The little spreadsheet that could, and did: crowdsourcing COVID-19, higher education, data, and stories

I’ve been tracking the global coronavirus since early February, with a focus on how it impacts higher education worldwide.  That tracking has meant blogging here, tweeting, and creating a resource post.

Then I made something new, and now I have a tiger by the tail.

tl;dr – there is now a giant and still growing spreadsheet of campus closures and migration online.  I am looking for one or two helpers.

OK, the story.

Several days ago I came up with the idea of tracking college and university responses to the outbreak.  Specifically, I was interested in how academia migrated education online.  I saw how one part of this migration often included suspending face-to-face classes, if not shutting down entire campuses.  I wanted more data and stories.

Not finding a good resource, I did the web/Generation X thing and made one.  Over on my personal Google Drive I set up a simple spreadsheet with a few columns: name of institution, their schedule for going online and/or closing, misc. notes, and also supporting documentation.

I could have kept this private.  Heck, it could have been an Excel file on one of my desktops.  But I’m an old Web 2.0 fan, a lover of what the open web can accomplish, and am also very very busy.  So I decided to open the Sheet and tell the world, hoping folks would contribute data, correction, and stories.

Did they ever.

Within hours the spreadsheet grew.  More campuses appeared.  Folks added extra columns for more data.  Still more colleges and universities appeared.

coronavirus Sheet _campus and schedule screenshot

Then the geniuses at Ithaka S+R, led by the splendid Christine Wolff-Eisenberg, really went to town.  They hauled in IPEDS data and deployed a dozen extra columns.  Why?  Now we could automatically have fields populated with institutional type, geographical location (including lat and lon), student headcount, and more.  Student headcount meant we – any user, actually – could generate a live count of how many enrolled students were impacted (2,972,409 as of this writing).  4 columns became 13.  A dozen rows became a hundred, then more.  Tabs for worksheets popped up.

coronavirus campus closing crowded screenshot

This is about 40% of the sheet’s width now.

Christine and her crew then turned some of the growing data to generate a live map of US campuses responses:

coronavirus Sheet map screenshot 2020 March 11

Interest and use accelerated.  People started sending me more information by Twitter and email.  I emailed the Sheet link to certain folks who might have more to add.

Then media attention appeared.  National Public Radio interviewed me, and included a link to the Sheet. Al-Jazeera interviewed meTimes Higher Education joined in and linked as well.  Inside Higher Ed wrote about us several times.

Which led to a torrent of contributions.  The spreadsheet grew further.  More news stories about colleges closing and going online appeared, along with rumors (which I wouldn’t add unless confirmed), official statements, elected officials making pronouncements, analyses, etc.

Tim Young got inspired and generated this map of US campus closings/migrations through Tableau:

coronavirus map of US campus closures 2020 March 11_Tim Young


And all of that growth and energy… ultimately broke Google Docs.

Yes, we hit the limit of what Google would provision.  I started getting weird issues with the Sheet, like the editing bar disappearing.  Others reported not being able to edit it or the page taking too long to load.  There is no formal Google Sheets support, so I hit up a Google Support page and researched.  Meanwhile, the hits – and errors – kept coming.

At one point I managed to switch the document’s setting to let users request editing access.  I thought that might work.  But in 10 minutes I received more than 300 requests.

Google Sheets email overrun

Now repeat this twenty times.

Whooops.  I threw the switch back – although it took me some time, as the page kept misloading.  Finally, eventually, I set it back to view-only, with a plea for folks to contact me with new data.

So today I’ve spent a lot of time manually adding data as people share it with me over email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Gchat.

To be fair, we have gotten some criticism.  Stephen diFilipo raised a classic web 2.0 argument:

Good point.  However, for reliability the Sheet has one great strength.  Every campus line has a documentation field.  Folks have filled that with official announcements and journalism, mostly.

coronavirus Sheet sources sample

For comprehensive – we’re trying.  I’ve been bugging people around the world to add data from their nations and regions.

Where do things stand now?

As of this writing Tom Hanks has the coronavirus, Donald Trump mangled an address, the NBA canceled some games (!), and Angela Merkel is scaring the Hohenzollerns out of Germans. For my story, I’m talking with Google engineers to make the Sheet editable by the world again.  It might not be feasible, and I’ll have to figure out how to build a Form that feeds a Sheet (which sounds like a sailing term), so people can send me data with a bit of structure.

It’s possible that American higher ed will just shut down in person, and transition totally to online education.  In which case the document becomes a snapshot of a giant transformation.

The Sheet’s story is an interesting one for social media and online tech in 2020.  It’s largely a successful instance of crowdsourcing, in that the results are useful.  It hearkens back to the rise of Wikipedia etc. But it also ran smack into infrastructure limitations – here, how Google provisions its Docs.

Also, would any of you like to help me?  I’m at my wit’s end with handling the thing.  Normally I’m supposed to be doing my future of education research, teaching a class, prepping another, starting the next book.  Now thanks to COVID-19 I’m also trying to redesign my business for a largely online world, work on two projects for paying clients, help my students get their class wholly online, redo my summer class for ditto… and this spreadsheet is sucking down hours each day.  I’d be delighted if one or two of you could help me add data.  I have zero budget for this, but at least I can promise you my thanks, the gratitude of people in and around higher education, and a polite, social distancing refusal to shake your hand until this is all over.

