Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the emerging debate about opening plans. Are schools that plan to “reopen” really trying to go fully (or even mostly) in-person, or are they going hybrid? Should they?


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and again, I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly discussing higher education’s challenges, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been two weeks since we were last here. I had a failed attempt to do a compilation podcast that just didn’t work out. But it’s great to talk to you guys again and be back online with the same subject. So how have you guys been doing the past two weeks?

Jeanette: I’ve been doing pretty well. I mean, keep an eye on, but keep checking on what side you don’t even know. Keep track not I don’t know. I do it. OK, maybe I get a little crazy. And Kevin.

Kevin: Same. Hanging in there. It’s been a busy week. Online event with Inscribe and plenty of work to go around, but excited to be here.

Phil: And it’s interesting also just the context is change around us. In the past week in particular, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in [00:01:00] cases in the U.S. of COVID-19 positive cases. And that I think it’s quite relevant to what we’re talking about because it gets to the point of view. We’re not quite sure of all of the patterns and we can’t take anything for granted with this pandemic.

But specifically, what we wanted to talk about today is that it’s becoming apparent as colleges and universities come out with their plans that the majority are planning on some form of in-person experience for fall 2020 in the US. And that as we look at the data – the Chronicle of Higher Education has a page out with a lot of data – and we’ve taken that, coded it and provided some visuals.

And it’s useful information, but it’s also a little bit misleading, partially because there are very few schools who are truly going back to in-person. [00:02:00] What’s really happening is if somebody is open reopening their campus and going in person, what they really mean is hybrid, that there is a proliferation of hybrid modalities where there’s a mixture of online coursework, face to face student, why things are changing up. But there are some level of in-person, but it’s not back to what things used to be.

So in one of the visualization blog posts, I provided hopefully a correction that Chronicle data and I grouped in person and hybrid together and saying this is really hybrid by with some form of in-person experience in the fall. But as you look at it, that is the majority case in the US, it’s not schools planning to be remote or fully online in the fall. And you’ve got pockets. California is the state [00:03:00] that’s got the greatest percentage of schools or going fully online, and there’s some in the Northeast. But by and large, it’s hybrid at the same time. We’re starting to see more articles where people are pushing back on the idea of reopening.

And it’s almost taking on a moral tone that’s not necessarily useful. So we’re even seeing articles where people are saying the only responsible choices to go fully online, you can only do this fully online.

I think it would be more productive to have a conversation about the various levels of hybrid and what’s likely to work and what’s likely to not work. What are the common themes worsening of these schools moving forward?

And so I guess part of what I’m pointing out is just from the beginning, we’re not seeing fully in-person delivery. What we’re really seeing, it’s hybrid.

But from an [00:04:00] observational status, what are you guys seeing in terms of what? What are the common trends in terms of the schools that plan on some level of in-person experience in the fall? Kevin, what have you seen?

Kevin: I’ve seen a mix. So talking to schools across the system and a big southern state, some campuses don’t want to get a reputation of being an online school.

So they’re pushing back hard against the concept of going online in the fall. And even for things like hybrid flexible, they’re worried that the aspect of having an alternative pathway that is online will give them that reputation. So they have to fight really hard to figure out how to do that in person. Well. And keep their students safe.

We saw the Protect Purdue plan, which has all these different factors, including 10 feet of breathing space within between the beds and six feet of moving space.

And it strikes [00:05:00] me as a question, how many students are going to be allowed back on campus and which students will be allowed back on campus?

Phil: Jeanette, What did you see?

Jeanette: Ok. So, you know, what I’ve seen is families, parents and students deciding, OK, we might try this school out.

That’s closer to home. Or maybe we will try this school out. That’s not going to charge as much tuition. And those are some of the trends. I see that sort of coming up against these plans of who’s going to be allowed to go back on campus. And if that’s the school I had attended in last year and it doesn’t seem like they’re making the plan that seems the safest for my child or that I feel comfortable as a student going to that I’m going to look for alternatives. And so it’s interesting to see the increase in enrollments and excuse an increase of enrollments for other schools that we’re maybe worried, you know, when this all started.

Kevin: What’s interesting is that maps to the Wiley Aslanian [00:06:00] survey about students who are in fully online programs. And if students perceive that they may end up having to be online, they want to be closer to home, just like the students in those fully online programs at Wiley found out the that educational services. So I’m wondering if it’s something you remarked on several podcasts ago, Jeanette about UNM, University of New Mexico having a higher enrollment for the fall, partly because students may be coming home from other campuses. And it would be interesting to see that visualization that Phil put together and see if we can show almost like you see on an airline magazine in the back where they show the that the travel paths of the planes and the show to and from like, where are our students leaving and where are they going back home and and see if there’s an equitable distribution of people across the country.

Jeanette: Well, I do have some inside information from UNM specifically, and what was interesting is the increase in enrollment is not necessarily [00:07:00] from in-state students. So what I think that UNM is, I think, a very high value school, in my opinion, in terms of the value of education, you know, the return on investment and the cost of tuition. And so I’m wondering if it’s one of those things where students are like, OK, it’s still a big state school. It’s an hour one. You know, maybe you’re not going to go to somewhere else that’s nearby. You’ll go to you and it’s ten thousand dollars less.

That’s what I’m wondering. That’s all I can point to is just the cost of tuition is so much lower than a lot of what I would say, peer schools.

Phil: I’m not sure that I’m seeing I’m seeing changes in enrollment patterns. But what I haven’t seen a lot are students. Actually, we’re we’re hearing from students saying we don’t think this campus opening plan is safe. I mean, I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but most [00:08:00] of these campuses, I guess I give them the benefit of the doubt that even Purdue people love to push on Purdue all. They’re just trying to reopen. And it’s a political issue. But Kevin, reference there, Protect Purdue plan.

And there is a lot of activity they’re doing to try to minimize the number of students. They’re changing their schedule. And one of the most common things I’m saying is schools trying to say we want to be done by Thanksgiving so that anything after Thanksgiving will be done online. Because that’s a lot of models are predicting it might be a second or third peak at that point. But my point is, it seems to me like even Purdue, they’re making a lot of precautions.

And I haven’t seen a lot of activity where students are saying, ‘I deem your opening plans to be unsafe. And so I want to look at another school.’ I see them doing that for value. But it’s not like a lot of schools are just saying we’re opening and not thinking [00:09:00] about them. I’m seeing a lot of thoughtful plans, but in an area of uncertainty, you know, we’re not quite sure what’s going to work out.

Kevin: But are students, the right group to answer that question, when you know that 80 plus percent of the students and all of those surveys we reviewed said the thing they miss most is connections to their classmates. Here in California, one of the biggest super spreader activities right now, are graduation parties for high school seniors. Where 13 to 30 people are walking away, catching Coronavirus from those events.

So they may be young enough and not ready enough worldwide to to not care about the coronavirus as much as that connection with their peers.

Phil: But I’m not trying to capture what should happen. I think it’s most important to at least start with what is happening. And so what I’m really calling [00:10:00] out is I’m not hearing a significant . . .

Well, I guess two things. I’m not seeing the case that there are a lot of campuses who are just flat out opening and doing so, ignoring the risk. They’re making, for the most part, I’m seeing fairly thoughtful plans on how to mitigate risk. Some will work, some won’t work. But I’m seeing pretty thoughtful plans by and large.

I haven’t seen pushback at the student level saying we don’t feel safe. And, you know, to the point that we might change our decision based on what this campus is doing. I’m just not seeing that.

Jeanette: Have you guys seen any of these plans? I don’t think I have, but maybe I’ve missed it.

Have you seen any plans, where they’re saying, okay, if the case load or, you know, if we’re not if we’re seeing rates rise and it goes above fifteen percent, then we’re going to shut everything down and that’s going to go online. And this is what the cap is going [00:11:00] to be for our institution if and then we’re going to you know, that’s when we’re gonna go ahead and go on. And as soon as, you know, the rates go back down, we’ll open back up to hybrid. Have you seen any type of thing that’s gone out that way?

Phil: I definitely see contingency plans such as. Here’s what we’re going to put in place if we have to go back to fully online in the middle of the term. And I’ve seen schools saying, and we’re going to wrap things up based on what our what our state or our local county is measuring.

I’m not sure that I’ve seen schools setting their own specific targets, but I definitely think contingency plans based on what the actual rates are. But I think I’ve seen it more often where they’re referring to local governments and that’s what the basis is going to be. I don’t know anything different. Yeah.

Kevin: Yeah. Where I teach at S.F. State, the latest transmission, they they haven’t put on thing about the fall since May, but they [00:12:00] just had an update to their website this week saying these are the latest regulations with respect to masks.

And so they’re putting basically some of the onus on decision making around how to execute safety on the local health authorities.

Phil: Actually, I wouldn’t mind talking a little bit about mask, and I realize I might be projecting my own feelings into this as far as what students are looking at. But my daughter, my youngest daughter goes to Santa Clara University and we’ve been critical that they seem, they were not aggressive in putting together their own plans on hybrid, on contingency planning until very recently.

But they just came out with guidance yesterday that actually did have a lot of detail at it. And one element jumped out at me where they’re talking about any if you’re on campus, outside or inside, [00:13:00] you have to wear a mask. And for me, I’m just trying to think, how realistic is that? Are you really going to be able to get students to wear a. Virtually all the time? I’m I have trouble seeing that. That’s a realistic scenario.

Kevin: I think it’s possible it’s you have to set the culture up front. I encouraged in one blog post that they any campus that has a fashion department create a contest for students to design a mask for the campus and then mass produce those.

But I would say that the key thing is, you know, for the students who are developing their identities, this is an opportunity for them to show leadership and to do what’s right. But it’s going to take everybody, including the campus presidents, to be modeling what the behavior should be.

Jeanette: I agree with that, I in my state, in New Mexico, you more often than not see people wearing masks inside [00:14:00] and outside. And I think it’s just part of what’s being accepted right now. I was up and house earlier this week and I was surprised actually at the number of people that, you know, construction workers, you know, just the locals, no matter how far they were aware, no way from somebody else that they were wearing masks. I think it just has become the norm now and it’s not even questioned. You don’t, you know, take it off when you walk outside. You just keep it on all the time.

Phil: Well, I guess I’m that’s where I said I’m concerned I might be putting my own opinions or my own feelings in here.

But what I’m what I’m concerned about is if it’s a binary choice wearing a mask period, as opposed to ‘we expect you to wear mask in these scenarios, but then in this other situation, that’s safer to not have to wear a mask. We’re not going to enforce it if you don’t have some nuance of the policy.’ My concern is, is that people just ignore it, that it becomes too draconian, so bad to wear masks all [00:15:00] the time. I don’t see students doing that by and large. And if there’s no nuance, then the risk is we’re not just pushing back. When we’re sitting alone in a park doing studying that, we’ll just ignore it all the time or as much as possible. So my concern is sort of the binary choice that’s being presented.

Kevin: Sure, and if you look at just even the state guidelines, it’s typically something like wear a mask when being physically distant is not possible or it’s going to change. You know, like if you’re on a running trail and you’re going to come across joggers and you’re going to have to at least have your mask handy so you can put it in place before you get within six feet of somebody. But yeah, that makes sense that you don’t make it an all or nothing proposition.

Phil: Now, if we talk about things that are happening and if we actually put ourselves back a couple months, I think I would be it would be shocking if we were back in February and tried to predict this conversation [00:16:00] back then.

But I have seen just the majority, a large majority of campuses that are going to have any any sort of in-person opening. So hybrid openings that their coursework truly is hybrid, that we really are talking about mass effort where large online large lecturers are going to be done online and HyFlex hybrid flexible that we’ve talked about quite a bit. Kevin, you’ve written about quite a bit. That’s becoming almost a one of the default norms for higher education, at least for all. So on the coursework side, I am seeing a massive movement towards hybrid delivery that is got to have a long term impact on what’s going to happen.

Are you seeing any schools who aren’t working at hybrid force delivery?

Kevin: You mean other than the ones that already know they’re going to be mostly virtual? Yes, yes. For the ones that are opening [00:17:00] up, are you have you.

Phil: So I guess to restate that, it seems like a hybrid and even hybrid flex muscles almost becoming the default assumption on coursework for the goal. It’s not consistent with what you think it is.

Kevin: I would say that the number of faculty going through professional development to handle the non in-person components, the online or asynchronous or even synchronous components is like a 10x increase where you’re seeing hundreds of faculty go through trainings on campuses instead of tens. And so definitely there is a big preparation movement going on. And and one institution I’m working with is working hard to make sure that students feel prepared before they get to campus on fall because we’re not doing enough to help them get ready. Another factor is just access to equipment.

Somebody who works at a community college here [00:18:00] in the San Francisco Bay Area told me that some faculty members, when they shifted to the emergency remote teaching and learning this spring, had to conduct their courses from computers in the library because they didn’t have a computer on their own. So we have to really think about what that hybridization or move fully online in certain cases means for all the players and the and the and the play.

Phil: You know, those are great points. Jeanette, are you surprised at all about just how commonly accepted hybrid course delivery is and HyFlex in particular?

Jeanette: I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve had I’m looking back at the spring. That seems like the most obvious choice. So you’re looking for how you’re going to deliver this in a way that gives you flexibility to be able to go online or to be in person. It just seems like common sense, to be quite honest. I’m not quite sure what else. Unless we come up with another thing, we can do it. It seems [00:19:00] like the most obvious thing that schools would want to to look for and to try to achieve for fall and moving forward.

Phil: Well, I guess I’m trying to separate common sense, and this makes sense, from ‘this is actually happening.’ We do look at higher education. Right. And so just because it makes sense doesn’t necessarily. Yeah.

Jeanette: But who would have thought that the entire world would have gone online and, you know, a matter of weeks. And everybody was able to just do the heavy lifting and they got it done. As painful as it was. And I think nobody wants to recreate and live through that pain again. And so it’s almost like it’s an action of trying to prevent and avoid avoidance marriage measure to me.

Phil: So maybe after 2020, we’ll have to put to bed this whole canard that used way too often. Higher education hasn’t changed in centuries and we’re still using a factory model and nothing changes and higher up and actually acknowledge [00:20:00] no, actually higher ed goes through enormous changes. We certainly did with the G.I. Bill in the US and radically broadening access to higher education and bringing in all of the diversity and issues that that’s brought to the fore.

But then you take that into 2020. Now, you’re right. The rapid shift to remote teaching in a matter of weeks. And then now what we’re talking about is the large scale adoption of hybrid models or the fall within one term.

I mean, this is not a system that doesn’t change or cannot change. I mean, it can be frustrating that change in many times could have been faster.

But to me, this is a system that does change and we need to acknowledge it and figure out how to improve things. But I just hope that we get rid of the canard of higher education never changes.

Kevin: Well, I always say that higher education moves at glacial speed. And I think this is [00:21:00] just a calf came off in Antarctica.

Phil: So one of the things that we were bringing up earlier was the fact of where we need to acknowledge is the existential crisis that schools face.

We just saw another study, a survey that came out this morning that was pointing out just how a majority of students feel that if they’re going to have to be remote or online, they should be paying lower tuition. And a lot of this is a factor in the decision making. Schools have motivation that, if possible, they should open. Part of it is financial. And it’s a legitimate worry. But you obviously have to handle that in balance with other issues, like it would be a mistake for school only looking at finances.

But I guess part of the part of the challenges is we look at these plans. How well do we think [00:22:00] that they’re handling the financial exit central crisis, but with reasonable precautions and certainly need to acknowledge it’s a challenging situation. But at least from my standpoint, I’ve actually been quite impressed with a lot of these plans, even the product Purdue. We just saw the University of Central Florida’s plans. Santa Clara University came out with a plan yesterday. And and so many of these cases, there are fairly thoughtful plans that are trying to think through all kinds of different scenarios and how to minimize the risk as you go through this.

Kevin: So even the level of planning I’ve actually been impressed with recently when I think we’re going to see quite a few more come July 1st, which is, of course, a target date for a number of campuses to have those plans ready. I think it’s a slippery slope when we talk about different cost models for online courses, because those courses that were online [00:23:00] before coded showed that the success rates can be just as high. And so it’s a matter of choice. And I guess if students are saying they don’t get to choose, they shouldn’t have to pay for the lack of choice.

But I think it’s it’s a it’s a rough thing to say, hey, we had a bad semester because people were forced to move to a different teaching format. So therefore, it’s not as. The same quality.

Phil: What’s your just qualitative judgment on how how well the planning is going on and actually that they’re part of this gets into the K-12? You’ve been relating to us how the state of New Mexico seems to be being fairly sophisticated and the analysis it’s using in the planning it’s doing.

Jeanette: You know, I’m sorry. I’m going to get New Mexico again, I feel like I’m starting to sound like a Texan. No offense to any Texas listener, dad, but I am really, really proud of my state.

I think we’ve done you look at [00:24:00] the Southwest, you look at the West in general, and we’ve really managed this better than I think most states have. We know we’re early on. We’ve been wearing mass since early May. It’s been required like I think we’ve really been able to tap this down and to add to that. They did just in New Mexico, the Department of Education just came out with their reopening plans for August. And they did extensive modeling using the data scientists at Los Alamos National Labs. So the modeling and you can go online and see it. They looked at every like lots of different elements to see what was going to provide the less risk while still allowing students to come on campus. And actually, I think I can’t and I want to quote, get the quote wrong, but the percentage of students, the percentage of risk for students that were going to be completely online based on the hybrid model that they ended up going out with was, you know, in the single digits of risk to the student [00:25:00] based on how they were measuring this out. Just because you’re unless you’re completely quarantined at home, being online doesn’t mean you’re not going to have access to other people. So it was it was impressive. So it’s you know, they have a plan in place and they also have the option if any parent is not comfortable with their students going back on campus, that they can take their courses online. So that’s always going to be an option for parents to decide. But right now, it it just feels like New Mexico has done a really good job and getting ahead of it.

Phil: That’s actually a great point and one that doesn’t get discussed, not people having the option. And in this case, it’s good that schools and states are thinking about students. But what about faculty members?

Kevin: Right. And the a group in Texas that I was talking to just last week, system, mentioned that they want to have the possibility that a faculty member or a student could get sick and they like hybrid flexible as an option so that [00:26:00] either party could continue the coursework from any location. So it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out. But they were thinking of both sides of the teaching and learning equation.

Jeanette: Now you have to look at states or even universities that are going to have and I hope I believe universities are looking at this. And I know the state of New Mexico, that average teaching age or the fourth, fourth, how do I put this the fourth highest of average teaching ages. So we have a fairly older teaching community in New Mexico. And so that’s that is being taken into consideration. And I wonder how universities are looking at that and the safety of, you know, their faculty and how they can protect them as well. We’ve been really kind of focused on the students and the student experience. But, you know, I think this also applies to faculty.

Phil: I think it’s rising in importance, is what I’m saying. This is a case where students are the ones that are looked at first and it’s almost [00:27:00] now starting to come to the forefront. The question that we’re talking about, what about faculty, ranch and faculty options, about teaching remotely or in person? And you’re starting to see your media coverage. Kevin mentioned discussion on a statewide system level, but I see it as rising and important. But we haven’t at all fully thought that through as a system about what this means for faculty choice. And we need to figure that out.

Kevin: Well, I don’t remember if it was the Purdue Protect Purdue plan or if it was the San Francisco state, but they’re the entity where I saw it set up a confidential survey so that H.R. could help people who feel that they’re in an at risk category, make choices and still be able to perform their functions, whether it be teaching or support staff on a campus or some other role from a distance and make sure they have the equipment they need, the training they need before the fall. And [00:28:00] so there are at least some institutions out there that are thinking about these things. And to your point, Phil, I’ve also started to see questions on list serves and in my own e-mail box about do we have any surveys of faculty related to their COGAT experiences the same way we’ve been looking at the student surveys. And so I’ll be on the lookout for those and maybe there’ll be another blog post.

Well, as a seque, although it’s a future seque, we have the opportunity on partnering on a survey and get us having input into how the questions are crafted for faculty.

Kevin: So we should definitely make sure that we ask some of these key questions or the survey that.

Phil: We’ll be able to share in about two months time, I believe. But so that’s where we are today. We’re heading into July 1st next week. And part of what that means is so many colleges are solidifying [00:29:00] their plans. We’re back into this. We talked to the episode Into Darkness that we’re necessarily heading into a term where it’s not going to be clear. There’s going to be a lot of second guessing, whatever choices made. And there’s going to be a high risk that changes that plans might have to change in the middle of the term. You might open up hybrid, but then have to shift to pull a remote depending on a spike in cases. So we’re starting to see this. But at the same time, we’re seeing some pretty fundamental adoption’s of hybrid course delivery. That’s got to have a longer term impact on higher education. So there’s a lot of moving parts.

It’s a fascinating time is all is what we’ve mentioned in the past. And we’ll definitely keep watching on this. Thanks for your time today. And Jeanette and Kevin’s great having this conversation.

Kevin: Good to talk to you. I’m gonna go give blood, so I’ll tell our listeners if you can [00:30:00] donate, do so.

Jeanette: Wonderful. Kevin. Yes. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, Kevin Kelly, and Kevin’s cat discuss another pre-existing trend that has been accelerated by COVID. Team-based course design and teaching.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Hello, welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss the various reactions by higher education to the COVID pandemic and how it’s changing education. I’m Phil Hill and I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly. And it’s great to talk to you again.

Jeanette: Hey.

Kevin: Hey.

Phil: So this week I wanted to talk about a trend that’s really becoming more obvious to me. And when we talk about trends. One thing I’ve seen with covered is that it tends to accelerate pre-existing trends more than creating brand new trends.

So there was an article I wrote in 2012, it e-Literate, and it turned into an EDUCAUSE Review article. It was really about faculty teams and multi-functional teams doing course delivery of design. The point of the article was arguing against the false dichotomy of face-to-face versus online, saying that there was actually a  [00:01:00]landscape of models that were emerging and starting to change how higher education worked. And on the left axis, it showed that one of the biggest differences is defining who is actually creating and designing the course – that it’s no longer just individual faculty. Whether you have design teams that include faculty or even multi-functional teams that have media experts and structural designers, faculty all working together. Bring that to today’s conversation, and what I think we’re seeing quite a bit more is this team-based work for faculty. In particular, dealing with it and how do you handle such changes in the education environment when at the same time we have real resource restrictions that we’re working on?

