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

Imagining higher education after three COVID years

What happens if we don’t have a COVID-19 vaccine by early 2021?  Or 2022?  In other words, what might the world look like if the pandemic continues at around the present level for several years?

Last week I used this question to generate a scenario for 2023.  That post covered a lot of ground, touching on economics, psychology, politics, society, architecture, and more.  I followed that up with a second post, expanding on the first, and based largely on thoughts from other people via comments, Twitter, and conversation elsewhere.

Today I’d like to focus on how that scenario could play out in one part of the world, one to which this blog is devoted.  What happens to colleges and universities in a COVID 2023?

Caveat: this post is very speculative.  Each paragraph is based on a mix of current news, educational history, some extrapolation, and estimations of human behavior.  I’m prepared for some if not most of it to not be correct, especially if the virus isn’t in charge in 2023.  The idea here isn’t prediction, but to encourage thinking about possible futures.

Joshua Kim began this topic a month ago.  Actually, he wondered what would happen if a vaccine doesn’t become widely available until 2025. Let me begin by transposing two of his initial thoughts to 2023. 

First, a good number of first-year students who began higher education in 2020 do not have an on-campus, much less residential, experience by 2023 (“today’s freshmen never experience a “normal” residential college experience”). Others have that experience, but radically shaped by COVID-19 (“a newly bundled residential experience around the constraints of de-densification, masking and social distancing”). How do they differ from juniors and seniors in previous years?

Second, universal design for learning (UDL) now adds a pandemic dimension.  Design learning experiences so that they account for pandemic stresses.  Which is a deep charge. (“Public health may become one more element of universal design for learning.”)

Now let’s add some more details for this academia 2023 scenario.

We may well see my three models of academia in 2020 persisting for the next three years: wholly online, in person, and toggled.  Wholly online makes the most public health sense.  In person is clearly something that some in academic want badly to accomplish, even when it leads to damage and death; it might be a mistake to underestimate that desire.  If it persists, and the pandemic does as well, then Toggle Terms will be as live in 2023 as in 2020.

Bryan_3 COVID scenarios_WSJ

There are also various hybrids.  Some undergraduate institutions host one year’s student body while teaching the rest online, for example.

The physical campus.  In part 1 of this series I mentioned some ways buildings and other spaces could change.  By 2023 academic buildings could have more and larger openings to the outside world, such as windows, doors, and galleries.  Indoor spaces might be larger, to allow for social distancing, or smaller, for isolation.  Rooftop usage should grow, depending on safety.

More outdoor events sound likely, depending on local conditions – i.e., if winter is a real thing, or rain, or major fires.  For example, this open-air art exhibit launched by the New York Historical Society seeks to link objects to people while respecting public health measures.

By Josh Kim’s 2025 we should be able to distinguish between pre- and post-COVID campus design, from buildings to open spaces.

Observers might compares notes on that design, walking across a campus in 2023.  They might also remark on human changes.  If 2020’s pandemic conditions persist for three years, and campus responses also maintain – big if’s, I know – most campuses will look underpopulated or simply empty.  Some buildings will be closed.  Of the people we see most will wear masks if not also gloves and head-mounted shields.  Perhaps Greek houses will show signs of life, given their historical intransigence independence.

Teaching and learning Faculty will have had up to three years to practice mixing synchronous and asynchronous teaching online, or how to teach in a socially distanced, PPE-equipped physical classroom, or both.  Students will have practiced, too, as will support staff.

Perhaps some have devoted videoconference spaces at home or elsewhere.  Some will have cultivated a set of stylish masks, gloves, and visors festooned with logos, ironic statements, images of beloved animals, and so on.

For some number of faculty, students, and support staff this is a burdensome practice.  Some will exit academia because these modes of teaching and learning do not work for them.

Research COVID-related fields grow in support and output.  More resources flow to epidemiology, geriatrics (given injury and death demographics), public health, psychotherapy, nursing, et al, and more papers and data result.  Other disciplines which can help address the pandemic disaster may grow as well, such as economics (given the recession) and political science/government (given political chaos). Some social science, humanities, and arts research progresses when it is in relation to the crisis (history of pandemics, medical care ethics) and when it needs little in the way of research support.

At the same time sciences unrelated to COVID-19 may fall behind, since they will have a harder time making the case for scarce dollars in an emergency: for example, astronomy or physics.  The lion’s share of social science, humanities, and arts may also fall behind for the same reason.  Meanwhile, faculty in these fields will also have the extra demand on their time of transforming teaching,

On the open research front, we could see more open data published, again given the crisis atmosphere.  Similarly,  open access research could grow, especially as budgets are hit.  Publishing behind paywalls may be more likely to elicit ire.

Enrollment I suspect students might follow research.  That is, some number higher than in 2019 will aim towards pandemic-related classes and majors, health care etc.  The promise of paying (if at times dangerous) jobs will be even more appealing in a deep recession, as will the prospect of helping out society during a terrible crisis.  Other STEM fields beyond health care should appeal.

Total enrollment… my instinct is to project the post-2012 decline forward, so that 2023 sees the number of students taking classes in the US to be 12% down from the previous peak.  Yes, adults do tend to enroll during periods of high unemployment, but they will also dread getting infected and/or having a bad learning experience – the latter especially if negative media stories circulate.

I wonder if new religious movements (see part 1) will draw some people away from study.

Financing higher ed If general economic inequality keeps on rising, exacerbated by the pandemic, American higher education’s plan of differential pricing will stretch further.  That means published tuition should continue rising, eliciting bad press and general anxiety, while discount rates will also rise.  We can imagine the median student in 2023 paying 40% of tuition.

Unless the United States elects Biden and unless a Biden administration manages to get some kind of massive post-secondary education bill through (say, federally-backed public tuition a la Bernie Sanders), I would expect total student debt to keep building, aimed at $2 trillion.

Will campuses close?  If the bad economy continues to stagger across much of the next three years, my instinct is to say yes, a larger than normal number of colleges and universities will close.  Mergers should also occur.

Campus social life How will people within academia interact by 2023?

A large proportion of interactions will simply be digital.  The learning management system, campus Facebook groups, Telegram connections, etc., plus whichever dozen platforms emerge over the next three years will host relationships of all kinds.

The shift away from in-person interaction could lead to reduced quality of social relations.  As one sociologist observed from several months of quarantine,

If people are deprived of embodied interactions, it is a likely hypothesis that they will be more depressed, less energetic, feel less solidarity with other people, become more anxious, distrustful, and perhaps hostile.

It’s possible this could fuel tensions between the youngest and oldest in campus life.  As Robert McGuire noted, some teens will likely resent sacrificing the great campus experience they expected to preserve the lives of elders.

Will this play out between traditional-age students and older faculty and staff?  Could we see interpersonal coldness or political unrest a la the 1960s?  Will teens, as opposed to the younger humans we mentioned in part 2, ruefully call themselves Generation COVID?

