Coronavirus and higher education resources

COVID-19 single virusI 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.

  • A list of resources for keeping track of the virus, including dashboards, official sources, experts on social media, open access content, libguides, etc.
  • A spreadsheet listing information about colleges and universities closing because of the virus.
  • A range of posts about COVID-19 and its impact on academia.
  • Live video events: Chronicle of Higher Education; EdSurge; Future Trends Forum.
Posted in coronavirus | 25 Comments

What are the criteria for flipping a fall semester into a Toggle Term?

How will colleges and universities respond to on-campus infections this fall?

Previously I have posited three scenarios that describe how academic institutions might proceed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  One of them, Toggle Term, outlines a semester wherein campuses switch from some kind of face-to-face operations to wholly online instruction, echoing the March 2020 switch to remote education.

What would have to happen for an administration to decide to throw the switch?  What criteria need to be met for a Toggle event?  And will that threshold be openly published?

back to school_John Trever Albuquerque Journal 19 Jul 20

John Trever, Albuquerque Journal, July 19, 2020

To get started, the essential Robert Kelchen gives us all this prompt to consider:

If I was a college president, I would be crafting a plan that tied on-campus operations to data on coronavirus cases among the college community and in the surrounding area. Some of the metrics would include:

  • Number of known cases among students and employees
  • Number of known cases in the county
  • Capacity to quarantine on-campus students
  • Available space in local hospitals (beds, ICU space, and ventilators)
  • Fatalities could be a measure, but it is probably too gruesome to include even though all deaths may be impossible to avoid

A very good start for discussion.

What real-world examples are available now? So far most institutions have not openly proclaimed their Toggle intentions, as I’ve noted over the course of the summer.  Which makes some practical sense, since such a proclamation might scare off on-site enrollment.

Yet we can find hints in college and university publications.  Undergrad student and research fiend Benjy Renton found one precedent from Florida A&M, dated to late June.  In it three or more infections would trigger some kind of unspecified administrative response.

Elsewhere, a recent Wall Street Journal article by Melissa Korn and Douglas Belkin notes several potential Toggle triggers.  First, for students: “100 new infections a day has been discussed as one measure for triggering a renewed shutdown.”  That’s for Texas A&M University, which enrolls around 69,000, meaning a threshold of about 0.14% of the population.

Second, a trigger for faculty members: “‘If it was 100 professors a day, it would be game over,’ [Michael Young, president of Texas A&M University] said. ‘We can’t lose 20% of professors and continue to run the university.”  Going by Wikipedia, 100 profs is about 2% of that campus’ professoriate.

Korn and Belkin found several others.  Syracuse University has a set of tiered options based on rising infections by multiples of 10: 1-10 infected, 11-100, more than 100.  The >100 level is actually two tiers, one with “moderate” confidence in identification and tracing, and other with low confidence.  Only the latter amounts to a Toggle.  More than 100 infections with moderate tracing yields this response:

i. Impact on Campus Operations: This scenario may require the curtailment of operations in select programs or areas, but falls short of a campus-wide response. The objective is to reduce ongoing exposures by scaling down specific programs, buildings, and areas. Select programs move back into an online-only environment with non-resident students staying off campus, resident students staying in their rooms and non-essential affected employees working from home.

ii. Impact on Residential Life: Known exposures to quarantine, potentially in bulk (e.g. entire building or more). Infections move to isolation. Others shelter-in-place (stay and study in their rooms).

Note that these numbers are from the entire population, not broken down by profession or sector.

Also in the Korn and Belkin article is another Texan example.  The University of Texas-Austin cites “student death” as an event that “will result in a discussion of closure, partial closure or on-campus reduction.”  I think that’s one student death, singular, based on the phrasing.

UT adds other “considerations” with more detail than I’ve seen elsewhere:

Employee absenteeism with focus on critical areas such as environmental services (ability to maintain a safe, hygienic campus)
Increases in percent positives in testing…
Personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages impacting ability to test and care for COVID-19
Inability to adequately test for COVID-19 due to supply chain issues (e.g., collection kit, processing reagents)
Clusters: If the activity from clusters overwhelms our ability to quarantine/isolate and contact trace; Number, location and type of cluster (cluster in a single hall versus multiple, widespread)
Positive tests in excess of predicted model
Upward trajectory of ILI and COVID-19 syndromic surveillance within a 14-day period over baseline rates
Upward trajectory of documented cases or percentage of positive tests (with flat or increasing volume of tests) for 14 days
Increasing cases of community transmission (no known source) in student population
Degradation of containment capabilities

Note this subheader for the first item: “Acknowledges possible under-reporting by faculty and staff and serves as a marker for illness.”

The University of Washington case suggests a higher threshold for a Toggle.  They endured nearly 140 infections, almost all in fraternity houses, and still maintain a blended (albeit 80% online) fall plan.

On a related note, the NCAA shared its criteria for “the Discontinuation of Athletics”:

A lack of ability to isolate new positive cases or quarantine high contact risk cases on campus.
Unavailability or inability to perform symptomatic, surveillance and pre-competition testing when warranted and as per recommendations in this document.
Campuswide or local community test rates that are considered unsafe by local public health officials.
Inability to perform adequate contact tracing consistent with governmental requirements or recommendations.
Local public health officials stating that there is an inability for the hospital infrastructure to accommodate a surge in hospitalizations related to COVID-19.

On the other hand, maybe we really can’t offer such criteria now. David Feldman argues that we can’t set any such criteria at this point:

Or the threshold should be very low indeed.  I’m haunted by Tressie McMillan Cottom’s tweet:

I can follow up as I learn more.

Are any of you seeing such Toggle criteria?

(thanks to my wife, Lisa Durff, and Todd Bryant for linkage; John Trever link via a scan (I hope it’s ok; I’ll take it down if not))

Posted in coronavirus, scenarios | 5 Comments

Announcing a new project: Higher Education’s Big Rethink

How will higher education change in response to this extraordinary year?

I’ve been writing and presenting on this topic for a while, and now am delighted to announce a new project addressing it.  I’ve been working on it this summer, alongside a great team.

Higher Education’s Big Rethink is a Georgetown University graduate class about how academia is experiencing two huge 2020 developments: the COVID-19 pandemic and the national mobilization against racism.  The class is happening right now – actually, the first class is ongoing.  We’re holding another during the fall.

Georgetown hall

The Big Rethink addresses the topic by exploring several deep questions:

How Can We Unpack the Meaning of Fall Adaptation?

What is the State of the Teaching and Learning Agenda?

What is the Potential for Justice-Focused Innovation and Transformation?

To that end the project has created several different components to different degrees of public availability.

To begin with, there’s the graduate seminar itself, hosted by Georgetown’s Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) master’s program. This meets weekly and includes discussions, collaborative writing, and presentations.  It takes place entirely online, due to the pandemic.  The legendary Randy Bass leads the class, along with other LDT faculty, outside speakers, and staff.  The students are great, cocreating the class as we build it during the events it describes.

Another part of the Big Rethink that I’ve been working hard on is a set of interviews with brilliant people on this academic transformation.  Scholars, activists, professors, presidents, entrepreneurs, each with a distinct approach to the topic: I and graduate students talked with each for an hour or more.

Students and faculty collaboratively built up a question set we put to all interviewees. Students also wrote up biographies of each speaker and identified key points in their discourse.  The first week’s set is now live and available here.