That’s the topic that we wanted to discuss today, [00:02:00] whether this is a long term trend or not towards team-based course design and team-based teaching. To get started. Kevin, Jeanette, I’d like to hear, are you noticing the same trends? Are there any examples you can give on where you’re seeing more of a team-based approach as a reaction to how we get prepared for fall 2020 in particular?

Kevin: Well, I saw it happening a little bit before COVID hit, when the Pathways grant for the California Community Colleges, working on career and technical education courses online. They put together teams to come up with curriculum to give each other feedback. Again, it’s something I brought up in previous podcasts where they used to have that model in the army in the 40s, where they had a subject matter expert, a producer, and multi-media person. Basically they would put together learning experiences as a team. And [00:03:00] these days, we have put a lot on the instructor’s plate where they have to be paying attention to everything under the sun. And as we head toward things like hybrid flexible courses, they’re going to put additional cognitive load not just on the students, but on the teachers. It’s going to take a team in order to make these things happen.

Phil: You mentioned the example of the community colleges, the Pathways grant pre COVID. Have you noticed an uptick in this type of approach since since the pandemic has come around?

Kevin: On the POD listserv, the POD Network listserv, they have talked about having institutes where, again, faculty come together, they design their courses in a cohort, and they get feedback from other instructors, and they also get support from instructional designers. The only thing that I would mention is not every campus has instructional designers on staff. And so that becomes a challenge for certain [00:04:00] institutions that are smaller or have less fewer resources.

Phil: And Jeanette, what, have you noticed anything?

Jeanette: I think that what I’ve noticed is more of instructors working together. It’s not necessarily in team teaching, but looking at what their workload is and trying to be maybe a little bit more cognizant of sharing new ideas, lesson plans, things to try to help themselves and their peers during this time. That’s probably the extent I’ve seen things happen.

Kevin: and they’re willing to take ideas from other people, maybe more than they would have before.

Jeanette: Yes!

Kevin: For example, I just created a Google Doc that shows what a 50-minute HyFlex course might look like if you wanted to incorporate activities through it on the POD listserv as a way to answer a question from a colleague. And right now it’s got 20 to 25 people looking at it.  [00:05:00]I threw a Creative Commons license so people can use it. I’ve been getting great feedback about, ‘hey, this would take longer than you’ve estimated for a think pair share activity when you’re managing breakout rooms and all these different aspects of logistics. Never mind teaching and learning. And so going back to your point, Jeanette, I think faculty are more willing to take ideas from other people to construct learning experiences because they’re doing – and to Phil’s point about the COVID crisis accelerating these patterns – it’s because they don’t have time. To go through all the different trainings and different. So it’s beg, borrow and steal time again for instruction.

Jeanette: Yeah. You know, I was just going to say, that I think if you come from an education background, that’s something that’s taught to you really early on, is that beg, borrow and steal concept, and that there’s no shame in it. I think that if you don’t have education as a background, or you haven’t [00:06:00] really been trained to teach, which is what the majority of faculty in higher ed are, they don’t know that that’s an OK concept. I think that that’s something that’s really spreading, that, ‘hey, you’re not in this alone. We’re in this together. And it’s OK for you to beg, borrow, or steal anything from here. With Creative Commons license, of course, but that it’s an OK thing to do. And I will say that I think that’s a really positive step in the higher ed community.

Phil: Well, it’s interesting that if you go back to the original point of the article, it was arguing against the false dichotomy of face to face versus online. And that’s an ongoing theme that still needs to be stated today. But the team concept that I mostly was writing about back then was more within a department, or within an institution. More of a formal team. But what both of you are describing is more of a cross-institutional [00:07:00] informal team, where you’re seeing the sharing – people are willing to beg, borrow and steal. But quite often it goes across institutional boundaries and it uses listservs and common interest groups. And that is one characteristic of how this trend is playing out this year.

Kevin: Well, and it also happens just in workshop settings. For instance, when I did a workshop about interaction between students and faculty in online courses back at San Francisco State. The most exciting eventuality from that workshop was a fashion design instructor sitting next to an English instructor, and they decided to create a discussion forum for students from both classes to participate in, and had to sit outside both classes for FERPA reasons. But basically, they ended up having a conversation about school uniforms and equity between these two classes of students.

And it was all framed around [00:08:00] the fact that the fashion designer instructor was excited by the fact that the English instructor used two different deadlines in their discussion forums, one for the original post and another deadline for the replies. And that created this conversation where they ended up starting to work together, and created this collaborative project that neither of their courses would have had otherwise.

Phil: But there’s been resistance in this area before. The both of you alluded to of previously, there were faculty who felt that they didn’t want to beg, borrow or steal or they didn’t feel it was appropriate, or whatever the case may be, whereas today it’s much more accepted. Is that just a matter of necessity based on the economic climate and the move to online and hybrid? Or is there something more? Because what I’m hearing you guys describe is something that is [00:09:00] natural to faculty. They do like to collaborate when put in the right settings. So it’s not that they’re against collaboration, per se, but a lot of times they might not be in the right setting where that could flourish. And is it that we’re actually now putting people into these situations where they can collaborate?

Kevin: Where they have to collaborate. And the fact that every single instructor in higher ed had to put their course into a remote  emergency teaching and learning situation over the spring means that everybody was looking to someone else for how to do X, how do I do Y? I think you’re right. It’s the Michael Jordan definition of luck as a lot of practice plus opportunity. And we just gave every single instructor opportunity to interact with other faculty members.

Phil: So these are both positive views, Jeanette. Are you seeing this in general as a positive trend that’s good to see?

Jeanette: I think so. I think that there was more focus on teaching [00:10:00] because of COVID and how you teach. For instructors that maybe haven’t really looked at that, they were so into their research or within their discipline ideas, they’d been doing the same thing year after year. And this kind of made them stop and think about how they were instructing, how they were reaching their students, what was working and what wasn’t. It was part of that reflection process that I think in education is really drilled into you. But again, in other disciplines, you may not think about reflecting on your teaching as much. There was something that was really, I guess, looked at more in the spring, that maybe some of the other instructors haven’t been doing so much with their teaching practice as much.

Kevin: And that focus on teaching is another trend, Phil, that I think is amplified and accelerated due to this situation. So you’re going to have faculty members going through training over the summer that haven’t participated in online or face to face professional development at their institutions before.

We used [00:11:00] to call it the usual suspects where with 15 to 16 hundred faculty at San Francisco State University, we’d usually see around 100 in our workshops over the course of an academic year. Now you’re going to see triple, quadruple, maybe even half, the faculty at an institution going through, putting a heavy strain on the instructional design teams, again, if they have them, or they’re going to have to seek outside support for professional development or that instructional design.

Phil: Well, I think that’s an excellent point. The focus on getting more people involved, but even more than that, the focus on teaching and learning. So that’s rising in the priority list at the expense, quite honestly, of scholarship and research, at least in the near term.

Kevin: I’m going to push back just a little and say it’s finally getting the due that it deserved, because the scholarship and research aspects are generally focused on generating revenue [00:12:00] for the institution. And so that becomes a priority even at comprehensive institutions like San Francisco State or other Cal State system campuses. I don’t know what it’s like at UNM, but it’s definitely that change is not exactly as you characterized it.

Phil: Well, I’m not sure that we’re saying a different thing. Or at least I’m not understanding it quite yet. What I’m saying is if you look at the three, the priority list or how the balance and how they are in the mind of faculty members, that the ratios of change, due to the pandemic and due to necessity. And the teaching and learning mission, the teaching job has by necessity risen in the priority list. That’s essentially what I was saying.

Kevin: True. I guess the only thing I would add to that then, as a both-and proposition, is that that attention [00:13:00] to teaching and learning implies that faculty have to actually learn more about their craft instead of just jumping into the deep end and starting to swim.

Phil: Yes. Well, let me ask you a question about outside partners. So I’ve noticed that certainly a lot of the large publishers, when the pandemic hit in the March timeframe, the announcements of, ‘hey, we give you free access to courseware, we’re extending this through the end of summer, through the end of the calendar year.’ You have all these well-designed courseware available to you is the message they came out with. And certainly we’ve seen Coursera with their courseware initiative, as a MOOC provider, saying, ‘Hey, we’re making this available.’ And then you’re also seeing the OPM providers saying ‘we’re helping schools make this transition.’ So you’ve got these outside partners who are certainly offering to be part of this team as things are redesigned. [00:14:00] But what is the reaction like? How realistic is it that that type of teaming with outside providers is becoming a significant trend that will continue into the future?

Kevin: Well, I think it’s going to continue. I don’t know if it’s going to be at the same rate as the on campus-based collaborations. But when you consider the fact again, that some campuses just don’t have the staff levels that others do. They’re going to have to reach to outside groups and possibly leverage some of the CARES Act funds or something like that to do it. I know in another category that you didn’t quite touch on was professional development. So groups like the Association of College and University Educators are launching a course in effective online teaching practices.

And so a lot of campuses are adopting micro credentials for the summer to help faculty prepare for teaching in the fall using [00:15:00] that content and framework. But using local facilitators on their campuses to support the people with the cultural context of the institution.

Jeanette: I would only add that going back to the courseware and textbook providers, the instructors that I’ve talked to, if they were teaching an intro course before, maybe not using a major publisher or courseware provider title for whatever reason, looking at their fall courses, I know that I’ve talked to enough instructors that I feel like it is maybe a trend where they’re thinking, ‘OK, well, if there’s an online content available to me that’s been designed, and I really don’t know what I’m doing, and I can just slide it up into my LMS of choice or whatever the school’s using (which is sometimes not their choice), but if I can go ahead and use that content, I’m going to, because at least it’s a starting point for me.’ And especially for those schools that don’t have the instructional design [00:16:00] assistance, it’s there for them. And at least they can build upon it. So it seems like that’s a good starting point. And so there’s been some some instructors that I’ve talked to, that I know that they’re looking to change after using maybe the same textbook or reading material for years based only on their online content that’s available to them.

Kevin: And in some cases, they’re looking to open educational resources or open textbooks to reduce costs and increase learning equity for students.

Phil: For the most part, at least the way the three of us are describing it, there’s some real positive developments by this acceleration of a team-based approach that we’re seeing for teaching and learning. But what are the downsides to some of this move? And I’ll throw in one to get started. I’ve been a little bit skeptical with the free courseware offer because of the situation where a school or department or individual faculty might start adopting and using courseware. [00:17:00] And even if it’s a positive development through the fall, are they now stuck with this in 2021 and beyond when they don’t have the budget to be able to use these resources moving forward? So I think there’s a little bit of a risk going on that if they adopt resources that they can’t afford or won’t be available after the fall term. But what other downsides are there for this movement?

Kevin: I can see faculty might be hesitant to do too much where they’re not showing their unique value. For example, if they’re adopting materials like Khan Academy or something where it’s not only a textbook or something, but there’s a learning path implied there, there are problems for students to complete after watching a video and things like that, that they have to then go in and add value to that experience, if only to meet [00:18:00] the legal requirements of regular and substantive interaction, because it has to be from the instructor. They can’t just set it and forget it anymore. But I would say that the key there is that dystopic vision that we saw from Scott Galloway of mega universities pairing up Google and MIT or something like that to create like one section of math for the entire country. Then, you know, that’s where faculty are going to have to show their unique value, not only at their institution, but within their institution.

Phil: Is there also a risk of the lowest common denominator? What about the case of where you have faculty who have designed very engaging courses with very unique designs and methods of facilitating the course, but with the pandemic and the push for team based design, are we seeing any cases where the instructor might be getting told, ‘OK, sure, you’ve [00:19:00] done this engaging work yourself, but this is a way our whole department is going to work. So you need to come and do the same thing.’ So a standardization even when it’s not helpful. Are we seeing any of those cases?

Jeanette: I hope not.

Kevin: Yeah, I haven’t. And I know that academic freedom would probably prevail in that argument, but I haven’t seen that happening. And if anything, other instructors would adopt some of the effective practices from the veteran instructor.

Phil: Well, I like both of your optimism on that one. I guess I’m saying that’s something I’m concerned about. But I don’t necessarily, I’m not saying that I’ve seen it yet, but it is something that I’m concerned and watching for. A final question as we get into the fall. Of course, teaching and learning is not just about course design. It gets into the actual teaching practice itself, and the whole learning process of adapting the course based on how it’s going with students, and getting feedback from students. So [00:20:00] I don’t know if there’s an easy way to answer this, but how is this likely to play out in the fall in terms of some of the increased team coursework? Are faculty going to be sharing notes with each other as they teach, and adjusting and applying lessons learned? That you’ve learned that I can apply at my course. So should we expect this to actually continue into the fall with the iteration or the improvement of courses as they’re taught?

Kevin: If they’re working in cohorts now, there are some examples of those cohorts extending into the fall and having kind of discussion sections, so to speak, where they are sharing a reflection on how things went and what they would do differently. I know that’s part of the model for that group I mentioned before, the Association of College and University Educators, where they have online discussions, where faculty share their reflections with each other about what worked and what didn’t work. But [00:21:00] in terms of the summer offerings that a lot of campuses are spinning up to support faculty or preparing for fall, it makes sense that they would create some sort of continuing effort for the people to interact with one another. And one other thing that I’ve just started to see happen is leaning on student surveys at the institution level and sharing the common instrument so that all instructors can ask students the same questions and whether or not they share that data out with all the instructors that will remain to be seen.

Phil: And Jeanette, what’s your general view of the outlook of how fall will continue? Or are you generally optimistic about how this might make a long term improvement, or what do you think it will be like during the middle of a course?

Jeanette: I think a lot of it’s going to be dependent on what Kevin said, how much of this the cohort or the organization of faculty is [00:22:00] happening at the institutional level, or maybe even within a discipline. I think once those are established, and a cohort or a group of people are working together, and you’re sort of leaning on them, the war story where you’re able to go in and you make a friend for life type of thing, where you’re going to continue to want to work through them.

I think it just needs to be established now and it needs to be encouraged by, likely by the institution to start it and keep it going. And then I think it could be a long term effect that’s happening.

But it’s, I think it’s how an institution is engaging with that instructor right now to help them with their course. And I don’t know if a lot of institutions have the bandwidth to do that right now, but I think it’s a core piece of the success of the fall moving forward.

Phil: So we have a real opportunity here, as there’s been a required, or necessity to focus on teaching and learning, to focus on adapting quickly for the fall. But [00:23:00] part of what we’re talking about is the the nature of this opportunity quite often lies in these cohorts, these communities that are being formed where instructors and staff can rely on each other and build connections moving forward. So this is a case where it could be a long term, not just a long term trend, but we could be establishing these communities that actually help over the long term to improve teaching and learning. So we will definitely keep watching for this, including seeing how it plays out in the fall time and the learning process itself. But thanks, Kevin and Jeanette. It’s great talking to you this week, and I hope you have a good weekend.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the concept of Chronocentrism as applied by John Watson to an education context. What if a lot of the common predictions we have turn out to be wrong?


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly talking about the transitions that higher education is going through due to COVID-19. It’s been a good week for me. I will say leading off that I was able to go away for the first time and had a meal, a lunch with my wife. It’s part of our anniversary. Out in a real restaurant with real server, so it’s been an exciting week for me. How are you guys doing?

Kevin: I’m doing just fine. I had a birthday this week and doing some good stuff this weekend, taking a class over Zoom. If you can believe it, for how to fingerpicking the blues.

Jeanette: Really? Oh, that’s impressive.

Kevin: We’ll see.

Jeanette: We were hoping to go camping this weekend, but still in New Mexico you can’t camp unless [00:01:00] you find a private campground. The overnights are still not allowed, which we were going to do. But it is so hot here that I think we’re just going to stay home. Except for if we could, we could. Maybe we’ll send the girls outside.

Phil: Well, we had our lunch in ninety five degree heat. I did not complain since I was just so happy to be out with other humans. What we’d like to talk about today builds on something that we mentioned two weeks ago. Two weeks ago we were discussing the community colleges and how their enrollments seem to be going up, and then we also looked at Arizona State University showing dramatically increased enrollment for the summer. And at the same time, it seems like the conventional wisdom had become, based on surveys, that enrollment was going to be dropping somewhere between 10 and 30 [00:02:00] % across all of higher education. We asked the question “at a certain point, we need to question, are these surveys right? We shouldn’t take that those are gospel.” We might be developing a conventional wisdom that’s just wrong. And at the same time, there was an article that came out yesterday from John Watson at the Evergreen Group, a consulting and analysis firm that works mostly in K-12. But I think this post was excellent. “Will post pandemic school be different? The case against.” And essentially what he does is refer to an article that came out in the Atlantic that essentially says, “I predict your predictions are wrong.” And it points out how often we actually look at our times as unique, and that we’ve never faced anything like it. And so there’s [00:03:00] a tendency to overestimate the significance of long term changes based on our current crises. And we’ll go over some more of the details.

John took the argument to bring up – what if so many of these arguments are wrong, and that we’re going to be a lot more normal than we thought we would be once we get into the fall or even beyond that, that we’re not just having fundamental transformations? I think it’s an interesting question and very interesting article. And point out that Moody’s came out today with their estimate of enrollment for the fall. They’re predicting that total enrollment goes up. Now they’re predicting that the rough enrollment revenue, or tuition revenue, goes down overall, but enrollment could actually be up. We have these contradictory signals. I’d like to explore – what do you guys think in terms of how significant [00:04:00] are the long lasting changes that are going to come out of this pandemic? But let’s start out with that idea from a high level. Jeanette, what’s your initial reaction to that argument?

Jeanette: So my thought is more along the lines of the Atlantic article, if you read it, because we’re all human and we crave social connection. And I think, Phil, you said it nicely when you started off, that this was a good week for you just because you were able to go out and be among other people that maybe aren’t related to. One, your lovely wife of 31 years.

Phil: And for the record, I want to state that I was very happy to be with her. That was not my point.

Jeanette: That’s right. So but that’s just we’re social creatures. We want to see people. We want to be with people. I think that what I’ve seen this week, at least in Albuquerque, it’s been respectful. [00:05:00] Anywhere you go, everybody’s in masks. But I’ve seen an uptick of people in the stores. It doesn’t seem as scary. And I can see how New Mexico is starting to open up more next week in terms of retail and things like that. There’s just there’s a desire to be with people. So I think on a high level, those things make sense. Absolutely.

Phil: Kevin, what what are your reactions? Your thoughts?

Kevin: Well, it makes me think of the article I wrote about the Edge of Chaos and how it’s an opportunity moment for education to make bigger changes than they might. And Watson’s statements that, ‘hey, public education is the way it is for many reasons, many of which are difficult to change.’ So what I always think is what is the cost of not making changes when these opportunities arise? We have to wait for the [00:06:00] next pandemic to make some substantive change, around seat time being the reason that we generate revenue instead of student success. California has already started moving in the direction of funding being predicated on student completion as opposed to student enrollment. I’m interested in seeing how we can drive some of those things forward a little more, even though I agree. And that’s why in my article I didn’t say that it would happen. I just said it was an opportunity for change to happen. But I’m interested and hopeful that we can still find some ways to turn the ship a little bit before we hit the iceberg.

Jeanette: I think that’s going to happen. I think that even there may not be massive change. But one thing, from the least a faculty and a teacher standpoint, is there were a lot of teachers who maybe were always resistant, and instructors resistant [00:07:00] to using technology to teach courses for whatever reason. And there is a million of them. And because they were forced to do this, they probably found some things that they really like about that and those types of things. Yeah, there’s gonna be change for good. It could have been the way they’re addressing certain teaching habits or learning needs that they may be had in the past. And I kind of feel like those things are just going to snowball into maybe a larger effect where technology is becoming more important to teachers that were looking at it before as a teaching tool.

Phil: And if you go back and look at the Atlantic article, I like the way they set this up. It said, “In 1974, the sociologist Jim Bowers coined the term Chronocentrism, the belief that one’s own time is  paramount, that other periods pale in comparison.”

But what you’re describing is not so much ‘Our times are paramount and change will happen [00:08:00] no matter what we do.’ You’re both really talking about the opportunity for change. And even the hope that some changes will accelerate, and I assume some that we try to minimize other changes. But it gets to the question, not just everything is gonna change. We have no choice about it, but it’s also, ‘Well, what are the changes that we either hope or even want to advocate for sticking with us as we move forward?’

You mentioned the comfort with technology. Let’s start with a question. Given everything that we know right now, what are the changes you guys see that you think this is happening in the fall and it’s going to continue, and we’ll look back, let’s say, five years from now, and say 2020 was a period where we accelerated X? And that is now with us and it’s stuck. What are the changes that you guys think [00:09:00] or predict will stick with us at least for five years or more based on what’s happening this year?

Jeanette: I think there’s going to be an increase in hybrid or HyFlex classes and courses that are being offered. I think that teachers are going to start seeing the benefit of a flipped classroom and how they teach. I think that there’s been so much literature and research done about how instructors often teach the way they were taught, and this forced them to kind of look at those teaching habits and change them. And I think that’s probably going to stick. And I think the other one is greater use of technology that’s institution-wide like the LMS. Kevin, what do you think?

Kevin: I agree with all of that and I will raise you equity, raise you one equity. I think that the the whole concept of being more aware of students needs at multiple [00:10:00] levels as learners. And that starts with access to the technology. But even this week, with all the tumultuous activity, in Wednesday’s session at the California Community College chancellor’s office, the little webinars they do every week. Chancellor Oakley said ‘we cannot hide behind the veil of collegiality when it comes to racial equity.’ I think equity is going to stay in the forefront of mind space for the next five years at least.

And I do believe that that means it will translate into actions that people take that they normally don’t, whether it be checking their course for equity with things like the rubric that Peralta Community College District created, or taking the time to understand what students’ needs are, and helping meet them before students show up for classes. Because that’s a really hard time for students to gain new skills that they’re going to need to succeed in a class, on the first day of class. We [00:11:00] need to be starting to prepare students with the technology they need. We heard that student during the student Senate of the California Community College webinar. One student said it took a month for her to get the Chromebook from campus a month after courses restarted. She was borrowing other students’ or neighbors’ or relatives’a laptops in order to continue her studies. And if we’re looking at community college, especially as a way to increase upward mobility and give students a chance to get some economic stability, especially in this time where there’s a lot of unemployment, we can’t afford to go back to the way things were.

