Rethinking education for the new normal: our conversation with Lee Skallerup Bessette

Yesterday the Future Trends Forum hosted a discussion about redesigning classes in the wake of COVID-19.  Our guest, Lee Skallerup Bessette, spoke to the powerful ways student absence due to disease and mental issues can help us rethink how to structure the teaching and learning experience.

The conversation was intense, energetic, exploratory, and hard to contain to a single hour.  Accordingly I’d like to share the session.  In this post I’ll embed the video recording, along with highlights from the chat and questions we didn’t get to.

Here’s the full hour, fresh from YouTube:

On the Forum people post questions through a text box. They started coming fast by the end, so we couldn’t get to them all.  Here are the ones left over, or that we only addressed partially:

How would you theorize/build an organization/platform for self-directed learners, outside of but perhaps affiliated with a university, to extend their learning network and connect with others around subjects or projects? Leaving assessment and credentials aside. Some sort of bottom-up anarcho-syndicalist way to learn, using the affordances of digital technology.

While the type of assessment may differ based on content, would you argue that there is a preferable method of assessment for digital learn? I studied Problem Based Learning by Jonassen last semester

Considering social media tools like Facebook mostly keep content hidden from search engines (gray web), how will publishing to the web remain relevant? Will it get a revival?

A comment- your thoughts on importance of understanding emotional & affective labor in the context of teaching and learning… in H.E.

Is it time to blow up what we mean by a “course”?

The Forum chat is always rich, and here I reproduce excerpts. I’ve removed names, since we didn’t ask permission ahead of time.  I’ve also cut some socialization and chit-chat in order to focus on the session’s topic.  I moved a few lines around for easier reading and tried to break out category headers:


I was honored to be an early reader for lee’s book: it’s splendid!
Lee, who’s publishing your book?
Affective Labor and Alt-Ac Careers University Press of Kansas
Preorderable at

Technology, comfort, and literacy

Do you also find “today’s” students less technically adept when facing code?
The Google Jockeys abound in the Forum
Vic 20 for the win!
I say they are computer literate like we’re automobile literate.
GenX and Vic20 FTW!
BBS: Bulletin Board Service
Honestly miss the BBSes!
I started on a Timex Sinclair.
Atari 800 with a cassette tape drive! (PS: check out the recent Radiolab miniseries on cassette tape)
“Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.” – Douglas Adams
TRS-80 w/tape drive here.
lol forgot about the 1×1 clear gif
Lee, your session on WP-in-context – is or will there be a way for us to learn from you, either a recording of that session or a forthcoming paper?
I’m in an Akimbo class on Discord.
What’s important is where your crowd is. People probably still use Second Life because their tribe is still there.
I’m part of many video game modding communities on Discord
Punch cards on an IBM 360.
Another issue I find students struggle with is understanding file structure in computers (folders, cloud storage, zip files, etc.)
At this time I’m on Discord only for educators and creators in VR…
We drove Model T’s – Today they have Hondas.
+1 on that Radiolab mixtape series. Amazing reporting!
I would contend you all have the ability to learn these digital tools – Discord, Snapchat, TikTok – these are tools
I find faulty and admins have the same struggles.
Sinclair – 2 KB RAM! 16KB Expansion Module that cost $100’s
Agreed on file structure. Phones have killed it.
I mostly know file structure from needing to understand it to install mods for video games. I do not recall it explicitly being taught in school.
Late saying hello from windy NE Colorado, fell off the internet and had to reset router.
Phones and Google’s “don’t store it just search it” ethos.
That’s because they’re using them as delivery tools, not learning tools.
Neil, gaming is a whole set of skills.
We hear so much about the Metaverse. Wondering how folks feel about whether it will be part of the “new education”? NFTs?
Is the “metaverse” just another venue for student-authored/open/community-engaged work? Or is there an actual difference of type?
Depending on who you speak with and how they are using it, it can be whatever you want to use it for. Bryan will ask the question at the end of the event.