Those elders may be far less available than in 2019.  Some will avoid campus completely.  Some will retire.  Some number will be infected and suffer injuries.  Others will die.

Some younger people will also be injured or die.  If 2020’s COVID demographics persist, that number will be far smaller than that of seniors.

Many in 2023 will have long-term psychological stress or trauma.  How many people will know someone infected?  Let’s assume for the sake of imagination that COVID infects people at about the same rate it has done for the past 9 months.  That’s around 30 million worldwide, as per Johns Hopkins.  Make that roughly 120 million cases that have occurred by 2023.  A good number of people will have friends, relatives, community members who experienced this.

In America we’ve infected a bit more than 1 million people each month, based on the CDC’s latest figures: 6,706,374 cases as of this writing.  Say that’s around 40 million by 2023, or around 12% of our 2020 population.  The death toll is very hard to estimate.  For the sake of discussion let’s extend the present amount (around 200,000) forward, to just over one million dead in the United States. By 2023 some number of students, faculty, and staff will definitely know the touch of COVID-19.

Athletics Right now we’re experiencing two opposed movements.  On the one hand some colleges and universities are suspending or closing up certain athletic teams.  On the other, some universities are opting for continued play, if not necessarily with in-person audiences at scale. Each has motivations we can discern: the desire to support student-athletes; dread of infections; business models; wanting to help underrepresented minorities through higher education; marketing.

We could see this dual movement play out for three years.  As a result the total number of college sports teams will drop, as will the number of student athletes.  Some teams will keep going, especially the elites with big tv contracts, perhaps cocooned in mini-surveillance states of data gathering and health care.

NB: student athletic is a notorious blind spot of mine, so take this with a healthy helping of salt.

International higher education Globally 2020 sees a good amount of national, anti-international administrations, from Brazil and the US to India and Hungary.  2023 could well see this politics persist, which can depress higher education’s transnational nature.  At the same time old and newer forces may increase pro-global politics worldwide, from the demands of capital and labor to cross national boundaries to the effects of mostly planetary media.  The international nature of COVID might knit some sectors together, as could initial stirrings about climate change.  As I’ve forecast before, national and transnational academic futures alike are in play.

US-China relations in particular look likely to deteriorate further.  The Trump administration has made China-bashing into, well, not so much policy as a nervous tic, but that’s probably the greatest consistency we should expect.  The Biden campaign seems eager to pick up on the Obama administration’s anti-China stance.  Either way academic ties between the two giants should be strained, turning into competition and decreased population exchanges.  Expect fewer Chinese students to enroll in American classes, fewer Chinese researchers to collaborate with Americans, and fewer Confucius Institutes.

Campus technology College and university IT should expand in resources and functions from 2020-2023, given its centrality to the changed missions of each campus.  Even campuses that host students in person will need more computational work, once we consider how to handle public health measures, from data gathering to contact tracing and analysis. Instructional design should be in ever-increasing demand.  Digital security will be more important than in 2020.

Campuses with hospitals or clinics will require serious computational support.  Research universities as well as any intensively public campuses may also need more IT support for public research communication and outreach.

It is possible that some schools will not IT funding, either because their finances are hit that badly or because they deem other priorities more important.

Automation could rise, depending on local campus politics and capacity.  Chatbots, for instance, might take pressure off of staff and faculty. Robots for cleaning could make sense.

I mentioned campus politics.  To what extent faculty, staff, and students critique academic technologies really depends on local conditions.

Academic libraries Off-campus learners, faculty, and staff may well require more digital resources, some of which their libraries can support through licensed content. At the same time the need for information and digital literacies should keep rising, not least because of cultural controversies over the pandemic and politics.

That said, some campuses could shrink or shut down their libraries if finances continue tightening and administrators feel they can’t make the case for maintaining that service.  This may be more likely when an institution is mostly online, and can’t take advantage of libraries’ in-person functions.

Higher education in society American campuses might suffer a decline in popular support.  First, if we keep raising prices that can lead to howls of outrage.  Second, continually bringing populations to campuses and therefore increasing infection risks will not endear us to everyone.  Third, the picture of colleges and universities choosing to open in the face of injury and death may make academia look cruel and ruthless.

That’s one picture of one possible 2023 for higher education.  Does any of it seem likely to you?

What else would you foresee, if COVID-19 keeps going at this level for the next three years?

Posted in coronavirus, future of education, higher education, scenarios | Leave a comment

Imagining the pandemic continues into 2023: part 2

What happens if we don’t have a COVID-19 vaccine by early 2021?  Or 2022?  In other words, what might the world look like if the pandemic continues for several years?

Earlier this week I used this question to generate a scenario for 2023.  That post covered a lot of ground, touching on economics, psychology, politics, society, architecture, and more.

Today I’d like to build on it.  Readers and friends have already helped by adding their own thoughts through comments on the previous post and on Twitter (see below).  Let’s see if we can glimpse that particular 2023 together with some more clarity.

To recap, how might a three-year pandemic happen?  In the last Tuesday post I listed a series of necessary preconditions: no vaccine, no major therapy, continued virulence.  Since then Ed Yong has published a diagnosis of the many ways America has flubbed pandemic response.  If we keep following those behaviors COVID would well continue for years.

Given those underpinnings for this particular vision of 2023, we can trace some more ways it might play out.

COVID health conditions other than death While much attention now goes to people killed by the virus, and those who escaped its effects, there is also a population it injures.  Damages to breathing, to the immune system, to the heart, to the brain and nervous system are some of the marks COVID-19 leaves on the infected.  In 2020 a term has emerged for people thusly afflicted: long-haulers.

By 2023 there will be a number of pandemic survivors bearing medical conditions.  What number?  Let’s try a back of the envelope sketch.  About 6 million Americans have been infected so far, after six months.  If we wildly assume that rate persists, we have around 36 million United States residents who’ve hosted the virus by 2033.  If 10% of them survive but end up with significant tissue damage, we could see three million or so of them, nearly 1% of the total population.

Worldwide, there are around 28 million infections (one source). By the same crude math there would be around 16 million injured survives.  That’s a large amount of human suffering, not to mention demand on very strained health care systems, as well as losses of economic productivity for families and nations.

I imagine some with nicknames for their ailments: COVID heart, pandemic lung, ‘rona nerves, COVID fatigue.  “I’ve been exhausted/had headaches/always sick with something since I had the demon virus.”  “She used to manage asthma all right, but ‘rona lung is something you just can’t fix.”

We might expect some to pay attention to this as an ongoing dimension of the overall pandemic crisis.  There are already citizen science efforts, coordinated online, which try to assist in recovery and mitigation.  On the other hand, we might just grow accustomed to long haulers as part of society, as many nations did with polio.

In addition to the biological impacts of a plague lasting three years, brilliant Georgetown University Learning, Design, and Technology student Wesson Radomsky reminds us of the bad mental health dimensions.