PS: stay safe, everyone.

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31 Responses to The little spreadsheet that could, and did: crowdsourcing COVID-19, higher education, data, and stories

  1. Sarah Lee says:

    I would love to help keep the list updated if you’re still looking for help, Bryan! I am so glad you are working on documenting this.

  2. Leigh Marthe says:

    Thank you for your efforts to keep folks informed.

  3. Jim Bradley says:

    Three more that I know of:

    Trinity University (students to leave campus), Tulane University, the University of Houston.

  4. Bob Ubell says:

    Quite an extraordinary accomplishment—a Coronavirus data wiki!

  5. Deborah Penner says:

    Thanks for doing this. It is valuable work. You might also consider situations where parents have removed students from a college due to concern over two students placed in quarantine who are now deemed free of corona virus. The fear of the virus on the part of students/parents may also drive college instruction online.

  6. Kim McGowan says:

    Thank you for doing this! I wish that I had the technical skills required to help. Also, The University of Pittsburgh (5 campuses, 30k+ students, currently on spring break) is extending spring break by 1 week and transitioning to online instruction (beginning March 23) for the remainder on the semester.

  7. Michael Haggans says:

    Bryan, I’ll be glad to help.

  8. Tim Neubert says:

    Your efforts are SO appreciated, Bryan! As a small (but national) nonprofit association with university members across the country, it is so valuable to see the growing impact of COVID-19 on higher education institutions.

    If I or my organization might be able to provide any assistance to you or your helpers, please don’t hesitate to ask!

  9. Robert D. Peckham says:

    Last time I checked your list the very recent announcements of Tennessee colleges who will cancel face-to-face classroom instruction and substitute online instruction were not there.

    Tennessee system (Knoxville, Chattanooga, Martin)
    Belmont University
    Middle Tennessee State University
    Trevecca Nazarene University
    University of Tennessee Health Science Center
    Rhodes College
    The University of Memphis
    Tennessee State University
    Austin Peay State University

  10. Tim Neubert says:

    University of Louisville – Spring Break extended through March 17. Classes will be delivered remotely starting March 18 through April 5.

    University of Kentucky – UK will remain open, but instruction will continue through online or other alternatives from March 23 through April 3.

    University of Northern Illinois – Spring Break extended to March 22, with online instruction from March 23 to April 6.

  11. Zach Barnes says:

    The whole University of Alaska System has extended spring break by a week, and will be moving classes onto online methods after that

  12. Jeremy hunter says:

    Would love to help.

  13. Stephanie Jannenga says:

    The date on the spreadsheet for online instruction at Central Michigan University is wrong. It doesn’t begin on March 20, it ends on March 20.

  14. Pingback: Tracking Covid-19 in Higher Ed - Eduhacker

  15. B. says:

    Here’s another for you:
    University of Mississippi –

  16. Carrie Fishner says:

    SUNY Delhi is moving to mostly online instruction as of April 13th (end of spring break which begins on April 3). Prior to that for the next few weeks we are doing lab-intensive classes in altered scheduled to try and get those requirements completed. Campus updates:

  17. Aubrey Jones says:

    Thank you Bryan, wonderful tool. Here in the Utah universities we were all watching the list closely for days, it was what made us realize finally that this would really happen. You can add most of the Utah universities to the list now, thanks to our Governor’s recommendation coming out yesterday (March 12)…

  18. Dylan Berg says:

    I’d be happy to assist. I have a list compiled due to my organization that has roughly 200 campuses on it, a number of which are not on here.

  19. Dylan Berg says:

    Bryan, I’d be glad to help. I have a list of nearly 200+ include many states that are not currently marked.

  20. Danae Soler says:

    Hi Bryan!

    I know you must have enough people already, but if you don’t (or need extra help) I am more than happy to contribute, jut let me know!

  21. Christine McKee says:

    Happy to help as necessary. Send me details.

  22. Pingback: The little spreadsheet that could, and did: crowdsourcing COVID-19, higher education, data, and stories | Human-Centred Pedagogy and Digital Technology

  23. Michael Johnson says:

    Marist college in Poughkeepsie, NY close for two weeks.

  24. David Baugham says:

    Hi Bryan,

    I’m hoping to replicate something like this for a different types of organizations in order to understand what they are doing to serve their communities during this time.

    Could we meet briefly (virtually) to discuss?



  25. Thanks very much, Bryan!

    Please to your spreadsheet that Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO, will be teaching online from March 25 until the end of the Spring 2020 semester. The CSU announcement from March 11 is available here:

    In fact, the entire university’s operations (including research and supporting staff) are moving online as of Monday, March 23. CSU President Joyce McConnell’s statement is available online at

    Thanks again!

  26. John says:

    Btw, this, and other Google documents like it can be found via – a list of publicly-sourced Google docs – some of them (like this one) very high quality and updated daily.

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