t take away from its value, I think. Instead, continuities with other research show the science crystallizing.  That said, the ECS is lower than it was in earlier reports. There is more confidence in findings.

The scenarios are bare bones, just consisting of changed metrics along a similar line of datapoints.  But I think we can build on them.

I haven’t seen many academic responses so far.  By that I mean academics reflecting on what this means for higher education.

Writing all of the preceding took some self-control, as emotions of dread continued to hit me, even after being immersed in the subject for years.


From the IPCC, a press release. A Trello board. An interactive atlas.

Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climatologists, offers his reflections.

Introduction at The Conversation by Robert Kopp,  Professor, Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences, and Director, Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Rutgers University.

The New York Times has a good introduction with some reactions.

Morning Consult compared the report’s urgency to the American public’s apathy.

…and now over to you.  What do you think of the summary?  Is there anything we should focus on?  Want to try one of the questions?

(thanks to Vanessa Vaile for linkage)

Posted in book club, climatechange, scenarios | Tagged | 12 Comments

The latest data on American demographics and what it means for higher education’s future

The United States Census recently released data about the nation’s population.  This is very rich and useful stuff in general, and in particular has relevance for higher education.

Here I’ll summarize highlights, then add some thoughts about what it all might mean for the next decade of colleges and universities.  I don’t have time to go into the electoral implications (In the US, Census results feed into shifting and redesigning Congressional districts.).

Some of the most important findings have to do with race.  Most are unsurprising, and all matter.  To begin with, the number of people identifying as white or Caucasian is the largest number of the overall population (“204.3 million people identifying as White alone. Overall, 235.4 million people reported White alone or in combination with another group”) yet that number actually shank over the past decade, “decreas[ing] by 8.6% since 2010.”

The next largest racial group in American society remains Hispanic, numbering “62.1 million in 2020.”  That population grew very strongly, by 23% over the past decade.  Asian Americans grew even more rapidly, while the black population grew slightly.  In the BBC’s summary:

the Asian-American population swelled by 35% to 24 million, making it the fastest growing segment of the US population. The black population grew by 5.6%, though essentially held steady at 12.1% as a share of the overall US demographic.

US population by race 2010-2020_BBC

The Census also mapped out racial diversity by using an interesting stat: the odds that any two people will be of different races. They then applied this to states:

Census US diversity by state 2020

One of the biggest racial surprises was the massive uptick in people declaring themselves multiracial:

The Two or More Races population (also referred to as the Multiracial population) has changed considerably since 2010. The Multiracial population was measured at 9 million people in 2010 and is now 33.8 million people in 2020, a 276% increase.

276%!  That’s a huge cultural change.  How much of that is due to a generation’s worth of increasing interracial childbirth?  Some is due to changes in the language the Census uses, along with shifts in how Latinos see themselves, according to Hansi Lo Wang.

The Census also measured population density, and it’s worth reflecting on to see which states have crammed in the most people, and which are relatively sparsely settled:


Census US state population density 2020The most populous states are fairly consistent with recent history, showing a full range of geography (west, south, northeast, midwest) and politics (currently “red” and “blue” states):Census US top ten states by population 2020

Population growth followed a similarly diverse pattern: “Texas experienced the largest numeric increase between 2010 and 2020, followed by Florida, California, Georgia and Washington.”  On the other side of the demographic coin, “[t]he populations of three states — West Virginia, Mississippi and Illinois — and Puerto Rico declined over the decade.”

Mapping out the results shows the nation generally continuing to shift people towards the south and west:

Census US state population changes 2010-2020

Now, if we narrow our focus a bit, things get more complicated on the county level:

Census US county population changes 2010-2020Here we can see another demographic trend of  note: the emptying out of rural areas and growth of cities.

The population of U.S. metro areas grew by 9% from 2010 to 2020, resulting in 86% of the population living in U.S. metro areas in 2020, compared to 85% in 2010.

Meanwhile, remember that this data is not perfect, especially since racial tensions in 2020 may have skewed results.

So what does all of this mean for higher education?

Most of these results are further datapoints for trends I and others have been tracking for a while, and the suggestions I offer remain the same. Colleges and universities in rural areas will continue to suffer good chances of the local economy declining and of being less attractive to would-be students, staff, and faculty. The decline of the white population and the rise of other racial groups means continued attention to serving the latter justly. This will likely confirm campuses in their decisions to pursue antiracist programs and strategies.