(Thanks to Tom Elliot and Vanessa Vaile for drawing attention to this in comments)

The advent of generation COVID. The very youngest of us have had their lives stamped by the pandemic.  For example, science fiction and fantasy writer Catherynne M. Valente observes that

This baby is almost 2. He’s lived more than a quarter of his life under quarantine, & that quarter contained almost all of his first sentient impressions of the world.

Right now, for my son, dragons and restaurants have an equal probability of actually existing in real life.

Alison Furlong adds:

by 2023 this child – who doesn’t remember pre-quarantine – will be old enough for kindergarten. Our homeschooled-under-COVID middle-schooler (and others like him) will be starting to look at colleges.

How does that experience mark these children as they grow into teens, then adults?  Are they forever Generation COVID?

Inequalities Wesson Radomsky envisions today’s inequalities leading to certain effects by 2023, including on medical supplies and who isolates:

In a blog comment Michael Flood concurs and adds:

VC firms are attaching new/higher value to immune or low-risk categories of the population. Meaning, firms may treat these populations with increasing benefit and find ways to eschew high-risk populations. Why start a business targeting the elderly or overweight in this environment? Would “certified immunity” come to exist as a credential with benefits? Or would insurance schemes attach risk-values to hiring practices that do/don’t take infection risk into account? Over time, would this lead to a new category fighting for anti-discrimination laws?

Radomsky connects this to technology as well, speculating on who gets to use which surveillance and protection technologies:

…which could migrate across other domains:

I’m also curious to see if the types of testing/tracking/self-reporting apps that colleges are using will become more prevalent in other settings— for work but also for music festivals, private social clubs, etc. — again, making access to social spaces more exclusive…

Michael Flood adds in a blog comment:

Acceleration toward the retirement of physical currencies as people transact ever less in person and when they do, prefer contactless transactions. Significant increase in digital crimes (of all types) as more and more economic activity moves online, staffing turnover continues (creating openings and weak longitudinal accountability), and law enforcement cannot compete for the in-demand tech workers. The need for increased digital security will eventually become a much larger economic sector of its own, including new types of personal/household level insurance with accompanying mandated practices for eligibility.

Politics I wrote up unrest in the last post, but perhaps that account was too mild.  Flood offers this alternative:

Much more social unrest. If your 2023+ scenario holds, I do not see avoiding further increases in social unrest. What is today heated arguments in local places of business about masks or distance will become more agitated as more people can tie real losses (personal/death and economic suffering) to their views about the “other” side. Even outside of the realm of opinion on relative risk and preventative measures – the actual disproportionate impact of the economic changes will be substantial. Perhaps this buoys momentum toward Basic Income schemes – demanded by the destitute and begrudgingly accepted by the wealthy as insurance against civil disorder or a (real) class war…

We could go further.  The details of this recession could drive political desperation.  Think, for example, of newly homeless people (if the United States fails to act on evictions) who have lost so much.  They turn to an already overstretched social safety net.  How many of them will find political extremism, conspiracies, or militias appealing as meaningful and active responses to their experience? How many will turn to various forms of crime, which can overlap with political unrest in American culture?  We know from history that unrest can breed more unrest, especially when authorities crack down and inspire new rebels.

Just how unstable will nations be in 2023?

Social tensions Three years of pandemic means three years of quarantine and other restrictions.  Sociologist Randal Collins examined changes in American life during this summer in some detail, then concluded:

People are culturally quite malleable, but if that means that after a period of acclimation, we can get used to anything, it does not follow that we can do so without paying a price. If people are deprived of embodied interactions, it is a likely hypothesis that they will be more depressed, less energetic, feel less solidarity with other people, become more anxious, distrustful, and perhaps hostile. [emphases added]

Culture In addition to what I wrote previously, I’d like to add that I’m curious about how culture represents the pandemic.  Two very marginal cultural sectors have already engaged.  In horror movies there’s already an emerging subgenre.  (The name “quar-horror” is hideous and should be crushed.) Host (2020), for example, does a good job of squeezing frights out of lonely people on a low budget, and all on Zoom.  And quarantine porn is a thing.

How else will other cultural areas grapple with three years of pandemic?  I’m curious about highbrow and mainstream literature, pop music, and computer gaming.  What does COVID fashion look like?  Or rather, by 2023 how many epochs of pandemic fashion will we have gone through?

Travel Flood offers this interesting focus:

I fear that closed borders are a bigger reality and problem. Systems will emerge for “trusted travelers” and everyone else turned away. The resulting lack of international and intercultural interaction may lead to increased distrust, lower understanding, and more political isolation/nationalism. The main offset to this is the digital world. We may yet be on the cusp of major increases in global interaction forced by increasingly global online platforms. Watch for signs of inflection for this – we need better/faster/easier real-time translation tools.

Which leads us back to national and international politics.

I’d like to explore what higher education looks like in such a 2023, but that deserves its own post.  That’s coming up next.

In the meantime, what do you think year three of COVID would look like?

(thanks to jbackon, Tom Elliot. and Vanessa Vaile; thanks, too, to Ray McClintock, Kyle Erlenbeck, and Michelle Baldwin for reading; thanks to Rob Henderson for eagle-eyed correction; thanks in particular to my wife for talking me through this with her own special vision)

Posted in coronavirus, futures, higher education | Leave a comment

Toggle Terms continue in September’s 2nd week; one student death

toggle switch by Alan LevineWay back in April – and doesn’t that seem like a long time ago? – I first offered the Toggle Term scenario.  Here’s some of what I wrote then:

Colleges and universities are now in perpetual crisis mode.  Their leadership teams scan pandemic news minutely, aided by their medical faculty, looking for signs of when they can welcome their community back on site, and when to send them away and flip the switch to entirely online work.

And so here we are in September’s second week.

Confirmed Toggle examples from this fall include: Colorado CollegeGettysburg CollegeJames Madison UniversityLock Haven UniversityNorth Carolina State UniversityNotre DameSUNY OneontaTemple Universitythe University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Wyoming.  Additionally, Temple University expanded its remote instruction period to cover the rest of fall 2020.  Leading public health figures are opposed to sending students home.

Over the past few days more instances have cropped up across the United States:

The University of West Virginia announced it would suspend in-person classes for several weeks.

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 9, all undergraduate courses in Morgantown, with the exception of those Health Sciences courses with students already engaged in clinical rotation, will move online through Friday, Sept. 25. Graduate and professional courses will continue to be offered in person.

Winona State University quarantined students for two weeks:

The self-imposed quarantine will reduce the number of people physically present on campus for the next two weeks. Courses with face-to-face instruction will either shift entirely online, or if absolutely necessary, require increased precautions in order to continue in-person instruction. All employees who do not need to be physically present on campus will shift to remote work, and individual campus facilities and other areas may impose additional restrictions as needed.

