Toggle terms rise as COVID-19 surges across the United States, suggesting a more online spring semester

toggle switch by Alan LevineI last posted about American campuses enacting toggle terms three days ago.  Since then the number of examples has ballooned.

Let me offer two background notes.  First, I came up with the “toggle term” model waaaaaaay back in April.  It refers to a college or university that switches between online and in-person education during a semester or other academic period.  I offered this as a separate scenario from cases where a campus chooses either online or in person for an entire semester.  During spring and summer of 2020 few campuses gave any hints they were considering planning for toggles, but since fall started dozens of examples have appeared.

Second, why are toggles rising?  Because the coronavirus pandemic is booming, it seems.  Globally, WHO now counts “52,487,476 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 1,290,653 deaths.”  Within the United States, the CDC thinks there have been 10,508,864 infections and 242,216 deaths.  And those American numbers are trending up, and steeply.

Consider this 91-DIVOC visualization, where the US is surging up, second only to the European disaster:

coronavirus_cases by nation_US_2020 Nov 13_91-DIVOCcoronavirus_cases by nation_US_2020 Nov 13_91-DIVOC

This is occurring across the nation, within each region:

coronavirus_cases by US region_2020 Nov 13_91-DIVOCcoronavirus_cases by US region_2020 Nov 13_91-DIVOC

The causes are multiple, in my reading of reports and commentary: more people spending more time inside as temperatures fall; pandemic fatigue; politically inspired acting out; Halloween; some campuses being open; ditto K-12.  As winter sets in we might expect even higher infection numbers.

In this environment, you might expect some campuses to toggle away from face-to-face activities, flipping a strategic switch to online education.  And you’d be right.


St. Lawrence University ended in-person classes, suspended cocurricular activities, and quarantined several residence halls.  The cause: the campus “wastewater monitoring system has detected positive traces of the virus in wastewater samples” from those dorms.

Niagara University ended in-person classes yesterday due to COVID-19 “news in the [upstate New York] region and the uptick of cases on campus.”

Hilbert College ceased offering face to face classes today.   They were originally planning on doing so November 23rd.  Meanwhile, the physical campus will “remain open until November 24.”

Syracuse University “went into pause mode” yesterday.

Given the resurgence of the virus, we have made the decision to conclude in-person instruction, effective Thursday, Nov. 12, and transition fully to online instruction for the remainder of the semester.

The University of Missouri is sending students home now, to partake of online education for the rest of the term.  “At the start of the school year, officials had thought they might go online only after Thanksgiving.”

King’s College (Pennsylvania) ended in-person classes and in-person cocurricular activities today.

So did, in various forms, Adams University, Central Wyoming College, Cleary University, Drake University, Luther College, Missouri Southern State University, St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, Seton Hall University, the University of Akronthe University of Illinois, the University of Wyoming, and Valparaiso University.  There are, no doubt, others.

In addition, three University of Wisconsin campuses – Stout, Eau Claire and River Falls – will switch online after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Some observations:

These toggles to online education have some resonance with campuses that planned on switching from in-person to online for Thanksgiving, way back in August.  They’re just doing it now, in mid-stream and mid-semester.

Some campuses are trying out alternative language to describe their toggling.  Luther College calls theirs “a circuit breaker.”  Syracuse uses “pause.”  Meanwhile, nearly everyone trots out the legalistic spell of “abundance of caution.”

These toggles and the pandemic that drives them may point to more campuses being online in spring 2021 than this fall.   Ohio’s governor explicitly called for such a strategy:

Along related lines, the Ivy (college sports) League called off winter season sports, into 2021.  Should we prepare another spreadsheet for campuses migrating online over winter?

Lastly. I’m geekishly charmed that the King’s College announcement prominently displays a Moodle logo.

(thanks to Doug Lederman and Benjy Renton)

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