I am still curious about the massive upsurge in multiracial identification and am not sure how that plays out in academia. Sure, at a data level, it means we need to be sure to support people in their many identity fields.  Does it also produce friction with politics and programs which see people as possessing unitary identities (i.e., Asian, not Asian-Hispanic)?  Does it point to a more fluid sense of racial selfhood?  I would love to see that population broken down by other identities, such as age, geography, gender, and education.

For most institutions the state and especially county data is the important stuff, as most campuses draw students locally.

What are academics in your networks saying about this Census report?

Posted in demographics | 4 Comments

Starting my future of higher education seminar tonight: the syllabus

Tonight I’m starting my future of higher education seminar for Georgetown University’s Learning, Design, and Technology program.  (I’m also teaching a seminar on technology and innovation for LDT. If this sounds interesting to you, considering applying to the program!) Here I’d like to share my syllabus along with some notes on the class.

This class is about helping the students think more creatively, knowledgeably, and strategically on the potential futures of colleges and universities.  To that end we explore a series of future-oriented materials, from a Stanford design document to several books imagining new post-secondary institutions. We also take time to explore the present, partly to expand and deepen their understanding of how colleges and universities work (or don’t), and also to teach them how to look for signals of the future in the current moment.

Speaking of which, the class also introduces students to several major futuring tools.  We experiment with horizon scanning, the Delphi method, trend analysis, and scenario creation. In fact, every week I’ll ask students to share what they discovered in their horizon scanning. There’s a week on science fiction, because that’s a powerful way of getting to think about the future.  There’s also a couple of weeks when we play a simulation game I’ve created, because gaming can be another vital tool for apprehending what might come next.

Man, I love this class.


August 26

Topic: introductions

Designing the class: technologies, community, practices, pathways

Forecasting methods: introduction

Exercise: introduction thread

September 2

Topic: higher education and the future

  1. Tressie McMillan Cottom, “The Education Gospel” (introduction to Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy)
  2. “Horizon Report: 2021” 
  3. Gidley, The Future: A Very Short Introduction, chapters 1-4

Forecasting method: Delphi

September 9

Topic: signals on higher ed’s operating horizon


  1. Brian C. Mitchell and W. Joseph King, How to Run a College A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators, and Policymakers, chapters 1-6
  2. Gidley, The Future: A Very Short Introduction, chapters 5-6
  3. horizon scanning: the past week from Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and selected blogs and Twitter feeds

Forecasting method: horizon scanning

September 16

Topic: trends in higher education


  1. Alexander, chapters 1-6
  2. Brian C. Mitchell and W. Joseph King, How to Run a College A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators, and Policymakers, chapters 7-9

Forecasting method: trends analysis

Exercise: trend identification

Horizon scanning

September 23

Topic: race, gender, and profit in higher education


  • Tressie McMillan Cottom, the rest of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

Horizon scanning

September 26: mid-term project 1 due

September 30

Topic: the uses of imagination


  1. Hernan Ortiz, “The Punishment Room” (
  2. Padgett, “Mimsy Were The Borogoves.”
  3. Suzette Haden Elgin, “For The Sake Of Grace.”
  4. Saxey, “Not Smart, Not Clever” ( 
  5. Stanford 2025 (; scroll down)

Forecasting method: science fiction

Horizon scanning

October 7

topic: technology and education


  1. Martin Weller, “25 Years of EdTech “(
  2. Staley, 120-158

Horizon scanning

October 14

Topic: the science of learning

Reading: Joshua R. Eyler, How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching (5-64; 113-148; 171-217)

Horizon scanning

October 21

Topic: narrating the future


  1. Staley, pp 160-217
  2. Alexander, chapters 7-14

Forecasting method: scenarios

Exercises: constructing scenarios

Horizon scanning

October 28

Topic: AI


  1. Charles Fadel, Wayne Holmes, Maya Bialik, Artificial Intelligence In Education: Promises and Implications for Teaching and Learning (read backwards!)
  2. AI-related horizon scanning

October 29: Mid-term project 2 due

November 4

Topic: simulating the future


  1. Alexander, “A Web Game for Predicting Some Futures: Exploring the Wisdom of Crowds” 
  2. Game materials: The Future University Matrix game  (download TBA)

