Coronavirus and higher education resources

COVID-19 single virusI currently maintain several resources concerning higher education and the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

  • 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 | 23 Comments

When will campuses end in-person instruction this fall? How about August or September?

As of this writing a majority of American colleges and universities appear poised to resume in-person education this fall, as we last saw.   That fits with my Post-Pandemic Campus scenario.  I do think I’ve demonstrated that “in-person” isn’t an accurate phrase for the actual nature of plans, which are “a mix of online and face-to-face,” but that’s not what I wanted to write about today.

Instead, I’d like to explore fall 2020 from another angle based on a different scenario.  In April I offered the Toggle Term scenario to describe a semester which alternates between online and in-person education, toggling between Post-Pandemic and COVIC Campuses. No institutions are publicly proclaiming that Toggle is in their plans now, but I suspect it’s widely in play in terms of internal contingency planning.

Bryan_3 COVID scenarios_WSJ

How might a Toggle take place?  And when?

Rather than brood about this by myself, I put this question out as a poll to several audiences last week.*  It’s a very basic kind of crowdsourcing.  I posed the same question and offered the same answers (slightly edited to fit formatting requirements) on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter:

When do you think the majority of American colleges and universities will decide to move most (or all) instruction online again?

A) Before fall term (in July or August)

B) Right after fall starts (September)

C) Later in the term, Novemberish

D) They will not – in 2020.

Here’s how they responded.  I’ll share how people voted as well as some of the comments they shared.

tl;dr – the consensus settled on around August-September for throwing the online switch.

To the polls!

On my LinkedIn post 151 people voted, with these results:

coronavirus academia open fall 2020_LinkedIn poll

July-August and September are in a nearly dead heat.  Together they represent three quarters of the responding population.

17% put the Toggle in November, possibly when many schools have already vowed to move to online instruction (i.e., final exam prep and final project consultations).  Less than 10% saw “face to face” continuing through December 2020.

A former student of mine at Georgetown, Sandy Lee, offered this insightful forecast:

My logic is that even if the health situation gets worse over the summer and fall, the unis that have decided to operate in person (until Thanksgiving) will not switch to fully online learning and remove students from the dorms again given the backlash from spring. Those who have already made the decision by now (July) for in person learning cannot afford again to refund students and change student plans.

Over on Facebook, my audience offered more qualitative commentary than quantitative votes, which fits that social group to a T.  Some key ideas appeared:

  • Campuses are waiting for state guidance or simply orders
  • Community deaths will drive action, as might massive infections
  • The likelihood of geographical variation across the US, especially by state

Some commentators also broke from thinking about what was likely to occur in favor of what they preferred to see: a shift online sooner rather than later.

Here’s how they voted, when they decided to:**

open up fall 2020 poll_FB_chart and rows

There were fewer quantitative responses than we saw on the LinkedIn one, but the results are actually fairly similar.  Again the July – September votes dominate.  Again only a few saw “in person” running through December.  November ran a little higher, over 10%, but not much more than that.

How did the Twitter poll go?

coronavirus academia open fall 2020_Twitter poll

(You can see I had to offer shortened options, given character limits.  So I left out the names of months, but I think the ideas came through.)

As with the Facebook poll, September leads.  The July-September combination is roughly the same as the other two, totally nearly 71%.  Again under 10% saw face to face proceeding through December 2020.

There were some very thoughtful comments in response.  John Warner observes: “When it becomes clear what F2F is going to be like, enthusiasm among students will decline.”

Laura Gibbs notes that her institution seems to have boxed itself into face-to-face:

Chris Heard offers several good cautions, including a reminder about sunk costs:

Then Ed Garay offers this advice:

“>> Redesign NOW for quality mostly-asynchronous #onlinelearning #blendedlearning!!”

So, overall, what do I make of this polling/crowdsourcing exercise?

On the first glance, it looks fairly decisive, with a clear majority seeing a toggle thrown before October. Massive majorities don’t see American higher ed doing “in person” in December.

Now, I should issue a bunch of caveats.  The n of this sample is puny, just a few hundred.  I haven’t done any serious statistical work on the results.  There are all kinds of biases, as most Facebook respondents see themselves in a friendly relationship to me, more or less.

But it’s still useful.  The three populations are quite different, from what I’ve seen, with little overlap.  LinkedIn and Twitter contacts usually know me professionally, so there’s some relevant expertise behind those responses.  Further, and best of all, I think, are those qualitative responses, the hesitations, skepticism, hopes, advice, and analyses.

I’d love to repeat this survey at a larger scale.  Or shift its focus from fall 2020 to spring 2021.

And now the polls re-open for a second round, aimed just at you, dear blog reader.  When do you think American higher ed will throw the switch in fall 2020, if it will?

*Timing: you can see some of these polls are still open now, thanks to timeline constraints of each platform.  Since nearly all of the votes thundered in in a hurry, followed by a faint trickle afterwards, I’m comfortable ending the polls now.

**Facebook didn’t offer a neat visualization, unlike Twitter or LinkedIn, or I just couldn’t find one.  So I totaled up the results, pasted them into a Google Sheet, and had it cough up a pie chart.

 

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My Patreon supporters are awesome

As we approach 2020’s midpoint, I wanted to take a moment to thank the fine people who support my work on Patreon.

As an independent futurist, I can only do this work with the help of kind supporters.  111 folks now contribute each month to help me research the future of higher education.

Some of them contribute $10 or more each month, and so I memorialize and celebrate them with this Living Wall of Credits:
Patreon wall of credits 2020 June 18

It means so much when people around the world take time to reach out like this.  It’s enormously validating.  And I both enjoy and appreciate the conversations we have on the Patreon site.  Patreons give excellent feedback on my new ideas and raise great topics.  It’s a fine network.

Not everyone can do this, especially those in nations and areas hit so hard by the COVID recession/depression.  I  appreciate very much the circumstances and kind notes  some have sent, which mean a great deal.

Join these fine Patreons if you’re able!