Jeanette: I agree. You know, what I also think is that I think the health of an institution in the future is going to be based on how they’re treating equity issues and how much they’re doing student outreach. If you’re going to a school and competition may be fierce, [00:12:00] especially as things are moving online, and your school’s not really paying attention to what your needs are, you’re going to probably find another school.

And I think that’s it’s going to help those institutions that are really recognizing equity issues that, well, I think really thrive in the coming years.

Phil: Well, let me bring the conversation down a little bit. It sounds like that’s my role today, since you guys are both optimistic. I was in a session with Future Trench Forum with Brian Alexander yesterday, and George Station asked me a question about how optimistic or pessimistic I was on the access issue and accessibility. When we talked about the equity-based access issues, you know, access for all, I said, ‘well, I think that the conversation around equity issues is absolutely increasing and won’t go away. You’re getting college leaders talking about the subject [00:13:00] quite a bit.’ But the immediate context of our conversation, if I recall, was about the fact that so much of what we learned about supporting different ethnic groups and first generation students comes down to support outside the classroom, advice, not just class activities, but the broader support network, that that’s what’s crucial. Yet at the same time, that’s what institutions are cutting quite often right now. Do they really have a strong belief in doing that type of investment in these economic times to make meaningful improvements to equity? I believe George’s argument is – he was concerned that in the name of equity, we’ll talk about things, but there won’t be strong changes. So I’d like to challenge. Are we going to see actual progress with investment and things that seem to work, such as general advising?

Jeanette: Again, I’m [00:14:00] going to go back to the reason why I think it’s going to happen, and that it’s going to be end up being tied to retention and revenue. And I think more than ever, that’s going to be the crux of it, that schools are going to need to be able to recognize. These are issues where I agree with you. And what is really worrisome, I think, about the spring – and let’s see what happens going into the fall – is the accessibility issues. How people feel like that’s not as important during this emergency time, and that, I hope, changes for fall. But I worry about how many students, and I think having Kevin can speak to this much like in a larger state that I can, but there are a lot of students that were not being served over the spring for whatever reason. And we’ll see what happens there.

Kevin: Yeah, from some of the surveys that I’ve reviewed, some of the populations or some populations of students who did not feel as supported by their [00:15:00] campuses in the spring were non-binary students of color and students with disabilities. Both of those groups felt like the campuses didn’t do enough to support them and meet their needs.

Kevin: I would add – not only Jeanette’s point about some people thinking that ‘hey, I’ve got so much to do, accessibility is just one more thing that I can’t fit on my plate right now.’ But there’s also that group of people who are finding that it’s a lot of work to make every piece of content and every activity and every tool you use to be accessible. And so some people will be kind of frozen like a deer in the headlights. They won’t know exactly how to get started because there’s so much they perceived to do. In a workshop that I gave to faculty about putting their courses online, you could see the tears forming in one teacher’s eyes when she said, [00:16:00] ‘do you really mean that these things that you’re doing, I have to do to every document in my course. There’s like a hundred.’

She she was both visibly upset because of the amount of work, but also because she felt that she was providing all these obstacles.

Phil: That also goes back to the support need, we can’t just rely on instructors to handle the entire set of problems on their own.

Kevin: True.

Phil: We need to have support staff who can either provide a lot of this conversion of materials, audio, video, different different paths for students to take, particularly those with disabilities or at the very least training during professional development to help instructors get the job done.

That’s I guess what I’m worried about – it’s sort of twofold. Instructors, faculty are going to say this is a lot of extra work and now I’ve got to do even more. And at the same time, [00:17:00] there is an important issue for schools to invest in areas at the time where most of their budgets are getting cut. So there’s room for pessimism here. My view was that in the short term, I’m pessimistic. I think things are not going well, just as you said with the survey. Students with disabilities, they’re not getting served well right now. And I don’t believe they’re going to be served very well in the fall. But over time, I think it’s becoming a subject, just like equity, that institutions can’t avoid. My hope or my prediction – and they’re tied up together – is that in the long run, even three years down the road, that we will see a material improvement in both of these areas, not just in words, but the actual actions in investment. I hope you’re right about that. The retention type of issues will ensure that this happens. But short term, [00:18:00] I’m pessimistic. Long term, I’m optimistic on these issues.

Kevin: I have to push back a little bit first, before we move on to a different topic. Because with the different groups I work with, I’ve got an example of a public community college in Southern California and a private four year university here in Northern California, both of which are planning online events for faculty to learn how to teach in whatever format they’re going to be using over the fall. And both have large sections of the coursework related to both equity and accessibility. So while it’s true that there needs to be a greater investment in staff to support faculty, maybe harkening back to the World War II days, when you had these instructional design teams, where you had a subject matter expert, you had a developer, you had a producer, maybe to diffuse some of the workload for faculty who keep having everything piled on them. But [00:19:00] right now, I see active efforts to address these challenges head on before the fall. And so it probably is always going to be the case. More can be done. But I don’t think that people are waiting for the budgets to reconstitute before tackling.

Phil: Actually I like disagreement, I want to build on this given what is common between the two schools that you just mentioned. I don’t know them by name, but you’re essentially saying these are the schools where you actually help them out with some sort of PD training or or advice on how to get the job done? Correct.

Kevin: True. And yet they both had developed their programs before pulling me in to help. So accessibility was on their radar and equity was on their radar before I even entered the conversation.

Phil: I’m not arguing that you created the solution or the awareness. What I’m saying is it’s a selection bias. There could be a [00:20:00] selection bias going on. It’s not just the schools who are already thinking about this. The question is broad based, what’s going to happen across higher education? I mean, I certainly hope that your case for more short term optimism is right. But I just I’m questioning if there’s a selection bias as well.

Kevin: It could be that. Birds of a feather flock together, so I probably could be hanging out with people who feel around the same way I do on these issues. But I will be doing an Online webinar or online keynote for Des Moines Area Community College, so I’m going to check in with them and see what other programming they have in store for faculty preparing for the fall and see if it’s different in the Midwest.

Phil: Let’s take this a little bit of a different direction, even though it’s interrelated. Zoom U. What’s going to happen to the dominant usage of synchronous Zoom [00:21:00] sessions as the major use case of how schools have taken their courses online or hybrid? Are we going to see the over – I’m being pejorative here, but I believe strongly in it – are we going to see the continuation of the overuse of Zoom as the primary way to have courses either online or the hybrid design, the online component of hybrid? Will that continue throughout the fall? Or will it start going down significantly?

Jeanette: I think that Zoom, the use of Zoom was a crutch that people had to rely on. I’m hoping, I don’t know, but I hope that it starts to see a decrease because it’s not good instructional design in most cases. And with that, I hope that there is going to be an increase, at least in the value of instructional design and helping [00:22:00] faculty with their courses. And when you look at it that way, then there has to be a decrease in usage overall for each of the courses, at least not relying on it for the majority of instruction.

Kevin: And you see in some of the threads of conversations and professional developer listservs and on forums and things like that, that they are having challenges with formats even like HyFlex, which are meant to provide flexibility and student choice. Because they’re concerned that faculty will see it as a way to prioritize in-person lectures like they’d been getting all along, and they really want to put it in an equal emphasis on asynchronous instruction, as Jeanette’s suggesting. So I think that the intent is there. I think the challenge will be, maybe I’ll be more pessimistic like Phil for a moment, and say that the timeline from spring 2020 to fall 2020 may not be long enough, even though [00:23:00] there are an infinite number of points between zero and one. You probably don’t have enough time for a faculty member to become highly conversant with the technologies for asynchronous instruction. So they may be relying on Zoom more than they should, but less than they did in the spring. It’ll be a slower on ramp than, let’s say, what people would hope.

Phil: And this will get to long term changes, in my opinion, that the pain of Zoom U. It did help us, that we need to acknowledge it did help. The remarkable transformation this spring, in three to four weeks time moving online. But it’s got to be pulled back. And the balance, it’s got to go on ecreasing the synchronous video methods and increasing asynchronous methods. And even when you use video to do it asynchronously, there’s a lot of solid pedagogical usage of asynchronous video. I also believe that the usage is going to drop this [00:24:00] fall for Zoom and the other synchronous video methods. But here’s where I’m optimistic, because this is getting debated so much in all circles of higher education that it’s hard to avoid the subject. I think that there’s only positive outcomes from the public discussion about Zoom U and about how, by and large, the online courses of spring just have been disappointing to students and we can’t keep this up. This is a case where I think that even if there’s negative discussions, it’s going to lead to a longer term improvement in teaching and learning, because you just can’t avoid the subject, where people even understand pedagogical usage of asynchronous versus synchronous – that’s now becoming part of the lexicon. Even for faculty who had never taught online before. So I tend to be optimistic in this regard that we’re going to see improvements long [00:25:00] term.

Kevin: That I’ll agree with. I think that we’re seeing not only with respect to technology use, but the concept of teaching and learning, as you said, are becoming part of what faculty consider. And when you can think about the fact that not many faculty learned to teach before they are hired to teach. It’s exciting to be in a space where even though it’s a pandemic and it’s chaotic, the fact that faculty are considering the needs of the students and the strategies that they can adopt to help students learn better. Those are all wins.

Phil: All right. Let me ask you to a question that goes on the other side of the coin. What changes that you’ve heard being discussed about higher education do you think won’t happen? Too many people are talking about this, I don’t think this is going to happen. And I’ll lead off this discussion with one that I hear quite a bit now, Plexiglass as a primary method [00:26:00] of controlling physical spaces. I predict that will not last. By and large, and it’s not going to be effective, and it’s not realistic, even in the fall, to use Plexiglass as a primary method of safety between faculty and students or throughout the system. I don’t believe that the Plexiglass is going to be a major change moving forward.

Jeanette: I’m sort of laughing. I totally agree. I have a 17 year old as my oldest. And there is no way. I think one thing, that if you know about older teens and young adults, is that they crave touch probably more than anyone. And they’re just going to get around the Plexiglass. It’s kind of funny to me, actually, to imagine that and actually imagine it working. I just I don’t see it happening at all.

Kevin: Even at the taqueria or the grocery store where they do have a Plexiglas barrier to protect the [00:27:00] people who are working at this time in history. People still go around it to have themselves heard. Because you’re not only speaking through a mask, but also a Plexiglas sheet. And I can’t, I can’t imagine configurations … It’s going to seem like your classrooms are a labyrinth, or a maze of different configurations, even restaurants. That part I hadn’t heard as a trend or an option.

I just know that you are probably going to see fewer students in the classrooms, possibly switching the days. So if you have a Tuesday, Thursday class, half the class goes on Tuesday and half goes on Thursday. And the other time you either squeeze it all into one time space that you only need one or you’re you’re forced to go online. But I could see those Plexiglass fishbowls that everybody could wear them over their heads like scuba old-school [00:28:00] masks when you walked in along the bottom and those giant domes over your head. That could be a way to accomplish it at a much more individualized and cheaper level.

Phil: Personalize Plexiglass. I like that, personalization. This gets back to the original conversation. I think that what we’re saying is the physical methods of addressing the pandemic, and what might be longer lasting. You’re much more likely to see changes due to hybridization of higher education, fewer students in class because the courses have been designed to have various options, or to have some face to face and a lot more online. Those are going to be the changes that likely impact not just the fall, but long term, that we’re going to see that as long term changes. The Plexiglass, in and there are a lot of articles predicting this, I just see that [00:29:00] to be a mostly a waste of time that maybe money gets into the liability front. Maybe it will make some schools feel that they have some protection, from a legal standpoint, but I don’t see that happening and particularly, as Jeanette said, it’s not just that it’s unrealistic, but in particular for younger people.

Kevin: I just can’t see that working out, to go back to students with disabilities. Somebody in a wheelchair is going to have to navigate around these Plexiglas sheets. And are they going to be on wheels so you can move them around the classroom and then you have to clean them? Because you’re going to be touching the thing that’s on wheels. I mean, it’s creating more work.

Jeanette: Yeah, it’s kind of ridiculous. I really I, I don’t know if our schools do that, Phil. I just it seems like also such a waste of money. I hope they’re not.

Phil: I read articles about schools – I don’t know if they’ve spent the money yet, but yes, I see in articles where schools are saying they’re spending a lot of [00:30:00] money on bringing in physical barriers, primarily Plexiglass, and reconfiguring classrooms and dining halls to use that. So yes, I am reading quite a bit about them using it there. I know this is going to harm our ability to get a Plexiglas manufacturer or sponsorship of the podcast, but it’s going to be a waste of money.

Jeanette: That’s a California company that people used. You know, it’s too bad.

Phil: It’s too bad. Well, it’s been a great conversation. But going back to the original premise, we’re talking about so many changes that are going to affect higher education forever.

But most likely, this Chronocentrism that we have means that we’re overestimating how many changes are really going to be with us long term. And certainly, at least among us and the stuff we’re talking about, in part there’s an aspiration here that we hope happens. The hybridization [00:31:00] of higher education is a trend that we do think is going to accelerate and stay with us and hopefully have a much greater emphasis. And true solutions to improve equity based access and disability-based accessibility from a long term, and that these become subjects that schools can’t avoid in the future. We’ll keep watching to see where things go. It’s been a great conversation and we’ll talk to you guys next week.

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In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss some of the practical issues faced by students, instructors, and institutions when implementing HyFlex models.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Hi, I’m Phil Hill. And welcome to COVID Transitions. This week, we have a special episode that’s focused on the growing interest in hybrid formats for fall 2020. And specifically with the HyFlex model that’s being discussed at many campuses. We wanted to take some time to address some reader questions and in particular, look at the practical implications of preparing students as well as faculty and course designers for these new methods. Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly had an opportunity to talk about these details. We hope you enjoyed this episode.

Jeanette: Hey, Kevin.

Kevin: Hey, how are you today?

Jeanette: Okay. I feel like we need to have a little theme music playing at this point, since Phil’s not here to do it.

Kevin: Well and his voice is so resonating, so we’ll have to do our best.

Jeanette: How has your week gone?

Kevin: It has been a little bit nutty. He had two online events for over a hundred people, and my niece was supposed to graduate on Tuesday. When I sent her a text saying I was thinking about her, and I know it was supposed to be her big day, and we’ll figure out a way to celebrate your achievement. She said, Thanks, Uncle Kevin. It means a lot. Praying that COVID clears up by my college graduation.

Jeanette: Now, my godson graduated from the Naval Academy last week, and we were really looking forward to helping him celebrate that. So not being able to do that was disappointing for sure. So what were your webinars about this week, Kevin?

Kevin: One was with the group, I’m on the board, the Association of Authentic, Experiential and Evidence Based Learning paired up with e-Portfolios Australia.

Jeanette: Well, sounds like you were busy. Also had some blog posts and some really good comments and questions on this blog post this week.

Kevin: Yeah. And I think one of the most interesting questions stemmed from the blog post about HyFlex course design, and the person said, hey, our campus is considering HyFlex, and you have a very compelling bullet point about preparing students. But what does that look like? What should we be doing to prepare students for success in the HyFlex environment? And that to me said, OK, well, I guess we’ve got to put some more out there.

Jeanette: Yeah, absolutely. We can.

Kevin: Something we can discuss today.

Jeanette: I think so I think there’s a lot of people really curious about not only how did they do the HyFlex or the hybrid classes and planning for fall, but what EdTech students need to know. And what did they need to do to be prepared coming into really different learning environment? So do you have any pointers for instructors and schools looking to try to make sure that their students are ready for something that’s gonna be different?

Kevin: I do. I do. And I also have pointers for students themselves. I know we have an active listening group of students who love this podcast and it’s growing in popularity. For teachers and campuses, I think there are a couple of things they can do. One is to break it down. I don’t think it’s enough to put in a course catalog. That, of course, is going to be fully online or hybrid flexible. I think we need to define what that means and why students would want to choose different formats as their approach to taking that class, because they do have the control coding that Spider-Man comic book. With that power comes responsibility. So I think that’s important for students to know what work each format will entail, such as asynchronous learning will require them to do a little bit more on their own. They’ll be more self directed if they’re in the synchronous learning environment. They may have to participate more than they normally do, especially if they’re introverts. And so it’s important for students to know not only what choices they have, but why they might want to make them.

Jeanette: Absolutely. It seems like there should be more than just some knowledge gained from my course catalog. Now, what else would students really need to know? Well, going into these different formats, let’s take the HyFlex, what should students know and be prepared walking into that course compared to a fully online one?

Kevin: They should know that they have the choice each and every class session to participate how they want either synchronous, online, asynchronous, or if their campus is planning to open, which some are, then they could even show up in the classroom. And those all have different ramifications if they’re planning on showing up in the classroom. Are they going to be living off campus or are they going to find a dorm room? What’s what’s this physical distancing going to look like? How to small group activities work and when you can only be six feet apart. And again, each person has their own needs based on their home situation, their work life and their academic goals. Making those choices and knowing what it means work wise for the academic setting will help them be more successful because they’re not just sitting in the room and absorbing what somebody says, but they’re active participants.

Jeanette: Now, you know, it’s a good point. I was also thinking, before COVID and before I think that there were definitely different types of students or characteristics of students that you would say, OK, this is a person I have good characteristics or good reasons for taking courses online, primarily online. Now, you know, this spring and potentially into the fall. That’s those choices aren’t necessarily there if you want to continue your education. A lot of cases you’re going to be taking courses online. So with that in mind, and it’s not really a learning style, it’s more of like adapting your learning style. Are there things that students should be doing to prepare for that? Are there things that students could do to help them be more successful in those types of classrooms, do you think?

Kevin: Absolutely. And in the blog post I’m writing now, that hopefully will launch early next week. I say that the COVID-19 experience has reminded the entire world that some things like viruses are beyond our control, but some things we can control. And so students should think about what they can control themselves. One is literally themselves their health. A lot of students talk about not exercising as much, drinking more. Those things all impact their ability to learn, their ability to be a little bit more organized. So I recommend for students to use paper, digital calendars to plan out each week and how they’re going to tackle the learning experience, getting focused, getting connected with other students. That can also optimize their attitudes by being more intentional learners, by being more motivated, by being more active, and they can optimize their environments to some extent. And so, you know, some of the surveys that I analyzed showed that students don’t have quiet study spaces. About a quarter to a third don’t have somewhere they can go. And so it might require negotiating a communal quiet time with your family or your roommates or either cheap earplugs or if you can afford it. Noise canceling headphones to block out things that are going to be distractions. There is a science around interruptions and how we lose what we gain while we’re learning if we’re interrupted. And it’s similar to the work experience. If you have someone prairie dog over the cubicle wall. You end up having to restart something that you had begun, maybe even go back further to recapture the thoughts that you were engaged in at that moment. And so whatever students can do to create quiet spaces, organize their space. So it’s not so cluttered and probably most importantly, gaining some new skills, time management skills, self directed learning skills and even study skills like spacing out the study time instead of cramming it all into big three hour blocks.

Jeanette: And then what about course design? Are there ways that instructors can be designing their courses that would benefit students, especially near to this format?

Kevin: Well, definitely. If it’s whether it’s HyFlex online or something in between, the more organized you can be, the more consistent you can be. And the more you communicate with your students about what’s expected each week, that’s all going to help students. And I would say we want to go beyond discussions, of course, design and also talk about course facilitation. A while ago, I did a trio of blog posts around course design rubrics. And I challenged all of those rubric designers to include more about what it’s like once the students actually show up in the class. It’s great to make it structured, to make it accessible for students with disabilities, to make sure there are lots of interaction opportunities. But then you have to facilitate all that. You have to guide students through the process of learning. You can’t just set it and forget it.

Jeanette: I think there’s a lot of people that are forgetting that, to be honest. You know, I there’s so many people, it seems to me, you know, talking to instructors that they’re so focused right now in the design of the course and trying to get everything in there.

I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but I do think that they’re forgetting the work it’s going to take to facilitate. I thought, you know, I don’t know if you mentioned this on that blog post or if it wasn’t a conversation, if it was a podcast or something else we’re talking about. But you had some really good point. It was just like discussion threads that I thought was really interesting about starting making sure that there were assignments for when you start and when you need to respond to make sure that guided discussions are really strong in most cases, which are gonna be important. A lot of these classes.

Kevin: Having two due dates. I picked that up from a faculty member who’s passed away now. Gail Weinstein at San Francisco State. But it’s really helped my conversations because students submit their original post by, let’s say, Wednesday, and then they submit their replies by the following Monday. So they have time to make it a conversation instead of what I call the Tower of Babble, whereas just a bunch of people lobbing posts and replies into a pot and hoping it sticks.

Jeanette: But the other one, when he said. Yeah, I agree with x, right? Yeah.

Kevin: Or could you ever find good jobs? Smiley face. There’s another one. But the other thing too. To your point is having more instructions and more examples of what replies should look like. We give students a lot of ideas about what their posts should look like, what they should include. We might even have some rubric criteria about what we’re expecting. We want you to support your argument with two sources and blah, blah. But then when it comes to replying to other students, it says replied to other students. And that’s just not enough.

Jeanette: So, Kevin, because we were talking about HyFlex that I know even before COVID at San Francisco State implemented this and some of their courses, and I think it was more due to space constraints. If I’m correct me if I’m wrong with that. And since you were there for that and you’re still an instructor at San Francisco State. Can you give us some insight of how that was accepted by the students, what your actions were to both and students? I think instructors and maybe even the administration, it be interesting to see how this was done pre-COVID, and and do you think it’s going to be different post-COVID?

Kevin: Well, so first you had one particular class adopted, a quasi HyFlex approach because of space constraints. My own department did it for a different reason. The class that addressed space constraints was an introduction to marketing class, lower division undergraduate course with hundreds of students. Our department went HyFlex for the entire graduate program in instructional technologies and that was to address the needs of working professionals that might not be able to get to campus at 4 p.m. or even 7 p.m. based on their work load, and especially in the Bay Area, when the startup culture pushes people to work 24/7.

Jeanette: So the decision, the traffic to make you may be trying to get to San Francisco can be tough, too.