For example, we met with Johns Hopkins University political scientist Lester Spence, who addressed campus actions against racism and the ways we can redesign teaching and learning:

Or our conversation with University of Pittsburgh professor of educational foundations Gina Garcia, a specialist in Hispanic-serving institutions, and who spoke of how COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter revealed inequities within higher education:

You can find the whole series here.  You can also sign up here for updates, as we’re adding recordings nearly every day.  We have 15+ hours already done and further interviews scheduled over the next few weeks.

There are additional projects under way within the Big Rethink. I’ll post about them as they develop.  For example, we’re looking at how to invite sharing stories about academic transformation, especially those told by instructional designers.  More to come.

The Big Rethink is coming to you from Georgetown’s Learning, Design, and Technology (LDT) master’s program.  It’s one I’m proud to teach in.  It’s the kind of work LDT does. And LDT’s approach to education informs the Big Rethink:

A critical studies approach to higher education.

A vision of learning that is transformative and holistic, equitable and inclusive.

A transdisciplinary approach to learning design that integrates the learning sciences and design methodologies with creativity and making.

A focus on the future as an object of study.

An agile and broad approach to learning design that is practical and applied to professional contexts.

A commitment to social and racial justice and the goal of positively shaping the future of higher education in the service of the common good.

See the future line?  YES.

It’s an exciting project, and one I hope helps people in and adjacent to academia think and plan during this unusual time.

More to come!

Posted in coronavirus, teaching, videoconferencing | 11 Comments

What happens to the Trump administration when Trump leaves office? A crowdsourced query.

What happens in American politics after Trump?

Specifically, whenever and however he exits office – by losing an election in 2020, by a full impeachment, by resignation, by death, leaving in 2025, whatever – what next steps does America take?

As a futurist I’ve been thinking about this since the 2016 election.  Surveying American politics, looking at political trends,  checking polls, following commentators across geographical and ideological ranges: it seems like a whole set of possibilities are in play right now, three months before the November election.  Looking into the past century of American history gave examples of many of these options.

I’d like to offer a poll as another crowdsourcing experiment, as the last one turned out well.  I already asked my odd Facebook audience and got a rich discussion going there, and I’ll use that (thank you all) to shape today’s query.

Let’s see if many eyes and minds can give us a look into post-Trump possibilities.

Here’s the poll itself.  Explanations and the comment box follow:

A) Prosecution and other legal challenges for Trump and various people who at one time worked with him. There are a bevy of potential charges out there. Many individuals, groups, and entities can bring these to bear, from state officials to classes (as in class action suits) and maybe some feds. For charges, I’m thinking especially and most recently of various forms of fraud, human rights abuses, wrongful death due to mishandling COVID-19 (think about this story for an example). We could see Congressional hearings like the Pecora Commission (for the 1929 crash) or the 1970s Church Committee (for CIA, FBI abuses).

B) A political reform movement Such a thing would address itself to not just undo what Trump hath wrought, but to reduce the factors that made him possible. This could mean all kinds of thing: more anti-racist education in K-12, an effort to restore the Fairness Doctrine (for tv news), a push to constrain presidential powers a la the post-Nixon 1970s, regulations on social media, a drive against voter suppression, or campaign finance reform. It could also have social and cultural dimensions – more shaming of racists, say. A technological dimension could see an actual successor to Facebook arise and really be used. It could also escalate as far as a Constitutional amendment process or Convention.

C) A truth and reconciliation commission  Instead of, or alongside, lawsuits and state action, we could hold some kind of restorative justice process like the post-apartheid South African one. Victims of certain Trump policies would meet with administration perpetrators to determine compensation.  For this to happen at all there would have to be some kind of social consensus that the Trump administration was an unusual disaster for the US.  A massive electoral defeat in 2020 could play a role in this.  A big crack in GOP alignment with Trump would help.  At a smaller scale we could see individual acts of restorative justice, or at least mediation.

D) Amnesia and forgiveness  There are many, many precedents for this.  Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. George W. Bush and his team were increasingly vilified for the disastrous Iraq war, but were then gradually accepted back into society, even with open arms.  There was no Pecora Commissions or any prosecutions for bankers involved in the epic crash of 2008.  One way this amnesia/forgiveness can occur is when political and public attention have moved on.  The pandemic might have that effect, or an associated economic wreck.

E) The GOP redesigns itself If Trump exits under a bad cloud, the Republican party could conduct a deep round of self-examination.  There is precedent as they did an “autopsy” after their 2012 loss.  This introspection could play out in various ways.  The Grand Old Party could fragment into splinter parties.  One faction could seize control a la the Tea Party.  Or a big tent coalition could re-assemble.

F) A higher level of extreme right-wing unrest, including violence.  We can imagine lone shooters, organized groups, and active militias threatening public figures because we’ve already seen that.  A Trump exit on grounds that aren’t triumphant could spark a backlash.  What happens to the Q-Anon movement when they experience their own great disappointment?  How many well-armed white nationalists will decide to upgrade their cosplay into trying to start a civil war?

G) Nothing but another decade of partisan divide If Trump gets hauled out in shame the GOP could nonetheless remain strong enough to block most anti-Trump measures, especially in the states and Congress.  They will also have a bevy of officials appointed by Trump to fall back on.  Enough popular support could adhere to the Republicans that no punitive measures, or even truth and reconciliation, manage to gain traction. If there is a Democratic White House we could experience another tightly partisan timeline like that of the Obama administration.

H) Other. How else could this unfold?

Which of these seem most likely to you? And what else do your foresee?

You can vote for two or more choices if you see multiple options unfolding.  And please use the comment box to expand on your thoughts.

(thanks to Leeman Kessler, Rob Henderson, Nancy Margaret Saleeby, Tim Pendry, George Station, and many friends for input here)

Posted in politics | 14 Comments

In late July academia changed its mind about the fall term

I wonder if this past week was when American higher education made its major move in the direction of online education for fall term.

I don’t mean that 100% of colleges and universities are now wholly virtual.  Instead, I mean that after months when the plurality aimed for an in-person fall, a key number of institutions changed up.  They either issued a first decision to go mostly or entirely online, or else revised a previous in-person policy for the fall semester. Put another way, the balance of positions, which was once tilted towards face-to-face education and various hybrids, seems to be tipping towards online and various hybrid forms.

One sign of what I’m talking about comes from what the Chronicle of Higher Education tracker is now showing. It’s been running for months, but they’ve revised it over the past week or so.  Here’s what it displayed back on June 19th:*

coronavirus fall plans 2020 June 19 Chronicle

You can see a majority of institutions, about 2/3rds, calling for an in-person fall term, while only a sliver, 8%, were committed to online.

About a month later, July 14th, things were fairly similar, although hybrid was growing:

coronavirus campus plans for fall 2020_2020 July 14_Chronicle

Contrast that with what the tracker displayed this past Friday:

coronavirus fall 2020 college plans 2020 July 31_Chronicle

Now only 23.5% of higher ed is planning on being entirely or mostly in person this fall. That’s not even one quarter of the system.  A big fall from two-thirds.  At the same time, many more colleges and universities (27.8%) are wholly or mostly online now.  In fact, more seem to be online than in-person.

At the same time around about that number (27%) are undecided. That is a lot of campuses without an official plan for the term… which starts in a few weeks.  Meanwhile, 16% are “hybrid.” It’s not clear exactly what that means.  Perhaps it’s the population settling to around half online, half in person?