Posted in personal | 2 Comments

Another campus announces a mixed fall term: the University of Michigan

UM sign _Ken LundAnother major American university announced its fall plans.  This time it’s the University of Michigan, and that institution is opting for a combination of in-person and online education.

First I’ll explore the announcement (the “CAMPUS MAIZE & BLUEPRINT”), then I’ll connect it with some other themes.

In full disclosure: I have three degrees from Michigan.  Met my wife and had our first children there.  So I may have some biases, not to mention heaps of nostalgia.

The announcement

According to president Mark S. Schlissel, fall 2020 is going to be a mix of in-person and online classes for the Ann Arbor campus.  That is, it will neither be wholly online nor entirely face-to-face, but a hybrid, driven at least in part by student choice:

Courses will be offered in formats that include in-person, remote and mixed instruction depending on curricular needs…

Although not all courses will be available in every format, most students will be able to choose whether to return to Ann Arbor for a hybrid learning experience or study from home in a fully remote mode…

Students aren’t the only ones with decision making power on this score.  It seems that faculty and staff as well can choose to work remotely: “We’re continuing to develop plans to protect vulnerable members of our community – and will encourage students and employees with high levels of risk to teach, learn and support our mission remotely.”

(That is, if I read “employees” correctly as “faculty and staff.”  However, the next sentence might mitigate that interpretation, or at least suggest a world of unfolding micropolitical struggle: “Schools, colleges and units will work with individuals to every extent possible to address their concerns.”  “possible” does a lot of work there.)

The hybrid model is so time-consuming, so resource-demanding, so onerous, and possibly so dangerous that Michigan decided not to host a presidential debate this October.

The announcement has an important detail about class scale, setting up three tiers based on size:

Generally, large classes will be held remotely, small classes will be held in person, and medium-size classes will be a hybrid of the two. This and other means can be used to diminish classroom density.

UM Fishbowl full of computers_Carl BErger

I spent an awful lot of time working on old Apple computers here in the 1990s.

In person classes will end with Thanksgiving, following a national pattern.

The university offers a range of support services, along the lines we’ve seen from other campuses of late:

We will provide support for our public health-informed semester through several of our central resources for students or faculty, including our Center for Research on Learning and TeachingCenter for Academic InnovationServices for Students with Disabilities, and Information and Technology Services. For faculty, this includes course design assistance and recommendations, workshops, help with creating instructional communities, and additional programs that support the quality of a U-M education…

Michigan Housing will set aside living spaces to quarantine and care for those with significant exposures to others diagnosed with COVID-19, as well, to isolate those diagnosed with this infection who cannot return home to recuperate.

The statement lists a battery of public health measures familiar to anyone following this story for the past month:

Our plan to conduct an in-person semester relies on basic public health strategies including social distancing, minimizing out-of-area travel, wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, symptom screening, clinical testing, contact tracing and quarantine that add up to a highly effective way to limit spread of this illness, allowing students to pursue their Michigan education.

In terms of governance, it looks like a fairly decentralized plan: “Decisions about which courses and sections to offer in which formats will be made by schools, colleges and departments to fulfill their unique educational needs.”

There is a lot of conditional and hedging language in the statement.   For example, this admission that plans are open to revision:

Please note, however, that major changes in conditions could mean we have to adjust parts of our plan. We will remain agile and ready to adapt as needed because we have seen how quickly circumstances can change.

Left unsaid: the fate of Michigan football, one of the very few university sports teams that actually makes serious money.

What does this mean for the rest of us?

UM is a huge, wealthy, and elite institution, but, like Harvard, it is just one of more than 4,000 American colleges and universities.  What does its planning mean for the rest of academia?

It embodies trends I’ve been tracking.  To begin with, it’s another hybrid of the Post-Pandemic Campus and COVID Fall scenarios (click through if you’re unfamiliar with them). I traced some examples of this hybrid recently.  Strategically, a hybrid can make a lot of sense.  It reduces chances of infection by lowering the in-person population density, while improving enrollment numbers by appealing to those who really want to be on site.

There is also a nod to a possible Toggle Term scenario in that hedging statement.  U of M attracts students (and faculty and staff) from around the world, which opens up all kinds of pandemic possibilities.  There is also the possibility of local infections spreading from across the state of Michigan, or from Ohio.  Consider today’s county-level snapshot, with hotspots to the west and south (New York Times):

coronavirus Michigan spread by county 2020 June 23_NYT

Or perhaps the Detroit area will flare up again.  Once an infection takes hold and spreads, even through a relatively low density population, it might be a good time to throw the switch.

On the class scale system: this recalls what we’ve seen from Penn State and Rice but with a third layer.  I think many campuses are working through this now, trying to pick levels beyond which online online is best.

Overall, these trends seem to be rising.  They have limits, of course.  The overwhelming majority of campuses lack not only Michigan’s financial heft (about $12 billion) but also its prodigious computing might.  UM is also very large in terms of population and spatial area; its plans might not fly for a small school.  And every academic institution has its own confluence of tradition, local situation, strategic mindset, and more.

One media note: what Michigan is doing is planning for a hybrid term.  That is not what media coverage describes.  Instead I’m seeing misleading headlines proclaiming simply “open,” like this one:

University of Michigan will offer in-person classes for fall semester

Or this, from the Detroit Free Press:

U-M to bring students back to campus for fall

It seems like news media have a hard time presenting the hybrid scenario.  They look like they prefer a simple binary, as my old friend and fellow Michigan alum Rob Henderson observed.   Either the Post-Pandemic Campus or COVID Fall scenarios, and no space for connecting them.

(thanks to Rob Henderson for the link; UM sign photo by Ken Lund; Fishbowl photo by Carl Berger)

Posted in coronavirus, higher education | 11 Comments

A public library system resumes some operations

Our local public libraries shut down in March because of the pandemic.  They remained closed until this past week, when they partially opened for curbside pickup.

Here I offer a glimpse of how it worked.  My goal is partly to keep documenting parts of the COVID-19 experience, as well as to show how libraries are evolving.  I haven’t heard from many other folks who have tried it out.  I did take a lot of photos.