Horizon scanning

Role assignments: TBA

November 11

Topic: decolonizing the university

Horizon scanning

Readings: la paperson, A Third University Is Possible


  • one more turn of Future University Matrix game
  • group prototyping of a University Model

November 18

Topic: determined by the class:

Readings: TBD

Horizon scanning

Exercise: group prototyping of a University Model

November 25 – no class; Thanksgiving holiday

December 2

Topic: the next universities






  • Bryan Alexander, Academia Next.
  • Tressie McMillan Cottom, Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy.
  • Joshua R. Eyler, How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories behind Effective College Teaching.
  • Charles Fadel, Wayne Holmes, Maya Bialik, Artificial Intelligence In Education: Promises and Implications for Teaching and Learning.
  • Jennifer Gidley, The Future: A Very Short Introduction.
  • Brian C. Mitchell and W. Joseph King, How to Run a College A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators, and Policymakers.
  • la paperson, A Third University Is Possible.
  • David Staley, Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education.

Recommended readings

  • Adrianna Kezar, How Colleges Change.
  • David Edgerton, The Shock of the Old.
Posted in classes and teaching | 4 Comments

Do students prefer online or in-person classes this fall semester?

Are you seeing college students opting more for online or in-person classes this fall semester?

I’m asking this question today because I’m hearing contradictory things from various reports and individual academics as they observe students choosing in real time.  On the one hand, polls have held that students prefer in-person education.  On the other, online sections might be more popular, especially if students don’t enjoy face-to-face classrooms mediated through masks, shields, and social distancing.

I put this question to Twitter and people have offered a range of stories about a shift towards online learning.

For example, Dr. Tracy Stuntz:

Dr. Christopher Conzen concurs:

Stephanie Kim describes a situation with two different online options, and both are growing:

Things might be more complicated than a simply online/offline class choice. Karen Kosta distinguishes between face-to-face in 2019 versus in-person in 2021:

Joann Martyn offers an interesting argument about residential campuses, I think:

Dannon Loveland agrees:

Matt “Dean Dad” Reed (and great Forum guest) sees the online rise as part of a year-long pandemic driven oscillation:

I posed this question on Facebook, both on my own wall as well as in a few groups, and received a wide range of responses.  Some saw rising preference for in-person, while others wanted more online. Some opined that it was too early to tell.

What are you seeing in your academic world?  If you’re a student, which would you prefer?




Posted in coronavirus, teaching | 3 Comments

Starting my technology and innovation seminar

Tomorrow night I launch my technology, innovation, and design seminar for Georgetown’s Learning, Design, and Technology program.  I’d like to share the syllabus here.

The class is required for LDT students.  Its goal is to expose those students to a variety of intellectual approaches to technology and innovation.  Accordingly I’ve cued up philosophy, linguistics, history, antiracism, business, feminism, science fiction, medicine, sociology, information studies, and a role-playing game.

Students have a lot of work to do.  There’s a barrage of reading, to which they respond through weekly writing and discussion. They have two midterm projects (analyzing one tech; an annotated bibliography) in addition to a final work. Each will also present on one technology, introducing and analyzing it.

I will keep my own presentations to a minimum. The goal is less for me to rant at students and more for us to think together to build collaborative understanding.  I encourage students to drive the discussion in general, and also to bring in their individual professional work and personal interests.

Overall I think it’s a challenging, rich, and wild ride.

Here’s the schedule.  Books follow at the end:

August 24

Topic: Introductions



Tech analysis_ intro questions

August 31

Topic: the history of technology

  • Reading: How We Got To Now 1

September 7

Topic: the history of technology

  • Reading: How We Got To Now 2

Student tech presentations:

September 14

Topic: Imagining innovation


Student tech presentations:

September 21

Topic: how innovations spread, 1

  • Readings: Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition: 1-52; 72-3; 87-218  (chapter 1; chapter 2 through the Miracle Rice story, the STOP AIDS story, and from “Opinion Leaders” on; chapters 3-5)
  • Referenced: Moore, Crossing the Chasm

Student tech presentations:

September 28

Topic: how innovations spread, 2

Student tech presentations:

October 1: innovation analysis due

October 5

Topic: how to nurture innovation


  • Jon Gernter, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (part one, chapters 1-11)
  • Rosen, “Prologue”.
  • Rage Against the Machine: Technology, Rebellion, and the Industrial Revolution, pp. 1-36; the primary sources are fun, too.