Now, I don’t want to read too much into one publication.  The Chronicle changed up their metrics somewhat.  But the shift away from in-person is clear. In short, something big happened in late July.

Further on down the Chronicle’s tracker page we find fall plans mapped out spatially.  The geography of fall decisions is fascinating:

coronavirus fall 2020 college plans -MAP- 2020 July 31_Chronicle

Different fall modes are everywhere.  There are way too many schools planning on in-person education in Florida and Texas.

A related project, from which the Chronicle draws, is Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative (C2i).  This offers a similar dashboard of fall plans:

coronavirus college fall plans 2020 July 31_DAvidson

By my count, they offer a similar reading as the Chronicle:

27.9% Fully Online and Primarily Online

23.6% Fully In Person and Primarily in Person

16.3% Hybrid

27% TBD

Again, we’re down to less than one quarter of academia now committed to in-person education.

How does this reality, if I’ve understood it correctly, map onto our forecasts?

Back in April I offered 3 scenarios for the fall:

  1. The Post-Pandemic Campus (in person)
  2. COVID Fall (online)
  3. Toggle Term (switching between 1+2 in mid-academic year)

1+2 are clearly in play. A version of 3 is happening now, rather than during classes, as some schools change up their plans.  Call it Early Toggle.

Now, many in our crowdsourcing experiment leaned towards late summer for campuses to flip the Toggle. They clearly saw reality pretty well.

Robert Kelchen memorably anticipated this shift happening a bit earlier:

A similar game of follow-the-leader will very likely take place in late June or early July, when presidents of a few prestigious colleges will write opinion pieces in national newspapers announcing their institutions’ decisions to stay online in September because of public-health concerns.

So some of us were ahead of the curve.

Now, what’s driving this July shift?

Clearly the rising US COVID-19 infection rate is key.  You can see the daunting tolls in the latest stats from the CDC:

TOTAL CASES 4,542,579


Here’s the 91-DIVOC visualization of national case rates over time:

coronavirus by countries_US highlighted 2020 July 31_91-DIVOC

The US took and maintained a global lead in viral spread, with a second surge going on now.  Note the other countries rising, notably Brazil and especially India – from which America draws the second highest number of international students after China.

Besides infections, American deaths by COVID are also rising, albeit in a lagging position:

coronavirus by countries_deaths_US highlighted 2020 July 31_91-DIVOC

Within the United States, the condition of separate states matters a great deal.  Think, for instance, of campuses located in those states with the highest infection rates, Florida, California, Texas:

coronavirus by US states-infections_Florida_2020 July 31_ 91-DIVOC

And, similarly, colleges and universities in those states with the highest death rates:

coronavirus by US states-daeths_Florida_2020 July 31_ 91-DIVOC

Should a campus not in those most afflicted states refuse to welcome back student from them?  Doug Belkin and Melissa Korn report on one school’s strategy:

In upstate New York, Ithaca College plans to open its campus to students—except those arriving from the 31 hard-hit states on New York’s 14-day quarantine list. Those students can only take classes remotely because there isn’t enough room at the school to wait out their quarantine…

We can cut the data even more finely and think about infection rates by US county, as per the New York Times:

coronavirus spread by US counties 2020 July 31_NYT


How many students are drawn from those yellow to red counties?  In short, the current epidemic situation must be counted as a leading drive for this July change.

Stories of rapid infection in areas adjacent to academia might have played some role.  I was struck by the Indiana school district story, where a junior high school opened and experienced its first infection within hours.  Others have noted the fast transmission of the virus through a Georgia summer camp population this past June.  Not all higher ed students are teenagers, as my readers know, but enough are to inspire some campus decision-makers.

We should add to our understanding academia’s well known tendency towards herd behavior.  Institutions scan each other for behavior to adopt.  Following this line of thought, we should expect the 27% undecided colleges and universities to follow the rest, with a quarter of them opting for in person, and the rest split between online and hybrid.

In short, late July looks like it was a decisive moment for how American higher education responded to the coronavirus crisis.  It may represent the second most powerful swarm of institutional decision-making about the pandemic this year, after the rush online in March.

*Lots of images in this post.  Would it work better as a slideshow or video?

(thanks to Derek Balsley and my wife Ceredwyn for pandemic links)


Posted in coronavirus, future of education | 5 Comments

COVID cuts deepen: higher education starts confronting fall 2020 realities

How will higher education be transformed by COVID-19?  How much damage will there be?

Back in March I forecasted fierce financial pressures to come as a result of the pandemic.  Others issued similar analyses.  Since then I’ve been tracking how colleges and universities have responded, including, for example, a snapshot of cuts in just part of May.

That was during the previous fiscal year, 2019-2020.  Now we’re in the new fiscal of 2020-2021 and staring at a fall term as it barrels towards us.  New cuts are starting up and they are biting more deeply than earlier ones.

Here is a sample from July:

  • The University of Akron cut “178 positions, including 96 members of the union faculty and nonunion faculty, contract employees and staff.”
  • Tarleton State University is committed to “30 layoffs and reassignments,” plus cutting one academic program.
  • Roanoke College is cutting $6 million from its budget, which means axing 14 jobs.
  • The University of Iowa is cutting $15 million and 15 instructors – and that’s just the first phase of three, because of “UI’s $70 million financial loss due to COVID-19 and an $8 million cut in state appropriations to state Board of Regents institutions.”
  • Canisius College decided to “lay off 96 employees, including 25 professors,” thanks to “a projected $20 million shortfall in a $75 million budget.”
  • Carthage College announced it would “reassess… our academic programs” – in other words, to “eliminate up to 20% of faculty and restructure 10 academic departments.”
  • The state of Nevada has a new budget, which includes (among other things) serious cuts to that state’s public universities, colleges, and institutes.  They range from 19.66 to 25.87%.
  • The University of North Carolina system’s leader asked each campus chancellor to prepare plans cutting to “their budgets by between 25% and 50%.”
  • The University of Missouri rolled out 3,598 furloughs and compensation cuts to 2,317 staff – after laying off 173 staff.
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio ended 312 jobs, among them “one-tenth of the university’s non-tenured faculty, ranging across all academic departments.”
  • Oberlin College decided it would no longer employ its unionized dining staff, firing them and outsourcing instead.
  • Stephens College axed 30 employees.
  • Maryland dealt its public institutions a roughly $200 million budget cut.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed is trying to keep track of as much of this human damage as possible.  They have numbered “at least 51,793 employees in academe… known to have been affected by… a layoff, a furlough, or a contract nonrenewal resulting from Covid-19.”  (emphasis in original) And yet: “because a specific or approximate count of leaves of absence, terminations, workplace reductions, or contract nonrenewals is not known for every action, the sum represents a significant undercount.”  And it looks like they haven’t updated since July 2.

All of these cuts are taking place in a context of general economic havoc.  For months there have been staggering numbers of unemployed people, perhaps 11% at present. Millions have retained their jobs, but taken pay cuts. (Thanks to Creative Marbles for the link) In addition, “49.1% of American adults live in households which have experienced a loss in employment income,” according to the US Census.  The entire economy sagged beneath a huge second quarter production collapse:


GDP US 2016-2020_BEA

As I’ve said elsewhere, This Can’t Be Good For Higher Ed.  State governments have lost revenue and seen their expenses rise – and we know public higher ed is an easy thing to cut, nationwide, in red states and blue.  If half of American families have lost money in this crisis, they might not be of a mind to spend as much on college as they once were.  And so on.