I learned about the partial opening from a mass email announcement, plus excited comments from my fellow library fan daughter, Gwynneth.  The way the new process is supposed to work is that patrons* find and reserve books, DVDs, and other materials through the system’s web-based catalog.  If they own a copy and it’s there, staff grab the materials, check them out, and set them aside in labeled bags.  The library then emails the patron to give them a 24-48 hour window to visit in person and to pick up their items from tables in the library lobby.

They call it “Contact-Free Pick Up service.” I have now run through this process twice.

tl;dr – it works.

On Monday I requested five books (history, literature, science fiction).  For the next two days I checked on my account.  Each item had a status which changed over time, including “Shipping” and “Processing.”

On Wednesday morning an email arrived.  It reiterated the new process, listed all of the system’s libraries and their business hours, told me which books were ready, and gave me 24-48 hours to haul myself over and grab the goods.  The email also told me what to do for each tranche of the library system: ping them if the books were at a neighborhood branch, or just come on over if a regional library held them.

As soon as I could I drove over to the Bull Run Regional Library – and driving is weird to me now, since I have scarcely driven anywhere since February.  Traffic in the Manassas area has picked up and was close to pre-pandemic levels.

The parking lot was almost perfectly empty.

Bull Run Library book pickup_parking lot

That’s our car on the bottom left.

I masked up and walked over.  I was surprised to see a librarian and patron – both masked – talking with each other over a cart outside the front door.

It turns out that during that hour librarians were busy working in the lobby, adding and rearranging bags and their materials.  They assigned one of their number (on the left, above) to run interference between patrons and materials, parking lot and lobby.  We were to tell the interface librarian our name, and she would hunt the bag(s), then wheel it/them out on a cart (as seen above).

I told the librarian my name.  Into the library she went.  In under a minute she brought me two bags on the cart.  I asked her more questions, then headed to the car to stash my treasure and drive home.

Bull Run Library book pickup_book haul

On Friday another email arrived, informing me that one more book was ready to be picked up.  Again I drove over.  Traffic was the same (almost pre-pandemic) as was the parking lot (empty).  I masked myself and walked over.

This time there was no interface librarian.  The library door opened up and let me into the lobby.  No other person was in sight.  Now I could see tables covered with bags.

Bull Run Library book pickup_lobby with bags

I hunted for my bag, but it wasn’t there.  As I rummaged, thinking someone moved or misfiled it, another patron came in.  They were swift, finding and grabbing their bag then exiting in just a few seconds.  They were masked.

Still no luck for me, so I called the help line (you can almost see it on the central white board in the picture above).  They told me to wait for a minute.  Then a masked librarian appeared, bag in hand and apology ready.  It turns out the A-B table was just too crowded for the number of items needed.  In fact, nearly all of the tables looked crammed.

I thanked her.  She complimented me on my Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast shirt, then I left, taking my latest goodie with me.  On the way out I noticed a table in the front door space, filled with free stuff for folks to take.

Bull Run Library book pickup_antechamber

What can I deduce from this experience, besides the fact that Chuck Wendig really knows how to write a thriller?

First, I am reminded that public librarians are heroic public servants who can adapt to circumstances.

Second, I learned from this Twitter thread that “Contact-Free Pick Up service” is much better than opening up the rest of the library.  Seriously, read that horrific account to see some ways things can go very badly.

Third, look at those tables again.  Note how many items are there.  It’s a good example of how many people still really want libraries for the physical materials they preserve and render access to.  Even after more than a decade of workable ebooks and streaming media, even during a global pandemic, plenty of us still want to borrow books and more from libraries.

That’s it from my week’s experience.  What’s the public library situation where you are?

*”Patron” is the word used exclusively through this library system, as far as I can tell.  I haven’t heard “user” or any other term.

Posted in libraries | 4 Comments

Towards fall 2020 in higher education: what an “in person semester” really means

American higher ed is moving ahead with fall 2020 planning.  Let’s check in with current developments and see what they suggest for the next academic year.

As a frame I will reiterate my three scenarios for fall termLast month I found them still in play.  The Post-Pandemic Campus was the most popular, while some schools were opting for COVID Fall.  Nobody publicly avowed a Toggle Term plan, but I found evidence that at least some members of campus communities were preparing for it.

As of Juneteenth, that pattern continues.  Also, two of those scenarios are quietly blending into one, for a good number of campuses.  Read on:

Post-Pandemic Campus It looks like a majority of American institutions are opting for some form of reopening this fall (more on “some form” below).  The Chronicle of Higher Education’s running total claims almost 1,000 campuses, or about 23% of the nation’s ecosystem.  Out of those 65% have said they’ll resume in-person instruction this fall:

coronavirus fall plans 2020 June 19 Chronicle

Examples are easy to find, like a recent statement from Rice.  High Point will open in July.  Penn State announced an in-person fall, which means creating a campus that’s one part higher ed experience plus one part medical state:

Individuals will be required to wear masks and follow social distancing procedures on campus. Back in May, Barron said Penn State had already acquired 500,000 masks and 2,500 hand sanitizer stations to place across its locations.

All students who’ve exhibited coronavirus symptoms or were exposed to the virus are asked to take precautionary steps before coming back, including self-quarantine and seeking testing. Penn State is also building “capacity” to isolate and quarantine “impacted individuals” to deliver medical care.

Note that some faculty are publicly criticizing the move for (among other things) not offering enough protections for either faculty or students.

American University is opening up, but creating different ways for faculty and staff to work:

Departments will work with HR to classify faculty and staff into three groups based upon university needs and job functions: 1) full presence on campus with modified work schedule, 2) partial presence on campus with telework, or 3) full telework. Faculty and staff will be notified of their status by the end of July.

Sweet Briar Collegeplans to offer in-person instruction in fall 2020 on our safe and spacious campus.”  Already low student numbers makes this easier to accomplish.

George Washington University’s plan is quite comprehensive, from changing classroom size and campus shuttle ridership to changing up water systems.  Start with page 5 to get the outline.