Kevin: Yeah. Luckily, the the main campus is in the southwest corner down by the zoo, which is not in the northeast corner where downtown is. So it’s not as impacted by traffic unless you have to go through downtown to get there soon. But traffic. Yeah, it’s it’s a it’s a pain. Not as bad as L.A., but it’s bad. But in terms of the student reactions, I think students recognize that it was a different learning experience and they were able to appreciate some of the pros along with the cons. For example, my colleague Brian Beatty, he wrote a book about HyFlex Course Design, and he’s got a chapter about student experience, where he quotes students that he surveyed about their experience, I think goes over three. Graduate students and, you know, students would say things like, hey, I had less interaction with my peers because I chose the asynchronous route for whatever reason. But the fact that I was writing reflections about my learning process actually made me a stronger learner. And so it’s incumbent on us to to let students know that there are pros and cons to every approach and HyFlex. And again, not only let them know what the workload might be like for each pathway, and they can choose a different pathway each time, but also what they’re going to get and miss out on so they can make informed choices.

Jeanette: Were the students actually showing up on campus or were most people just taking it a synchronously? Like, what was the majority of students doing and did it matter at the end of how the instructors were interacting with those students? Do you think it.

Kevin: Oh, so I’ll tackle those in a random order because it’s going okay. Stream of consciousness. Fewer students chose to come in person because they have that flexibility. And that’s what students really desire is convenience and flexibility, whether it’s because they are working or in the case of some of the students in that intro to marketing class, their IP addresses for those who are familiar with that term showed that they were on campus. They just didn’t walk from their dorm to the classroom. They they preferred to watch it on Zoom instead of going to the classroom. But to answer some of your other questions about the experience of this, the students. Stuck with largely the pathway they chose at the beginning of the semester, so they didn’t change pathways as much as one might think. They stuck with one and kept with it. Most students had similar experiences. All the literature has shown that students are equally successful in whatever format they choose. However, and this calls back to something. Michel Pacansky-Brock brought up an email this chain this week that it’s really about how we design and facilitate these courses. It’s not about student abilities. And so it’s easy first for faculty who are choosing HyFlex or if the campus chooses it, for them to focus heavily on the synchronous experience and kind of let the async fall off and be that set it and get it type mentality. And so students in an asynchronous environment where they’re not challenged or they don’t get a lot of feedback are going to do less well because they’re not getting that same level of attention from the instructor or their peers.

Jeanette: So just if you were to design a hybrid class and pretty much the only difference that you had, maybe this becomes not HyFlex, but that you just want to have and recorded yourself when you were maybe on campus, if you happened to be on campus or when you were doing a course in and you posted it on there. Does that just naturally become a HyFlex class?

Kevin: It does make creating a HyFlex classes a little easier because again, you if you have to record yourself twice, once in person, and then second as a kind of a Zoom recording or a Camtasia recording or screen Castomatic recording, whatever you choose to use if you have to do it twice. And that’s a lot more work. So if you know that you’re going to go HyFlex, it does make sense to say, OK, well, I’ll capture this in person experience and I will actually plan ahead and make sure that that in-person experience takes into account that some people are going to be watching the recording, the Lily, Maryland conference when virtual this spring. And so I was grateful to have the opportunity to give a presentation, and I actually made comments during my presentation. For those of you who were watching the recording of this, here’s something you can do. And so those instructors who are teaching HyFlex courses will want to make those side comments while they are facilitating a live session just so that the people in the rooms by themselves half an hour later or a day later are given some instruction about what they should be doing. They paused the video. Now, while we do this in class activity and go do X. That’s just really powerful and makes it so that everybody’s considered as you’re going through this kind of multi time line experiment.

Jeanette: So can you know, the one thing that we have to keep in mind is with the San Francisco ended up before it was that, you know, those students were actively choosing to be in a HyFlex classroom where this fall most students are not given that opportunity, regardless if they’re going to die or if they’re going on to University of California or wherever they’ve chosen to attend school. They are going to be in a lot of cases, forced to how they get their education and how the teaching of learning happens. So knowing that, are there any other things that you think students should really be doing this summer to prepare for their courses in the fall, which, you know, we still don’t really know what’s going to happen, even if the school thinks that they’re going to be, you know, on ground. Things could still happen or maybe schools are going to be online, are going to be able to go back into the classroom.

Kevin: Yeah, I think students like teachers need to take the summer to prepare. And that may mean getting some of those skills that I brought up earlier, whether it’s time management skills, playing with calendar or reminder apps that will help them stay more focused in due dates, things like that, but also learning a little bit more about what the different formats their campus might choose so that they can be ready. And again, maybe creating a little network of students that they know already so that they can lean on those students, maybe not for advice about a specific course that they’re in, but for moral support for that sense of connection, which students say they’re missing quite a bit. And for encouragement, we all are a flock of geese flying in a V, and if you’re not familiar, the geese honk from the back to motivate the one in the front because they’re doing the most work. They are creating ability for the other ones to draft. Behind it, and so their way of thinking that lead bird is by honking encouragement. So we need encouragement, right? Yes. This bumps. Six feet apart.

Jeanette: Right, exactly. Now, that’s true. I’m always the slowest runner in a group, so I’m always cheering them on. Well, I hope we have a good weekend, Kevin. It’s nice.

Kevin: I hope you do, too.

Jeanette: And we will be, you know, of course, back talking more about how COVID and how it’s affecting education today. Maybe more pointers from from Dr. Kevin.

Kevin: I think we all have some great things to add. So it’s always good to talk to you and have a good weekend yourself.

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In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss multiple campus and system plans for Fall 2020, with many schools going public with reopening (hybrid) or staying online announcements over the past week.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome back to COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill and I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly for another week of discussions about higher education and the changes we’re going through. This week, somewhat of a follow up to our discussion last week. Last week, we noted that now that Cal State University, with its four hundred and eighty thousand students, announced it was going to be mostly online for fall 2020. We were expecting to hear quite a few announcements coming forward, that you’d get a lot more, as Kevin was describing, if somebody is out on the dance floor now, other people can get out there. Indeed, we are starting to see quite a bit of news coming out. So we wanted to cover what’s happening with the news and what the changes are. It’s certainly been an exciting week from what I’ve seen, news wise, if you can call this type of information exciting.

Jeanette: Well, lordy, momma there’s not very much consistency. It doesn’t seem like, that’s for sure. With all that’s expense.

Phil: That’s part of the excitement. A lot of these you couldn’t have predicted or certainly I couldn’t have predicted the way they went. Let’s run through some of the news and just get your thoughts on what’s actually happening. So last week, we covered with California that there were some preliminary news about the University of California system, much more definitive news from Cal State system and then the California budget. Well, there are two things that have happened this week. First of all, the California community college system. Kevin, describe what you saw there and what do we know about why they’re actually making the decision they’re making?

Kevin: Well, I know originally the chancellor had said that it was still going to be up to the colleges in one of those Wednesday webinars that they hold to discuss COVID circumstances. They had basically set it up as such. But I think in the meantime, it’s been a little bit more guidance to have more virtual.

Phil: Yeah, I think we’ve seen a lot of the campuses already coming out saying that they were going to be virtual for fall 2020. Then the chancellor came out on Monday and essentially said he was endorsing the decision that most colleges were going to be virtual. That’s a way I had seen the news represented. I found it interesting that part of the rationale was simply finances. We’re community colleges, we recognize we probably can’t afford some of the mitigation requirements that we expect to see if we were going to try to open the in-person classes. Just the ability to afford plexiglass and social distancing and testing and all the changes seem to be a major factor there.

Jeanette: I also think, though, from a community college standpoint, strategically it makes sense. I think that not only California, but beyond being able, community college has two things going for it. It’s usually commuter plays. There’s not a lot of community colleges that have a big resident population.

It’s a place where it would be easy to go online. Then additionally and I think we saw some of the news reports this week that also talked about this that students aren’t sure what they’re going to do next year. Go to their local community college and take it online at such a cost savings from a typical university that from a strategic financial standpoint, not dismissing the fact that the mitigation around testing and all the things that you would have to do to have in-person classes on community college makes sense to have it online, because that’s where students can go and they can get a discount or  a deal, if you will. So I think across the country, I can see how that would be the strategy for any community college.

Kevin: Well, I think we’ve heard that community colleges expect to see higher enrollment as a result. But what is interesting to me, a family friend who is a freshman this year at a college out east said he was interested in possibly taking classes at a community college just because it would be a lower cost. But the challenge for him is at the school where he is, the classes for his major begin right away. So he would be losing the interactions with the professors and students who would be part of this professional network later on in life. So he’s battling between cost savings and missing out on opportunities, including internships and things like that.

Phil: There was an article that  captured some of these issues, at Inside Higher Ed, that essentially was pointing out that most of the community college systems that are coming out with announcements now that with the exception of Indiana or that’s the primary exception, that a lot of community colleges are planning on being virtual fall 2020 and likely follows the argument that you’re making Jeanette about that sector. It’s making sense, enrollment’s up, but this is a place a lot of people can go and there are structural reasons. It can make sense. But that  makes the Indiana Community College, which is known as Ivy Tech, somewhat of an interesting decision there. They seem to be the outlier among statewide community college systems on what their plan is because they want to go face to face.

Jeanette: So I don’t even know how to respond to Ivy Tech because I wonder what the thinking was on there. What I’m looking forward to having maybe better understanding, which we don’t know yet, is I really hope that a lot of the universities that are losing some of their enrollment to the community colleges because of all of this recognize this is a very different part of time and will be accepting of those transfer credits when the time comes. And I think that’s something that I wish I saw more collaboration between community colleges and universities, even within the state, to ensure that those transfer credits would happen. Just in a general sense is I think that’s the one fear is that, you’re going to start this, maybe you’re going to continue education, but with any community colleges also that fear as your credits aren’t going to transfer.

Kevin: Well, and the students themselves. This week, the student Senate for the California Community Colleges had a webinar about the results of the survey they put out. They had almost seventeen hundred students complete it from across the state of California and they were concerned about the fact that they’re having to drop classes because of either work circumstances, financial circumstances or academic situations where they just can’t focus on that many courses in an online format. They’re worried about transferability. They’re worried about impacting their time to graduation and moving on to four year campuses. One of the students was really cogent when she said community colleges are one of the last chances for social mobility. Yet we’re probably the worst off because of this COVID situation where we’re struggling to keep up. We’re struggling to stay motivated. One student said that she didn’t receive her Chromebook from her campus for four weeks after the campus reopened. So she had to borrow different laptops from different people each week so that she could continue to study. So it’s true that campuses and entire systems are making recommendations and choices. But now the work is going to have to start to make sure that students can be successful in those formats.

Phil: Now, if we look at the opposite side of the spectrum, at least for public systems and sticking with California, because that’s what we do in California, is talk about ourselves. The University of California system came out with an announcement I think surprised a lot of people. The Mercury News was describing Janet Napolitano, who’s the president of the system, said that every campus will be open and offering instruction this fall despite the coronavirus outbreak and certainly appreciated her endorsing our recent blog post and podcasts coverage that we’re seeing the hybridization of higher education. So I really appreciate her helping us out. But she particularly said the question will be how much of that instruction is in person versus how much is done remotely? Essentially, it’s a system wide hybrid approach that they’re announcing for the University of California. But where the minimum is there will be open campuses with face to face as as a strong component of it. That, to a lot of people, I think was surprising, particularly given that the other two public systems in California made not the opposite to selection, but they are going mostly virtual for the fall. Were you guys surprised?

Jeanette: I was surprised. I was really surprised.

Kevin: I was, too. And I think the bigger challenge is going to be the housing and all the different ramifications of saying we’re going to be face to face.

Jeanette: I mean, these are big campuses with lots of people. So that was what I’m just struggling with. As , we’ve seen some of the universities. I can’t remember which one. Maybe you guys can. There was one university that I know I read about that’s looking at just the dates that they’ll forgo the fall break and they’ll be ending before Thanksgiving.  there’s some shifts. Do you guys remember what university announced that?

Phil: Yeah. That was University of South Carolina came out with a plan. And University of Notre Dame also came out with a similar plan. What they both said is OK, we’re going to start early. We’re not going to do fall break and we’re going to try to wrap up anything face to face by Thanksgiving.

Jeanette: Who knows what’s going to happen in the fall. But at least there’s some kind of plan in place that would make me feel better as a parent or as a student. OK, this makes sense, this is what we’re going to do. So for me, just that the whole UC system, with the huge size of some of those campuses are just saying, yeah, we’re going to go online. While their sister, the Cal State system is saying no. , we’re going to go online, mostly not in person. Just seems, I don’t know.

No one’s coordinating. I guess it’s another thing for California as great as you guys think you are. It seems like the Cal State, UC system and the California community colleges are not coordinating anything which goes back to my whole thing, are any of these credits going to transfer? This is  a certain time period. Doesn’t seem like things are coordinated to me. That’s my personal opinion.

Phil: No. No, I agree with you. It is interesting that we’re not seeing a lot of coordination within the state so far. I don’t think I’ve seen much of that type of analysis on. OK, we’re going to do this while you guys do this and we’re going to boost up our transfer. I haven’t seen that type of coordination, but in terms of contingency planning, I want to go back to Notre Dame. They’re not just saying that. They’re essentially trying to plan around a potential or likely second peak of the virus in the fall. So they want to get things done by Thanksgiving, but at the same time, they’re not just saying, let’s go fully face to face and see what can happen.

They actually wrote that their faculty have been asked to prepare both courses in-person and through remote instruction. So their form of hybrid. Part of that is for students who are in quarantine and can’t come to campus, but also so that if they have to change their plans in the middle of the term and go online, they’re prepared, they already have the classes in place. One thing I have to say about them. They’re certainly not just making a choice and hoping that things work out. They seem to have some contingency planning built in as well. I think that’s an important factor, is not just making a decision so that students know whether there’s anything residential or not, but having contingencies in place for a second peak or the situation changing in the fall,

Jeanette: I mean from a consumer standpoint. Again, I know I keep going back to that, but it makes sense, as a parent, as a student, before you use the money to room and board, sign the rental agreement for your lease for that next semester. You want to have some understanding what you’re getting into. And I think what sometimes to me is lost. I mean, is how expensive a higher education degree is and the cost not only for the tuition and the books. But just the cost of getting a kid there, the rental, everything that goes into it. With right now, so many people in the world just strapped financially, it just seems like you need that information even if you’re at a private school.

Phil: Unfortunately, my youngest daughter’s at a private school where I think they’re taking the let’s hope and wait and see attitude, which, as you’re pointing out, that has implications, including finances, because I’m looking what they’re doing. They’re planning on opening up face to face. But in their communications, I don’t see any contingency planning. So it’s not just how do you get there, but are they going to end up having to disrupt themselves in the middle of the fall and have another crisis on their hands because they didn’t do something like Notre Dame is doing, which is saying we’re ready for both situations.

Jeanette: Right. Then you look at that and you’re comparing it. I mean, Phil, in your case, your daughter isn’t that far away from you. So that’s  I would say, something that you can be somewhat secure about. If you were sending a kid across the country and the choice is to either do that and invest in that money and the school’s not really communicating exactly what their plans are or, hey, maybe you need to either take a gap year or let’s just focus on the community college near the house and you can start school or you can continue your education.

I know I would do as a parent, especially if I was continuing, if the the online education that they got in the spring wasn’t at least reactive and in somewhat supportive of the students, which I think we were hearing a lot of. I think that there were people that you can recognize. Especially as being in educational technology, we can recognize, hey, this is a really special situation. What were they really trying to do to make sure that the students were supported and getting through the semester? If I didn’t feel that, I don’t know if I’d want to send my kid back to the school, at least for the next year. I would have a lot of reservations.

Kevin: Well I think, Jeanette, The point you’re making is a good one, because as campuses don’t make decisions or make them public, parents and students are going to make their own decisions. It may not include their institution where they were this spring. So, yeah, you’re right in that ambiguity is going to lead to decisions that are made independent of what the college ends up deciding to do.

Phil: Well, speaking of that, another great segue, if you look at schools, not just the sector of the school, but if you look at schools that are known for online education and that they seem to have a plan in place and they know how to offer this. Arizona State University is obviously one of the main ones that people always look to. It’s interesting, they’re getting a huge surge of students for the summer at the very least. Their enrollment at ASU is up more than 16 percent from last summer. Newly admitted students taking summer courses actually increased from 74 percent from last year. There’s  community colleges we’ve mentioned and in California, there’s been quite a bit of work with online education, but also the cap cost factor. It really surprised me just how much ASU has increased enrollment for the summer and they seem to be pulling students in during the summer. I don’t know if these are high school cross enrollment or if these are students saying, hey, I can’t get a job anyway in the summer, so I might as well start my college career early. What do you guys make of those huge increases?

Jeanette: I mean, what the first thing that comes to my head is those are some motivated kids or motivated students because right now I’m still I can’t wait till it’s time to get a drink tonight. So I am  just impressed by the motivation. I will say that I did hear from a friend of mine who’s a professor at the University of New Mexico that the UNM enrollment for fall is up by 17 percent.

Phil: Really?

Jeanette: Yeah. I forgot to tell you guys that, but, yeah, that’s quite a bit. I think that that’s probably just my guess is that people that aren’t going to be leaving, that were going to other probably out of state universities are planning on staying here. Maybe there’s in-state students that are deciding to go to UNM. But my guess is New Mexico residents plan on staying in Albuquerque.

Kevin: I think international students are going to be another group to watch because they may or may not feel like they can come over here for an uncertain situation. They may be seeking online courses to support continuing their studies at a specific place.

Phil: Yeah. That makes your a lot of sense.

Jeanette: I was going to say around the international students, I saw that statistically the the national average is, I think 10 percent. We’ve been working with the university, a private university, where that is way higher. I would say that maybe there’s 20 percent domestic students at that university. I’m curious what’s going to happen there? There’s definitely not going to be the students on campus. I don’t know if they have the online presence to to do what they need to do for those students.

Kevin: I was going to say what’s interesting is the higher education data sharing consortium, IGDS, had a survey with about 40 institutions and the highest ranking satisfaction with campus response were international students. They were surmising in their summary that it might be because they were taking extra efforts to make sure that those international students had somewhere to stay and something to eat while they were going through this situation. On the flip side, the people who were the least supported were non binary students of color and dramatically different response to the questions about how they felt about their institution, how well supported they felt. Again, we have to start looking at the divides that are being created on equity lines when we go through different crises like this.

Phil: One thing we need to maybe question as well is the actual surveys that are coming out. Here we are talking about enrollment is going to increase in the community colleges. Hey, it might even be stable or even increase in Cal. State. University of New Mexico, which is a research university, they’re seeing an increased enrollment projection for the fall. ASU is seeing dramatic increase during the summer. I get each one of those. You could make the argument while here’s why they’re different. At certain point, we need to question, are these surveys right. So many of these quick surveys that have come out predicting 10 to 30 percent enrollment decreases across the whole sector. We shouldn’t take that those are gospel. This might be like the IHME model out of University Washington for Coronavirus transmission. They’ve had to revise that model as they get new data. So I guess we do need to be careful of making the assumption that the surveys are right. Let’s just figure out where it’s going to head. The surveys could have a bad model built into them, or students can change their mind.

Kevin: Yeah, I don’t think we can trust anything until we actually get to the fall and see what people end up doing.

Phil: Yeah, it’s going to be interesting to see as we roll into the fall. Right now, I wouldn’t say that we can’t trust anything I would say. Everything we look at, you have to at least acknowledge the uncertainty of it, because even the enrollment estimates from individual schools, there are indicators, but we can’t treat them as definitive until we get into the fall. Jeanette and I were talking yesterday with somebody. They made the point saying, I think you did Jeanette saying, boy, be interesting to do the same survey in late September and see if students are still within these schools. There’s going to be a lot more demand on you better be giving us a real education in the fall time.

Jeanette: Right. I think those surveys, especially the student based surveys or any survey, I think one of the ways that I always want to find out is like, how were they collected? Is it come take my survey and here’s a link. I think right there you’re going to see people that have more time, that are more motivated. They’re going to click on that link which aren’t necessarily gathering a really good survey of who’s interested or who are the. audience for students. Kevin brought up the equity issue. Are they really looking to talk to those students that are working are financially strained or those people even clicking on those links? Are we getting that information from those students? I don’t know.

Kevin: That was a cognitive of the president of the students and into the California community colleges during that webinar, in his opening statement said, hey, we’re happy that sixteen hundred and ninety people filled out this survey. He said essential workers, people who are taking care of family at home, people who don’t have access to the Internet or devices, didn’t participate in this. So we do have to expect that the numbers that are reported may be even higher than what are represented in the data. So you’re absolutely right.

Phil: These cases, I think what would help them out? It’s good that people are providing surveys and getting the information out there. I think we would do well if they would describe their built in biases better. Kids know surveys going to be perfect, but I think it’d be better to say this survey has this built-In bias based on certain student groups not having the the ability or motivation to sign in, or call out that could be a bias. I wish they would just at least be more descriptive of the data that they’re collecting.

Jeanette: Yeah, definitely. That would be nice.

Kevin: Finally enough. I’m analyzing about eight different surveys right now for a blog post. I’ll go back and see if they have their protocols clearly defined. In some cases, it’s just results that are shown in an info graphic and you can’t get to the actual survey instrument or the raw data. In other cases, they have the protocol pretty much lined up. These are ranging from five hundred students to twenty five thousand students participating in these surveys, either at one institution or across the world.

Phil: I’m glad that people are putting these out. It just this is the area I think that could improve the most in the short term, as it described, not just dry academic issues, but make it clear that this is affecting public policy and media discussion. So make sure anything you report, you describe. Here’s the bias that we know about.

Jeanette: Well, I was I’m wondering how much the surveys really are affecting decisions because these decisions are all over the place. Going back to where we started, are they really looking at the surveys, the institutions, or are tech vendors really looking at this or are people just making at this point? Is it just really gut level decisions. What they think are going to happen?

Phil: Well, I did sit in on one president’s counsel that I think we mentioned earlier that was looking at planning and scenarios moving forward. And it was meant to inform what their decision is. They haven’t come public with what they’re going to do. They absolutely had been reading surveys and had noted some of these enrollment, projected enrollment declines as part of their thinking. It was only one piece of the puzzle. In my mind, I do think that the surveys have some influence on the decisions being made.

Jeanette: Well, then you just completely ruined my point.

Phil: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. Well, I don’t think that my was an anecdote. So you can treat it as the exception that proves your rule.