Student tech presentations:

October 12

Topic: simulating technological and social possibilities through Reacting to the Past


  • Rely on Rage Against the Machine: Technology, Rebellion, and the Industrial Revolution.
  • Your character biography (emailed to each of you)
  • Your faction  advisory (emailed to each of you)
  • Video clips (1,2)

Character assignments: TBD

October 19

Topic: justice and innovation, or: does technology have a politics?


  • Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, 1-96.
  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (one copy)

Student tech presentations:

October 26

Topic: Justice and innovation, 2


Student tech presentations:

November 2

Topic: beyond the western world

Reading: Digital Middle East, selections:

    1. Zayani, “Mapping the Digital Middle East: Trends and Disjunctions”, 1-32
    2. Any four (4) chapters of your choosing, based on your interests.

Student tech presentations:

November 9

Topic: technology and society

  • Rosen, “Changes in the Atmosphere”
  • Judy Wajcman, “Feminist Theories of Technology”
  • Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”

Student tech presentations:

November 16

Topic: futures

  • Student presentations
  • Two short readings, to be determined by the class

November 19: annotated bibliography due

November 23

Topic: futures




Print readings, offline, which you need to obtain

Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code.

Jon Gernter, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.

Steven Johnson, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made The Modern World.

Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition.

Mohamed Zayani, ed., Digital Middle East State and Society in the Information Age .


Recommended readings

James Bridle, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.

Charles Fadel, Wayne Holmes, Maya Bialik, Artificial Intelligence In Education: Promises and Implications for Teaching and Learning.

James E McClellan and Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History, third edition.

Carlota Perez, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages

Alex Roland, War and Technology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)

Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.

Movies from this list 

Posted in classes and teaching | 6 Comments

Fall semester toggle terms so far

Greetings from a warm and humid Virginian August weekend.  I have spent the past three days working at home on four different computers and wondering if I should rethink all work travel for the next season.  Today has a very spring 2020 feeling to it.

But that’s not what I’m posting about here.  At least, not about my personal choices.  Instead, I’d like to update you on campuses deciding to start fall classes online, rather than in person, and making that choice from fear of escalating COVID-19 infections.

To explain: most of academia has planned on fall 2021 being a time to return to in-person education after nearly two years of the pandemic.  Yet the sudden explosion of COVID’s Delta variant has thrown these plans into question.  One response is to return to some of 2020’s in-person public health measures (masking, low-density spaces, social distancing) plus vaccine mandates, encouragement, or assuming enough people on campus will have gotten jabs to make things safer.

Another response is to quickly throw classes online for a short period of time.  We did this in fall 2020 and I dubbed the practice the “toggle term.”  Since nobody has come up with a better label, I’ll stick with toggle for now.  The idea is that a campus experiencing a sudden and local COVID-19 upsurge can suspend in-person education for a short period of time, switching classes to remote instruction modes until the danger recedes enough to resume face to face experiences. The toggle is rarely publicized or celebrated, but the pandemic has proven it to be one tool in a college or university’s strategic toolbox.

toggles by Andy

Last week I wrote about some early toggle term instances.  More have cropped up since. I was initially going to just write about the new ones, but, realizing there wasn’t a running list of them, I decided to make this post just such a tracker.

Here are the fall 2021 toggle terms so far (UPDATED September 7, 2021):

  • At Alamo Colleges (San Antonio) “[m]ost courses will take place remotely for the first two weeks of the semester (Aug. 23-Sept. 6).”
  • California State University, Stanislaus announced it would hold the first six weeks of classes online.
  • Community College of Philadelphia moved fall classes online through October 15th.
  • County College of Morris will shift the “vast majority” of classes online from September 8 through October 26.
  • Duke University launched an optional toggle for faculty starting August 30. “Starting August 30 at 5 p.m., Duke undergraduate instructors have the option teach remotely.”
  • Eastern Gateway Community College decided to shift classes online starting September 7, “with classes anticipated to return to campus on Monday, October 25.”
  • Houston Community College will hold classes online “for at least the first four weeks of the semester.”
  • Lasalle University took classes online for the week of September 7th, after “experiencing a number of positive cases and presumed-positive cases among our campus community—almost entirely from within our student population.”
  • Liberty University announced a “campus-wide temporary mitigation period,” which is quite a phrase.  Classes will be online,  “[a]ll large indoor gatherings have been suspended,” and dining will be by carry out from “August 30, 2021-September 10, 2021.”
  • Rice University shifted the first two weeks of classes online.
  • Mahidol University (Thailand) will hold classes online under an emergency decree a
  • Southern Oregon University announced fall classes will take place online, “plan[ning] to return to a largely in-person experience on Oct. 11 or soon thereafter.”
  • The University of Dallas took a “pause” for in-person instruction for a week.
  • The University of Texas-San Antonio announced it would hold the first six weeks of classes online.