COVID Fall.  Very few campuses are proclaiming a wholly online semester, because (among other reasons) they fear losing enrollment.  Yet it seems like many are quietly planning on the possibility.

For example, George Washington University:

Our planning efforts, collectively our Back to Campus initiative, are comprehensive, and address the modifcations necessary to our on-campus lives in the context of our new COVID-19 reality. They are inclusive, considering the needs of all of our students, faculty and staff. And they are anticipatory, accounting for the many unknowns through multiple scenarios. While our primary scenario involves most students attending on-campus in the fall, we are also planning for an equally high-quality online fall and a hybrid fall, which would include a mixture of online and in-person learning. [emphases added]

Toggle Term This is the least popular scenario in terms of public statements.  But I think many campuses are exploring it – quietly, under the radar – as they try to anticipate lawsuits pandemic possibilities.

For example, listen to Georgetown University’s official letter to its grad students:

Most graduate classes will have a hybrid format, which would allow students to participate both in-person in campus classrooms and on-line. This will provide the full schedule of curricular offerings to students who can return to campus in the Fall as well as those whose return might be delayed due to health, travel or other restrictions. The hybrid approach would also allow for a transition between in-person and on-line instruction during the semester if the public health situation shifts or if required by individual circumstances. Faculty are structuring their graduate classes so that students will meet the same curricular goals whether online or in-person. [emphases added]

Or look deeper into the American University statement: “Classifications may change during the fall as conditions in the region and on campus change. Faculty and staff will be notified of any changes.”  Conceivably those conditions may improve, and lead to more AU staff on campus.  They could also go the other way and lead towards some part of a COVID Fall scenario.

Now that these scenarios are becoming more real every week, we notice a classic dynamic which occurs in this process: combining scenarios.  Futurists are familiar with this in every scenarios exercise, wherein a participant will find elements of two or more narratives that they like and seek to snap them together like so many Legos.  This is terrific, pedagogically, by the way.  It’s a great sign of people using scenarios to think in more complex, creative, and ambitious ways.

So now I’m seeing campuses proclaim re-opening, but at the same time offering online options.  It’s really a blend of online and in-person.  In fact, it seems that “reopening” is really a code for “open face to face and also online at the same time.”  “In person” doesn’t actually mean what it says.

Look back at the Penn State opening story or their official announcement.  “Penn State plans to resume on-campus work and learning in fall semester” goes the headline.  And yet, as we learn further down the announcement,

Delivery of the curriculum will occur through a highly flexible mix of in-person, remote and online instruction throughout the semester, with all classes of more than 250 students delivered online and/or remotely.

That means some learning will be in person while some will be online.  So this isn’t an either-or situation but a both-and one.  Since that statement Penn haa openly announced a formal program for returning students to take classes entirely online.  First-time students can begin without setting foot on a PSU campus through their Start at Home program.

Furthermore, there will be local variations in that state:

Given Pennsylvania’s county-by-county approach to managing the pandemic, the status of each Penn State campus may vary, particularly for those that may be located in an area of the commonwealth where various restrictions remain in place or may subsequently be put in place due to the number of COVID-19 cases in that region.

Consider the Sweet Briar statement, which includes this line: “We can offer hybrid or remote instruction to any student who needs it.”  So that college is offering in-person, hybrid, and remote education at the same time.  No word on remote faculty or staff that I could find.

Or look closely at the Rice University announcement.  Classes will meet in person… unless they don’t.  First, “Courses with enrollments of 100 or more will be offered only online.”  I don’t know Rice well enough to figure out what proportion of the course catalog this covers.  It’s at least significant enough to merit a public statement.

But wait, there’s more, as the commercial used to say.  Or less:

Courses with enrollments of 50 – 99 will default to being offered online only; however, a number of instructors have expressed a desire to accommodate these larger classes and still preserve a significant in person experience. For these courses, the instructor should make a request to their chair to offer the course in dual format utilizing a plan that caps individual in-person class meetings at 50 persons…

So any class over 50 students may also be “online online.”  Some of those will be divided in some way (multiple sections?  one in-person and the rest online?).  And there are clear plans for having students meet with each other when the professor appears online:

Other than large classes that are moved only online, all courses normally assigned a room will be assigned a room so students can gather even if the instructor is present remotely in order to better facilitate student interactions…

Purdue has won a lot of attention as a leader in the opening up space, but while they plan on having people on campus, they are also doing something different:

Classrooms and residence halls will drop to 50% capacity in the fall, while 30% of university staff will work remotely during the fall semester, which will run from Aug. 24 to Nov. 24 without any breaks.

This “‘in person’ really means a blend of in-person and online” meme isn’t just something coming from presidents, provosts, and deans.  A recent EDUCAUSE poll finds that more than 4/5ths of campus IT departments are planning on some kind of blended fall:

Bar chart illustrating teaching and learning scenarios guiding fall planning

So as we look to fall semester 2020, two our our April scenarios are clearly in play, led by Post-Pandemic Campus.  A fourth scenario, found at the intersection of two of April’s, is a hybrid where “in person” really means “a mix of online and in person.”  That is now very active as well, once you look closely.

That joined-up scenario needs a name.  Is “hybrid” sufficient?  “Amphibious Autumn”?

NB: all of this post describes planning at the present. Plans tend to change when they hit reality.  How might these alter if the pandemic picks back up?

The World Health Organization just announced that COVID is “accelerating” worldwide:

Here’s today’s forecast for American COVID-19 deaths, including historical data for the year up until today:

 

coronavirus US daily deaths Mar 1-Oct 1_2020 June 20_IHME

Do you see the rise starting around September 1, as classes resume?  It seems pretty clear that if such a mounting death toll occurs, an increasing number of students (plus faculty and staff) will seek to study and work remotely with their “in person” campuses.  And if infection rates rise past a certain point, especially on or immediately next to a campus, the Toggle Term scenario will become increasingly plausible, perhaps even required.