All of these cuts can lead one to see all of American higher ed as doomed.  There are columnists and professors who make this argument.  But that view is wrong on multiple levels, starting with the most basic.  This nation’s post-secondary ecosystem contains roughly 4,400 colleges and universities.  In today’s post I only addressed a sliver of them.  Yes, others are making cuts, but some are not.  For example, Bowdoin College is going to spend roughly $1 million on new devices for students.  Here’s my Twitter thread on that story, if you’re curious on that point:

Other liberal arts colleges and universities are investing in extensive pandemic countermeasures without laying off people.

Some institutions are protected by their reputations.  A few others benefit from not only having a serious endowment, but the political decision to use it.  Others are enrolling students in programs that look very positive right now: everything health care related, for instance.  Some that have suffered from being in rural locations might enjoy an enrollment uptick as people prefer the relative isolation.

The picture is complex, just like American higher ed.  These cuts are not uniform.  They range from not rehiring adjuncts to kicking out unionized dining staff to booting tenured faculty.  Some cut programs, while others do not.  Some might be one-offs while others are part of a series of reductions.

But I want to make sure we note, recognize, reflect on, and feel the human toll being exacted as colleges and universities grapple with COVID-19 in this new fiscal year. I especially want to record cases far from the elite.

In my work over the past decade I’ve warned about multiple stresses squeezing American higher education.  The pandemic accelerates some of them.  The campuses mentioned in this blog post have been coping with those trends to various degrees.  They met the virus to varying degrees of fragility.

Looking ahead, I hope I don’t have to do too many more of these posts, yet am prepared for the possibility.

Posted in coronavirus, higher education | 9 Comments

Into the fall: upcoming video conversations

FTTE logoThis spring and summer the Future Trends Forum explored many issues surrounding the upcoming academic year in an extraordinary time.

Now it’s still summer, but the fall term is drawing closer, and we have a whole series of guests and programs lined up to explore how that could play out, and what we can do.

(You can sign up for weekly announcements right here)

July 30, 2-3 pm EDT: How can we improve our online teaching?  We’ll meet with professor James Lang, author of Small Teaching (publisherour bookstore) and co-author of Small Teaching Online (publisherbookstore).  Lang focuses on “small, manageable changes we could make to our teaching that would have a significant positive impact on student learning.”

August 6, 2-3 pm EDT: How can we facilitate the best possible videoconference experience?  I’m delighted to host Nancy White, one of the world’s greatest gurus on holding awesome webinars and synchronous classes.

August 13, 2-3 pm EDT: What are the best ways to balance academic work and life for faculty, students, and staff?  Our guest will be Rebecca Pope-Ruark, of Agile Faculty.  She will explore her research and practice.

Redesigning Liberal EducationAugust 20, 2-3 pm EDT: when and how can we rethink and reshape liberal education?  We’ll meet with some editors of and contributors to the new book Redesigning Liberal Education: Innovative Design for a Twenty-First-Century Undergraduate Education (ed. William Moner, Phillip Motley, and Rebecca Pope-Ruark)

August 27, 2-3 EDT: How can American higher education succeed, given its  sprawling disorganization? The new book A Perfect Mess makes the case that this chaos is precisely the strength of United States colleges and universities.  We are unusually free to experiment, innovate, fail, and advance.  We’ll meet with its author, David F. Labaree, the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus, at Stanford University.

September 3, 2-3 pm EDT:  What role do accrediting agencies play in shaping the future of higher education?  What can these underappreciated groups accomplish?  We will meet with Sonny Ramaswamy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, to learn.

September 10, 2-3 pm EDT: How are Asian American women scholars changing higher education?  How will they shape the future of colleges and universities, research and teaching?  We will address these questions with Kieu Linh, Caroline Valverde, and Wei Ming Dariotis, creators and editors of the new book Fight The Tower.

September 24, 2-3 pm EDT:  What is the HyFlex method of teaching online and in person at the same time?  How are or might colleges and universities apply it this fall?  We will meet with professor Brian Beatty, the inventor of HyFlex, to learn and explore.  We’d also love to hear your stories of using HyFlex as an instructor, students, or staff member!

Speaking of HyFlex, In June we welcomed professor Beatty to our most widely attended Forum so far, and are delighted to host him once more.

Who else appeared on the Forum this summer?  As always, we post just about every recording to our YouTube playlist.

Daniel Markovitz:

Phil Hill:

Sonja Ardoin:

John Ibbitson:

Terri Givens:

Chris Newfield:

Eric Boynton:

Matt Reed:

My thanks to these great guests and the awesome Forum community for building up fine conversation together.

Posted in Future Trends Forum | 2 Comments

Webinars that don’t suck: the Monster Manual game

How can we make videoconferencing a rewarding experience?  How do we create webinars that don’t suck?

Last week I tried a new group exercise which actually turned out well, and I wanted to share it to see what others make of it.

This took place during the Learning (Hu)man online event, hosted by Arizona State University.  The multi-day event included sessions on a range of topics concerning education, technology, and creativity.  Paul Signorelli does a good job summarizing some of it.

I hosted three sessions.  Two were social, not about content, and were a lot of fun.  There were games involved, along with costumes, improv, food, drink, and lots of goofiness. I can post about them later on.

The third one was different. It was for the day whose theme was “Flipping Scary Stories,” the idea being to get people thinking creatively about their fears around education, technology, and creativity.  I was brought in for my background with Gothic stuff (lit, this blog, etc.). My initial idea was to bring up scary stories in order to help people think more clearly about their – and then, how to defeat them.

Monster ManualDuring a brainstorming session beforehand I floated ideas past the Learning(Hu)Man organizers.  One was to ask people to share fears, then gradually turn them into monsters.  That way participants could a) have fun, and b) put a mental wrapper around the fears.  One organizer told me this reminded her of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977).  Aha!  This could work as a visualization.  It might delight nerds in the audience, too.

When the day came and the 50-minute session began I explained the plan to everyone: first, folks would surface fears, then turn them into monsters.  Next, they would find the monsters’ weaknesses, and then create heroes to defeat them.  The end product would be a kind of counter-Monster-Manual.

I presented this in a lighthearted way, peppy and fast, not at all gloomy.  I made sure my Zoom appearance was brightly lit.  Why?  I didn’t want anyone to get scared off or freaked out.  The Gothic wasn’t the point.

Time was short, so we began right away. I asked the crowd to quickly share their fears about our shared topic (the nexus of innovation, technology, and education).  They had the Zoom chat to write in and also audio to speak out loud.  I opened up a Google Doc, shared that screen, and wrote like mad, either scribing from the audio or copying and pasting from chat.  Some of the results:

Failing students

“I can’t do it”

Humans are done – we won’t be able to keep up!

A teacher giving “morning work” during the pandemic

Buy the newest, most expensive tech and your students will achieve so much more

Technical issues that prevent students from accessing a given resource.

Admin and staff afraid of the future

Students are coming from high school lacking academic preparation for college.

It was a fascinating mix, including fears for oneself (fatigue came up) and fears for other people.  There was a lot more, too; the above is just a sample.


The latest edition.

Next, I invoked the Monster Manual to ask them to imagine those fears in the form of  monsters.  Silence greeted this prompt, so I went on.  “Envision one of these fears as an imaginary creature.  Give it an appearance.  Identify its strengths, attacks… and weaknesses.”  Responses started to flow, then participants got into it.  They offered names, attributes, and more.  It took a little while to generate weaknesses, but they got to these with some further prompting.