Several institutions are giving faculty the choice to move their classes online:

  • Lehigh University made the decision in order “to accommodate students and minimize disruptions associated with students in isolation and quarantine.”
  • Saint Lawrence University “has approved some faculty members to teach remotely for the time being. In addition, divisional vice presidents and managers have approved requests by some staff members to work remotely during this time.”
  • University of Hawai‘i at Hilo made the option available: “faculty were invited to move to a hybrid format, which includes both face-to-face and online instruction, for September.”

There are also other signs of toggle terms which are developing in different ways.  For example, Northern Illinois University decided on an unusual measure: a publicly stated toggle threshold.  When campus COVID positivity on campus reaches 8%, faculty can decide to teach online.  So far they haven’t gotten close to that number.  Perhaps we can think of this as an open or conditional toggle.

In Atlanta, a group of Spelman College faculty essentially threatened to launch their own toggle term unless administrators implemented stronger public health measures.  The instructors sent out a public statement:

“The faculty at Spelman College were excited about returning to in-person instruction,” the message began. “However, much to our disappointment, faculty have not received clear and enforceable protocol and safety guidelines that will ensure our health and wellbeing when teaching face-to-face. While awaiting acceptable responses to these concerns, we have decided not to teach in-person. Most faculty will use alternative instructional methods for course delivery.”

I think this may be the first faculty-driven insurgent toggle during this crisis.  Perhaps we can think of it as a bottom-up or organic toggle. Update: it looks like Spelman’s recent public policy moves have mollified those insurgent faculty, because the college president stated they agreed to return to in-person classes.

In my last post I mentioned the University of Florida’s abortive toggle. (more here) That’s another example of how this strategy can play out.

Have you seen any other colleges or universities implementing or exploring the toggle term?

I’ll update this post as reports come in.

(thanks to folks in the Higher ed in the pandemic Facebook group for a couple of suggestions; toggle photo by Andy; additional links and stories supplied by Hart Wilson, Megafauna)

Posted in coronavirus | 11 Comments

More toggle terms in play as fall classes draw nigh and Delta rages

On Friday I posted about the ways COVID-19 was worsening, and how higher education might respond as fall classes are about to start.  It was a rough post, one written in a mood of deep fear and anxiety.  I wrote about a “situation… spiraling out of control,”  that “[t]hings… now seem to be getting out of hand.”

After posting, I then drove 1,000 miles over the next two and a half days, depositing our son Owain in a new apartment on the University of Vermont’s campus.  The trip gave us an interesting glimpse into how American culture is responding to the Delta variant. I was offline for much of the weekend, being the driver, and just starting catching up on what I missed when I returned home last night.

New toggle term stories are some of what I found.

To explain: a toggle term is when a college or university switches between in-person and online experience for a short period of time within a semester, in response to perceived pandemic dangers.  A campus can enact one or more toggles within a single term, depending on circumstances.  I first came up with the idea in April 2020.  Since then there were many examples of this during 2020’s pandemic peaks.  As the Delta variant soars through the American population, including some forms of breaking through vaccines, I anticipated we could see more toggle terms realized.

On Friday I shared one example of this.  The University of Texas-San Antonio announced it would hold the first six weeks of classes online.

we must temporarily adjust our approach to opening our fall semester—balancing an evolving new normal around in-person learning with additional practical controls—until we see the Delta surge begin to diminish and return to less risky levels similar to what we experienced earlier this summer.

Over the subsequent weekend more toggle stories appeared.

California State University, Stanislaus announced it would hold the first six weeks of classes online.

ALL instruction will start on Aug. 23. However, courses that were planned for face-to-face or hybrid instruction will begin in virtual formats and will transition to in-person on-campus instruction on Oct. 1.