(thanks to Tom Haymes and University Business for links and ideas)

Posted in coronavirus, scenarios | 17 Comments

Harvard considers an online fall semester for undergraduates

One American university just offered a suggestion that its undergraduate experience may be online this fall.

Harvard by new-york-cityHarvard College professor and Dean of Undergraduate Education Amanda Claybaugh emailed her faculty to share her thinking and plans for the rest of 2020.  It’s a fascinating short document, and one I’d like to discuss here.

The dean leads with a crucial point: “it seems likely that, under any scenario, most of our instruction will be online.”

This is different from most other recent pronouncements from campus leaders. Claybaugh isn’t calling for an entirely online term – note that “most.”  She’s certainly not anticipating a wholly or mostly in-person experience.  And she isn’t calling for either a balanced blend of online and in-person, nor a HyFlex experience.

What is the dean’s rationale?

because of the impediments our international students will face returning to campus, because of the risks our immunocompromised students and faculty will face returning to the classroom, and because of the difficulty of holding in-person classes while still conforming to guidance from public health authorities.

All of which makes a great deal of sense. International students: that’s about 1/5th of the student body. Immunocompromised members of the community: ditto.  Having classes in person without spreading COVID: the same.

How will Harvard accomplish this?  Claybaugh outlines three support strategies.

First, changing up the instructor/student ratio: “Sections will be capped at twelve students, and graduate students will be trained to provide additional support for online teaching.”

Second, expanded faculty development:

All faculty are expected to attend trainings this summer… Consisting of four one-hour live sessions, along with materials to review in advance, these trainings will offer concrete guidance on adapting courses to remote teaching. Faculty will finish them with a redesigned syllabus and Canvas site.

Note that attendance at these trainings isn’t optional, but “expected.”

Third, “[p]roviding support for course redesign…”  Instructors “can consult with staff at the Bok Center, and they can also hire graduate students to work on this over the summer.”

There is also a technological note:

We will continue to use Canvas, Zoom, and Panopto, but we recognize that certain courses (language courses, lab courses, course that rely heavily on the blackboard) might have additional needs. We’ll be working with chairs to determine what other technologies we should invest in.

That’s a curiously limited set of just three technologies.  Apparently supporting the huge range of other tools is the province of individual departments.  I note the emphasis on blackboard (whiteboard?) needs.

Harvard by Little Koshka

Why does all of this matter?  Harvard is, after all, just one out of 4400 or so American higher education institutions.  It is literally extraordinary due to its superlative reputation, wealth, and network.

Yet much of American higher ed, and a great deal of the discourse around it, pays inordinate attention to Harvard.  That university’s every curricular twitch, its program decisions, statements from its faculty are magnetic to academia.  So, first off, statements like Claybaugh’s are likely to be more influential than those from a given state university.

Second, the dean’s points may actually be applicable to other institutions.  Think of this line again, about why Harvard might be mostly online: “the difficulty of holding in-person classes while still conforming to guidance from public health authorities.” If Harvard finds this challenging, with about $5.5 billion in income and its $40 billion endowment, what does that say about the remaining 99.9+% of American higher education?

I don’t want to freight this one email with too much meaning.  It is, after all, just one message.  WBUR points out (without linking, alas) that a parallel communication with a different call is in play:

Another email circulating among some faculty says should the college allow undergraduates back to campus, the current plan would have them take their classes over Zoom from their dorm rooms since there are not enough larger classrooms to provide sufficient social distancing..

That’s closer to what I’ve heard from other campuses.  Claybaugh’s email offers a different take.  I wonder how many colleges and universities will be inspired or nudged towards holding a mostly or entirely online fall term because of it.  Perhaps this is the starting gun for a race.

(photos by new-york-city and Little Koshka; link via WBUR)

 

Posted in coronavirus | 10 Comments

Seven years later: Bryan Alexander Consulting in 2020

Seven years ago Ceredwyn and I launched Bryan Alexander Consulting. From the start we’ve been open about the practice, sharing our plans, operations, strategies, and questions with you all.*  Now it’s time for an update.

BAC logoIf you’re new to BAC, it’s a small consultancy focused on the future of higher education.  We help clients (colleges, universities, associations, nonprofits, governments, businesses) grapple with where academia might be headed.  To this end we conduct and share research through a variety of channels, while also offering consulting on spec.

2019-2020 has been a wild year.  The first part, from June 2019-February 2020, proceeded pretty much along the lines we expected from the previous year.  I conducted and shared research in person through speeches, presentations, workshops, and consultations across the United States plus Europe.  That research appeared as well in the FTTE report.  I honed the research by blogging (here) and also by sharing questions and thoughts across various social media platforms.  Meanwhile, I taught graduate classes at Georgetown University: one in the summer, two in the fall, and one in spring.

Financially, BAC’s revenues came mostly from speaking and consulting engagements, followed by teaching, some online work, FTTE subscription, then Patreon support and book royalties.  In 2019 the balance looked roughly like this:

BAC revenue 2018-2019

In January 2020 my newest book, Academia Next, appeared.  Sales were brisk (thank you, readers!) but royalties aren’t scheduled to reach BAC operations until next fiscal year, so I’m leaving them off of this post.

In February we passed a Future Trends Forum milestone of four years of continuous programming. The Forum is and always has been free to all.  It is not a revenue generator.

Meanwhile, FTTE and Patreon subscriptions were ticking upwards in January and February of 2020.

Things were humming along.  Living in the Washington, DC area made a huge difference, especially in terms of bandwidth (yes!), travel, and access to all kinds of organizations and people.

Then COVID-19 struck the world.

And everything went up in the air.

Like most other organizations, BAC was hit hard.  In April I continued this open practice by sharing how BAC was grappling with the shock then.  Let me expand on that and update you.

To begin with, my face-to-face work evaporated in a couple of weeks.  Nearly every single speaking gig, consult, and workshop went away as organizations canceled in-person events.  A handful shifted online but at very reduced rates.  My several-times-a-month drives to Dulles, National, Union Station, or points north shuddered to a stop.

I’m not sure if folks fully understand what an attack on BAC that was.  Unless we changed things up drastically and fast, that was a death blow to the business.