Jeanette: I have to say that it just doesn’t seem if we’re just taking California, which I know you guys want to focus on all the time, but if we’re just taking that, there’s surveys that are happening there and the decisions have not been consistent.

Phil: That is true. All right. So let’s take the one that might have surprised me the most. NYU, New York University and the heart of Manhattan, the epicenter of this, the pandemic within the U.S.. NYU is planning on opening in the fall in person. Now, obviously, as we’ve been saying, it’s really a hybrid decision. It’s not fully face to face, but to me, that has to be the most difficult environment to be able to open and have any kind of face to face presence for residents, for classes. You’re in the middle of New York. You’re a large university. That one. I’m not saying they’re wrong, certainly. It did surprise me when I saw that news came out about NYU’s reopening plans.

Jeanette: Yeah. , the thing about NYU is that just it’s an urban campus. It’s fairly spread out not only within a couple of city blocks, but they have parts of their campus and Brooklyn. Parts of it is in the city. So controlling that even seems really difficult.

Phil: While the big decentralized nature, though, might actually be somewhat of their strength, and you’re not just making a centralized decision, but each individual school out there can based on where they’re physically located and the types of courses they’re doing that because they’re decentralized in that nature, that they could have different approaches to manage it.

Kevin: That’s going to make it really hard for the students. They’re going off to take transportation from one place or not have classes on campus at another place. It’s almost like UCLA when they used to have 30 different versions of Moodle. It’s putting the burden on the students again.

Phil: Well, don’t forget, UCLA, what you’re also had 30 different Wi-Fi systems which helped out with the Moodle situation.

Jeanette: I don’t know. So for NYU, I just think that they they must have really thought that through to make that announcement. We just don’t know what that thinking process was because they seemed like they are aware of the constraints that they have and issues they have. It makes me think of something else. I remember reading at the very beginning of the pandemic, the schools closing down is that there were some parents that were complaining that they were in Manhattan and their college students were in different locations and probably New England or wherever, these nice little towns. When the school shut down on a campuses shut down, the students had to actually go back to a more dangerous location. They were upset about that this the schools made these decisions to shut down, but sending their students back wasn’t safer necessarily.

I’m wondering if there are any places where people are thinking, hey, no, you’re going you’re going on campus. They better have in-person classes because we want you there. We think it’s going to be safer if there is another outbreak. Just throwing that thought out there.

Kevin: I think it could be money, because if you look at Texas A&M decision, they were saying in the article that the system would’ve lost about one hundred and sixteen million dollars through August thirty first without federal aid. I think campuses are also thinking about the money aspect of it.

Phil: Yeah, no, they absolutely have to think about the economics,

Jeanette: All those places it just built brand new dorms that are required. Does they have to be thinking like, okay, are we just going to be just losing money on this brand new dorm everyone’s required to stay in.

Phil: I want to go back to. Well, you because you asked you brought up the point about they had to have thought this through and this gets to what we’ve been writing about. It’s the biggest trend or the biggest theme that I think it’s important for people to understand that when any of these campuses are opening with some  face to face, they’re doing it in a hybrid nature almost always. So in NYU, they described the testing that they’re doing. But besides that, they explicitly are saying, like Notre Dame, the university will give students the option to attend classes remotely and is designing ways for students to spread their classes over two to three semesters without additional tuition cost. They’re also developing a go local option, which will let students study at one of the international NYU sites. So have a location to go to, even if it’s not in the New York set of campuses. There’s this hybrid approach. A lot of it is student based and a lot of these cases. I think, Kevin, we need to come up with Nomen cloture like hy-flex, but to relate to students overall. So not just within a course context, but overall where students get to choose the face to face versus online in the mix that’s in there, because that’s the most I think it’s one of the big trends that we’re starting to see is a lot of schools saying, OK, students are going to have to choose. It could be for the entire college experience, not just within courses.

Kevin: That whole local thing that you brought up, a colleague at UC Berkeley, brought up the same concept where campuses may start having satellite centers in different parts of the country or the world so that students can go to a closer location. The way Jeanette was talking about New Mexico residents possibly going to UNM instead of another school because it’s closer to home and they have that safety net of being closer by if things shut down.

Phil: There’s some very interesting trends that we’re seeing. The biggest thing that’s caught me over the past week is that the floodgates are opening up. It seems like Cal State was the most significant announcement that happened. I’m not saying everything’s because of Cal State, but it helped accelerate the trend of colleges need to announce what their plans are for fall 2020. There was a survey mentioned at Inside Higher Ed where students are saying they want schools to make a choice so that they know how to do their planning. There’s a lot of pressure on these schools to make a choice soon. And essentially, it’s coming down to all virtual or hybrid. Those are the two things that schools are looking at. There are very few, if any, saying, oh, we’re fully going back to the way we were in fall 2019. I’m sure some will, but that is not the majority of the cases. The majority of, quote unquote, reopening is happening with a hybrid approach. That’s just a common theme I think we’re going to see a lot more of.

We’ll just have to see. I think all of us need to take a break in the U.S. and enjoy Memorial Day weekend. And wherever you are, enjoy the weekend. I think next week will likely be another set of interesting news that we want to look at and also be looking forward for Kevin’s post about the student surveys, because there’s a lot of information coming out, out that way. That will be interesting to digest. Thanks for your time and Kevin and Janette. Great talking to you guys.

Kevin: Jeanette, go get that drink.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss multiple news items coming out of California that could be an early view into nationwide reactions – Cal State system remaining (mostly) virtual through Fall 2020 and California’s revised budget and its impact on higher education.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Well, welcome back to the podcast COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and again I’m here with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman for another episode. Welcome. And I probably need to get started saying, Jeanette, any updates on how your husband’s doing and how your family is recovering?

Jeanette: Thank you, Phil. We’re doing really well. He’s recovering nicely. The bruising is still there, but surprisingly not as bad as you would think. I think it may be a few more weeks till he’s feeling completely back to normal but thanks, we’re all doing well.

Phil: I like that intro because now people who are just starting to listen to this episode are going to have to go back one episode and get started earlier. So that’s that’s good.

Jeanette: Yes. That’s a good tease.

Phil: Yes. Yes. And Kevin, how are you doing? I know that look like you had some impressive work you were doing last week with the stained glass window outside. So how are things going in your household?

Kevin: Well, we did that work outside over the weekend, and then I haven’t seen it since. It’s been it’s been busy. And Phil, if you’re going to entice people to go back and listen to previous episodes, they should have to go find it.

Phil: Oh, it’s a treasure hunt. Well, this will be our sixth episode of COVID Transition. At least now listeners will know how many they might have to search through.

As for me, probably one of the more disappointing days I had is when I needed to take a break from being in the office so much, and at lunchtime, I took the dog to go walk on the beach and rediscovered that we have our beaches closed from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It was very difficult to convince the dog that we couldn’t walk down the stairs. He’s not as concerned about the fines that they levy out here if you go on the beach at the wrong time. Sort of first world problems. But that was a challenge for us.

Jeanette: Sorry to hear that. I didn’t know that had happened.

Phil: Yes. Well, I felt dumb, too. Of course I’d know this, but once I get there, I’m like, ‘oh, I can’t even go down the beach.’ But that’s something I might even turn to what we’d like to talk about today, which is problems in California, or opportunities in California. Basically all things California.

A lot of the news this week has centered on the announcement by California State University system that they are opening primarily online for the fall. We’ll go into more details of what that means, but most classes will be online for all 23 California State University campuses for Fall 2020. And that obviously has repercussions beyond just the system.

And I like the way that they actually mentioned this in the Wall Street Journal coverage, where they noted that “five percent of Americans holding a college degree graduated from a Cal State school.” It puts it in perspective how influential that is. And at the same time, the University of California, one of the other public systems here, they have not announced anything yet, but they certainly seem to be indicating that they plan to go mostly hybrid,

In the same Wall Street Journal article, they said that campuses would have most likely have some mix between remote and in-person. They even said “at this juncture, it’s likely none of our campuses will fully reopen in the fall.” I think the emphasis there is on the “fully”. “We’re exploring a mixed approach with some instruction delivered in classroom and lab settings while other classes will be primarily online.”

And then the third piece of news that came out is that the governor’s May Revise of the budget came out yesterday. In short, in California, the way the state funding works is the initial budget comes out at the very beginning of the year, in the January timeframe. Then in May, they issue what’s the May Revise, which are revisions to the proposed budget based on internal discussions, hearings, various activities. And this year, obviously, the big change is COVID-19. A lot of people have been looking to see what’s going to happen to the budget, and they released that yesterday. And then there’s final debate and typically gets enacted, some form of the budget gets enacted, by July. But in this case, I guess the headlines – and there are other things we’ll cover – but the headlines are, particularly for Cal State University and the University of California, for those two systems, there had been planned increases of general funding on the order of five %. The increases have been canceled, and they’ve added 10 % budget cuts for both of them from the general fund. There’s more details in there, but it seems like there this week there is a lot going on in California that impacts not just our state, but what’s going to be happening for the rest of the country. It is interesting that we’re getting a lot of California news this week.

Kevin: I would add that the news you brought up are only two of the three systems, and the biggest system [Community Colleges] that Chancellor Oakley this week said that it’s going to be up to the campuses whether or not they go fully online or hybridize or some aspect of addressing the Fall formats. And also in the budget, I guess the movie ‘It’s Complicated’ is the title of the day for the community college system, because it’s a lot more complicated than removing the five % increase and adding a 10 % decrease to the budget for that system as well.

Phil: I would have done more in Twitter when I was originally reading the budget revise about the community college system, if I could figure it out. And as I was saying in response to someone, I think I need a mafia accountant to try to figure out what the community college finances are. It’s just complicated in many ways. Property taxes, state funding, free college tuition. It’s hard to get a good summary. So that’s something that we don’t have as clear of a definition on.

Kevin: But if you’re going with Mafia bookkeepers and you have to go all the way to ‘The Untouchables,’ and quote “What are you prepared to do?”

Phil: Jeanette is our lone non California resident online right now. How important do you think the California news is? How specific is it to our state, or how important do you think it will be to your state of New Mexico, and for other states within the U.S.?

Jeanette: I think California is always sort of a bellwether for a lot of people to look to. I think that the size of these systems are so important that people are going to want to see how they handle it. For Cal State to say everything’s going online is a huge thing, regardless of where you live, because there’s going to be other systems are going to go, how are they doing that, number one? And should we be doing that as well? Regardless of New Mexico, at least the University of New Mexico, which is our flagship, is not going fully online. They are actually giving instructors the choice of how they want to teach their class in the fall. Knowing that most of them will not be doing face to face. So a choice of hybrid, HyFlex, fully online.

I’m not sure what other university systems are doing, I just have some insight there, but I do think California’s one of those places to see how are they going to handle this. Not only from how is the curriculum and teaching going to occur, but how is California, which had such a big cushion in terms of their budget, how are they going to be handling the shortfall? If not, I mean, the majority of states did have that. New Mexico did because of oil revenues, but those are gone.

I think also everyone’s wondering, is the federal government going to kick any money in for higher education? And I don’t know. I know none of us know that right now, I think especially given an election year. But we need to figure that out. I think that’s sort of going to be the saving grace for some higher ed public institutions in this country.

Phil: Well, to note two things. First of all, Cal State, I don’t believe it’s accurate to portray them as fully online. Really, what they said is “the CSU courses primarily will be delivered virtually through the fall 2020 term with limited exceptions for in-person teaching.”

It’s mostly online, but they’re they’re certainly going to make exceptions, both in terms of disciplines that have to be in-person. It’s almost up to the programs themselves that they’ll have to justify why they have to meet in person, and how they can do it safely. And then the chancellor also mentioned that there will be flexibility around the state and even specifically mentioned up in northern California, far northern California, Humboldt State University up in Arcata, might have a different approach than what you would have for Cal State LA, for example. It gets to that point of it’s mostly online. But it’s not fully online. I definitely agree that it’s significant

Kevin: Bringing it all together, that two ideas of California being a leader in higher ed decisions and then being a leader in the governor’s office and his budget decisions. I wish they had been a little more intentional around some of the planning for the higher ed budget, because high approval ratings for Governor Newsom and how he’s taken decisive action based on data and facts regarding the spread of Coronavirus. And here you have in their labor and workforce section of the same budget. We have 4.4 Million people on unemployment as of a week ago. And that’s a real opportunity to spin up something like competency based workforce training, add money to things like the California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiatives, Pathways Grants that are doing Career and Technical Education programs, and really focusing on how do we spin up different micro-credentials or things that would get people back to work quickly. It’s seems like if California really wanted to take advantage of this tumultuous time we’re in, and make real change, they would do more than make it one part of a lone bullet and a preamble to the California Higher Ed budget.

Phil: Obviously the general theme is massive cuts to the budget. California has stated that they’re projecting roughly a $54 billion budget shortfall. And going back to what Jeanette said. A large part of that will be addressed by the surplus that had been built up in the state. But then there’s heavy cuts, and even some financial gains or changes that are being used to to cover that. But the net effect is – it’s almost like investment today is equaling ‘at least you’re not getting cut.’ That seems to be the mode. I’m sure in other states as well, there’s almost a feeling of ‘All right, can we escape some of the cuts that are happening?’

Jeanette: I want to go back directly to what Kevin said around how Newsom has gotten a lot of accolades for how he’s handled COVID and looking at data and also even the way he, or whomever in his office, in the Budget Office, decided to present this summary.

And it was to say, we’re going to hold on to our values. And I think one of the key things that they could do is do what you said, Kevin, and go back and see how could they take these changes, the loss of jobs, and change California for the better. This is the opportunity to do it. If you were going to put money into anywhere, it would be in education. To me, in higher education especially, it would be to try to maybe help those people that are out of work right now. And ways to do that could be going back to school. I hope that when they are looking at the budget, and when people are discussing it for July, that some of that discussion is happening and people are looking at the ways you can hold on to the California values of making sure that people are getting educated in this time, rather than just waiting for their jobs to open up, which maybe won’t happen. It’s the flexibility, and I think that would be important.

Phil: I’d like to highlight some of the other elements that came out. And it’s good to point out this is a summary of the May budget Revise – we don’t have all the details yet. There’s a long summary document that we have available, and the full details will be rolling out. But one of the things that struck me was that they’re projecting, there’s still going to be overall growth in all three systems in enrollment over the coming years. They called out the community colleges in particular. “We’ll likely see notable increases because the enrollment trends tend to rise when economic challenges emerge.”

It makes an assumption that the community college system is not going to see an enrollment drop. And I do know that they’re seeing increases for the summer. But this Budget Revise seems to assume that the community colleges may even increase enrollment this fall. It didn’t say that explicitly, but it seems to have that assumption within the document. I don’t know what to say other than that’s something to watch for it. I think there’s a lot of estimating going on, but it’s interesting to note on what their assumptions on enrollments are going to be, and how it’s different between the three systems.

Kevin: Well, and I can agree with the assumptions, but I think they’re predicating it on situations that are a lot different. This COVID experience isn’t over. When they’re comparing it to things like the 2008 downturn for the housing market, or anything like that, that had a finite time period. Where we don’t know when this is going to end.

The other part is just in terms of logic, it does make sense that people would go to community colleges for things like general ed courses or things like that, rather than paying full freight at Stanford or some other school that they might be enrolled in. I can see the summer enrollment, we saw the Finish Faster Online initiative between the community college system and the Cal State system. A lot of Cal State students over the summer were taking a lot of community college courses in order to get some different requirements out of the way. There is precedent for the community colleges picking up some of the slack from other systems.

Phil: Jeanette, go on back to your state of New Mexico. Have you seen any kind of projections on enrollment within the public systems out there?

Jeanette: I haven’t seen anything. No, I haven’t seen any. It’s not a focus. I think it’s not the same type of focus.

Phil: Yeah. I think that that sort of gets to part of why I think this news is significant. It’s not that California’s right, but there’s so much within the higher education where schools look to others on what are you going to put a stake in the ground saying? Is it online? Is it hybrid? Is it fully reopening? How much do you think your enrollment is going to change? Some of the significance is simply seeing more of public estimations from systems on what’s going to happen with enrollment.

Now we go from something that significant to something that I found interesting to mention this in this much detail within the Budget Revise. Specifically it was mentioned “collaboratively adopt the use of a common online learning management system, for example, Canvas, which is already used by over 80 % of the UC, CSU and CCC.”

I have to admit I, first of all, was not expecting to see that issue raised within the budget, that now is the time to look at doing a common learning management system across three systems. And I also found it weird that there was a specific mention of one example, Canvas, mentioned in the Budget Revise. So that caught me off guard, or I found that pretty curious.

Jeanette: It’s not the Budget Revise. It’s the summary. So that’s even more weird, I think.

Kevin: Well, I think one thing to consider is that 114 out of 114 community colleges are using canvas, and that’s practically 80 % of all of higher ed in the state of California by itself. So it may not be true that the other two systems have even 50 % using Canvas, and makes that decision that much harder to generate because you have campuses that go through pretty thoughtful processes to make these decisions. And to have this state governor’s office say in a comment, as Jeanette said, for the summary of the budget. This is an idea they threw out there that doesn’t seem following that thoughtful process that they’ve been using for everything else.

Phil: Well, I wonder if it was thrown in to make a signal that, ‘hey, we are investing in online infrastructure and e-learning.’ I almost wonder if it was thrown in for the optics of it.

Jeanette: But why mention a specific brand and company?

Phil: I don’t know. I mean, that is the system that is most heavily used, certainly in all three systems, I believe, or at least it’s the fastest growing in all three systems. But why mention it by name? I’m not quite sure about that. So count that as some curious thing to try to understand that it was thrown in there.

Another thing that I noticed, and I don’t want to go too deep into this since our focus is more on teaching and learning, but they actually increase the authorization for the University of California, the UC Path, which is essentially a large centralization of their ERP system that I’ve written about it at e-Literate, about how it’s just ballooned in schedule and a budget, that is way over budget, way over schedule. Lot of questions about what it’s actually doing. But specifically called out is that they’re going to increase the authorization from $15.3 million to $46.8 million. I am also curious, why was that put in there at this time as now’s the time to increase investment in UC Path? I’d love to see if either of you have any clues about that one.

Kevin: No clues here.

Phil: There was also an OER play. There was a note of ‘remove the plan.’ There had been a plan of investing $10 million of one time general fund to develop and implement zero textbook costs degrees. There’s an OER play that had been in the January budget, and now it’s been taken out. That’s something worth noting for the OER community.

Kevin: My guess is the OER community would do it anyway. Just they won’t have any funding to support faculty training and development of materials.

Phil: What should we expect over the next week or two from the rest of higher education? I guess a core hypothesis is that now that California State University, being so large and being the most definitive plans for such a large system out there, will this get the ball rolling? Kevin, I know that you had your your analogy to how Higher Ed works that might be bringing up again.

Kevin: Yeah, the analogy of having only a couple of people on the high school dance floor is still in play. And California is maybe one of the cool kids. Maybe so. But everybody else is either watching from the drink table or hasn’t arrived yet. So we need to see what this will do for us.

Jeanette: Of course you guys always think you’re the cool kids. Always the California crowd.

I wonder, though … this issue’s become sort of politicized. I’m wondering if we’re going to see alignment with school closings between Republican and Democratic governors at this point, and how that’s going to play out. Because that seems to be the case in a lot of other states, in terms of other things closing and other things opening. How are those public universities going to be opened or closed, online or hybrid, based on what the government in that state is aligned to?

Kevin: I think that may be less along party lines and more along population lines. Because if you look at Ohio, with the Republican governor taking some of the same steps that you see out of New York and California, you might see smaller population states making different decisions than just Republicans and Democrats in general.

Phil: I’d like to believe that there will be rational decision making the way you’re implying, Kevin, is something that’s situationally appropriate. Where I’m most concerned, it’s not what the answer is, because we need to acknowledge, as we mentioned on a previous episode, there’s a lot of uncertainty out there and will continue to be a lot of uncertainties. And whatever choice is made for a school, there will be people arguing against it. We’re just not going to have clarity. However, what’s unfortunate to me with the politics is that it’s become so black and white, so much of good versus evil set of decisions, when, in fact, as I was writing in my blog posts that came out about the Hybridization of Higher Education, in most cases, you’re not seeing we’re 100 % online, no exceptions, nor are we seeing on the other side, we’re going to 100 % open and not make any type of accommodations for safety or social distancing. I think that what we’re seeing so far, and what we need to see, is that there is a balance that needs to be made. Wise decisions on how to slice the higher education experience into what’s appropriate for online and what’s appropriate for face to face, for each geographic or school type that’s out there. And I do think that we’re seeing that. But when you look at the politics, it’s way too much trying to force us into an all or nothing type of argument that’s, to me, inappropriate for what the real choices we face are. But the politics could push us that direction. I guess I’m concerned about it, just in general, because the quality of discussion is not helping out at this point.

Jeanette: To add to that, I think there’s a lot of concern around revenues. And I’m sure there are university presidents, while, of course they want to make sure everyone’s safe and healthy, and there isn’t going to be a major outbreak on their campus, that would be a nightmare for anyone. But also this real huge financial concern that if they go online, they are going to lose enrollment, thus lose the revenue. And the risk of the school closing is really high. And so it’s a balance as well – what they’re going to do and how it’s going to affect their university or college long term.

Kevin: And to Phil’s point about the politicization of the whole thing, it’s almost like a Universal Design for Fall Planning, where if you take a look at the graphic you had on your Hybridization article, it showed a range of online and face to face options, making it possible for students and campuses to choose from multiple pathways. I’m hoping that we do take the politics out of it and focus more on just getting things done. And hopefully to Jeanette’s point that won’t have as difficult of a budget implication for tuition, things like that, if we are at least helping people finish.

Phil: What is the likelihood that we can get politics out of these discussions?

Kevin: Whoo! That’s that’s not a COVID conversation, that’s a Beer 30 conversation.

Phil: Yes, it is. OK. So, well, we’ll avoid that. But I guess the key point, certainly, from what we’re looking at is there are complex choices that  schools and leadership teams are facing right now. And even in the cases of Cal State and the University of California, you do have a range of hybrid. Even though the Cal State system, the default is online. And then you have  the complexities of the economics, and that seems to be really captured in the California Budget Revise, where we have significant budget cuts. Definitely with the Cal State in the UC systems, and schools have to face this reality of how do you balance safety? How do you handle the budget cuts, and what is the right decision to preserve safety, academics, economics and move forward?