The exercise took on a life of its own.  Some volunteered people and other entities that assist a given monster, so I ran with this: “Add ‘allies,’ if you can think of some!”  That proved popular.  At the same time some participants hunted images down and either pasted a URL into Zoom chat or (with my ok) shared their screen to reveal art.

Here’s an example of one monster: Endless student loan debt

Category: Parasite

Powers: Mind control

Appearance: Not hidden

Attacks: Drains characters; forces players into harsh cost/benefit ratio calculations

Allies: banks, universities (elite), tradition, government, parents 

Weaknesses: voting, transparency, open source education, OER, debt forgiveness, corporate partnerships, free tuition, good advising.

One image provided for the Endless Student Debt Monster:

student debt monster

Another fiend was The Silo Monster.

Appearance: big, big, old silo – with many more

Powers: sneaks under bed; generates mind-fuddling acronyms

Attacks: separates people; spreads anxiety; blocks other points of view; feeds on line item budgets; leaves people powerless; grains suck up innovation and creativity; empowers people for the wrong reasons; hides information; endless blame; urges prejudice ; spreads babel 

Allies: many alliances in a maze

Weaknesses: friendships, transparency, forced funding partnerships, tech to collaborate, wicked problems, road blocks->shared thought->people listening to each other; multidisciplinary courses

silo monster

Actual title: “Steampunk Cookie Monster”

Next up – remember that the clock was ticking, the session being only 50 minutes long – I focused on monsters’ weaknesses and asked people to say more about them.  I used folkloric examples for inspiration: garlic against vampires, silver bullets versus werewolves.  More weaknesses came from the audience.  That shifted the session’s ground towards opposing, rather than delineating monsters.   Which was where I wanted people to be, so they could nominate heroes to oppose the bad things.

I feared that might be too cheesy a call, but participants responded rapidly. Ideas came really quickly.



Storytellers – using data










Government (when it isn’t evil)



Cowboys – “out front and getting shot”

FOSS developers

OER creators

Notice the range of people, both within and beyond academia?  And how some weren’t people at all but concepts or social structures: scholarships, interdisciplinarity.

Then folks starting making the game more complex.  For example, some identified automation as a monster, while others saw it as a hero.  Another person saw heroic possibilities in certain monsters because of the responses they elicited.  (Actually, this started early on.  I had to finesse things, recognizing the ideas, but promising to get back to them later, which I did.  Noting them on the Google Doc may have helped.)

By the end my sense was that participants were energized.  They really wanted to go further, adding more heroes and monsters, but we were out of time.  I shared the Google Doc’s link, thanked them, and wrapped up.

As an experiment it was a lot of fun.  It did several things.  First, it combined emotional extremes: horror, goofiness, serious reflection, and inspiration.  Second, it was very participatory, consisting mostly of participants’ contributions (but see below). My job was to organize, inspire, and take notes. Third, it was playful, even gamelike, not so much by gamification techniques (points, formal roles, quests) so much as by free play and improvisation.  Fourth, it embraced nerdery enthusiastically.

What I would do differently next time:

  • I forget to set the Google Doc to allow anyone with the link to edit, so they wouldn’t co-write.  That worked out, since I wrote quickly, but I would have preferred that they join in.  In fact, this can be broken out into steps, including asking them to bring in outside media (images, videos, audio).
  • I didn’t have any visuals beyond a cover image of the latest Manual.  Maybe it would help to have a sample entry, giving the less nerdy among the audience a better visualization of how to anatomize a critter.
  • Allow more time to explore each point.  It worked in under an hour.  90 minutes would let us surface and think through more.
  • We didn’t discuss copyright for images.  That can be a buzzkill.  Maybe it would be useful to point people to specific sites for public domain and CC-licensed content.
  • I wonder if I should ratchet back the nerd level.  Geek culture can leave some people cold or actively offend others, especially in academia.  Perhaps I can gesture towards Dungeons & Dragons more quickly, enough to hail the nerds, but not so much as to alienate others.
  • Would audiences beyond role players want more background about D&D and the monster catalogue?  I don’t know.

My thanks to the generous audience who participated so enthusiastically.  And my thanks to the ASU team who let me get away with it.

(Previous posts on webinars and how to make them not monstrous

Posted in gaming, teaching, videoconferencing | 9 Comments

How are towns and communities reacting to campuses opening up?

As we look to the fall semester and consider higher education’s unfolding plans, what do campus towns think?  What are people in a school’s immediate community expecting and planning as their local college or university strategizes for autumn?

There’s a long history to what Americans* call “town-gown” relations, the sometimes vexed, sometimes mutually beneficial interaction between colocated academics and nonacademics.  This is where all kinds of alliances and culture clashes have taken place for generations.  Questions of student behavior off campus, policing, zoning, mutual respect and the lack thereof, academic-merchant relationships, etc. are all standard for the topic.

So how do they play out as campus and town alike approach fall 2020?

One crucial dimension is the economic.  Simply put, the campus population – mostly students, the largest number – contribute economically to the local community.  They buy and rent goods and services from non-campus merchants: food and drink to conerts, apartments, tattoos, cars, and stationary supplies.  Some students also work in the nearby area.  A college or university that hosts all or most of its population this fall is one that will boost the local economy.  One that’s online, in contrast, represents an economic hit.

At the same time, local merchants, nonprofits, government agencies, and the general community may anticipate challenges in obtaining these in-person benefits.  Setting aside the usual town-gown issues, there is the newer problem of the pandemic.  How will locals cope with students who fail to follow public health measures?  How many maskless students can a bar or pizza joint refuse to serve before they get a bad reputation?  How does a landlord feel about renters who might host parties where social distancing flies out the window?  Conversely, what frictions will arise when members of the academic community interact with locals who fail to heed public health measures?

On Twitter Barry Burkett thinks that all of these dynamics are in play now:


I was reminded of this question when a friend shared a story about Amherst, Massachusetts, where UMass Amherst is planning on opening up.  The leading town authority is very worried about those plans:

[Town Manager Paul] Bockelman contends in his communication, which he said should not be seen as anti-student, that the university’s reopening plan could “fuel the conditions for a massive spread of COVID-19” and overwhelm the public health infrastructure, including at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton, strain EMTs and paramedics and force public safety officers into potentially dangerous situations.

He specifically called out one part of campus life:

“Without normal university programming, students will have to produce their own college experiences, creating conditions that will likely result in a spike in COVID-19 cases in the town…”

And Bockelman offers four very concrete points for the local UMass to adopt.

One Sheldon Jacobson goes further, connecting young students with an older and/or sicker town population:

Likely lapses in student adherence to social distancing and face mask requirements will be penalized with new infections. These student infections will fuel the virus transmission highway, inevitably reaching at-risk people in the host community.

On the flip side, what happens to towns when the gowns don’t show up, because they’re all remote?  A Forbes article includes an interview with the “mayor of Oxford, Ohio — home of Miami University of Ohio — Kate Rousmaniere… both a long-term resident and an employee of the university…”  Rousemaniere reports concerns with housing, as local

residents are concerned that the decline in the student population will create less rentals, which will empty out the housing stock of the community. Empty houses rapidly become an eyesore, raise possible issues of vermin and housing decay and, over time, permanent residents will see their property values deteriorate.”

An NBC story offers some pithy takes on this, referring to communities with online campuses as ghost towns, and including a zinger:

“When a university sneezes, the town gets pneumonia. Now when the university has pneumonia, what does that mean for the town?” Stephen Gavazzi, professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, said.