Bradley University‘s president announced a two week quarantine, with students confined to housing and taking classes online.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced a two-week pause: on-campus quarantine plus online instruction.  Infection rates are rising, including in a couple of residence halls.  (Also see below)

After three weeks of classes Gettysburg College has announced most of a Toggle.  All students are sent home, except first-years, and also

All transfer students. All international students. Student teachers with placements in local schools. Residential & First-Year Programs (RAs and CAs) student leader staff. Student leaders charged with supporting a robust in-person co-curricular experience. Students who need access to campus facilities to complete their senior requirements for graduation, including capstones, laboratory research, and/or creative requirements. Students with a demonstrated need to stay on campus.

So that’s, what, 1/3rd of the student population remaining on campus?  1/4th?

At the same time as these college and university decisions there have also been cases of county health authorities urging campuses to suspend in-person education.  Inside Higher Ed reports on two.  In one instance the public authority negotiated with the private college to issue a joint statement which includes reducing town-gown in-person interaction.  In the other a country published recommendations, rather than orders, once COVID cases among the 18-24-year-old population (i.e., traditional undergrads) shot up.

Such situations can encourage campuses to follow Toggle Terms.  For example, the county where the University of Wisconsin-Madison is located asked the school to send dorm-dwelling students home.  More,

“If you live or work in the (Downtown) area, you should assume you were exposed to COVID-19 and monitor yourself for symptoms,” the agency said on Wednesday.

As of today Madison is quarantined, but hasn’t sent students home.

Just to check on my April forecast, here’s what I speculated about this angle:

Town-gown relations are actually quite close in this scenario, as both entities experience the same toggle process.  Universities and local authorities cooperate in this ongoing disaster management process.

That’s optimistic for some of these cases, but may describe accurately what’s gone on elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I’m also watching some campuses with rising infections numbers.  The University of Tennessee, for example:

“We now have 2,112 people in quarantine or self-isolation. Of these, 1,939 are students, split nearly equally between on-campus and off-campus residence,” [Chancellor Donde Plowman] said.
“Our case counts are going up way too fast, and we will need more drastic measures to stop the upward trajectory.”

Cases are rising in some of Pennsylvania’s public universities, eliciting student and faculty criticism.

We may also have experienced the first student death caused by COVID caught by being on campus.  Jamain Stephens was enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania, where he played football.  It’s not certain that the coronavirus killed him:

The high school had said that he died of coronavirus complications, but later said they heard that information from his close friends and they do not have an official confirmation on his cause of death.

If COVID is responsible, fall 2020 has experienced its first student pandemic death.

Will this death, if COVID-caused, spur more campuses to short-term or full semester Toggle decisions?

(thanks to Tony Moretti, Todd Bryant, this Chronicle article, and Thomas Tobin)

Posted in coronavirus | Leave a comment

Imagining the pandemic continues into 2023: part 1

What happens if we don’t have a COVID-19 vaccine by early 2021?  Or 2022?  In other words, what might the world look like if the pandemic continues for several years?

In this post I’d like to explore what 2023 might look like if it’s year three of the pandemic.

I: Intro

I’m inspired by two sources. Joshua Kim provocatively asked us to thinking through the possibility that a coronavirus vaccine doesn’t become widely available until 2025.  (I stepped that back a couple of years.) And also this tweet:

For this post I’d like to imagine some possibilities.  I hope these thoughts inspire you all to add your own visions.


  1. These are possibilities, not predictions.
  2. These notes do not necessarily reflect what I’d like to see.  They cover a wide range of developments, both positive and negative.

When this post’s idea grabbed hold of my brain, I asked people to help me think about it.  The responses were fun.  For example,

It is a hard vision to pursue.  But that won’t stop us today, since it is possible.  To explain…

II: How might this happen?

How could such a 2023 occur?  Several things will have to not happen:

  1. Right now there’s a lot of discussion about a coronavirus vaccine.  While one doesn’t exist, many hope or expect one over this winter.  However, the vaccine will take time.  To begin with, it’s a hard problem.  Nobody has ever built a coronavirus vaccine before.  It’ll have to be tested and trialled for human safety – and it will have to actually be effective.  Then it needs to be produced at enormous scale, hundreds of millions of doses.  Then distributed worldwide.  This assumes people only need one dose; given recent reinfection stories, we might need doses every year, or more frequently still, which amplifies production and distribution challenges.  On top of that, this rosy view assumes enough people will actually take the vaccine.  Given the persistent antivax movement, the politicization of science in many nations, and some popular skepticism of medical authorities… it could take a while for an as yet uninvented vaccine to actually do its job.  Months or years.
  2. COVID-19 will have to not mutate into less virulent forms.  Viruses mutate, like all life forms, and it’s possible that this awful thing could develop into something less terrible.
  3. An effective treatment for infected people would have to not appear.  Over 2020 better therapies have been developed, but the infection experience is still terrible.
  4. Some call for herd immunity as a solution to COVID’s ravages.  I’d like to discuss just what a horror that would be in another post.  For now let’s imagine the death toll, should America truly attain herd immunity.  There are roughly 328.2 million people in this country.  Let’s posit 80% of them need to get infected for immunity to work, or about 262.5 million.  Then let’s assume a fairly reasonable-to-low case fatality rate of 0.6%.  The result: around one million, five hundred thousand dead.  Which is an astonishing, terrible figure to contemplate.  For the purposes of forecasting, it’s also a problem in that it would take some time to attain.  In six months about 6 million Americans have been infected.  At that rate sufficient infection will take something like 20 years.  Even if infection rates take off, through accidental or deliberate means, it will take some time for herd immunity to be attained.

For the sake of futuring one possible path I’d like to posit that none of those things take place before 2023.  No herd immunity arrives any time soon.  Hundreds of millions of people are not taking our COVID vaccine.  No benign mutation has appeared.  Medical professionals have not developed a splendid treatment.  If none of those occur, then we have one path forward for COVID-19 to keep ravaging the United States for at least several years.

III: Different swathes of human life

We can divide up our view of 2023 by different aspects of human life.

Let’s start with the social world.

In other social frames, by 2023 we interact less in person and more online. Face to face experience is fraught with well-honed tensions, from dread of infection to expectation of political statements.  To avoid the latter, some, especially the wealthy, may leave cities for rural and suburban areas, although this can be overstated.  Many share a desire for more open spaces, from parks and yards to plazas.

Intergenerational relations may change by 2023.  If the virus continues to primarily maim and kill older people, Robert McGuire argues that these connections between olds and kids will become tense, as young people sacrifice their experiences to protect their elders:

Along these lines we may also see a greater spatial and social isolation of the elderly. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory centers, etc. may become more like fortresses than residences, redesigned to protect their more vulnerable inhabitants.  Seniors living on their own might take steps to ward off the infected: installing Amazon Doors, using a porch or deck as a kind of airlock, setting up fences or walls.  Families living with elders may take similar steps to keep them safe.  Overall, senior citizens could become less visible, less connected with the world.