As CSU-S’s president explained, the cause was clearly epidemiological: “notable increases in COVID-19 cases locally due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, and the need to reduce potential exposures on campus…”

The toggle is flexible, so CSU-S could, in theory, move that October 1 date forward or backward, depending on perceived conditions.

Reading about this, I had all kinds of questions. What were the metrics for deciding this, and which ones will prompt a return to in-person edu – a certain infection rate in the county, or hospitalization rate?  On the governance side, what role did faculty play in this decision? Were students involved?  Operationally, how will this CSU handle the practical and pedagogical needs of sudden online edu? Will they outsource parts of it? How are they implementing lessons from 2020? What will they do differently this time?

Elsewhere in the United States, in another state experiencing a massive wave of Delta infections, the University of Florida seems to have considered a toggle term, then retreated.  Inside Higher Ed tells the story, starting with an official email describing such a scenario:

D’Andra Mull, vice president for student life, sent an email to students Friday evening that said in part: “[T]he mode of delivery for your courses may be changed to a virtual environment for the first three weeks of class.”

Then UF retreated fast and hard:

[on] Saturday morning, the university released this statement: “In efforts to manage the pandemic’s effects on university life, there have been discussions about moving some courses online for the first three weeks of the semester. The decision was made today that UF will not pursue that option, nor will any other university in the State University System. UF will offer courses as indicated in the published Fall Schedule of Classes, with the majority of classes being offered in-person. Some face-to-face courses will be supplemented with additional HyFlex online sections so that students who are not able to attend the class in person may attend online.”

(Man, that’s a lot of passive voice.)


Mull sent students another email, which said in part: “In our efforts to manage the pandemic’s effects on university life, there have been discussions about moving some courses online for the first three weeks of the semester, and there have been notifications to that effect for some courses. Upon further review, the decision was made not to do that. … These are incredibly difficult times. Please know that I appreciate your flexibility as we continue to try to find the best way to serve your needs as students.”

Florida, California, Texas: not coincidentally, those are the three American states with the highest COVID-19 infection numbers.  Here’s a ranking of the top 10 states from DIVOC-19:

coronavirus infections by US state-Florida_91-DIVOC 2021 August 16

Might more toggle terms come?  There are other states in that graph, mostly in the southeast. I wonder about the rest of the California State University system, which often acts in concert, and all of which are experiencing a Delta surge.

I wonder, too, about Penn State, whose faculty members just passed two measures of no confidence in their president’s pandemic plans.  Would a switch online be a politically available action?

In the state suffering the worst from Delta on a per capita basis, Louisiana, Louisiana State University faculty are demanding a better plan, including remote work.

After calling for a vaccine mandate for students for months, faculty and staff members are now pushing for remote-work options, to keep them away from classrooms and offices full of people of uncertain vaccination status.

LSU’s situation includes this:

Classes begin in less than two weeks at Louisiana State University. Dorms and most classrooms will be filled to normal capacity. As of Monday, only 36 percent of students had reported being vaccinated against Covid-19, while 88 percent of employees had said the same. A vaccination requirement will not go into effect until at least one injection receives full approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

One third of students are vaccinated and most classes will be full.

One more reason for a toggle term, rather than switching online through December, is projections that the Delta wave will crest and recede relatively quickly.  Here, for example, is the University of Washington’s IHME projection:

coronavirus infection projection 2021 Jun-Dec_IHME_2021 August 16

There’s an improvisatory nature to such fast planning. As I said earlier, much of higher ed seemed to follow most of American society in spring, hoping for a post-COVID fall. But as Sarah Sangregorio observes:


Are there any signs of short-term toggle terms in your world?

(thanks to Lisa Hinchliffe and Inside Higher Ed)

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The pandemic is getting worse. What does this mean for fall semester?

This week I’ve been focusing on climate change, between my book and the new IPCC report.  That was what I planned to work on, along with dealing with multiple family crises and fine-tuning my fall seminars. But COVID just won’t let me do it, and so now I fire up the blog engines to look ahead to what fall 2021 classes might look like.

I’ll summarize some recent pandemic developments here in some detail, then add forecasting notes.  I hope readers feel comfortable sharing thoughts and stories in comments.  You can use the contact page to reach me directly, if you don’t want to go public.