We’ve known this all along that this was going to be a challenging situation, but we believe the the three news items out of California will really lay down a marker. I would assume that over the next week or two, we’re going to start seeing a lot more news out of higher education on how schools are choosing to plan for the fall. And hopefully they’ll be more definitive than what we’ve seen in many cases so far.

Thank you for your time. And we’ll definitely keep watch to see what the news is over the coming week.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss additional details on the Hybrid Flexible model (HyFlex). We then address how institutions that have already invested in the social infrastructure to support quality hybrid and online teaching are likely to fare much better than under-resourced schools (in terms of eLearning support and culture).


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Hi, I’m Phil Hill, and welcome back to COVID Transitions. I’m here talking to Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. Before we get to the topics of the day, we are lucky to have Janette with us today, because there was a family medical emergency that she’s been going through. That really raises a question about how life affects us during this time of COVID. But, you know, without sharing details, but Jeanette – anything you wanted to share with the hospital experience and what it does to families?

Jeanette: Yeah. I will share a little bit so it’s not so cryptic with people probably thinking it is worse than it is.

My husband was on top of the ladder yesterday and fell. It was a pretty high ladder, and he hit his head, had a skull fracture. He wasn’t at home when this happened – he was at his place of business, just cleaning things up.

What’s really scary is once somebody gets into the hospital, that’s it. It’s sort of like a dead zone. I had no idea what was happening other than he was taken in the ambulance to the hospital. And it’s really scary. It was a scary 12 to 14 hours. Luckily, we have a friend who’s a physician who was able to go and be with him and advocate for him a little bit.

I think it just speaks to you’re not going to the hospital, you’re not going to the doctors at this time. When you do it’s a very different place to be. It’s a very different experience to go through. And you feel really helpless. He’s fine, though. He’s going to be OK.

Kevin: I’m so grateful that he’s OK. And I hope he continues to … to heal quickly. I wish I had less experience with this, to say that sounds so unique. But every time it’s proven to be true that someone needs to be an advocate, because health care has changed so dramatically where the focus is less on the patient and more on completing tasks.

It also makes me think about – to pivot slightly toward our topics – our students and even instructors today who are trying to deal with emergency remote teaching while addressing family needs. I co-teach my online course with someone who’s down in the L.A. area, and her mother had a stroke and recently passed away, and she couldn’t even visit because of the restrictions around hospital visits. The whole experience of not being able to, to be with your own mother in a time of crisis, not being able to attend the funeral except for FaceTime. It speaks to the need to remember the human side of the virtual world that we’re in with these stay at home orders.

Jeanette: What I’ve noticed is that we as humankind are being robbed of ritual. When you hear of things like no funerals. And now we’re looking at May graduations aren’t going to happen. Birthdays aren’t going to happen. Weddings aren’t happening. And that’s major component of being human is not something that we’re able to celebrate or grieve with, or to just be supportive in some ways that we’re used to. We’re having to find new ways to do that.

Phil: I have to say, I’m quite impressed with the joint segue both of you provided there. What we wanted to cover today is that one one aspect of the COVID transition for higher education we’re noticing is that the effect of this on schools as they try to reopen some form of face to face, whether it’s fall or spring, is it’s not going to be an equal distribution of where the pain is.

There’s plenty of conversation and projection showing a significant enrollment decline for higher education, but that’s not likely to affect schools equally. We’re running into a situation where it appears that the strong might be getting stronger and the weak might getting might be getting weaker from an institutional perspective. We wanted to talk about some of that aspect that gets into how prepared schools are for this type of situation, and is it actually too late for schools that have not invested in eLearning infrastructure and a culture that allows quality usage of online tools? Is it too late for them come fall 2020 or spring 2021? That’s the topic we’d like to explore.

But before we get there, I actually want to do a follow up on Kevin’s blog post, which was looking at the Hybrid Flexible model, because we see a lot more discussion of this Hybrid Flexible model going on in the community – it’s getting some interest. Kevin wrote a blog post that goes into it and looks at the pros and cons and more details. But let’s start out, Kevin, could you describe what the model is in a succinct way for our listeners who might not have seen the blog post?

Kevin: Well, I think the easiest way to think about Hybrid Flexible is to determine who’s in control of the decisions. For a typical hybrid course, a faculty member decides ‘hey, I’m going to have the course, be online on Tuesdays, and it’s going to be in person on Thursdays. Put it in the syllabus, everybody’s going to do what I say.’ And they even determine to what extent the course is either online or in person based on the ratio – in a definition campuses have to be over 50 percent to be hybrid or what have you. In some cases, maybe on Monday, Wednesday, Friday class, that Monday would be in person and Wednesday and Friday would be online or what have you. That would be kind of a two thirds / one third split for the whole semester.

When you talk about Hybrid Flexible, the decision making shifts to the student for each and every class meeting. The student can choose to either attend in-person attend at the same time, but via video conference, or attend out of time and space, if you will, by watching the recording and participating in asynchronous online activities.

Phil: I’ve seen a lot of discussion of it. Why do you think this is becoming such a – I don’t know if you call it a popular subject, but a much discussed subject in higher education circles right now? What’s driving this to be of interest?

Kevin: The reason I brought up in the first place is because it does offer the ability to serve a greater number of students with less physical space, which means because typically we know fewer students attend the in-person class sessions. They either attend live via video or they attend asynchronously. That means for a class even as large as 1500 students, which we have at San Francisco State, maybe 150 to 200 show up in the classroom. That means if you’re worried about how we going to fit 40 person classes in their typical classroom, when you have, let’s say, even 25 percent of that, that’s 10, maybe 15 people show up in the class. You can spread them six feet apart and still have a normal class session and have people participate online, live, and have people participate asynchronously because they may be working essential jobs or just unable to get to an Internet connection or a device at the time of the class meeting. It really provides some flexibility for both campuses and students.

Jeanette: Kevin, when planning this out, do you know if administrators were looking at the total number of enrollments then when they were looking for those classrooms? Like what if everybody decided to show up that day?

Kevin: I do because I was involved with this 1500 person class back when it was only 350, and the contract with the local movie theater near the campus broke down. That was a 400 seat room that they were having this class meeting in every three times a week. The instructor when that broke down, we had to have three 150-person classrooms, two with large televisions in the front of the room and one where he’s live. And then we said, ‘well, let’s stream this and see if some students want to do it from their dorm rooms.’ And then because we were streaming it and recording it, all of a sudden we went down to one room instead of three. We kept the three rooms the entire semester and the following semester and even offered an in-person section. But students voted with their feet, and they decided that they wanted to be  in the modality they chose. Some of the research has shown that once they pick a modality, they generally stick with it. But that flexibility of, ‘hey, I would like to go in person this time – I have a couple questions before we get to the midterm’ or what have you.

Phil: For better or worse, though, this Hybrid Flexible is much more likely to be applied as ‘I can’t get to campus,’ or ‘I can’t get there for the first month,’ or ‘I’m not comfortable being in this room.’ It seems like a lot more of the flexibility coming up this fall would be applied much more based off of the safety of the individual students or of the faculty. It’ll be interesting to see if that still applies, where people will pick a modality, students would pick a modality and stick with it.

Kevin: Yeah, and I would say sometimes it was just convenience. When we were tracking the IP numbers for that first round of classes with that 1500 person class, many of the IP numbers were coming from campus dorms, so students just didn’t want to even walk across campus to class. Nowadays, I think you’re right, the safety issue is going to be paramount. Hybrid Flexible situations that provide the course, the ability to keep moving forward without interruption, no matter what happens if the campus has to close for a few weeks because we had another COVID peak, then it’s what I called in my blog post, Remote Flexible, where they still have the option to do it live or asynchronous just happens to be digital either way.

Phil: A question that came up in the blog post was asking “Is there a way to apply this concept to a lab, or situation like an a STEM course with a lab, or is this just a limitation of the model only goes so far?”

Kevin: I think it’s a little of both. And that that question has come up in a number of circumstances, in our work with the Online Education Initiative (OEI) and their Pathways Grant program for Career and Technical Education (CTE), clinical courses, things like welding. Those are all things where you have a hands-on component, and you can virtualize some of it through simulations, but it requires having some hands-on practice. The Hybrid Flexible model, which I put in this recent blog post, could mean that you take a traditional hybrid setting. Half of you get to come on Tuesday and half of you get to come on Thursday. And the others just use the flexible way to to participate. I compared that to Mexico City and their Hoy No Circula, which means no drive days for cars with certain color stickers on their bumper. They basically reduce pollution by having throttling the number of cars that can be in the city. And here we’re going to throttle the number of students who can be in a lab setting. I could even imagine creating kind of a greater pathway for these lab courses by having lecturer faculty and graduate TAs run the labs, maybe late night sessions all the way till 10:00 p.m., maybe some weekend sessions to increase the flow through the lab. You can have that distance between students, but give that time for cleaning in between each group that goes through there, we’re going to have to be inventive about how we meet the needs of these in-person requirements.

Phil: One of the aspects called out of the blog post, however, is a Con for the method, was the additional effort, the planning that it certainly takes, to make sure different pathways are available or different modalities for the same part of the instruction or are available. That gets to the general challenge I think we’re seeing. Schools that are heavily resourced and in particular resourced and having instructional design, support services, professional development for faculty, as well as all the technical support available – that has a big impact on how well these schools are able to make the transition right now in emergency remote learning, and how well they can be ready for the fall. If you look at this Hybrid Flexible model, one of the Cons is the fact of it’s a great concept if you can actually do it. Final question on the Hybrid Flexible before we get more into the general topic. How big of an issue is the resource needs for this type of approach?

Kevin: I would say there are some factors to consider. One, you brought it up, the training for the faculty. I think we need to set a baseline for the readiness of faculty to teach in the fall, regardless of the format the campus chooses as its primary way to go. Next, the tools may be limited to what already exists. If the campus is already using Zoom and Canvas, or Adobe Connect and Blackboard or collaborate, whatever the tools are using those. There’s no extra infrastructure necessary. However, it’s that thoughtfulness that you referenced that’s going to take a little more time.

One might say that that thoughtfulness should be done every time we teach a class. But I do know that instructors who have been teaching for, let’s say, 10 or 15 years sometimes can rely on the fact that they’ve given a particular lecture a number of times and don’t need to really do any prep. I tried to make some examples about how light of a touch it could be. So, for example, here I am, with the only computer as a lecturer in San Francisco State University is my own laptop. If I were to do this and I were to teach a Hybrid Flexible course instead of a fully online course, I could start a Zoom session and throttle whether or not the students could enter the room until I’m ready, with the permission setting. Set it up and basically press record and then open the room for students to enter who are participating virtually while I say hello to the students in the rooms.

I also gave an example of an activity, often in Face-To-Face classes. We have what’s called a think-pair-share, where you ask students to ruminate about an idea, jot down some ideas, turn to a neighbor and discuss what you came up with. You could easily say, ‘hey, I’m going to give you a minute to write down your ideas wherever you are in time and space. If you’re in the room, when you’re done with that minute, turn to your neighbor who’s six feet away and share your ideas. If you’re online, I’m going to put you in breakout rooms. If you’re watching the recording, then press pause and go to the discussion and add your ideas there.’

It takes a couple extra seconds to explain, but while students are doing their one minute of jotting down their notes, that’s when you put people in breakout rooms because they’re not ready to start the discussion yet anyway. I do know that there are faculty members who are not adept with technology and would find this to be slightly taxing mentally – cognitive overload for the instructor – when you’re trying to focus on the content. But it’s something that you could create a script, what I call a Run Of Show, that would make it easy for you to [determine] ‘what do I have to do now?’ ‘Oh, you have to press this button,’ and with enough practice and grab some students to be your tech jockeys to help you out (because students are pretty savvy with different things), you can make it work.

Jeanette: I’m just listening to you talk about this, and I can’t help but just think – all of this amazing content like this, it was just really great hints that you just gave and some instruction about how to do this. But it just goes back to so many instructors not having that professional development that they need to even know that that’s the thing to do. I think there’s two issues that I see is that the professional development is lacking. You kind of hit upon it, is that there are faculty who have been really successful and they’re fantastic teachers. And for the last 10 or 15 years, they have been teaching in their discipline. They’re well thought of by their peers and by students, and whenever they try to implement or use technology in the classroom, it’s failed them. Even if their schools have infrastructure and they have the LMS, and they had the Zoom, and they had a really great web site, or resources that went along with a textbook that they had adopted, or OER resources that they were aware of and they were using – all of that. They weren’t incentivized necessarily to use the technology because either the school or just their own teaching didn’t require them to do that. Then to now – what you just suggested was fantastic – but they need to have that guidance and that instruction to be able to do this successfully.

I think, you know, Phil, you were talking about there are some schools that are going to be ahead of the game and some schools that are not. I think that, sure, the infrastructure is really important here, the ones that have already adopted and implemented these things. But I think it’s also going down to the instructor – how much does that school provide professional development for them to be teaching online? And what are they doing now to help those instructors?

Phil: I think you’re exactly right, but when I say infrastructure, I don’t mean technology infrastructure. I am talking more in the vein of social infrastructure. That actually gets to one of the examples that we’ve heard and we’ve talked about this before. The University of Central Florida – if podcasts are allowed to refer to other podcasts – but in their recent episode of TopCast, where Tom Cavanagh and Kelvin Thompson were discussing some of these subjects.

One of the things mentioned was interesting. 80 percent of the faculty at the University of Central Florida have gone through professional development about teaching with online tools or teaching online – some form of pedagogical and technical training to help them go through this. 80 percent. I don’t think that’s true at most universities. If I look at a University of Central Florida, and I say that they have the infrastructure, that very much includes the culture where faculty accept this and go through the training, and it’s accepted and safe to do this type of activity.

Kevin: Well, I think you’re speaking about a campus that has not only a strong academic technology unit, but a strong educational technology department. When I think of, let’s say, a community college district with zero staff full time and dedicated to distance education, other than the person who is the LMS administrator or the Help Desk person, there is no one other than maybe a faculty member released from one or two courses to help their colleagues with these issues. And they may not feel entirely comfortable doing that. And so you’re absolutely right. When we talk about haves and have nots, where we’re talking about whether or not a campus has put in the budget, we need to not only have the widgets, but we need to have the people.

Phil: Do we actually see the situation where the the difference in support is  going to be getting greater? In other words, the schools that have already invested in some level of support will be able to increase that support adequately – since the situation’s changed – and other schools, the have nots … It’s not just a matter of do you have the support. Are they going to suffer greater enrollment declines and financial challenges because they haven’t invested in this type of eLearning social infrastructure?

My hypothesis is when I say the haves and have nots, it’s the fact that the schools that have already done this heavy investment, they are going to weather this storm much better from a financial and enrollment perspective than schools that haven’t.

Jeanette: I agree. I have a junior going to be senior next year, and if she was right now going to her school of choice out of state, if she was graduating this year, I don’t think I would be paying for it. I know this school. It’s a fantastic school, but it’s not prepared to be teaching online. I don’t think I’d want to pay in-state tuition for her to get that. I would be looking towards other schools that I know are strong and being able to do this Hybrid Flexible or be able to teach online, at least for her first year. I know that I can’t be the only parent thinking that.

Phil: I think it definitely is going to play a role. Anecdotally, one thing I’ve noticed, to throw into the mix, is that if you look at a lot of the schools where you’re seeing the current protests by students, or even lawsuits by students saying we want to have a tuition refund because we’re not getting the same education, there seems to be a skew towards the schools that that are very different than a University of Central Florida or a community college that has invested in having support. These are the high tuition schools that haven’t taken the situation seriously. The quality of the education truly has suffered when they’ve gone to emergency remote. At the risk of calling somebody out, the University of Chicago is an excellent school, but it is not at all known as having a social infrastructure, as I was saying, around eLearning and online tools. That’s one of the areas where you’re seeing the greatest, most public protest and lawsuits. About, ‘we want part of our tuition back.’ Was that just me reading what I want to read? Do the anecdotes of where students protested or are they greater for the schools that have not done this investment in the past?

Kevin: I think might be case by case and may even be instructor by instructor. Some of the things that I’ve seen come across the wire are related to students complaining that instructors are using ancillary materials, like MIT’s Open Courseware or Khan Academy, and not adding their two cents as to why this is important, how it relates to learning outcomes. They’re basically having a set it and forget it moment where they’re creating a pathway for students to learn a concept without the instructor. Arguably the students could say,  what’s the point of paying for this particular institution to provide this when I could go get this from Udemy or some sort of MOOC? I would say the other side of the infrastructure, before I hand over the mic, is the union side of the infrastructure discussion. Campuses where they’re going to say, hey, the faculty need to be compensated. We need to create a baseline for what constitutes being ready to teach online. There’s a lot of conversations, probably not only with the academic union, but the academic senate as well.

Phil: I think that part of the issue is a long history of doing investment in these areas and supporting it. And we’ve disclosed this, that we’re helping the California Community Colleges with the CVC-OEI initiative. Even just that initiative right there, where it’s been more than six years where they’ve demonstrated investment and professional development and support for faculty and helping them redesign the courses with a rubric. You start to build up a culture over time. Time is a huge variable here.

That leads to one of the things I’m most concerned about. I don’t think there’s an easy answer, but it gets to the issue of, what if you’re working at a school that has not done this type of serious investment or culture building, but you realize it’s going to have a major impact on your school for fall and beyond. Is it too late? Are we in a situation where the strong keep getting stronger? Can you cross over from one side to the other? If you’re a school that hasn’t taken this seriously, what can you actually do for the fall time or the spring time that will impact your student population positively, both in terms of learning outcomes but also enrollment so that you can be more resilient, prepared for the future?

Kevin: I would agree, but I would say there are a couple of factors that come into play here. One, leadership. Does the leadership understand online education world? And if not, do they have strong people advising them, even if they’re a veteran online instructors, to what extent are they willing to start that process? While they are starting from farther down the totem pole, or whatever metaphor you wish to use. Obama’s phrase ‘better is good’ applies here. If you stay where you are, you’re going to have that attrition of students and revenue and all that stuff. We’re already going to have additional attrition revenue based on the state budgets. They’re going to have to make up for it in some other way. And then three, I would say just the willingness of the campus, that culture, maybe not in terms of professional development, but, ‘hey, we’re in this together, and we’ll do this as a team.’

Those are probably the three biggest factors that are going to play a role in whether or not these campuses that need to catch up well. I would say there are opportunities here – if we want to be Pollyanna a little bit – for those institutions that haven’t invested up until now to possibly do the leapfrog the same way some of the developing nations around the world are jumping straight to fiber, whereas the United States has a long standing infrastructure for, let’s say, telephones. But it’s aging and and falls apart and causes fires and in California. When you think about starting from scratch, you are not encumbered by the way you’ve done things in the past, and you may be able to leap on to something that’s going to work even better.

Phil: So we have positive, can do Kevin, today.

Jeanette: The other thing we really haven’t talked about, but you did mention earlier. It made me realize the one other area that I think they’re ahead, that they are also really focused on, how students could learn better online and really prepared students for that. I think that’s also something we’re talking about, how faculty can get their courses ready, but I think there’s also a need to make sure that students who have never done this before, except for this spring, they need to have good techniques and solutions for learning online and be aware of their learning styles. What can help them. I think the schools that have done that and done that successfully – this might be a new modality for students to be learning. They need to understand themselves and what their school and their instructors are offering.

Phil: It is time to start taking this seriously and to be prepared for a lot of unknowns once we get get into the fall time, because so much of what we’re looking at, is “we think that we’ll be able to start face to face instruction” in many schools. You’re seeing quite a few of them announcing “our intention is to open up again.” And by that they mean having students in residence on the campus. But that could even change once we get there, if and when we get the second peak. The previous investment is important. But just as positive Kevin was saying, the opportunity is there to other schools to say ‘now we need to not only jump in here, but figure out how can we do it even better, how can we advance the field and how we support students during this time of COVID-19.’ And the mix of face to face and online modalities.

We thank you for joining us again today and look forward to our next discussion. I would typically like to give a teaser on what it’s going to be about, but quite honestly, I’m not quite sure what it is. We’ll just have to read and see what the right topic is for next week. But Kevin, Janette, thanks a lot for joining us. And Jeanette, send our best to your husband and to your whole family. I hope things get a lot better there.

Jeanette: Thanks, guys.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss how different the Fall 2020 decision will be for campus decision-makers than was the Spring 2020 move to remote. The recent move was easy, in a way, with a binary choice and little second-guessing. Fall will be different.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome again to the MindWires COVID Transitions podcast, where we discuss the challenging era or were in with educational institutions transitioning to remote learning and online modalities and dealing in general with the COVID-19 induced crisis. And I’m here with my colleagues again, Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly. And Jeanette, as I’m sure you guys will notice, has received her new microphone. So how are you?

Jeanette: I’m doing much better. Hopefully everyone can hear me a little bit clearer. Hi, guys.

Phil: Oh, yeah. And Kevin, how are you doing? You’ll have your new microphone sometime over the weekend. But through your cheap set up, how are you doing today?

Kevin: I’m a cheap date and I’m doing well. It’s sunny here. And even though I haven’t been outside in days, it looks nice.

Phil: It’s funny as we talk about the microphones. I was surprised just how hard it was to get the basics. It turns out that decent quality microphones for your laptop is somewhere on par with toilet paper, decent paper towels, hand cleaner. Just the things that we found are extremely difficult to find and have to find it from different sources and ship them long distances to find them. So I’m glad we’re getting set up here.

Jeanette: Yeah. What? It’s like getting flour right now. Right now. Yeah.

Phil: And you get excited with some of these basic who? I found a source. I know how to do this. I had that recently with Costco and tissue paper or Kleenex. I was like, oh, I can’t believe I found it. I was so happy.

Jeanette: And now it’s there’s definitely I feel like a channeling my Depression era grandmothers right now and saving things. But I also feel really excited over those little things since we’re making so much at home.

Phil: Well, I hope we can appreciate the good things in life. And that’s why I find what’s good out of this. What we wanted to talk about today was looking at what’s happening in the community. There has been an explosion of conversation over the past week to week and a half in terms of what institutional plans are for the fall semester.