Online learning, remote instruction, and Carnegie Units

No – It was “Online Classroom”
Distinct difference between emergency remote instruction and true online learning.
It’s a good thing if ill students stay home
Accepted premise: “butts in seats”
It wouldn’t be a terrible thing if faculty and staff stayed home more too.
And we assess them if they Show Up 100% of the time.
“contact hours” vs. quality of contact…
Thank you, Carnegie
How can they pour knowledge into your head if you’re not present??
yup. for an elite though – this ‘in person’ experience is part of the brand. its not even about in person class as much as in-person activities, community events, etc etc
Refining the limited definitions of the metaverse
The woman gets around
The learning center I work at still offers remote services which was very useful for students who could not physically make it to the Learning Center (one person had no transportation, public or personal, to the community college)
Good point about expectations of 100 percent attendance in person for all. And the inflexibility of current academic systems
Imagine a higher ed without seat time, credit hours, grades or professors with lectures. Imagine students doing it on their own time however long that takes.
You’re a germ in the seat.
Is is really design when an emergency situation requires alternate modes? Are anyone checking the efficacy of learning in this new mode??
It’ll be really interesting to see if that’s a generational change or a cross-generational one.
Learning is learning – how do we boost learning no matter what?
And what does it do to our standard lecture-based courses when we are trying to have “regular and substantive interaction”
I suspect that some of this change is generational.
That’s emergency remote instruction – a far cry from well designed distance learning learning experiences.
A genZ development?
Yes, Gen Z and also younger faculty. They are used to a more hyflex lifestyle in general. I am living a more hyflex lifestyle myself.
Need to adjust how we interact beyond the lecture delivery
Implication of importance of 100% attendance: currently 100% attendance is more of an issue with block scheduling; fewer courses in shorter academic terms. use of blended and online courses could make such block scheduling more feasible.
I wrote about the disconnect between butts in seats and actual learning recently in a series of blogs for ShapingEDU:
Would love to see that well designed work –
Take a look at our organization: composed of 500+ online learning experts from 46 countries
Will take a look


But hiflex has the benefit of expectations being set and training, etc.
Easier to do ahead of time!
And HiFlex assumes a high degree of technical connectivity – not very equitable.
HyFlex is about letting any student choose any attendance option at any time while still achieving the same learning objectives
I’ve never heard of “HiFlex” and “HiTouch” what are they?
Throw out that term – what about HiRelation?
How about HiConnect?
I like that
but they are using that phrase
Can you access our archive? We had two sessions on it. You can start here:
I’ll take a look at it later then
Almost all courses are not designed to actually follow that model
I wonder to what extent we’re about to see real big generational rifts inside the faculty
Tanya Joosten is doing great work on Blended, which gets to this “alternative” mixed school from another angle.

Quality and scaling

The broader question is how does one define high quality education. How does one know truly excellent from merely satisfactory
I want to resist the association of ‘high-touch’ with ‘elite.’ In my experience, nontraditional (adult, working, parenting, first-gen) students want and need ‘high touch,’ deep connections to peers and teachers.
All learning should be high touch, even when it is at a large scale
Do community colleges do high touch?
The ones I know do their best. The CUNY ASAP program, which has gotten so much praise and attention, is an effort to design high-touch support and learning for low-income parenting students. It doubles grad rates.
But ultimately “we all underestimate the robustness of the institution of school” (Herbert Kliebard). The institution will always fight to return to what it was.
Loads of elite institutions only have hi touch from graduate students who are only 3 weeks ahead of them going through material
During Covid semester away and with the graduate online students I work with now, high relations means some cell phone, text, or Zoom conferences one on one with students. As an English, always did in person conferences for many years.
This is now the 2021 form of individual conferences.
There may be a difference between pivoting traditional Stu Success and really thinking hard about what a remote learning space looks like socially and emotionally from the perspective of the learner. The former is still a “push” model…..
What ever happened to the notion of community of scholars where students do some of their most important learning outside of classrooms???
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed that the military vets in my classes the last few semesters share they struggle with remote classes that don’t foster relationships, community, and interactions
That is my sense too, as a teacher in nontraditional, adult classrooms and someone doing program support for such students.
I did a research paper and proposal about embedding mindfulness into courses to improve stress management and anxiety. I’m hoping that perhaps I can do an actual study about it in the future.
Related: some of my top performing students the last few semesters are learners who didn’t turn on their cameras a single time. No idea what they look like but deeply connected to what they think like…
High touch online: The first time I heard about dying faculty and students communicating intensely with friends online, I realized high touch is sometimes done better online. Same with frequent FT with distant children.
Does “FT” = Facetime?
On students’ missing class from illness or anxiety: in my (small seminar) class this term, I asked students always to let me know before class if there were going to miss. Even if it was only an hour earlier, I could re-choreograph. Huge difference.
Seems to me the reason an at risk person stays in school is because of the urgings of friends who understand rather than a professor who might happen to notice the student missing
JIT’s moving from teaching to facilitating learning.
I agree it’s a human problem. Education is a social science, after all.
That’s one way to get people to read your archives, Lee. 🙂
An evil of the “contact hours = driver of learning” is that it discourages thinking about assignments that motivate and then foster learning. Assignments are more directly related to lasting learning than seat time, right?
Yes!!! This is all a learning problem. We’re not optimizing the classroom, we’re enabling learning.