The reason for my sudden switch between catastrophes?  Things… now seem to be getting out of hand.  We started summer 2021 with high hopes, as the number of people getting amazing vaccines was growing towards herd immunity and president Biden spoke of July 4th as an independence from COVID day.  Colleges and universities planned on finally returning to in-person education.

Then that happy image began to get more complicated.

In the United States vaccination rates fell and barely half the population was fully treated.  Local and national politicians politicized public health to new heights. Around the world the Delta variant swept in and ignited fast new waves of infection. Then reports and research started questioning just how effective these vaccines are against the new strain.  The Centers for Disease Control backtracked on its May masking recommendations.  It all felt more than a little like very early 2020.

Then over the past week a whole series of COVID pandemics suggest a crisis out of control.  To wit:

  • Delta infections are soaring in parts of the world.  The World Health Organization numbers 203,944,144 confirmed cases globally.  This seems likely to worsen.
  • It looks like Delta is able to defeat current vaccines more readily than its predecessors to some degree. Reports and research are all over the map here (here’s one sample article), so it’s hard to determine the precise degree of relative weakness, but we know that vaccinated people can be infected, get sick, and transmit Delta in significant numbers.  Vaccines still protect us well from serious illness, injury, and death.
  • Being in a highly vaccinated population is no longer a guarantee of COVID safety.
  • There’s talk that herd immunity is impossible.
  • Some American counties are hitting or overrunning hospital capacity.
  • Various ideas about booster shots and the need for new vaccines are in the air.
  • Delta is bad, but the virus keeps mutating, of course, so there are fears of post-Delta strains. (cf the SAGE report)
  • Governors are fighting with local officials over mandates.
  • Anti-vaxxers may be becoming more active. An anti-vax German nurse may have injected thousands with simple saline instead of the COVID vaccine.  French vaccine centers were defaced, presumably by those opposed to vaccines.
  • There is rising dissatisfaction with the CDC, and not just from partisan grounds.  People are questioning their communication strategy.

And now?  August 12, 2021, I pull down these visualizations from 91-DIVOC.  Let’s start with global infections:

coronavirus_world infections_US_91-DIVOC 2021 August 12

The United States, a world antivax leader, is now taking off with infections.

Let’s break it down by states:

coronavirus_infections_US states_91-DIVOC 2021 August 12

Florida, Texas, California and running away with infections.  But those are populous states. Let’s normalize cases by state population and see how things look:

coronavirus_infections by US state_normalized by pop_91-DIVOC 2021 August 12

Now Louisiana is the leading disaster.

Those graphs describe infections.  What about deaths?  That’s a lagging indicator, but a couple of months with Delta might have an effect:

coronavirus_deaths by US state 91-DIVOC 2021 August 12

Deaths overall are rising, even with high numbers of people over 70 vaccinated.  According to the CDC, COVID has so far killed 616,459. That’s an undercount, most likely.  Total infections stand at 36,125,176, or a little over 10% of the population; definitely an undercount. In contrast, CDC counts 353,205,544 vaccine doses injected, more than one for each person living in the United States.

Anecdotally, I am hearing horror stories and resignation from people across America.  A former student, now a medical doctor, describes many staff and physicians refusing to get vaccinated while local hospitals reach their breaking point.  My wife worked as a contact tracer during an earlier pandemic wave; now she’s been hired by a county public health agency to encourage workers in small businesses to get vaccinated.  Academics tell me of their dread and anxiety, as well as their sense of being betrayed by public officials and campus administrators.

In my field, higher education, responses are all over the map. Some campuses mandate vaccines while others do not. Some require masking; others no. Over the past 24 hours:

  • The University of Mississippi set up space for patient overflow from nearby hospitals.
  • The University of Wisconsin battled that state government about who has masking mandate/ban authority.  Cleveland State defied the state of Ohio and required vaccinations for students living in residence halls.
  • Stanford University is requiring vaccines *and* testing for its entire population.
  • The University of Texas-San Antonio announced it would start fall classes online.
  • There are many stories of students buying and selling fake vax cards. (one example)
  • University of Iowa faculty request mandatory vaccination and masking.
  • Texas A&M is holding a drawing for free tuition to students who show proof of vaccination.
  • Louisiana State University requires masking but not vaccination.
  • The University of Texas-Austin estimates around 200 students will hit campus in a few weeks already infected.  As far as I can tell that campus has neither a vaccine nor a mask mandate.  They are requiring students to show proof of negative COVID testing in order to get dorm room keys.
  • A Chronicle of Higher Ed reporter notes that with campuses planning on full complements of students, it’ll be harder to have everyone socially distance.
  • One tenured University of California-Davis professor vowed to take his classes online if the public health situation worsened:


As of now, only 686 campuses require vaccines, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s tracker.  That about 15% of the total.  Put another way, a supermajority of American colleges and universities have deliberately chosen not to mandate vaccines.