At the same time BAC suffered from a weakness.  We are very small, a literally mom and pop outfit.  In the United States it is the giant enterprises that tend to survive COVID-19, while the smaller ones – lacking scale and reserves – go under.  Remember, too, that we are independent.  No institution backs us.  No deep pocketed supporters or generous family members here.  We’re on our own without a net.

So in the face of that extinction event we thought hard and pivoted, as they say.  We made two decisions.

First, to make COVID-19 the top research priority.  I already was paying attention, both as a forecaster and by tracking it starting when the virus first surfaced in Hubei province.  In March I made it the leading topic.  I set up a research strategy and pursued it consistently.  I shared everything I found, trying to improve the quality of discussion while also getting feedback to improve the research.  Soon I moved to producing futures work for higher education during the pandemic.  I threw myself into creating the first major documentation of higher education’s shutdown in March.

Note that none of that work paid anything.  Indeed, it was a lot of time to expend during a business collapse. But it was vital to do that work.  People in the higher education space needed it very much.  And I couldn’t do my non-pandemic work without taking into account COVID’s impact.

Second, if face-to-face was done for the short term, we’d leap entirely online.  So in a matter of weeks we built an online business based on live video events, or webinars.  At no point did I stop working or go into a planning retreat; this was all done on the fly, the proverbial aircraft built in mid-flight.  This strategy rested on the years of practice and reputation I’ve accumulated in hosting events.  I reached out to potential partners of all kinds: friends, journalists, campuses, businesses, governments, nonprofits.  I rebooted the Forum’s scheduled programming in favor of a COVID emergency topic, hauling in the best guests I could find for months.

In March and April I offered up to eight video events per week, mostly gratis, using just about every video platform I’ve heard of.  The intent was to convene conversations about the extraordinary transformation academia was undergoing, and also to demonstrate it was possible to do so in a way that didn’t narcotize audiences.  And it was to prove to prospective clients that BAC had that capacity.

After a frantic few weeks positive results gradually started to trickle in, even as discontent over bad videoconfencing rose worldwide.  Several organizations partnered with me so that we could offer events together.  Each partnership differed in some ways, as in who would handle registration, which technology to use, or how to craft and host recordings.  Overall, each one worked, yielding successful events and satisfied clients.

Since that manic spring hosting video events has become a key part of the business.  Apparently we’ve proven that we can do this well.

Meanwhile, on another front, several entities approached me to write for them.  Articles, white papers, research work – the forms differed, but the practice was similar at root.  None required in-person meetings.  This represents another service BAC provides, one we’ve offered previously, but is now picking up.

To sum up: right now, in June 2020, BAC is essentially a virtual business.  Our offerings are digital, either synchronous (webinars), asynchronous (writing), or combinations thereof (teaching).

Taken together, here’s how 2019-2020 worked in terms of revenue, combining pre-pandemic and viral times:

BAC revenue streams 2019=2020

You can see the growth of video, although it’s combined with f2f.  Writing is significant, as is teaching.  Patreon still isn’t there yet.

At the same time business expenses remained about the same as 2018-2019.  Thankfully we didn’t face any medical or other household emergencies.  Being under lockdown paid off on all measures.

What do we anticipate for BAC in 2020-2021?

More virtual events are in order.  I’m reaching out to more prospective partners.  I may also hold some special webinar events on key topics; I’m not sure if those will be free or accessible for a fee.  I also hope to buttress this part of the business with an ebook on webinars.  I really hope we can keep this service going.

I hope to keep teaching at Georgetown, because I love it.

Bryan hand on chin

We have some overdue items.  Lots of web work needs to be done, including refreshing the BAC website, upgrading the FTTE site, and launching a real Future Trends Forum site.  The long-promised podcast is in preproduction now, so hopefully we can finally get it off the ground.

Three last notes.

First, seven years!  BAC is nearing a decade in age.  That’s a bit breathtaking to think of.  It’s longer than I spent doing a PhD.  Longer than I’ve had with some other jobs.    And June 2013 was… a very different time.

Second, we make this work by working with great clients.  We are grateful for the partnership of each and every one.

Third, if you like this work, and you like the openness with which we conduct it, please consider supporting us.  Engage BAC for our servicesSubscribe to FTTESupport us on Patreon.  As an independent futuring group in chaotic times, we cannot do this alone.

*Previous BAC reflections can be found here: 2019, 2018201720162016201520142013.

Posted in Bryan Alexander Consulting, coronavirus | 2 Comments

One example of climate change directly impacting higher education

Climate change has fallen away from public attention this season, given the demands of other issues.  I’m still tracking it, though, with an eye towards its impact on higher education, the subject of my next book.  In that vein, today I’d like to draw your attention to one story.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers just published a plan to help protect Florida’s Miami-Dade county against water damage cause by climate change: increasing storms and rising sea levels of up to three feet by 2080.

It’s an ambitious plan, covering more than 100 square miles:

Miami-Dade Corps of Engineers mitigation plan 2020

There are several interesting details about the plan in terms of climate mitigation.  For example, it’s a second version plan, reduced from the first.  It

walks back some of the costs and solutions the Corps had previously proposed — most notably, the notion of buying out hundreds of homes and turning them into parks or open spaces.

That helped drop the total proposed cost down to a projected $4.6 billion, instead of the $8 billion price tag on the September version of the plan.

This means the structure, if built successfully, will only protect against some water damage, not all:

[T]his plan is only designed to block storm surge from a 1 in 100 year storm surge event by 2079, with the extra storm surge that comes with the three feet of sea rise by then. Thomas Ruppert, a coastal planning specialist with Florida Sea Grant, pointed out that won’t do anything to protect homes and streets from the tidal floods that are already becoming more common and worse.

There is also the political ruckus involved in some of the construction, which requires “easements and land purchases for the walls and flood barriers, which the Corps expects to be a $405 million expense.”

My focus here is not on Florida politics, as fascinating as they can be, but on higher education.  What does this plan tell us about climate change and campuses?