So we’ve all always known this had to happen, and we’ve written about the fact that this is likely going to be high pressure in April and May. But in typical Higher Ed fashion, I think you have a lot of herd behavior. And what’s happened now is so many schools are not just talking about should we go online, should we reopen the campus? Is there something in between?

But they’re starting to talk about this topic in public. But they’re doing it an interesting way. So one of the post I wrote recently, Cal State Fullerton, made news where what came out of NPR and many other media sources, including the L.A. Times. I’ll read from NPR, and this was from last week. “On Monday, California State University Fullerton announced it was planning to begin the fall 2020 semester online, making it one of the first colleges to disclose contingency plans for a prolonged coronaviruses disruptions.” And then they quoted, “our plan is to enter the fall virtually.”

I ended up looking at the detail of that because I felt that was going to be significant news. Here’s a large campus definitively saying we’re going to do the fall semester online or starting online. Once I started looking at it, however, it was not at all clear that this is what they said. So I went to the YouTube video of the town hall to sort of get the source of what was being discussed, particularly by the provost. What’s happened since then, of course, is the video has been taken private. You can no longer find it. But luckily, since we’ve talked about Universal Design for Learning, we had also created a transcript to help out. But what the Provost actually said is “We are assuming that in the fall we will be virtual. We will at least start virtually. And of course, that can change depending on the situation, depending on what happens with COVID-19. But at this point, that’s what we’re thinking.

“So we will start virtual, but we are also making plans for gradually re-entering. And those plans have to be made in such a way that we can ensure adequate physical and social distancing.”

And she goes on.

If you listen to that. That was no announcement of a definitive plan.

There were all kinds of caveats. And as you listened to the entire virtual town hall, it became pretty clear that what they were talking about was publicly sharing their thoughts on what might happen. And so we’re getting in this situation where colleges are starting to talk publicly. But what they’re doing quite often is they’re using this vague language. They intend to, we’re not sure, reassumed this and that. And I’m not sure that’s always a good idea. And in particular, because you have so much of the media looking for a story, here’s who’s doing this, who here’s who is moving online. So it goes well beyond Cal State Fullerton.

But we’re entering in this era where schools are going to need to say what their plans are so that students can make decisions about who’s going to what college and how they’re handling it. But it’s a really difficult situation in many aspects, in many dimensions that we’re dealing with. So to start out with are there are other examples that you guys are seeing of sort of these vague statements where you almost have to go back to the source material to find out what’s going on. And you just wish that there was a little bit more clarity, even if the clarity is this is not a plan. But here’s what we’re thinking. Even just basics. So have you seen other areas where you’re getting a lot of vague answers from schools?

Kevin: Yes. The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a form that colleges can share their college’s plans. And if you look at that, American University is planning for an in-person learning in the fall, but “because of health and safety considerations, university officials must prepare for a variety of different scenarios” then just go down the list. Baylor University.”We intend to safely resume and so on.”

So it’s speaks to the fact that nobody really knows what’s going to happen. And on the flip side, we can talk about this later, the faculty development crews are creating strategies to address that uncertainty, and they’re framing it as planning your course with resilience as opposed to the negative sounding.

Planning your course despite uncertainty. Very interesting.

Phil: Jeanette, what have you been observing when you look at the news coming out, particularly over the past week to week and a half, about what school plans are?

Jeanette: I mean, I think I’m looking at everybody else, but it seems like it’s all over the place. I think just the country as a whole, there’s different ideas and different plans on how people think reopening is going to be the safe and effective way to move forward. And with schools, I think depending on the type of institution you have, there’s a lot of things to take into consideration. We were looking at an L.A. Times article this week where they really focused on small liberal arts, residential colleges and how important that entire community aspect is to the college experience, which is going to really differ from a commuter community college by comparison. And I think that the students all really want to go back to school. The ones that were residential, the ones that they’re they’re craving the connection and their friends and their professors and just all the other things that you find on a college campus. And so I think everybody’s hoping that’s going to happen, but no one can be for sure. And I think there was a great quotes where I think Paul LeBlanc said at where it’s there’s not a better situation where you could spread Coronavirus than on a college campus. And so I think the administrators are really trying to figure out what the right way to go is. And no one knows. And that’s the hard part.

Phil: No one knows. And uncertainty seems to be the themes. And one thing that struck me was just how fundamentally different the Fall 2020 decision is from the Spring 2020 decision. We look back at spring and the mass transition where schools within a four week time period, five week max in the United States, all transition to remote learning and all campuses shut down or virtually all of them.

And we look at that and think, okay, that was extraordinarily difficult to do.

But one in one aspect, it was very easy to do, particularly in higher education where you have wo much of a herd mentality of following others. Nobody has questioned, or almost nobody is questioning, that decision about closing down campus operations and transitioning to remote.

Right now, if you’re a college leader and you made that decision in the March timeframe, you’re not getting second guessed right now. You could certainly argue the University of Washington, Stanford and Seattle University, they were the ones who stuck their not necks out and made the initial decisions and put a flag in the ground, said we’re shutting down the campus. But once that happened, en masse everything changed. So one of the aspects from a decision making and a public relations standpoint is that was easy. There was no binary choice of what to do other than maybe we’re going to leave a few weeks for a transition to develop courses. But essentially, you’re choosing to shut down and migrate.

So it’s a fairly simple decision and nobody second guesses you. If you look into the fall.

Listen to what we’re talking about. We’re talking about unknowns and uncertainty. And I don’t think that that’s going to change between now and what, say, July. We’re going to continue to have uncertain situations. We don’t know what’s going to happen. So think about what that means for our campus leadership. They have to make a decision about how they’re going to approach Fall 2020. They’re going to be getting a lot of pushback, whatever they choose, if they choose to say we’re reopening. We’re going online. We’re doing some hybrid approach. They will face pushback. And there’s going to be some basis to that pushback. And it’s also going to change over time. We don’t know if this decision makes sense now, but once we get in October, it’s going to change back. So to me, it’s just a completely different type of decision that we’re facing right now. And that’s part of the reason these schools are having difficulty on how to communicate that to the community and how to be be as clear as you can be. And I think you two are both pointing out from the faculty, for parents, students, there is demand for some clarity. It’s almost like people are saying we need you to make choices, but in uncertain times.

So to me, this is a hugely different situation that we’re facing. And it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens over the next two months or so.

Jeanette: What I think I’ve seen this last spring is there’s a sense of solidarity. We all made this decision were, quarantine or staying in place. There’s a sense of solidarity across the entire world. And that includes the students. That includes the class of 2020 who are going to have this amazing experience. And one of resilience probably that they were not given some of the key touchstones that students that are graduating do. What I see happening in Fall, though, is perhaps not a solidarity. I think that the campus leadership. May one may make one decision and one 20 miles down the road, it’s gonna make another. And I think that’s going to really be more difficult for education as a whole.

Phil: Sort of mirrors what we talked about in a previous episode where students tolerance of teaching approaches in the spring is characterized by there’s a lot of acceptance. We know this is difficult. We’re not too upset. But once you hit the fall, students are going to have a different set of expectations of what they’re paying for and what they’re going to tolerate.

Phil: What I’m hearing you describe is sort of the same thing. But on the campus being open standpoint, understanding a different set of expectations in the fall.

Kevin, what have you been hearing, including from a lot of faculty development circles, as you said?

Kevin: Yeah, I gave the teaser earlier that at least on the Professional and Organizational Development Network listserv, they’ve had a lot of ideas around developing pivotal pedagogy, references to blended and HyFlex that we talked about in a previous podcast, and the concept of workshops to help faculty build a course with resilience in mind that supports students personal, academic and professional growth, regardless of the format and where the world is at at that time. And I think that’s a smart play. And it’s and as some people have recognized, there was an article in Inside Higher Ed that went through, I think 15 different possibilities and things like hybrid flexible were noted as providing the greatest avenue for supporting whatever happens. But also it puts a heavy burden on the instructor in terms of setting up a course that has multiple pathways to reach different goals and multiple pathways to review content. So in that same article, had some interesting feedback from parents that said if it’s not going to be in person, you may see a big lack of support, as Jeanette referred to before.

Jeanette: So that article was really interesting was Joshua Kim’s article? It was called 15 Fall Scenarios on Inside Higher Ed. And again, it kind of broke down those 15 scenarios that we’ve seen in other places. But if you do take the time to read the comments, I mean, the comments were from professors and parents. And I think also there’s a few students in there. And there are parents that are really concerned about the return on investment for their college institutions. There’s a lot of discussion about if I’m going to be going to this college in pain. One hundred and sixty thousand dollars. Why doesn’t my son just go ahead and take some courses off of Coursera like it’s the same thing and maybe Coursera is even going to be better. And $160,000 obviously is for high level. They were mentioning Harvard in the comments. I think there was also parents that were really upset that the students were sent home this spring to potentially more dangerous situations than staying on campus. And then students there are just like, please let me get back to my classroom and to my friends and to the environment where I learned the best. And I think all of those voices are what campus leadership is looking at right now. And it’s those aren’t easy, easy decisions to make for fall.

Phil: No, they’re definitely not. And like, if you look at it, I doubt that there’s in my view, I doubt there’s anybody who’s mentally weighing saying I’m gonna get the same education from Coursera that I would from Harvard. No offense intended there. But it was I think that part of what we’re seeing is people are frustrated and lashing out.

So some of the comments that you’re seeing in the pushback are probably overstated or they represent a very small group and that’s the nature of the Internet. We get quite a bit of that. But two things I would note on that. Number one, there’s a lot of PR pushback on the schools based on what they’re doing. And campus leadership has to feel that even if a lot of it is overstated. And then the second point is, even if somebody overstates it, it doesn’t mean that that sentiment isn’t true to some degree. And there are real, real tough decisions that have to be made.

I was just helping out – I can’t mention the name right now – but with regional private university where the president put together this group trying to think through what they can do in the fall.

And the president mentioned one of his association meetings where every single school that is a small private university was saying the same thing.

‘If we’re not allowed to open up, we could be out of business. We might not ever open up again.’ You’ve got existential challenges. Everything is amped up in terms of emotions that push back how important this is. But it’s all happening when we don’t know a whole lot. And we’re not going to know a whole lot. So people have to make judgment calls and see what happens.

Kevin: Well, and if you look at organizational change literature, the toughest part of any change process is ambiguity. And so your point, Phil, about not having made decisions about the fall yet means that you have this state, the worst possible state for people’s psyche. And we just analyzed the Top Hat survey results of student feelings about online learning this past spring. And some of the written comments provide some of the insight about how they’re thinking about the fall and the same way those presidents want the ability to to make a clear choice. Students are demanding flexibility, especially around ‘Can I pay the tuition over a longer period of time for the fall? Because right now my family’s in dire financial straits due to unemployment or what have you. Where we’re working multiple jobs just to support the family while we’re staying at home.’ And so that in addition to creating a need for some certainty in these times, there is also a need for some flexibility.

Phil: Yes, that’s that’s an excellent point. Some of the things we’ve talked about flexibility and resilience and change management. These aspects are crucial. And part of what that saying is hopefully setting expectations. Nobody should be thinking about making a decision about the fall of 2020 and thinking, I can get that decision right. They need to be thinking much more into whatever we decide. We’re going to have pushback, and we might even have to change. Therefore, we need to make decisions that enhance flexibility and enhance our resilience to change not just for the decision, but as we get into the term itself. And I think that we tend to think more of how do we make the best decision? Once it’s made, we just move on. Such as what happened in the springtime. Maybe there are campus presidents who got fooled by the spring, thinking they could make a similar type of decision for the fall.

It’s just not going to work. And I would call on just some of the articles that we’re seeing online over the past week that back up the same type of observations. Inside Higher Ed had a post called “Certainly Uncertain”, where colleges have released a flurry of statements saying they’ll reopen. Will that plan bear out? Or Education Dive, “Colleges Announced Tentative Plans for Fall 2020”. There’s just so much uncertainty, uncertainty that that that they’re going to have to continue to deal with.

Let’s pull this back to a previous topic that we’ve talked about. In one of our previous episodes, which is about the hybrid model. And I certainly don’t want to imply that we think there’s one answer for schools, but I see a lot of people essentially trying to figure out different hybrid options. We mentioned the Josh Kim article on Inside Higher Ed, where there are 15 different scenarios and some of those talk about first year intensive programs, targeted curriculums. There is also an article in the Los Angeles Times that I think we referred to talking about how it could change college life. It might include takeout, dining, small group dorms, outdoor classes.

I think a lot of these are getting into this hybrid mentality of how much of the face and face environment will be like is possible once we move in to the fall.

What should be online and what should be face to face, and how do we do it to enhance community and engagement of students. This is where I think a lot of the messy planning is taking place right now. It’s no longer just a binary online or face to face choice, but other than the hybrid optional on a course context, what other are you seeing an increase? Are you more impressed with the discussions now about different hybrid options than you were even a week or two ago? Any examples that you guys have seen that were impressive in terms of that’s a way to approach this.

Kevin: I have for one example. They’re encouraging a team approach for multi section, multi instructor, high enrollment courses and not certain whether or not that’s going to be in person or online. The other idea of blended or HyFlex modifications goes in line with making that shift to learner or learning centered methods so that regardless of what format they’re going to be in, it’s meeting the needs of the students.

I would add another one. Workshops for faculty are going to focus on planning course in chunks based on learning goals as opposed to the full course. I think there’s a true concerted effort to embed that flexibility in how they’re helping faculty prepare for the fall.

Jeanette: I don’t know if I would say I’ve seen anything. I think Kevin’s closer to some of the design elements of the course discussions. I have seen interesting discussions around maybe taking large courses online, having them taught by a master instructor and then have smaller sections. One lecture, the TA would manage. That seems interesting. I think all these keep going back to the student and just thinking, the traditional student with parents paying, these students aren’t sure if that’s where they want to go. I think that’s really one of the big questions is are we going to see a real decline in enrollment in the fall? And how is that going to affect some of those smaller schools and just higher ed moving forward?

Kevin: Well, what would be interesting is not just the declining enrollment overall, but the same way that Phil’s learning management system market analysis has those circle charts that show the movement from one learning management system to another, it would be interesting to see if we have a similar movement from certain schools to others in response. ‘I prefer this format. The school has chosen to be open. I need that social connection. So I’m going to go there instead.’ It would be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Phil: I would, for one, would love to see that. And I think that that need for that type of visualization or understanding is going to continue, at least for the next six to nine months. We’ll have to see if we can help with that type of understanding. I agree it would be very important.

One example I would add to this, but I keep thinking back about the Beloit College. What they announced is they were going to break the semester in two.

They essentially took the time dimension and said, ‘in a changing environment where things are already changing, we have uncertainty. But we also know that uncertainty will continue in the fall. Why not move away from the 15 week semester and instead break it up into two modules? That way, our commitment upfront for our initial decision is really for the first seven and a half weeks. Not for 15 weeks.’

It also can give flexibility to students where they might be able to say, I can commit to this for this time period, but I can’t commit to a fall semester because of their safety, because of their economic situation, because of the logistics of getting to campus and back or having a place to live. I would say the taking that time dimension and splitting it in half as a method to increase their ability to be resilient and to manage change.

That one is a very interesting situation. And if you look at this article that was written yesterday [Beloit], they’re saying that they have their provost was saying ‘about two times a day I’m talking to provosts across the nation, asking me how we did it and what the plan was, how it looks.’ So they’re getting a huge amount of interest. ‘Tell us about your plan and what should we learn from it?’

Kevin: I was just going to say Center College from Kentucky is doing something similar to Beloit, they are block scheduling their courses in shorter segments to allow flexibility to shift toward either in person or remote learning. It would be interesting to see how many campuses head in that direction. And really something I’ve pointed out in that Edge of Chaos series of posts taking an opportunity in this change space to rethink education at a more fundamental level. Yes, I could see something like taking three unit courses and breaking them into one unit, stackable courses the way a community college district in Texas did for a nursing education program, made it really flexible for the courses to go online that could. And then the in-person components were fewer and can be spread out with the lab space. They had also provided flexibility for people to construct their programs, to fit their schedules as working professionals, as people with families and things like that. So I could see maybe not moving from semester to quarter, but blowing up the seat time requirements and really heading towards competency based education with smaller chunks so that you’re really looking at micro courses instead of full courses.

Phil: And there was actually an article that came out this morning about the role that competency based education could play during this timeframe. I’ve seen the headlines and the blurb. I haven’t read it, but certainly you’ve got my interest. I need to go read more if they’re capturing the aspects that you’re talking about. And I certainly don’t want to imply that we or anybody else has the answers to what to do if there’s anything to take out of this discussion today. It’s the fact that the nature of the decision on the fall 20 semester from a campus leadership perspective, will we open?

How will we open? When will we open?

What are the constraints? That type that set of decisions is just fundamentally different than what we went through in the spring. We shouldn’t expect to have the same ability to make decisions and the same lack of pushback that we had for the spring. I would also highlight what came out of this conversation is that we really need to be planning for resilience and adaptability and the ability to handle the situation as we move forward. And that’s going to be critical to campus decision-making, particularly over the next two months, but really throughout at least the fall term, if not the Spring 2021 term. So it’s a it’s a challenging time, but that’s where we see a lot of the conversations going and the decision making and what’s going to happen and what you should expect to see in these discussions.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion today.

As Kevin referenced, we were had the opportunity to look at a survey of over 3000 students, current college students that Top Hat did, and it was released today (being Friday, May 1st). We had the opportunity to look at the full set of results and do an independent analysis of what that survey tells us, including at some of these questions that had over 2000 open ended responses, which has a wealth of information you don’t typically find in a survey. We have an initial blog post out of that, but we will likely cover this in an upcoming episode, looking more into what are we seeing students talking about.

What are current college students talking about? Issues such as the importance of engagement inside, but also outside of their classrooms and how to think about that.

We will cover that an upcoming episode. But thank you for your time today and great talking with you, Jeanette and Kevin.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss value of getting student input while making plans for Fall 2020. But that’s not always simple to do, or at least common to do. The discussion built on some of the concepts in in this blog post.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of MindWires COVID Transitions. I’m here with Janette Wisemen and Kevin Kelly and looking forward to our conversation today.

What we mentioned in our last podcast that we wanted to explore in more detail is getting more of the student perspective.

Kevin, you mentioned this in your recent blog post talking about that COVID-19 recovery and planning must include student perspective. And if you don’t mind me quoting you to you. You made a good point saying “to increase student success with the planning, we have to include students in the conversation. Right now, for the most part, we talk about students without talking to them.”

I think that’s a really important point that we’d like to go through today, is that whole challenge and experience and ideas about getting student input.

In particular, because there’s been a really significant shift over the past week or two where most focus is now on what’s going to happen in the fall. Colleges and universities have big decisions to make and they’re making it worth partial information. And this is a key theme of your posts were saying, well, as you do that, you need to understand what the student perspective is.

Kevin, it might be worthwhile if you could just describe a little bit more of what motivated you to write the post and how you see this challenge, including what we’re not doing so far and what we need to do more of on getting student perspective.

Kevin: Well, what motivated me to write the post? I teach a class called How to Learn with your mobile device. It’s the flip side of the coin where my day job I teach faculty how to teach online my night job grading papers related to how students are learning with their mobile devices. And the student voice has always been important to me throughout my career. So what’s interesting is the consistency with the comments my own students made at the bottom of the blog post you referenced with some of the quantitative data from surveys that are out there in the sphere that have recently been produced and publicized. There are some themes out there that we can touch on throughout today’s conversation that are consistent in both areas.

Phil: But before we get into those themes, I guess I want to first acknowledge or deal with what I believe we’re saying, which is we’re not doing a good job of of talking with students, getting their input and more of that perspective.

So part of the question is why is it so difficult to get student perspective?

I mean, one of the most obvious issues is the numbers that you have far more students than you have faculty.

But there are also other challenges, I think that we have any time we’re trying to get student perspective and this is not just a matter of COVID-19 planning.

This is something that I’ve seen throughout my consulting career whenever doing a needs assessment on a campus. A lot of times what happens is we say, well, we need to get student input, whether it’s while doing an LMS evaluation, looking at online education strategy, figuring out student support or whatever the case may be. Whenever we go try to get student input, one of the things that happens is they don’t respond typically to the same methods that you see with with that work with faculty and with staff at a university.

One of the examples is as I was working with the University of Iowa, this is a long time ago and we tried to do focus groups. When we wanted to get faculty involved in focus groups, we had rich discussions, and it allowed us to dive deeper into topics and not just get a quick hit answer, but actually explore topics and what things be discovered. Try the same thing with students and it just didn’t work. Either the students, particularly undergraduate, they just were not comfortable in a focus group type of arrangement or they’re just not available for it. And one of the things we did is we changed our approach and we did things such as ‘let’s go to the coffee shop’. Kids these days, they love their coffee. They love their sugar. We would just show up at the coffee shop and say that they would get a free coffee drink if they would come and talk to us. And that worked much better. We got a lot more students coming to talk to us. And similar approach with a town hall. Not that there’s an easy answer, but one of the things I’ve seen is that just students react differently to different methods of data collection, if you will, than do faculty and staff. I’m not sure if either of you two have run into a similar situation about the difficulty of getting student input.

Jeanette: I would say for me, I think that you have to go back, and I look at it as students are consumers. And this is an issue across any industry is trying to get really authentic feedback from your customer, from your consumer. And that’s one of the places where any industry has issues with. I think that I’ve seen in my experiences, especially with student focus groups, not necessarily with online surveying, is you have to figure out why the students showing up there and focus groups especially. These are more product-based focus groups that I was involved with, where I feel the problem is finding authentic voices within those groups. Because typically the people that show up to those are the ones that either already interested in the product, interested in the discipline. In my case, this was in publishing where their favorite professor asked them to. And so they usually were a little bit more sunshine and roses. And I wasn’t getting the critical feedback that I felt like we needed, I think in these cases. I always question why a student’s showing up, why a student might be completing that survey. Is that they really just want the coffee? Is it because they know it’s going to maybe be some brownie points for their professor? Maybe. Sometimes those professors are also offering extra credit. Is that feedback really going to be authentic? I think that’s the hardest part in any survey, regardless of what industry you’re in.