At my alma mater,

University of Michigan students contribute almost $95 million a year in discretionary spending to the local economy in Ann Arbor, according to the university.

Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of Zingerman’s, an iconic deli company that owns multiple operations throughout Ann Arbor, said he has furloughed almost a third of its staff from 700 to 450, and estimated that sales were 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

“There are many businesses that are doing much worse,” Weinzweig said.

Either way, COVID-19 seems likely to hit the town side of the academic-community relationship hard.  How will campus and community coordinate?  What kinds of tensions and benefits will result?

How is your non-academic community responding to these autumnal academic possibilities?

*I wrote “Americans” because I haven’t heard anyone else use the term.  Is “town-gown” current elsewhere, especially in the Anglosphere?

Posted in coronavirus, higher education | 7 Comments

One particular problem with the ICE international student ruling

On July 6th the American Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) ruled that international students would not be allowed in the United States if their classes were entirely online.

There are all kinds of problems with this, as I and others have been discussing here, on Twitter, and elsewhere.  In this post I’d like to explore one particular problem.

Toggles Down and Up_CogdogWhat happens when international students start classes in person, but at some point their college or university switches to entirely online education?

I’m thinking of the Toggle Term idea.  This is a scenario wherein a campus offers entirely or mostly an in-person, face to face educational experience, then decides to switch to online-only because of some COVID-19 development, such as a campus outbreak or massive infection wave in the immediate community.

How would a Toggle Term impact international students, if the ICE ruling stands?

To establish some parameters, we can assume about 1 million international students in American higher ed this fall.  IIE estimated 1,095,299 last fall.  Let’s assume some attrition from March and a bit more from anxieties over this upcoming term.

How many campuses might throw the Toggle?  According to the Chronicle of Higher Ed this morning, 85% of American colleges and universities are planning on offering either an in-person or blended experience.

coronavirus campus plans for fall 2020_2020 July 14_Chronicle

For the sake of discussion, let’s posit enough campuses enter Toggle Term to impact 100,000 students.

We can start with the personal and practical impacts.  These students would have to leave the country right away.  This means they have to break whatever housing arrangement they have, such as campus residence halls or apartment/rental houses.  They will have to arrange international travel.

The obstacles are evident.  How many won’t be able to scrape up the cash for this?  How many nations won’t accept students back, fearing – rightly – infection from America.  Perhaps they are coping with their own outbreak, or for other, possibly horrible, political reasons?  How many of the 100,000 would thus enter a homeless limbo?

The costs are also apparent, starting with the psychological and financial pressures on these students, which can be enormous.  I wonder how many will use technology to draw attention to their plight, and how many will run silently, fearing malign attention from trolls or police.

Continuing classwork will be a challenge in ways familiar to those of us who lived and worked through March 2020.  Setting up synchronous video sessions will be difficult when leading numbers of those 100,000 students are rebased in central or East Asia.  It will also be difficult for those lacking bandwidth and/or dealing with local network restrictions.  The problems of doing hands-on work remotely (dissections, culinary arts, diesel engines, sculpture) will return.

Back in the US, campuses will lose some of them as enrolled students – remember that many international students pay full tuition and fees.  Campuses will also lose some as workers, teaching assistants, and research assistants.  The local economy, both campus and otherwise, will miss their spending on food, clothing, rental, etc.  Campus emergency planners and operational leadership will have to track and address this complex, multinational problem.

Looking further ahead to 2021, much depends on if these colleges and universities throw the Toggle back to in-person/hybrid education.  If they do, then it’s going to be difficult for these 100,000 to make their way back to America, to arrange for housing, and to regain their work positions.  Some may want to avoid that problem and so remain home to continue classes online.  Some may instead decide to skip that semester or year, or to leave the institution completely.

What if the Toggle remains thrown in the “entirely online” position?  All of the aforementioned online learning problems continue, as do the local economic hits.  How many truly remote students will continue study, or will we see another enrollment dip?

I wonder which other countries and their universities would market themselves in opposition to an American Toggle.  Those with low and controlled COVID infection rates can credibly present themselves as safer, more reliable alternatives to the United States.

My heart goes out to these students now, some of whom I know.

(Toggle photo from Alan Levine; thanks to disaster planner Gwynneth for conversation)

Posted in coronavirus, higher education, scenarios | 8 Comments

Liberal arts colleges look to fall 2020

How will American higher education take shape this fall?

(UPDATED August 7)

I’ve been exploring that question since COVID-19 roared out of Hubei province.  I’ve addressed it at a systematic level and by examining several institutions’ strategies.  Today I’d like to focus on one sector of American academia, a small but influential one: the liberal arts world.

I’m going to set aside the definitional question of “what is a liberal arts campus?” for now.  These institutions – typically colleges, although some are styled universities – tend to focus on residential undergraduate education, have a low student:instructor ratio, encourage interdisciplinary study, are small, are usually private, and have a high level of student support.  They also tend to call themselves liberal arts institutions.  That’s enough to get us started.

How are they planning their fall semesters?

Here I’d like to outline some trends I’m seeing across a range of these campus.

tl;dr version – they are the Post-Pandemic Campus, COVID Fall, Toggle Term, Blended Post-Pandemic Campus and COVID Fall, transformed calendar, changed course loads, interdisciplinary, online COVID-19 classes, faculty dissent, and student dissent.

Caveat 1: remember that their size and creativity means liberal arts colleges and universities are capable of rapid development and change.

Caveat 2: I’m not saying these plans are unique to “LACs.”  Ideas circulate across the full institutional ecosystem.

Caveat 3: this post describes a single moment in time, within a very flexible situation.  Some campuses, like Knox College, haven’t committed yet to fall plans.  Much could conceivably change over the next month and a half.

I’ll start with my three scenarios for a fall academy, then move on from there.

The Post-Pandemic Campus Some campuses plan on reopening for in-person education, either for their entire population or most of it, such as Hampshire College, Middlebury College, Lawrence University, and  Colgate University.

One example is St. Olaf College, which will welcome back their community in person.  The school requires students to take a detailed pledge.  Furman University is also inviting students back with a pledge.

Another example can be found in Colby College.  To be sure of community safety, they will offer pandemic testing.  A lot of pandemic testing:

[I]n addition to required face coverings, social distancing, limited visits to campus and travel restrictions for faculty, staff and students, Colby will test people several days before they come back to campus and retest them three times during each of their first and second weeks.

“Every week thereafter we will test them at least twice. We’re going to do 85,000 tests in the first semester alone, which is pretty close to what the entire state has done for over 1.3 million people since the beginning of this pandemic, and we’re going to do that our population of only 3,000 over the fall semester,” [Colby College President David Greene] says.

The cost for that: $10 million, according to one accountRobert Kelchen sees this as “Colby is swooping in to spend millions on testing to woo students.”

In contrast Colorado College will offer, but not mandate, testing.

Rollins College will host students again, but warns them that not all classes will be face to face:

This fall, we will leverage videoconferencing software to engage students both in and out of the classroom. All students will need a videoconference-capable device (e.g., laptop with camera, tablet, smart phone) and some type of headphones or earbuds that include a microphone for classes. This solution will allow both in-person and remote students to actively and equally participate in class with their faculty and—importantly—with each other.