We should also expect some psychological changes if COVID drags on for three years.  For one, I’m not sure if decreased face-to-face contact will confirm Americans in our individualism through isolation or, conversely, stoke our longing for norms, belonging, and conformity.

For another, we might experience three pandemic years as a kind of retreat and call for individual reexamination:


In terms of religion, perhaps we should expect greater participation in established religions.  We should also expect the expansion or appearance of new religious movements.  There is historical precedent for both of these in prior pandemics.  Non-affiliated seekers can touch on many of these, motivated by the pandemic’s horrors.  Allied developments may also occur, like the interesting intersection of Q-anon with some evangelicals.

America has only lived with the virus for six months.  In three years there’s plenty of room for religious creativity and transformations.

Economics –  after three years of virus some results must be clear.  Some business and sectors will grow, and others will receded.  Towards the end of 2021 we’ve seen digital, remote, delivery firms triumph, and that could well extend to 2023: Zoom, Doordash, Netflix, Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc.  Similarly, and for equally obvious reasons, the full spectrum of health care as an industry will surely expand: pharmaceuticals, nursing, psychotherapy, hospitals, clinics, health insurance, electronic medical records, etc. Other sectors are hit badly or collapse by 2023: air travel, tourism, in-person services that PPE hobbles.  The combined effect is the accelerated digitization of the economy.

In labor markets three years of pandemic should mean a strengthening of remote work practices and expectations.  Jobs that can’t be done remotely will be more uncertain, dangerous, and precarious.  At the same time, individual and family income and wealth inequality rise according to every forecast I’ve seen. I fear a steady economic recession, combined with the continuous stress of pandemic measures, injuries, and deaths, will drive more diseases and deaths of despair.

As COVID devours or retreats from individual nations, transnational supply chains will be reconfigured. Will this mean onshoring jobs, or more automation, or both?  Companies will shape those supply chains with a pandemic eye.

It seems plausible that 2023 will be the third year of an overall slowdown in global economic production and growth.

In the political realm… this is tricky to forecast, given America’s domestic chaos, but we can look to some trends, starting with calls for reform or more drastic change. Debates over health care insurance (Obamacare, Medicare for All, whatever status quo the GOP turns to) have given way to calls for a new public health architecture in the United States and elsewhere.  As Laurie Garrett has argued, too many nations have let public health slide.  This global pandemic has revealed the costs of that kind of policy.

If economic inequality rises, as we noted above, that’s more fuel for left-wing populism as well as the right-wing form.  We could then see the possible organization and/or mobilization of badly paid, badly treated “essential workers.”

If the pandemic keeps roaring through 2023, some people will want to find responsible parties to punish.  We should expect growing interest in punishing those perceived as guilty for bungling the ongoing crisis.  That could take the form of  can take the form of , governmental inquiries or internet and real world shaming.  We could see targeted electoral campaigns aimed at unseating guilty parties (“throw the COVID bums out!”).  I can imagine people suffering from the pandemic, having lost businesses or family, deciding to run for office to make a difference.  In the litigation-loving United States lawsuits will surely fly thick and fast.  We might also see vigilante actions of all kinds, from punching out government officials caught in public to more organized, deadly violence.

Along these lines faith in governments, from local to national levels, could drop as the crisis persists. This could drive some governments to collapse or being taken over by others: nationalizing localities, for example, as an emergency measure.  It also means more dissent and oppositional organizing, which can elicit crackdowns.  So more events occur in 2023 like the 2020 Byelorussian or American election debacles.  Some might call 2020-2023 a sustained planetary COVID Spring, if they approve of such unrest.

The flip side of that insurgent coin is more surveillance and policing.  This occurs in many nations and to different degrees.  For one vision,

Countries may also use IT to monitor the movement of citizens through tracking software in mobile phones or chips embedded in driving licences and photo ID cards. Police may be given limited access to citizens’ financial, employment and criminal records at the click of a button on their mobile instruments. Any outcry for privacy will be outweighed by considerations of security and health. Human rights defenders will be worried about the power this could give to authoritarian governments for silencing opposition and blackmailing them into submission. In established democracies, there would be legislation to define the limits and mandates of authorised government agencies, which will have the power to monitor citizens’ movements under law, and a mechanism will be available to citizens to challenge misuse through courts. With the passage of time, the location of every individual will be traceable through satellite…

Global politics could swing in a few contradictory directions.  By 2023 we could see nationalism as the world’s leading political ideology, driven by the forces we know now: fear of immigration, protecting the privileges of certain ethnic or religious groups, resentment of various forms of globalization. As Syed Sharfuddin put it, “globalisation cannot be eliminated, [but] it will take a back seat, as countries will vie to care for the well-being of their citizens first before helping others.”

On the other hand, other drivers can yield a more transnational or global 2023.  Large companies continue to cross mere national boundaries, albeit gingerly around COVID outbreaks.  Viruses don’t actually notice those borders, and hence the case for public health to be a global enterprise, especially as modern infrastructure is so good at rapidly circulating diseases, vectors, and people.  Alliances between nationalists could spur parallel assemblages in opposition.  Plus climate change organization tends to be planetary.  Ultimately I’m not sure of this point by 2023, and should probably punt for a mixture of neonationalism and globalism.

On another geopolitical front, year three of the Great Pandemic appears likely to contain a global Cold War led by the US and China. The desire for such a conflict is fairly bipartisan in the US as of 2020, as the Biden campaign returns to the Obama administration’s anti-China stance, intensified by some Chinese actions over the past 8 years (increasing authoritarianism, Uighur oppression, pressure on Hong Kong, Belt and Road Initiative growth), while the Trump administration continues its semicoherent anti-Beijing stance.

Accordingly, Chinese influence over developing countries may increase, given the former’s ambition and capacity with the latter’s needs. developing nations may suffer double whammy of rising expenses, due to pandemic, and decreased foreign investment, when capital has other priorities, such as rescuing developed nations. Is there political capacity for setting up a post-COVID international reconstruction effort independent of Chinese leadership, as Sharan Burrow calls for?

2023,_a_trilogy_by_The_Justified_Ancients_of_Mu_MuMeanwhile, what has change in culture as the pandemic reaches towards its fourth year?  Some cultural fields and industries have shrunk drastically, given pandemic constraints on production: theater, movies, tv.  In contrast computer gaming is the world’s leading art form.

At the same time creativity has driven all kinds of formal experiments, like Host (2020), a movie taking place entirely through a Zoom session and where each actor is alone or in a safe “pod.” Preexisting art forms that don’t require lots of in-person work have seen more use: one-person shows, monologues, animation above all. Some people will sidestep current art in favor of plunging into archives.  That has meant a renaissance of watching classic film and tv.  Following along those lines, new video and movies appear based entirely on remixed archival content, inspired by the pathbreaking work of Adam Curtis.