I haven’t started my mapping work yet (mapping campuses which are most in danger of rising seas, desertification, or expanding prairies), but I can use Google Maps to find colleges and universities in the Miami area:

Miami colleges and universities

I count Barry University, Carlos Albizu University, Florida Memorial University, Florida National University, Johnson and Wales University, Miami Ad School, Miami Dade College, Miami International University of Art & Design, Nova Southeastern University, St. Thomas University, Talmudic University, and the University of Miami.  Some of these have more than one campus in the Miami area.

I think the one farthest from the sea is FIU’s College of Law, which looks about 10 miles from the waters.  Nearest are – well, a bunch.  Let me zoom in:

Miami colleges and universities around Biscayne Bay

So right away, at first glance, we can see a group of colleges and universities in physical danger from the oceanic effects of climate change for the rest of this century.  Some would be swamped by sea level rise.  All will face risks and damage as hurricanes and other storms, worsened by climate change, slam into the county.

Notice that I wrote “oceanic effects of climate change.”  Think about temperatures as well.  Miami usually hits in the upper 80s and low 90s during summer, although humidity makes it much worse.  Those temps have been rising of late.  As the 2000s wear on and heat increases, Miami’s colleges and universities will have to work harder to cool their building interiors, which is both expensive and an additional call on electrical resources.  Will they reconfigure campus buildings to reduce these costs, an investment against the Anthropocene?

Which brings us to campus responses.  In my Universities on Fire plan I offered an outline of possible strategies and reactions.  Let’s work through them.

Uprooting the campus. How will Miami campuses rethink their physical plants?  If they plan to remain in the area, what kinds of protection will they need against rising waters and temperatures?  How will designs for new buildings and renovations of old ones change to meet these needs?  Should schools reconfigure transportation to block vehicles powered by fossil fuels?  Should food services source more locally and/or increase vegetarian/vegan offerings?

Or is this all too much?  One option would be to relocate out of Miami-Dade and set up shop in a safer location.

Doing research in the Anthropocene. Some faculty at each of these ocean-facing campuses already conduct research in relevant areas – hydrology, civil engineering, environmental sociology, earth science, etc.  Perhaps these colleges and universities will increase that research through hiring, promotion, and support.

Teaching to the end of the world. Some of these campuses offer classes in relevant fields.  Will enrollment in those area rise in parallel with the ocean?  Maybe one or more schools will decide to take advantage of their position and expand offerings.  We could see an undergraduate certificate or grad program in climate change mitigate appear, with part of the attraction being able to work right at the coal face or ground zero of the Anthropocene.

Town, gown, deserts, and rising sea levels. I mentioned city and county politics up above, and really don’t know anything about the particulars.  Would campuses have to pay for part of the Corps’ work?  What kinds of political tension could open up as city, county, college, and university policies diverge?  What are the options for student service learning on this topic: working on seawalls?

Academia versus the world. As the crisis builds, what role will Miami area faculty, staff, and students play?  Would students – for example – lobby for the city’s airport to cut back flights (after COVID, of course) to reduce emissions?  Or would campuses open up as climate sanctuaries as refugees appear, driven from points south as temperature rises lash those nations?

Worst case scenario. The plan I linked to assumes a sea rise of up to three feet by 2080.  What happens if that’s too optimistic?  Are Miami colleges and universities considering how their plans have to change if climate change speeds up, due to any number of factors?

To repeat: I’m not an expert in Miami’s higher education ecosystem. I’ve read about some of the institutions and know some folks at a couple of campuses, but that’s about it.  I don’t think I’ve set foot on any of them.  Heck, I’ve only visited Miami a few times.

That said, the Corps’ report gives us an example of a group of colleges and universities in the very teeth of climate change.  Think about other areas worldwide where academia is physically situated within miles of rising seas – or expanding deserts, or widening prairies, or where temperatures can rise to dangerous levels.

How will academia respond?  This may be our greatest strategic challenge for the rest of the 21st century.

(thanks to Steven Kaye)

Posted in climatechange | 1 Comment

Looking ahead to fall 2020

We’re now one week into June.  In higher education this means two unequal things: first, summer classes are under way, like mine.  Second, fall term planning is proceeding, which is a much larger affair.  Since we’re in the year of the Murder Hornets EbolaCOVID-19 pandemic, that work is much more intense.  The situation is also incredibly fluid.

Let me combine some current developments with a look ahead to create glimpses of what autumn 2020 might look like in colleges and universities.  Keep in mind my three scenarios:

Bryan_3 COVID scenarios_WSJ

…as well as the 15 from Eddie Maloney and Joshua Kim:

15 Fall Scenarios Graphic

Overall, there’s uncertainty over the financial picture.  More colleges are offering tuition breaks, obviously to win more enrollment from people reeling from a terrible economic/medical shock.  In fact, many campuses are anticipating an enrollment decline this fall, like Detroit area community colleges.  Various commentators in and outside of academia argue that tuition is too high for online teaching.

College towns and other areas that depend on campuses for business are expecting a significant economic hit this fall.  Towns around campuses that offer big sports teams are worried about an economic blow if students – and games – don’t return in numbers.

On the other hand, enrollment could tick upwards, according to Moody’s, for the traditional reason: people seeking to improve their labor market standing when unemployment is high.  Interestingly, Moody’s also thinks that even if student numbers rise, revenue will decline.  I can’t see the report, but IHE account mentions some important details: possibility of a mid-term new infection surge; hits to other income streams; families down-shifting away from more costly campuses as they grapple with their own financial stresses.

Inside Higher Ed looked into small, private college enrollment data and found a mixed picture, as of June 1:

IHE private college enrollments 2020 June 8

POST-COVID CAMPUS What about the institutions hoping to resume in-person education this fall?  Two-thirds are preparing for this, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s running survey:

campuses planning on f2f 2020 June 7_Chronicle

So how to do it?  One way might involve suspending some key student activities.  Brown University, still hoping to open up, is also cutting back some athletics.