Vassar College welcomes students back to campus, but apparently not to town, at least for a time: “Phase 2: Confirming Community Standards (August 31–September 25)”

Students living in campus housing will be expected to remain on campus during the academic semester. With very limited exceptions, such as medical care, off-campus student travel is not permitted. [emphasis in original; thanks to Bill Owens for the pointer]

Middlebury College student and keen observer of the pandemic Benjy Renton was entertained by one college’s admonition:

COVID fall: In this scenario campuses are wholly online or nearly so.  Few instances appeared in May and June, but they have started cropping up this month, likely driven by the current infection surge.

One example is Pomona College, which announced plans for an online COVID fall term. Its announcement is sober, even elegiac, arguing that the current pandemic is likely to persist and make in-person campus life too risky, especially given infection rates in the immediate vicinity.  Therefore the college aims for this:

Strengthening and refining our remote education

 Taking steps to support students in challenging situations, promote educational equity and reduce financial strains

Preparing the campus for the more realistic possibility of at least some students returning to Pomona for spring semester

The president showcases some examples of appealing online teaching work:

Professor of Environmental Analysis Marc Los Huertos is one of a number of faculty members developing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous resources that will permit students to engage on their own schedules. Professor of Music Genevieve Lee and others in the department are working with ITS to provide their students with microphones, WiFi hubs and additional technologies to improve the audio experience on Zoom. Professor of Physics Janice Hudgings is busy reinventing her Modern Physics laboratory to permit students to develop their own experiments using everyday objects.

Nearby Scripps College, Occidental College, and Soka University are also heading back online, and for similar reasons.  Scripps also hopes to return to in-person in spring 2021.

In Pennsylvania, Dickinson College announced its fall term would be online, as did Lafayette College.  Rhodes College in Tennessee announced the same, hoping for an in-person spring 2021.  Mount Holyoke College moved online in August.

Grinnell College will hold the first half of fall term online.

Toggle Term This scenario posits a campus ready to switch between online and in-person education as the situation calls for it.  As I’ve said previously, few schools are willing to pronounce publicly that they are considering such, but we can find hints when we look carefully.  For example, Hamilton College offers a pointer in  this direction with its advice to students: “We strongly recommend all students minimize the possessions they bring to campus in the fall (we suggest two suitcases and a tote).”

Vassar College published a similar notice:

Please pack light for the Fall 2020 semester. This will facilitate an easy move-in process and swift move-out, if public health conditions require students to leave campus prematurely.

Franklin and Marshall College offers a similar caution with more detail, under an appropriate header:

Closing Campus as Necessary

We aim to be on campus from the beginning of classes on August 26 and on-campus residence halls will close at Thanksgiving (November 20, 2020), and students will work from home for the rest of the fall term. Residence halls will also close at any time that the College decides it must close. Students who decide to return to campus must have an exit plan if they are living in on-campus residence halls. In other words, if the College must quickly close due to an outbreak or for other reasons, we will not house students for any extended period of time (absent temporary isolation/quarantine before departure). As part of your preparations, please consider limiting the number of items you bring to campus. [emphasis in original]

That calls to mind the rapid exfiltration of students off campus in March, and the problem of personal belongings.  (We experienced this in our family, as Owain left the University of Vermont in a hurry, and we had to do a second trip to get his remaining stuff.)

Colgate describes its flexibility and offers a good how to teach remotely site for faculty, but stops short of a full Toggle:

The Task Force on the Reopening of the Colgate Campus, along with the staff of the University’s Emergency Operations Center, is therefore developing a comprehensive series of plans to help mitigate transmission and impacts related to COVID-19. We have built-in flexibility to permit faculty and students to continue remote instruction if desired or needed. Further, the University has prepared for the likelihood of new cases of COVID-19 presenting on the campus by identifying student isolation and quarantine spaces.

(See also “Changed calendar” below)

Blended Post-Pandemic Campus/COVID Fall I’ve mentioned previously that a fourth scenario is appearing, one that blended the wholly open and the entirely online scenarios.  The rhetoric is interesting, emphasizing openness and downplaying the online bit (Mount Holyoke College titles their fall announcement “The Plan to Open the Gates”) (then moved online), but the blend is there once you look into the texts with care.

We can see one such liberal arts blend in Amherst College.  They are currently planning on a semi-open fall semester:

we can adhere to the best public health guidance and offer an excellent educational experience to students who are on and off campus if we bring approximately 1,200-1,250 students to campus in the fall. This represents just over 60 percent of our total enrollment and between 70 and 75 percent of those who indicated interest in returning to campus for their studies.

It’s an interesting mix of students:

we will give priority to all first-year students, all transfer students, all sophomores, any seniors who are scheduled to graduate at the end of the fall semester, and seniors who are returning to campus after spending the fall and/or spring term of the 2019-20 academic year studying abroad. In addition, two categories of students may petition to study on campus: senior thesis writers whose work requires access to campus facilities or materials that would otherwise be unavailable; and students whose home circumstances impede their academic progress.

Bowdoin is doing something similar: “We will have some students back in the fall, but not all students.”

The group on campus will be: our new first-year and transfer students; students who have home situations that make online learning nearly impossible; a very small number of senior honors students who cannot pursue their pre-approved projects online and require access to physical spaces on campus, and can do so under health and safety protocols; and our student residential life staff.

Also similar is Swarthmore College, which gives certain populations “the option to return to campus this fall: First-year students Sophomores Incoming transfer students Resident Assistants.”  They show their math for how this aims at a certain population density:

we have determined that we can accommodate approximately 900 students on campus this fall. Typically, we have about 1,500 students on campus. That 900 figure is based on factors such as the number of rooms available to house all students in single bedrooms, the ratio of students to bathrooms in the residence halls, necessary cleaning protocols, our capacity to observe physical distancing in our dining facilities, and our ability to reserve housing spaces in the event that students need to be quarantined and isolated.

Smith College will primarily house first-year students.  Union College also emphasizes housing first-years, but gives others the choice of in-person or online.

Carleton College is bullish about the proportion of students who will appear in person (“We expect 85% of our student body to return to Northfield in the fall”), but is planning for a blended term:

No student will be required to return to campus in order to continue their Carleton education this fall, and no faculty member will be required to teach in person…

We will offer a hybrid curriculum. Some classes will be offered in person, some will be offered online, some will utilize both in-person instruction and online engagement, and some will be “mixed mode” classes with some students online and some in person. These varied delivery methods are necessary in order to manage classroom spaces and accommodate students and faculty who are working and studying remotely. All students should expect to take some online courses—including those living on campus.

Colby College will offer both in-person and online options this fall, but hasn’t specified which populations or what proportions of the community will take which choices, as far as I can make out.  College of the Holy Cross is similar.

Wellesley College offers an interesting twist, with one population dwelling there in the fall, and the rest in spring, swapping roles over the course of the academic year:

first-years and sophomores will be invited to campus this fall and will study remotely in the spring; juniors and seniors will study remotely in the fall and will be invited to campus in the spring.

Transformed calendar Many liberal arts campuses, and many beyond that sector, will end in person education with the Thanksgiving week, sending students home to study for exams and work on final projects remotely (example: Colby).

Beloit College went furtherBack in April they split their semesters into smaller pieces, giving them more flexibility to adjust to circumstances.

We’ll divide each term in the 20-21 academic year into two Mods, each containing two courses.