Architecture, cities, and the overall human-built environment have changed somewhat by 2023.   Insofar as renovations and new construction occurs, buildings have bigger openings to the outside through wider windows and doors, more galleries and porches, all aimed at facilitating social distancing or externally circulating air.  Inside buildings there are larger hallways and fewer, yet larger, rooms.  Rooftops are more widely used.  Fast food restaurants have more drive-throughs and fewer dining rooms – they are, in effect, for pickup only.

More events occur outside, under tents during rain, especially in regions without fierce winters.  Spaces are designed to separate people safely, like this plan for a distance park:

distance park

By 2023 a COVID design style is identifiable, and much debated.

Also by that time the technology sector has enjoyed a sustained boom. Social media and videoconferencing firms have become central to the global economy. Virtual and extended reality have become fairly popular as home entertainment and communication services, offering immersive experiences especially sought after by those who rarely venture forth. Augmented reality is also doing well in public spaces, as who wouldn’t want an app alerting pedestrians to dangers ahead?

Automation has developed and expanded. Robots are somewhat visible in 2023 in various walks of life, thanks to our well trained fear of other people, not to mention companies’ desire to replace costly humans. AI has grown in tandem with physical automation, partly to help wrangle immense amounts of health care data, not to mention public health, macroeconomic, and governmental data. Years of living with COVID means more personal data gathering and analysis than people endured in 2020. 

The 20-teens techlash persists in 2013, buoyed by a nearly continuous stream of stories about entities misusing or actively abusing health data. Cybercrime has grown every year, taking advantage of the pandemic since it first set in. However, anti-screen sentiment seems to have collapsed due to COVID necessities.  Instead, there is grudging acceptance, a studied cultivation of physical artifacts, and elaborate, shifting games of staging one’s space for video/VR appearance while carefully scrutinizing and critiquing what others choose to reveal (for example).  

​On a much grander scale, the climate emergency continues to develop in 2023, with glaciers decreasing, desertification incrementally progressing, and ever higher temperatures recorded.  Climate change action has been difficult to achieve, thanks to a mix of energetic nationalism, persistent climate denial, and a general focus on short-term thinking.  Activists are organized at a higher level than ever before, but still lack the power to achieve serious results.  Quarantine-driven economic lockdowns demonstrated that we can voluntarily throttle back carbon production, but also in a way that wrecks economies. (I will have much more to say about the COVID-climate change intersection in forthcoming blog posts.)

Let’s go further still by circling back to Joshua Kim’s provocation.  What happens to colleges and universities if we go for years without a COVID vaccine?

We’ll explore that in a following post.

For now, what else would you envision for such a 2023?

(with help from the Center for the Future of Museums, Kevin Scully, the International Money Fund; 2023 image from Wikipedia; thank to those who responded to my Twitter and Facebook queries)

Posted in coronavirus, futures | 17 Comments

Drs. Fauci and Birx come out against rising Toggle Terms

As fall semester proceeds or draws nigh, more colleges and universities are considering or implementing switches from face-to-face education to online experience.  Meanwhile, two leading public health voices have come out in strong opposition to these Toggle Terms.

To recap: Toggle Terms are when a campus swaps in-person for wholly digital teaching during a semester.  Confirmed examples from this fall include: Colorado CollegeGettysburg CollegeJames Madison University, Lock Haven University, North Carolina State UniversityNotre DameSUNY OneontaTemple University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and the University of Wyoming.  Additionally, Temple University expanded its remote instruction period to cover the rest of fall 2020.

However, Dr. Anthony Fauci thinks sending students off campus is a terrible idea.  “It’s the worst thing you could do,” he said on NBC.  Instead, we should:

“…keep them at the university in a place that’s sequestered enough from the other students but don’t have them go home because they could be spreading it in their homes.”

Fauci_no Toggle_NBC


“When you send them home, particularly when you’re dealing with a university where people come from multiple different locations, you could be seeding the different places with infection…”

Another leading voice agreed:

“Sending these individuals back home in their asymptomatic state to spread the virus in their hometown or among their vulnerable households could really re-create what we experienced over the June time frame in the South,” [Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force] said, according to a source on the call.

I’m not sure how influential these statements will be.  Will they arguments slow down Toggle Terms?  Will Birx and/or Fauci give more strength to campus leaders urging on-site quarantines?  Or are they irrelevant in the face of infection statistics and institutional priorities?

(thanks to Amy Pearlman)

Posted in coronavirus | 5 Comments

More Toggle Term campuses

Now that we’re in September it seems that every day offers examples of colleges and universities switching between in-person and online education.  The Toggle Term is now in play.

To recap: a Toggle Term is when a college or university switches between online and in-person education during a semester for COVID-19-related reasons.  Examples to date include: Colorado College, Gettysburg College, James Madison University, North Carolina State UniversityNotre DameSUNY OneontaTemple University, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Maybe I should probably set up a dedicated page or spreadsheet for this topic, unless someone else already has one.  Perhaps a counter widget, too.

Today’s examples:

The University of Wyoming announced it would suspend face-to-face education for a week as infections rose.

Their language is interesting – Wyoming “paused its phased fall return plan for a five-day period to more fully assess the prevalence of COVID-19 infection among the UW community.”   Paused is a word we’ve seen elsewhere.  It might be the new term of art, like “out of an abundance of caution.”

Note that Wyoming followed an established virus plan, including a toggle threshold:

The COVID contingency plan previously approved by UW’s Board of Trustees directs that five or more positive tests of symptomatic individuals among UW students and employees in Laramie in a single day would prompt a pause of five business days.

Here’s what the “pause” looks like:

Under the pause plan, which may be found here, the university is taking steps that include:

— Instructing students in UW campus housing and others in Laramie to shelter in place.

— Delivering all courses online; no in-person classes will be conducted during the five-day period.

— Directing all employees, with the exception of those designated by supervisors as critical pause personnel, to work remotely.

— Suspending all face-to-face activities, unless approval is given through an exception process.

Yesterday Lock Haven University switched from in-person to online learning.  Infections were rising:

The university had set a 5% positivity rate for its voluntary testing program as a threshold to reevaluate whether on-campus learning is safe. The announcement said that, as of Tuesday morning, the rate was 4.9%, triggering the suspension.

As of Wednesday morning, the university had conducted 891 tests in total and has 43 positives, yielding a 4.82% positivity rate.

I’m glad to see that they, too, have a clear threshold.  Readers might recall my earlier, frustrated hunt for same.  Perhaps a number of institutions determined such thresholds, but not publicaly.

However, Lock Haven wasn’t fully in person.  Only about 15% of students were on site.  Perhaps we should call this a partial toggle.

Thinking about viral spread, I note that Lock Haven is about 35 miles from Penn State University.

Elsewhere, Northwestern University caught flak for sending half of its undergraduates home after 9 days on campus.