Another is to reorganize campus spaces.  I’ve heard from several professors and administrators that they are considering putting up tents to house outdoor classes, where students and faculty members could be safely separated.  This obviously makes more sense in warmer climates, unlike, say, New England or the upper Midwest.  Additionally, discussion during a Senate hearing last week saw the idea of repurposing other campus spaces for instruction, including staff and faculty offices unused by those working remotely.

Otherwise opening up for in-person education entails extensive medical testing and contact tracing, both of which run the possibilities of being expensive and not working effectively. (This Chronicle article gives a good overview.)  Research universities like Brown or Michigan sometimes have such capacities in-house, as when they maintain their own hospitals.  Some campuses lack that capacity, and that’s why some of those are partnering with local, independent medical organizations.

Any campus may find the need to expand digital surveillance of students.  As I’ve said before, holding in-person campus experience this fall will likely involve a heavy layer of medical supervision and testing, which might not go over well.  Back to that Chronicle piece:

There is evidence that relying on phone-tracking devices is not popular with Americans, even during a pandemic. Surveys conducted since March by Beth Redbird, an assistant professor of sociology at Northwestern University, show that only 15 percent of Americans agree that the government should use GPS monitoring to track people who have tested positive for the coronavirus. Support is higher among whites than it is among blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans, she said.

The New York Times hosted an interesting discussion about how to return to in-person education, and I recommend reading the whole thing.  In addition to what I’ve noted so far, discussants touched on:

  • the possibility of setting up students into groups for testing and potential containment
  • implicit tensions with unionized workers – not faculty members, but low income cleaners and cooks
  • limits on testing: number of kits, how to implement
  • problems reconfiguring sit-down dining for safe delivery or pickup

There seems to be ongoing demand from (some) colleges and universities for immunization – not against COVID-19, but against lawsuits from people unhappy with their response to the pandemic.

On the graduate school front, several research universities are cutting back on enrolling new graduate students.  The explicit goal here is to focus resources on supporting currently enrolled students.

Dalton Conley, Henry Putnam University Professor of Sociology at Princeton and director of graduate studies in the department [:”W]e’d rather focus on taking care of students we’ve already brought into the Princeton community rather than the theoretical idea of students who potentially might come.”

This can play out through some interesting micropolitics:

Iddo Tavory, associate professor of sociology at NYU and the program’s director of graduate studies, said his department “actually considered completely canceling a cohort, but we felt that we have to balance our commitment to students with our commitment to actually allowing people to pursue Ph.D.s.”

The department also floated the idea of offering graduate students additional, need-based funding. Tavory said students generally opposed this notion, arguing that it could pit them against each other and that need may be hard to quantify. And so the department agreed on what he called a “hybrid model” of reduced admissions for three years.

COVID FALL In contrast, some campuses and programs are planning on being online this fall.  Harvard announced six of its grad programs would be online.  Why might this matter?  First, American higher ed has long had a bad case of Harvard envy or Harvard centrism.  We tend to pay outsized attention to this one campus out of 4400 or so.  Second, these are graduate schools, which are often easier to shift online.

At the same time, “Canadian [universities] for the most part seem to be opting for an online semester for the latter half of 2020,” according to Alex Usher.

Otherwise, signs are more speculative.  Some liberal arts campuses have launched online curricula regarding COVID-19. The University of Mary Washington is running an online class on the pandemic this month.  Whitman College made its spring COVID classes publicly available now.  This might be steps towards online classes for the fall or spring 2021.

TOGGLE TERM As per usual over the past two months, few institutions have made open statements about following this path.

An Emory University professor called for changing up the academic year in a way that allows faculty and students to chose which terms they want to be online versus in person. “Teaching in the fall semester would be completely, or mainly, online, with in-person instruction returning in the spring and summer semesters.”  As a result,

This decision would dramatically thin out the population on campuses in the fall and would buy institutions time to prepare for a return to residential learning in the spring: retrofitting buildings, implementing new public health technologies, stockpiling testing kits and other supplies, developing policies for social distancing, and training faculty and staff members on how to implement them.

Yet Toggle remains the plan that nobody can mention.

That’s what things look like from June 8th, 2020.  What else are you seeing, readers?

(thanks to Madeleine St. Amour for her relentless coverage)

Posted in coronavirus, higher education | 11 Comments

Special COVID-19 Future Trends in Technology and Education report

It’s the first week of the month, and so it’s time for what’s become a 2020 tradition.  Today I’d like to share a special edition of my Future Trends in Technology and Education (FTTE) report.  It’s a COVID-19 and higher education report.

FTTE logoWith this special open edition I’m continuing what I started in April and continued in May.  If people think it’s useful, I’ll keep doing so every month until the pandemic ends in some way.  Let me know what you think.

Some background: for nearly ten years FTTE has appeared each month, covering nearly 100 trends impacting colleges and universities.

It isn’t normally free.  Each report takes a lot of work to produce, so FTTE has been subscription based since 2018.  But the coronavirus crisis is extraordinary, and I hope FTTE research can be useful to some people in and around academia.  Not everyone can justify or afford the subscription, I know well, especially as the economy sags into recession and worse, so you can now access this one for free.

It isn’t the full June 2020 report.  It’s just the content that bears on COVID-19, which turns out to be about 80% of the whole thing.  So it’s nearly the entire report.

This special report is not only free, but also open.  I’m publishing it under a Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 license, so you can do whatever you like with it.  Copy and paste it, take out and use the chunks you like, insert pages into a PowerPoint presentation, set it to music, embed bits in a role-playing game, whatever your heart desires… so long as you reference the report’s name and me as its creator.

There isn’t any DRM.  There aren’t any restrictions or requirements of any kind.

Now, if you value the report and have there wherewithal to support FTTE research, I’d greatly appreciate it if you could contribute to its sustainability in this crisis.  If you can, head to the FTTE site and subscribe.  If you prefer, join the supportive crowd on Patreon.  Whichever way you like, as an independent futurist in an economic crisis, I’d be very grateful.

Click here to download the pdf.

Posted in FTTE report | 1 Comment