Technology and classes

Some info on minimal computing:
I am not a tech nerd but have a spouse and son who are/were early adopters/workers in digital world. For me, the attraction of digital education for me has been the way it provides accessibility to students once we solve the technology access issues.
I’ve got to go, I’ll catch the recording later! See ya everyone.
And it’s the mobile-device minimal-computing argument that is the one that addresses the largest audiences!
Why is seat time so important if someone can get it more efficiently (while others might take longer)
He wants to use an Allen wrench
Is the “hammer” theme a good opportunity to circle back to the NFTs that you mentioned earlier in the chat?
“The computer is a medium, not a tool” Alan Kay (paraphrased)
My Diss was run on FirstClass – a bulletin board.
The reason students attend elite institutions is to meet other elite students who will refer work for the remainder of their careers
Affective experience ! So underreported in HE
Everyone is looking to build mailing lists to escape social media. New wave email.
It’s amazing how little education has to do with learning.
Hence the notion of higher education as a socializing factor
We build colleges so we have a place to put our disagreeable teenagers until they are capable of living with again
I got a lot of use out of Tannis Morgan’s piece about “Online Learning with the most basic of tools – email” which actually starts with the telephone, IIRC
Progressivism was an experiment with this.
(network bandwidth ) and /or low computing technologies
College Unbound is using libraries as spaces for cohort-based adult college learning.
Ivan Illich’s web at the library! Love this!
Excellent using libraries for what their mission really us started in the library (to have something for latchkey kids to do in libraries which turned into asylums)


hurray for your son
David Scobey+1 your son
Metaverse, where we can look pretty while we learn.
My college students do think NFTs are ridiculous…
Difference between Meta and Metaverse. They are not the same
Hearing impaired and deaf
Lisa exactly…
High tech requirements
Flat screens might be good enough after all.
welll – I not sure I agree, but then I am generally disruptive
@Lee – thanks for your take. Greatly appreciated.
Not an endorsement, but for anyone looking for a concrete example of implementations that are taking shape, saw this last week
For that small subset of students who are worried about protecting creator rights over their material, I can see how NFT-type solutions help. But I think that’s a minority of the issues around open work.
The IndieWeb developers might be useful too.

The end

We can find Lee at @readywriting on Twitter
As always, thank you
good idea to post
thanks as always
Thanks for this please post on your blog.
@Bryan – please post!
post away
Bryan, I agree that it’s a good idea to post this
It’s so nourishing to spend an hour with such good minds. Thanks everyone!!
Posting the chat sounds great (w/ due deference if some folks don’t want it out there)
Plan to share this session with other faculty at my college.
New Years’ Party?

Thank you all for a splendid discussion.

Next week the Forum takes the Solstice/Christmas holiday off, because we probably couldn’t get enough folks together to have a serious academic conversation on the day before Christmas Eve.  We’ll come roaring back the next week, and then it’s 2022.  Have fine and safe holidays, all!

PS: Is this kind of post about a Future Trends Forum session useful?  Please let me know.

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11 Responses to Rethinking education for the new normal: our conversation with Lee Skallerup Bessette

  1. Charles Morrissey says:

    This topic has been around for a long time–not the realty faculty want to read about

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      2002! Bravo for writing that then, Charles.

    • Glen McGhee, Florida Higher Education Accountability Project says:

      I’m afraid, Charles, that some confusion exists about what constitutes “accrediting” online courses, judging from Sidebar 4, Item 7. Please contact your institution’s accreditation liaison for clarification.

  2. Glen McGhee, Florida Higher Education Accountability Project says:

    Thanks for the transcript! I immediately Zeroed in on the “Quality and scaling” section.
    “The broader question is how does one define high quality education.”
    For some reason (why?), all the bureaucratic aspects were ignored here — I’m referring to the US Dept of Education “Quality” Waivers that were handed out at the beginning of the pandemic to accrediting agencies — essentially, a FREE PASS on Quality to all colleges and universities making, or forced to make, the pivot.
    Ordinarily, intensive vetting by visiting teams and review of Substantive Change Applications occurs for online courses. But with Covid, all this changed.
    Accreditors, as you know, are reliable authorities as to the quality of education at the colleges that they certify for Title IV purposes. Covid superceded that authority and responsibility. Basically, schools got a free ride.
    Some months ago, the president of the Northwest accreditor assured everyone that Jan 2021 would witness a return to normalcy — but, of course, that did not happen for different reasons. Still, why are we closing our eyes to the regulatory and oversight aspects — based on established procedures and peer review — to “quality”? Why the denial?

  3. Glen McGhee says:

    re: Quality and Scaling
    The question of quality and scaling is very important, especially for online instruction.
    I would argue from personal experience that exceptional teaching and learning cannot be scaled-up — and there is no reason to believe that it ever can be. Unique and particularized individual learning doesn’t happen in an online delivery system, and no one has produced evidence that it does.
    Maybe I am setting a very high bar (after all, isn’t that what “quality” is?), but going back ancient Greek notions and concepts, learning is radically particularized in ways that online cannot be. “Education” is ēdūcō, to lead, draw or take out, forth or away.

    Phenomenologically, this requirement places the learner at the very center of the experience, whereas online learning places the electronic apparatus and its regimes at its core, at its center. Only revolutionary acts of violence against the hegemony of the electronic online empire are capable of flipping the perspective, or inverting the gestalt. Only pulling the plug will return the focus to its primary intent, however rhetorical that may be. Only by pulling the plug can we break free of the reigning hegemony of pedagogical servitude.

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