Instead of taking four courses at one time, students will do intensive work in two subjects, with a visible horizon. Courses will be designed to respond to evolving social and environmental factors, allowing students and faculty to pursue opportunities in a range of settings—in person, in the field, and on digital platforms. With more flexibility in their days, students will be able to engage in other life-changing experiences, from internships to trips, service learning to group projects.

Other campuses are now doing something similar.  Bates College offers semesters that “will comprise two 7.5-week modules, with students typically taking two classes at a time,” as is Mount Holyoke.

Changed course loads At least one campus, Davidson College, has redefined the number of classes a student must take to be counted as enrolled full time.  There are some interesting details:

During the 2020-2021 academic year, a full course load will be defined as at least three courses per semester.

The number of courses required for graduation – currently 32 – will be reduced for members of the Classes of 2021 through 2024. The requirement will be 31 courses for students enrolled for one semester of the coming academic year and 30 courses for those enrolled during both semesters.

This change may reduce enrollments in some courses, so the minimum class size for the 2020-2021 academic year will be reduced from four to two.

We could see this as an effort to reduce stress on students suffering from the manifold pressures of COVID-19.

Interdisciplinary, online COVID-19 classes Some liberal arts institutions are teaching the pandemic, and doing so in classic ways.  These classes are multidisciplinary and taught right to the moment.

Whitman College offered one in the spring, taught by instructors in biology, English, communications, physics, history, and more.  This included a bunch of lectures, which are now accessible online (one article about it). Oberlin offered one twice, from May through June, taught by “faculty members in biology, mathematics, politics, comparative American studies, cinema studies, economics, psychology, and rhetoric and composition…”

Manhattanville offers a summer class right now, or coming up fast, for incoming students.  Faculty are drawn from (among others) psychology, nursing, literature, international studies, art history, and sports studies. (one account) The University of Mary Washington – that unusual thing, a public liberal arts university – also taught/teaches a summer seminar on the pandemic.  Topics include biology, policy, communication, elections, climate change social justice, art, literature, chemistry, geography, history, and finance. Professors of communication and math facilitate.

Tuition cuts One financial anxiety looms across all of higher education: the fear that students and others will perceive online education as of lower quality, and will request – or demand – a price reduction.

Williams College got ahead of that demand, and its peers, by announcing a 15% tuition price cut for their blended, online and offline academic year.

In recognition of the extraordinary circumstances and of this academic year and the uncertainty we face in the year ahead, the total cost of attendance has been reduced by 15%. Tuition, room, and board for the 2020-2021 academic year will be $63,200.

Rollins College is offering a rebate for virtual classes:

For students who elect to attend all classes virtually, they will receive a grant of $2,500. Should all students need to move to virtual learning due to the virus, the grant will be pro-rated and awarded to all students.

Occidental is offering $1500.  I haven’t seen any other liberal arts campuses follow suit – so far.

Faculty dissent Unsurprisingly not all faculty agree with each of these administrative decisions.  One example comes from Middlebury College, which plans on opening up for in-person education after a supportive faculty vote, and where a group issued this statement calling for an online experience instead.

I appreciate how they pitched their argument in scenario terms:

We see four basic scenarios for how the fall might play out:

  1. In-person fall: We reopen campus for the majority of students and, having exercised widespread diligence and made broad investments in health and safety precautions, we are lucky enough to get to Thanksgiving without a significant outbreak.
  2. Mid-semester shutdown: We reopen campus for the majority of students, but despite our best efforts, there is an outbreak that causes us to shut down campus early, sending most students home, disrupting the semester and potentially infecting many students, employees and community members.
  3. Last minute abort: On June 22, we announce plans to reopen campus for the majority of students, but by the time that students would be due to arrive, conditions have changed locally, and/or outbreaks have emerged on other campuses that repopulated earlier than we do, resulting in our cancelling plans to bring students back at the last minute.
  4. Planned remote: We proactively plan to teach remotely, allowing only a small number of students on campus who would not otherwise be able to safely and effectively participate in remote learning if they were off campus.

We think scenario 4 of a remote semester is what we should plan for now.

Note that the authors link to another liberal arts institution’s expression of faculty critique, one from Macalester College’s biology department.

Journalists have covered professors willing to protest, either openly or with anonymity.  An art historian at Presbyterian College told NBC News of fearing for her safety.  The New York Times introduced and concluded an article on “Colleges Face Rising Revolt by Professors” with words by, and a photo of, a liberal arts college professor:

“Until there’s a vaccine, I’m not setting foot on campus,” said Dana Ward, 70, an emeritus professor of political studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., who teaches a class in anarchist history and thought. “Going into the classroom is like playing Russian roulette…”

[W]hether to go back into the classroom to teach is a hot topic among the faculty. “Nine out of 10 are worried,” he said, especially with the recent rise in cases in California.

Student dissent Liberal arts students may argue that their campus has followed the wrong policy.  Macalester College students recently launched an online petition urging an online fall term.  Since I started assembling this post, the petition’s authors suspended it in response to the recent ICE ruling on international students.  (I’m watching for more to appear here.)

What can we observe from these varied plans and trends?

It’s clear that the unevenness of COVID-19’s spread drives some decisions.  Southern California is currently a hotspot, so its campuses see themselves at greater risk.  In contrast Colgate justifies its actions by referencing New York state’s governmental policies and the central part of that state’s epidemic status.

These campuses deeply value in-person education.  You can see that in how presidents sadly announcing holding online semesters and in the Middlebury group’s frustration at what they see as the safest option.

There is a great deal of creativity at work in these decisions.  The range of plans and options, especially in details (which classes to invite back? how much testing is right?) speak to an intellectual ferment – as well as a dynamic scheduling, as these strategic decisions are occurring quickly, while in the midst of serious challenges.

You can see that intellectual strength and speed in how some of these schools quickly created classes about the pandemic.  Recall, too, how those are seriously interdisciplinary in nature.  It’s also visible in research about the pandemic’s impact on campuses co-authored by one liberal arts college economist.

Students play a key role in these plans.  Amherst begins its announcement by thanking and reflecting on student survey results.  Swarthmore’s recognizes “significant input from faculty, staff members, and students serving on various working groups…”  The Smith announcement also emphasizes students right from the start:

Throughout the spring and early summer of 2020, staff, students and faculty across the college worked to construct a plan for Smith’s response to COVID-19—a plan with health and safety, students’ education and the Smith experience at the center.

Again, this is a flexible situation with many possibilities of change before fall term starts.   There is more to say, especially about public health policies and campus finances.  I’ll update this post as more stories and announcements come in, and perhaps launch a new one once enough time passes or things change significantly.

Liberal arts colleges and universities on this post:

Amherst College
Bates College
Beloit College
Bowdoin College
Carleton College
Colby College
College of the Holy Cross
Colgate University
Colorado College
Davidson College
Dickinson College
Franklin and Marshall College
Furman University
Grinnell College
Hamilton College
Knox College
Lafayette College
Lawrence University
Macalester College
Manhattanville College
Middlebury College
Mount Holyoke College
Oberlin College
Occidental College
Pitzer College
Pomona College
Presbyterian College
Rhodes College
Rollins College
Scripps College
Smith College
Soka University
St. Olaf College
Swarthmore College
Union College
University of Mary Washington
Vassar College
Wellesley College
Whitman College
Williams College

(many thanks to Greg Diment for helping organize this post; thanks to Jim Wald, Off the Silk Road, Cheryl Orosz, Roberto Greco, and Todd Bryant and more for tips and reflections)

Posted in coronavirus, higher education, liberal education, scenarios | 2 Comments