So what might fall semester look like, starting in a few weeks?

There seem to be several conflicting tones out there.  The rising worries I mentioned above are certainly within academia.  The desire to return to fall 2019 is also present, a kind of determination mixed with stoic optimism.

A year and a half ago I generated three scenarios for fall 2020.  They were:

  1. The Post-Pandemic Campus. Face to face learning, as if the pandemic had moved on.
  2. COVID Fall. Mostly or entirely online as a public health measure.
  3. Toggle Term. Switching between 1+2 as campus leaders assess infection numbers.
Bryan_3 COVID scenarios_WSJ

The Wall Street Journal did a great video on these scenarios.

The reality of fall 2020 bore them out pretty well.  A chunk of colleges and universities opted for the Post-COVID Campus model.  Another group ran with COVID Fall. And a good number flipped the toggle, even multiple times during the term.

I think each of these scenarios is now on the table.  Quietly, most of the time, but in people’s minds.

I’m not sure what proportion of American academia will pick each scenario over the course of fall term.  We know that our population generally prefers the Post-COVID Campus – i.e., most prefer in-person education.  On the other hand, how many institutions will forego revenue, possibly outsource tech, and choose COVID Fall, even in the face of faculty and staff dislike?  The Toggle Term: almost no campuses announce they are considering this openly until the crisis is upon them.  But maybe administrations will think their communities are experienced enough to accept that maneuver.

In addition to those three scenarios from early 2020, campuses came up with options I didn’t forecast.  One is hybridizing among the three scenarios, as with HyFlex classes (which combine in-person and online presence) or splitting a campus population evenly between Post-COVID Campus and COVID Fall.  Kim and Maloney’s Low-Density University is a great account of these and other strategic choices from last year. The Openings, a Georgetown publication I helped with, is also a fine source. And now we have many contours for strategy which we didn’t have in August 2020, including vaccines and improved therapies.

What else might we expect?

Political tensions between academics and governments could escalate.  We already see this in Wisconsin.  Think of faculty and staff speaking out in public, people assembling petitions, student protests, governors calling on police to enforce policies, etc.

We could see pro- and anti-vax tensions escalate. Already a good number of people blame antivaxxers for Delta’s outbreak. Some enjoy schadenfreude when antivaxxers get sick or die. Meanwhile some of the Q-anon folk who survived the great disappointment of Trump’s loss have turned to vaccine conspiracies, which could lead to violence from or against them.

Many academics may just soldier on, exhausted and hardened by nearly two years of this horror. Historically we know pandemic survivors describe being increasingly inured to suffering and death; perhaps we will accept more human damages as the price of conducting academic work.  On the flip side, faculty and staff resentment of senior administration could burst out into no-confidence votes, bad morale, quitting, protests, strikes, or even physical conflict.

We could also experience panics in various forms if long-suffering people feel betrayed by authorities and/or that the situation is spiraling out of control.

Alternatively, there are ways things could turn out less badly. Delta could burn through populations quickly, given its high R0 rate. Successor strains could be weaker. And this moment’s dread, combined with social pressure, could drive more vaccinations.  We need to bear that possible path forward in mind.  And get everyone who can vaccinated.

But this isn’t a balanced post, looking at multiple options.  It’s focused on the present sense that the near future is getting out of hand, when it comes to COVID-19.  I admit to writing this with a great deal of personal anxiety, worried about my family, students, and clients.  I am increasingly suspicious that many leading authorities are fouling up Delta, and that many of us may pay the price.

Put another way: a year ago I asked readers to imagine what things would look like if the pandemic lasted three years.  We’re heading towards the end of year two now and year three is looking darker.  Now… here we come.

I’ll keep this post up for people to share their thoughts, reflections, stories, and expertise.  Please be sure to get the vaccines because they are far better than the alternative.  Mask up.  Take care and be safe.

(thanks to my family for conversation and to Linda Burns for a link)

Posted in coronavirus | 12 Comments