…only third- and fourth-year students would be permitted to return to campus, take in-person classes and live in residence halls. The decision, communicated just nine days before move-in was scheduled to start, clashed with the school’s summer efforts to accommodate everyone who wanted to come back.

Other campuses present symptoms of potential Toggle Terms.  Indiana University just quarantined more than three fourths of its Greek houses.  The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign “expects all undergraduate students, for their own protection, to significantly restrict in-person activities.” UPDATED: now UI wants to shut the whole fraternity and sorority system down: “students will be forced to find alternative housing.” I’m still tracking the University of South Carolina, Georgia College, Adrian College, Illinois State, the University of South Carolina, and everything in Iowa.

Meanwhile, as of Monday 24% of American colleges and universities have not yet announced their fall plans, according to the Chronicle of Higher Ed. About 21% are still opening up entirely or mostly in person.

(thanks to Tracy Birdwell, Ed Webb, Jason Browning)

Posted in coronavirus | 2 Comments

Another day, another set of campuses flip from in-person to online

As September kicks off, more campus are choosing Toggle Terms.  Here I offer some updates.

toggle switch by Alan LevineTo explain: a Toggle Term is when a college or university switches between online and in-person education during a semester for COVID-19-related reasons.  Examples to date include: North Carolina State UniversityNotre Dame, SUNY Oneonta, Temple University, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Here are some more:

After holding in-person classes, yesterday Gettysburg College ordered an “[i]mmediate all-student quarantine.”  The reason: “a trend of positive cases on campus that, according to the results we had, were connected to certain affinity groups or social gatherings.”

This switch online will last “through at least the end of the week.”  After that we could see a continuation of remote instruction, or a toggle back to in-person.

James Madison University ended in-person instruction and asked students to leave campus.  The cause: more than 500 students testing positive for the coronavirus.

Colorado College sent students home for the next two and a half weeks as COVID cases grew in their largest residence halls.  Local government played a role, as “the El Paso County Health Department has required the college to quarantine entire residence halls.”  Looking ahead, the college “said it expects ‘rolling waves of large quarantines’ moving forward.”

Note that Colorado uses a shorter academic schedule than semesters, having blocks instead.

The University of Notre Dame, having Toggled once this semester, is preparing to throw the switch again.  Next week it’ll send students and faculty back to classrooms.

Down the road, I’m looking for other campuses that are fine Toggle candidates.  The University of South Carolina’s president openly proclaimed that his administration was starting Toggle planning.  Georgia College is experiencing a massive infection expansion.  Several Iowa campuses are in counties with enormous numbers of COVID cases.  Adrian College just saw 6% of students and staff (not sure about faculty) testing positive.  The number of Illinois State students testing positive broke 1,000, as did the University of South Carolina.

(thanks to Todd Bryant, Jennifer Sader, Jason Parkhill)

Posted in coronavirus | 8 Comments

Launching my new technology seminar

Tonight is the first session of my technology, innovation, and design seminar for Georgetown University’s Learning, Design, and Technology masters program.  This seminar is required for all LDT students, so the class tends to be among the largest.

As usual for me, I like to share my teaching practice through this blog: its plans, hopes, crushing realities, and great student work.

The idea of the class is to take a deep dive into the many ways we understand technology.  It’s interdisciplinary, involving approaches from sociology, history, feminism, critical race theory, business, medicine, philosophy, critical theory, Middle Eastern studies, gaming, and literature.

Students will do a good amount of work.  I’ve got them down for weekly discussion board responses, one tech presentation each, a mid term bibliography, and a final paper/project, not to mention live discussions.  I’ve also added a glossary of terms, which they get to collectively develop, wiki-style.

Tech and innovation 2019 Sept

Students from 2019’s iteration.

I’ve only taught the class once before.  So I’ve kept what I thought worked best (topics, assignments, readings) and have added new stuff.  It feels more history-heavy than last time, which is intentional, as I wanted to increase that dosage.

I’m excited about teaching a Reacting to the Past game.  I’m still trying to get materials, but the game will probably focus on either the Luddites or early radio policy.

I’m recommending they watch some of these movies, but didn’t manage to require them.


  • Ruha Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code.
  • Jon Gernter, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.
  • Steven Johnson, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made The Modern World.
  • Everett M. Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations, 5th Edition.
  • Reacting to the Past game – TBA
  • Mohamed Zayani, ed., Digital Middle East State and Society in the Information Age .

Recommended texts:

  • James Bridle, New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future.
  • Charles Fadel, Wayne Holmes, Maya Bialik, Artificial Intelligence In Education: Promises and Implications for Teaching and Learning.
  • James E McClellan and Harold Dorn, Science and Technology in World History, third edition.
  • Carlota Perez, Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital: The Dynamics of Bubbles and Golden Ages
  • Alex Roland, War and Technology: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)
  • Shoshana Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power.


September 1

Topic: Introductions


techne defined by  Liddell and Scott -just technetechne Liddell and Scott

  • the huge technological takeoff (onetwo)


  • Glossary of key terms
  • Signing up for tech presentations

September 8

Topic: the history of technology

  • Reading: How We Got To Now 1

Student tech presentation

September 15

Topic: the history of technology

  • Reading: How We Got To Now 2

Student tech presentation

September 22

Topic: Imagining innovation


Student tech presentation

September 29

Topic: how innovations spread

Student tech presentation

October 6

Topic: how innovations spread

Student tech presentation

October 13

Topic: how to nurture innovation

Reading: Jon Gernter, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation (Selections)

Student tech presentation

October 20

Topic: Simulating technological possibilities: RTTP

Student tech presentation

October 23 – midterm project due

October 27

Topic: Justice and innovation, or Does technology have a politics?


  • Benjamin, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, selections.
  • Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

Student tech presentation

November 3

Topic: Justice and innovation, 2


Student tech presentation

November 10

Topic: beyond the western world

  • Reading: Digital Middle East, selections

Student tech presentation

November 17

Topic: technology among human beings

Student tech presentation

November 24  – no class; Thanksgiving holiday

December 1

Topic: futures

  • Reading: TBD
  • Presentations

December 12 – final project due

Posted in teaching, technology | 8 Comments

Two more campuses leap online, enacting Toggle Terms

As campuses head into fall term, more Toggle Terms are cropping up.

To explain: a Toggle Term is when a college or university switches between online and in-person education during a semester for COVID-19-related reasons.  Examples to date include: North Carolina State University, Notre Dame, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Our new examples:

Temple University has toggled from in-person to online.  They use different language, referring to “a two-week ‘pause’ for in-person classes.”  The reason: cases zoomed up from 58 to 103 in a few days.  All students:

coronavirus Temple 2020 Aug 31

There are some exceptions: “Only those classes designated as essential by the dean of a school or college will be held in person during this period and students in those classes will be notified directly by their school or college.”

State University of New York (SUNY) Oneonta switched from in-person to online instruction after a spate of infections and a collision with state policy:

After testing students on campus, the total number of positive cases rose to 105, about 3 percent, [Chancellor Jim] Malatras said.

100 cases is the minimum necessary to force a campus closure according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement made last week. On Thursday, he lowered the threshold for re-closing campuses from 9 percent to 5 percent or 100 cases, whichever is triggered first. Athletic activities and other extracurriculars must also be suspended, and dining hall options must move to take-out only.

The source seems to be students partying:

The primary source of the infection spread has been traced to a number of student parties in and around campus, state officials said. So far, five students and three campus organizations have been suspended for their involvement.

These cases are fairly similar.  Each campus planned on in-person education and brought folks on site, then infections rose.  Both schools are working closely with governmental authorities, city (Temple) or state (Oneonta).  One difference: SUNY blames students, while Temple seems not to.

That’s five Toggles so far.  Watch for more.

(thanks to Todd Bryant)

Posted in coronavirus | Leave a comment

Teaching my first gaming in education seminar

In May and June I taught a graduate seminar in gaming and education.  I’ve taught games and gaming for education before, but always as part of a program or class, never for a full semester.  Here I’d like to share some reflections on the experience.

tl;dr – it went well.

My initial conception of the class was twofold.  First, it would present two cases to students: that games and gaming and interesting and worthy of intellectual study; that games and gaming can enhance education.   Second, we would approach games by playing them, reading scholarship about them, and by making some ourselves.

some tabletop games

Some of the tabletop games I considered.

I also planned, back in the winter of 2019-2020, on teaching this in person.  By April I knew the class would be wholly online, which meant I had to revise how to teach tabletop games.  I initially looked into Tabletop Simulator, but worried that the cumulative price (you pay for the app, then each game hosted thereon) would be irksome, so I had the class play the computer version of a tabletop historical game, Fort Sumter.  Teaching computer games was easier, of course, as were role playing games.  Rather than sharing physical products we would exchange digital files and use cameras.

I expected that students would arrive with a range of gaming experiences, along with a variety of reasons for studying games.  When the class began I discovered that this was true, although with aspects that surprised me.  Several students were very skeptical of gaming as a field, not just its educational uses.  Some were very concerned that they had too little experience to proceed.  None had any wargaming in their past, which made me feel very old, as I was a teenage grognard back in the day.  The idea of educational gaming was a bit more foreign to them than I’d expected.  Overall, I had to structure and facilitate discussions and materials with care, so that all perspectives were admitted, and so that all students felt supported… which is what I always do, but it was trickier this time, because of my expectations.

The initial syllabus had a good deal of flexibility built in.  I left open some assignments from the start so I could choose readings and exercises especially suited to students’ interests and backgrounds.  Two class topics were to be determined by students, as they worked through the term.  (Check here for that partially open syllabus; scroll down for its final form.)

Since we only had eleven classes (summer seminars are fast) I tried to cram in as much stuff as possible into each session.  I also aimed to have as wide a range of activities as possible, being concerned about Zoom fatigue: discussion, game play (camera off), tech learning, making stuff, presentations by me, presentations by them, writing (camera off), and more, all on the table.

As usual I overbooked and overprepared.  We spent less time in role playing than I’d hoped for, and I massively underestimated prep time for Fort Sumter.  The leap from Twine to Game Maker 2 was probably too large, and needed more scaffolding.  Playing games together took some time for them to get into. Most importantly, students had a lot to say, once they settled in.  They wrestled seriously with readings and concepts.  Discussion drove the class, richly, and I gave that more time in the end than I planned on – which is fine.

It was fascinating to see how the class responded to different games.  When they started ones predicated on imagination, like The Thing From the Future, The Quiet Year, or role playing games, students were initially awkward, then rapidly dove in with energy and invention.  Games based on science or current events were more accessible than historical ones.  Storytelling through games was uncontroversial.

I was especially impressed by how thoroughly the class investigated games for education.  Students offered good design critiques and developed principles they stuck with, then applied well in their final projects (see below).

Students co-created the class, as per my usual pedagogical practice.  I asked them about structuring synchronous sessions, and they came up with ways to minimize video, as this was starting to gnaw at some of them.  Their class topics were bad games as a design issue, and social justice in gaming.  Both of those went well, being rich topics, and because the students had some investment in them. Bad games appealed to the design-centered class, and perhaps represented some pushback to my gaming evangelical attitude.  Social justice was, in contrast, a passionate cause, as that took place during the first couple of weeks after George Floyd’s killing.

For their final project students produced games with educational themes, in additional to an exploratory essay. They had a lot of latitude for the topic, and could use any of the game genres we’d explore (computer, analog, role playing, etc).  I encouraged them to be creative while linking up with their interests.  The results were diverse and impressive, including games teaching player how not to call the police, how to get to school in a racially unequal society, and how to solve crimes with forensics.

Sharpe walk to school screenshot

Always Carry a Bouquet screenshotOne taught about a major city’s neighborhoods while another instructed players on DNA.

Chicago neighborhood game

Two were versions of Bingo, but with very different goals: socializing remote students, identifying types of fish.

fish Bingo slide

Game platforms and stuff they used in making games included:

  • Game software: Twine (several flavors), Game Maker
  • Software, repurposed: PowerPoint, Excel
  • All kinds of paper and other materials for tabletop games

Overall I think the class was a success.  It was a delight to really dive into gaming at greater length than I’ve ever had the chance to do previously.  Above all I enjoyed and appreciated students thinking, pushing back, pushing themselves, getting playful, and being creative… all during a very challenging season.

I have all kinds of notes about what to do with the next iteration of the class.  Since Game Maker 2 was so challenging, we might preface it with a tool more complicated than Twine, like RPG Maker.  As historical context was a challenge, I might assign them to research a game’s period before and after play and/or ask them to play two games in the same setting.  The lack of wargaming experience makes me want to carve out a unit just for that genre.  I raised solitaire tabletop games as an issue and made a good contact with one publisher, but the idea didn’t catch on, so that might need expansion and better preparation.  And perhaps a unit on improv will help encourage more playfulness and risktaking.

Here’s what the syllabus looked like by the end:


May 18

  • introduction to the class: logistics; classroom democracy; cocreating rules of the road; meta design aspects
  • introduction to gaming: history and theory (introductory presentation)
  • games: The Thing From the Future
  • technology: download and install Steam
  • writing in Canvas: student self-description character sheets, 1

May 20 Tabletop gaming

May 25 – Memorial Day

May 27 Role-playing games

June 1 Computer gaming

June 3 Education and gaming

June 5: final project pitch due

June 8 Education and gaming

June 10 Gaming and design

June 15 Design for education and gaming

June 17 Storytelling and games

June 22 Student topic pick: bad games!

June 24 Student topic pick: social justice in gaming

July 3: final projects due

Posted in teaching | 4 Comments