Phil: I’ve even seen it. It’s almost a role or an identity for students that when you start looking at them, you’ll find out these are the students that happen to be in all of the committees or in the student Senate. And you start saying you tend to always show up to give your perspective on what students want, which also means a lot of other students just defer to them, and this is sort of another angle which gets to why you’re actually there. Kevin, what about you from your experience, particularly at San Francisco State, on trying to get student input. Have you found that to be a challenge compared to the faculty and staff?

Kevin: I do believe that there are challenges getting the student perspective in the traditional ways that you just both described. However, I think the challenges can be mitigated by taking some steps. One, we need to do a good job of seeking the appropriate voices. When I worked at San Francisco State University full time, we needed student perspective. We go to the student government and ask them either to go out to their networks, get as much data as they could, and be the voice for the students at all different levels and needs. Or we would prepare the students in advance.

So then they’re not coming in cold, and are able to give a thoughtful response on the fly, because faculty and staff are typically engaged in the types of questions and thinking that we’re asking and these focus groups or surveys or what have you. And so, yes, you can. We used pizza instead of coffee, and we would be able to fill the room with students. But having an intelligent conversation with those students makes means requiring a little prep work, even if it’s the first 10 to 15 minutes of the session dedicated to laying out what we’re trying to do, helping to paint a picture that they can see themselves in, and then providing an avenue for them to provide critical feedback and making sure that they understand it’s not only encouraged but desired that that feedback is going to inform what’s going to happen. It’s the same reason in the instructions for surveys that you include. This is how we’re going to use the results.

Phil: I don’t think it’s that it can’t be done. I think part of the point is it takes additional planning and preparation. And I suspect this is a large reason that we’re not seeing what you were noting in the blog posts, that we’re not seeing as much about student support during the crisis as we are about faculty support. It’s a reminder of this.

Kevin: I think that the reason we’re not seeing as much about students is because we’re not asking the students. Full stop. We’re putting our focus on ‘we need to get those classes online’. ‘We need to help the instructors’. And we left the students out into the ether without communicating with them. You see that in some of these surveys that students who are entering college next year are frustrated that 40 percent of them didn’t get any communication from the campus that accepted them. So they are worried about the status of their enrollment and we’re not communicating. My own students, when they commented on my blog post, gave feedback about the impact that some faculty members are confusing them with their communication. Some lack structure, and they gave some great suggestions to be present by reaching out more, to be human. By asking students what they need to be flexible, by providing alternate office hours and to be multi-modal by using video and text or Remind.com Text messages as alternate pathways for students to consume communication information.

Phil: Let’s talk a little bit about when where are the different channels or what is out there, in this time right now as we’re trying to understand what students perceive that’s happening? I mean, what they’re living through. They’ve gone through this mass transition to virtual over the past two months.

They have immediate experience on how that’s gone for them. But they’re also thinking strongly, as you mentioned, about what’s going to happen in the fall time.

Where are the places that we’ve that we have seen some of the examples that you’ve mentioned in the blog post? But there are other things as well. You mentioned Campus Sonar as a source to get some interesting student input. For people who haven’t looked at it, they do social listening, and they actually go out – and they’re reading and looking at all kinds of social media. And it’s a mass technique in general, saying out of these tens of thousands of tweets, what are the common themes that we’re seeing? One of the things that I find most interesting from Campus Sonar actually gets in to where students are talking. And I had heard this from my daughters before – but I had never really jumped into it – of just what how important Reddit is as a place where students tend to talk to each other and share their thoughts about what’s happening in their college experience. I found that that’s one of the things that jumped out at me. I had no idea until I was reading campus sonar just how much students use Reddit as a forum for discussing things. And it becomes a great resource for trying to understand what students are saying. Have you guys worked with or looked at Reddit in terms of student discussions before?

Jeanette: My use of Reddit hasn’t really been around standard discussion.

I’ve always going there for other little things that I need to find out. But I can see why it would be a really good place. It seems like a very honest place sometimes. Maybe too honest. But a place where students do feel like they can be unfiltered, or anyone can be unfiltered and kind of give their opinions on a huge variety of topics. And I can see why that would be a really good place to look. I haven’t personally done that, though, except for just recently. Because we found it to be such a good collection of voices.

Kevin: I actually have used Reddit, in part because the students in my class have talked about it enough that I started going there. And a few years back I changed one of my assignments to become a debate based on the Reddit ‘Change my View’ paradigm where students pose an idea and then challenged the rest of the class to change their view about that particular thought that they provided. Having Reddit, what I find interesting about the Campus Sonar data: One, there is the highest concentration of chatter around the fall semester falls in the news outlets, not necessarily in students’ own communications through social media or blogs. That’s interesting. When we do get to the information, that’s the student perspective – it’s around 3 percent of the total. They had like one hundred and forty-nine thousand posts or social media entries that they scanned, and only around 3 percent of that was the first-person perspective where they could identify it. It was a student or a student’s family member at a particular institution and then they could dive into that.

Phil: But even within that data. If you saw that section where they would talk about students speculating about fall 2020 on Reddit. They mention – and it’s not as big as the numbers on some of the other discussions – about 300 of them shared how they would react if their campus announced that the fall semester would go online. A lot of the comments and the way they categorize this – first of all, this strikes home for me – is students saying they would be annoyed if they have to continue living with their parents. Then there’s also they mentioned panic, particularly from a STEM student who has multiple lab courses being very upset. This is the one that’s got to worry schools the most, cancel enrollment and wait another year. And that’s probably one of the scenarios that it’s the most concerning. But it is interesting to hear how students describe it. Even within this small sample set.

Kevin: Agreed. And I think some of the key issues that we’re maybe not paying attention to, students are aware that the learning experience this semester hasn’t been the highest quality, because faculty members and instructional designers are doing everything they can just to get the courses up so that students can complete the semester. I think the expectations for the fall are going to be much higher, and if they students get the perception that they won’t be a higher quality experience, then they will avoid it at all costs. It’s something that my colleague from the City University of New York mentioned as a potential risk as well. However, the other factors that come into play. The Barnes and Noble survey talked about the human connection. Fifty five percent were concerned about lack of social interactions. Those are things that are not being considered as much because we’re so focused on getting courses online. And you brought up a specific type of course, STEM courses, and there are a bunch of others, career and technical, education, clinical. All these different courses that have hands-on experiences as a requirement that really need a physical presence. I know that Jeanette brought up the concept last time of having the large classes potentially staying online and the smaller classes, and potentially the lab classes, being the ones that happen on a campus. My own wife is a former chemist and she was talking last night about how she can’t imagine what the workforce is going to have at the end of this experience, because there’s going to be a gap in student experience in labs. She had the opportunity to work at UC Santa Cruz and the professor’s lab, and it was one of the factors that helped her get a job in the biotech industry. She mused about something that made me wonder, does industry have a responsibility to start spinning up things like apprenticeships and internships to to fill that void?

Phil: That’s definitely has to be a challenge.

Jeanette, any anything else that struck you from either the Campus Sonar or the Barnes and Noble survey that he had mentioned?

Jeanette: I think there’s a couple of things that are running through my mind right now.

One is this idea that students are missing – it’s universal right now that people are missing – the social interactions that we all crave, especially for college students. That experience, being non-traditional or a traditional student, you still want that commodity that you’ve meet your classmates, with your instructors, with your professors. You’re looking for that mentorship and it’s not there right now online. I don’t think that it is impossible. It’s just – even with everything everyone’s doing – it’s not there. And I think that’s where schools need to be looking at, is seeing how they can maybe recreate those experiences. I’m really worried about, if I was if I was a student right now, what I would be worried about and fall is not only having my courses online, but if I’m not a local student, I’m usually supposed to be on campus and there’s another breakout. What’s going to happen? I think that’s going through the institutions’ minds. I’m sure it’s also the students that they don’t want to show up all semester in September, October, August, – whenever their school start is – and then by the end of October, November, being sent back home and have this whole thing happen again.

Are those students looking to skip the year? Are those students looking to maybe … there’s the big brand names that have always been really successful with online courses. I think the announcement this week of what Southern New Hampshire is doing is remarkable. I think it’s a fantastic strategy on their part. If you didn’t see it, they’re offering freshman course for next year is free and a guarantee that whether you’re on campus, online or hybrid, it’s ten thousand dollars a year moving forward for your tuition. I think it’s those types of moves that are going to make people be more assured in their selection for colleges. I think it’s those types of things that students are looking for. And if you’re not a freshman, but you’re a sophomore, you’re going back to your second, third, fourth year, I think that’s the concern is not only what am I spending my money on, but what’s this experience going to be? Is my school prepared to give me the social interactions and the other support systems that I’m craving from my school, but also the education that I’m expecting?

Phil: Let me turn to a little bit more specifics for a while. One thing that was interesting to me – and it’s a small sample set, but it allows you to talk specifics – is that Kevin successfully got his own students commenting on his blog post, which gave us specific feedback on what they happen to think.

And as an example, as I’m reading their comments, one thing that came across to me is their perception of Zoom classrooms, where teachers have just taken their face-to-face and gone online with Zoom as the basis, there were a lot more positive comments about Zoom and that blog post comment thread than I was expecting. I don’t know if that surprised you, Kevin, based on who the students are, but that certainly jumped out to me, and at the very least it made me say, hey, we need to be careful about the assumptions that we’re making if we’re not listening to what students are actually saying. But did that surprise you at all, Kevin?

Kevin: A little, I would say. I think probably three or four out of the nine students who did participate in providing comments mentioned Zoom being helpful in some way. One said it decreased the classroom distractions, the distractions other students provide. Another mentioned that it increased the flexibility by being able to go asynchronous and reviewing the recordings because their sleep schedule had changed as a result of living at home. And some just like that social interaction that we brought up. One person did mention an equity issue that they realized some of their classmates didn’t have computers or internet access, advocating for asking students what they have at home. That’s something that I pushed in one of my blog posts recently, rather than asking every instructor to survey their students, institutions should be surveying the students once so that we have a consistent set of data that we can make decisions around how to support them.

Phil: Any other notes that came out of that comment thread because it’s actually pretty rich? These weren’t just quick comments that they made.

Kevin: A few things. One, they gave some great advice for instructors about the coursework itself, the learning experience. They asked faculty to make the coursework relatable. For instance, one said, use the pandemic so that I can learn about my surroundings and myself. Another said, focus on understanding quality rather than quantity. A lot of pushback against the extra work. Just because we’re online, faculty are providing more assignments, incorporating different learning approaches, providing work samples, because there’s no way to get strong explanations online from some of the instructors. Reducing the intensity of the assignments, not the goals, but the intensity. So those are some pretty good advice from the students. I would say one of the things that’s supported by some of the surveys out there is the need for some student support. They want it to be easier to contact staff on campus, and they’re having a really hard time finding out how to do so. That’s something that institutions really need to work on this – how to increase the visibility of student support staff and make sure that they can be reached in a distance capacity.

Phil: On that previous point you were making, I find that interesting about students giving advice to instructors. Jeanette had mentioned earlier in this episode about students as consumers, and that’s sort of a fraught term. And I think it can get in the way sometimes, as educators think about this, is there’s a concern that we’re trying to consumerize education and make it purely transactional and not based on deeper learning. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of merit to that view. However, I think it can also make it too easy for faculty, for staff or instructional design to not listen to student input, such as what you just listed on valuable suggestions. The examples that you shared, Kevin, those are not just simplistic, consumer oriented. It sounds like the students really were being thoughtful – these are things that would help me learn and help my engagement with the topic and where it is. To me, that’s a good example of where we could do a better job of listening to students. We don’t want to go to the point of just asking their sentiment, no depth to it, but there’s a lot that we can learn. Even instructors, by listening to the people that we’re teaching,

Kevin: Agreed. Again, I’ll go back to the premise that I proposed earlier, which is make sure the students are prepared. We just happen to have a class of 50 students where the focus of that class is learning how to learn. And not every student has done that. They may be reacting in a way that some of these students did as well. They love more leniency with deadlines, more flexible exam schedules, so they can take it within a 24- or 48-hour period instead of at a specific time. But as you mentioned, there were some pretty thoughtful responses and the prompts that I provided them in a long discussion forum in my class. They specifically pulled examples from what they’d been learning in the class about learning and put it out there for faculty as a suggestion. I’m hopeful that we’ll see more of that. And that’s the call I made, that request for increased student perspective in the planning that we’re doing for fall.

Phil: These students were ringers. You had this whole thing set up.

Kevin: In some ways, but in some ways that’s what you want, right? People with enough knowledge and information about a topic to give valuable feedback, as opposed to what you might hear sometimes on the news soundbites from people who are just reacting emotionally without really thinking about. The topic itself.

Phil: On the opposite side – and what I mean by opposite is instead of just individual students with well-thought out answers but more of a broader survey approach of students – it seems like there are more examples right now of surveying high school students, high school seniors in particular, and figuring out are they going to enter college in the fall or not.

What we’re not hearing enough of yet are surveys of current college students, at least surveys that are shared so that the community can learn. And a recent one from Simpson Scarborough, they surveyed both high school students and existing college students, and they gave broader based views. Some of the examples there were interesting to me. They looked at their perception of the schools, COVID-19 response and communication in general. Like the question, how do you feel your college or university is handling the COVID-19 outbreak? Twenty one percent of current college students said excellent. Forty one percent said good. Twenty nine percent said fair, and only 8 percent said poor. But in general, it seems like students’ appreciation of what colleges and universities are going through is they’re saying, hey, you guys are handling this well in general. It even goes into the communication they felt. Thirty seven percent that the college communications are excellent, and 36 percent are good.

Yet at the same time, if you ask them what’s your overall impression of the school? The majority of them are saying that their perception of their school is getting worse. And there was one interesting crosstab saying, for the students who said that their schools had good or excellent communications, 32 percent of those students said their opinion of the current school has gotten worse. It’s not great, but it’s out there. But if you now take the subset of students who rated their school communications as poor, sixty seven percent of those students said that their opinion of the current school has gotten worse.

That difference really highlights the importance for an institution of having a good open communication channel with students and frequently and regularly letting them know what’s happening, because that is going to impact what schools think about, I mean what students think about their school, which obviously impacts whether they’re going to go back to it. Jeanette, any other did that surprise you at all? I mean, I know it’s high level views, but anything from The Simpson Scarborough survey that jumped out at you, any surprises?

Jeanette: My take away from the those surveys were that especially at the time – and I think we don’t know who those students were and what their individual circumstances were – but it seems like there was just a level of frustration of either lack of communication or how things were rolled out. I think you equal that with, students having been kicked off campus really quickly. Phil, you mentioned your daughter and some of the frustrations just where they were asked to leave campus right away, and there’s dorm rooms full of their full belongings with really no communication about when to pick up their stuff. I think a lot of the survey that we’ve seen reflects those frustrations, with institutions were doing the best they could. I think faculty are doing the best they could. What I’m interested in seeing is hopefully some of these students will be surveyed again at the end of the semester, and we’ll have a better sense of what their thoughts were, and their feelings were around that. I think that’s really going to be telling for summer courses if anyone is doing that. And certainly, for the fall.

Phil: We would like to get deeper in to particularly with the survey and the data, and there’s some demographic questions. What type of school they go to that impacts how to interpret some of this data? It’s part of that. We’ll give just a little bit a little teaser – Top Hat has run a survey and gotten responses for more than 3000 students, and they’ve asked us to work with them, that we can look at the survey results and help them with the description of the survey so that it comes across fairly, and it removes some of the potential or perception of bias on their part. They’re obviously an EdTech vendor, even though the survey itself did not at all ask about their product.

I mentioned this, that this is going to be coming up within  the next week or two where we will have this survey available, and we are going to have the opportunity to look at the details that they collected so that we could do a deeper set of analysis on a student survey. And I’m looking forward to that. I think that some of the themes that we’ve mentioned here, I think that we see in the Top Hat survey, but there’s a lot of additional data I think we’ll be able to pull out of that as we work with them. That’s something that should be coming up soon and would love to share that with you. Overall, we want to point out just how important it is to get the student perspective. I’ll remind people that part of the situation is getting ready for the fall. This is such a big challenge for schools with so many unknowns. And the last thing we should be doing is doing that without getting multiple perspectives to make effective decisions and students. As Kevin has pointed out in his blog post, their perspective is crucial as we do this planning.

We’ll look forward to going into more detail once we get additional survey data. And we also look forward to covering some of the institutional decision-making that we’re starting to see in another episode about whether schools go online face to face or some hybrid mix of them going into the fall 2020. We’re starting to see more news reports about what schools intend to do. And we’d like to jump into that and describe it accurately and explore that subject. Expect both of those topics coming up in an episode soon. Thank you very much.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the an overlooked aspect of the COVID response from higher education. Beyond traditional face-to-face models, and fully online models, there is a vast middle ground of hybrid – the combination of face-to-face and online components. Added this is the concept of Hybrid Flexible as shared in in this blog post.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome, everyone. It’s great to talk again. And it’s been an interesting week and a half since we did our pilot episode to work out the podcast issues. And here we are, yet another week into the shutdown. How are you guys holding up?

Jeanette: Doing pretty good, I think. I’m surprised that I just realized this marks the sixth week that my kids have been out of school, which seems fast and slow at the same time. But, you know, I think that there’s some maybe sadness that sort of kicking in at the end of your school year. Things are happening, but also just a level of comfort of being home as well. It’s kind of a mixed bag at the Wiseman the household. How about you, Kevin?

Kevin: I think my big problem is I don’t give myself time in a regular circumstance.

And, you know, I’m working on a book about online teaching right now that we’re trying to get to the publisher. Every free moment that I’m not on a Zoom call or doing work for a client is spent doing some other form of work.

Even yesterday, I worked all day. Really nothing has changed much except for not as much business travel.

Phil: But as for myself, I’m the same way trying to deal with a lack of business travel and wishing my family the best in the meantime. Today, what we wanted to talk about is that it seems like there’s been a pretty broad consensus since we last talked that the Fall 2020 academic term in the Northern Hemisphere in particular is now really looking to be in question, that it’s not at all safe to just assume that schools will be back to their normal method of delivery where they’re free to do fully face to face with no restrictions for the fall.

And I’ve definitely noticed a pretty strong recognition of this point, and that’s led to some interesting conversations.

But one thing I’m noticing that isn’t being discussed enough is hybrid education and the possibility of a partial reopening situations, where a school, certain parts of their activity can be done face to face, but certain parts are going to need to be online.

And the challenge of trying to figure out what is the right mix for a school to take, particularly given the fact that there are still so many unknowns about what the reopening are going to look like. And that’s something I’d like to explore in more depth today. But before we get started on what schools are doing, I’d like to check in with both of you.

Have you what have you noticed with the online public commentary or are you noticing the same trend about online versus face to face and not enough about hybrid or what are you guys seeing?

Kevin: It’s only just starting to hit the list serves I frequent in terms of people starting to think about the summer for teaching and the summer for professional development to prepare people for the fall. And you know, I don’t think there’s been enough consideration about the formats other than I think people are preparing to help faculty with a more intentional online presence. And not even considering what you’re hinting at, which is the possibility that even if we go back to the classroom, some students won’t be able to get back to campus for travel restrictions or won’t feel safe.

And when we get to that topic about hybrid, I’m going to insert the concept of hybrid flexible. And I’ll talk about that more when we get to it.

Phil: I like that. Having a teaser thrown in there. Jeanette, how about you? What have you been saying with online conversations, both in terms of recognition that we can’t make safe assumptions about the fall and in terms of whether the conversation is nuanced enough about the different options?

Jeanette: You know, I’ve seen more. I think I’ve been looking at more communications maybe from the instructor level and not as much in that administrative level or maybe even an instructional designer online development. And it seems like instructors that I’ve been reading and following seem to be in somewhat denial of what’s happening. You know, I think they’re thinking that there’s and these are the ones, I think the instructors that maybe don’t have as much experience of teaching online, that they think that, you know, the online transition in March didn’t go smoothly. Some recognition of see how maybe this could work for them. I think I’m seeing frustrations and some of the platforms, especially depending on what a mess they’re using some frustrations on those platforms. But then in terms of fall reading is a lot of people talk about and seems registrations happening for fall. A lot on campus right now. They’re seeing their classes start to fill up and especially those intro classes. And they’re kind of thinking that business, it might be business as usual is surprisingly what I’m saying more than I’m not. And I think that there’s going to be maybe a shock for some of those people fall depending on what happens. I guess, you know, again, there’s a lot of unknowns, but it makes me worry a little bit for those friends of mine.

Phil: Well, one thing that I’ve noticed and you were actually the first one who pointed it out so clearly to me and it got me thinking about it, Jeanette, was if you go more into the planning side, you mentioned just now the intro courses. You were the first one that said to me … If I could easily see it that the intro classes, you’re going to have to be online, but maybe the seminars or smaller sections, that’s what can be done face to face. How did that strike you – or tell us more about that idea when you first thought about it.

Jeanette: I mean, I’m just sort of thinking about planning. And it just seems like if you went to a fairly large school or university, you remember those intro classes and they’re packed and they’re full. And it’s the theater scene usually.

And that’s what’s the first thing that we’re closed down. And that doesn’t seem like if we’re still trained social distance in some way, or at least be careful with it, it’s those classes that they’re going to have a harder time with being able to have in person and that those we’re going to be the ones that are going to go online. I guess I think there’s a lot more resources already prepared for those courses from the publishers, from the course development vendors that we know of where it might be. Also, a little bit easier transition for those courses.

To have them happen online, that it would be for upper level, master’s level courses where the work on the instructor is going to be much. It’s going to be much heavier lifting. They’re going to have to possibly be more synchronous classes, which are going to work as well for the students that aren’t in the same time zone.

It just seems like that might be where they’re going to have to go. You know, and I think it’s not only them thinking about what’s going to happen for middle school and high schools, which I know we are more in Higher Ed. But it seems like how are they going to manage all of the class changes?

It just seems like there’s too many people in these big schools to be moving around in closed areas. That’s sort of how I was thinking of it.

Phil: I think it makes perfect sense. And I guess just following up on your previous comment and I don’t know if you’ve talked to enough people, it makes me wonder if there’s a difference among teachers. If the people who are used to teaching large introductory classes is that subset more accepting and dealing with what might happen in the future. And whereas there is another who tend to teach more upper division classes. Is there a difference on the teacher level on what they’re thinking about or assuming it’s going to happen come the fall time?

Jeanette: The ones that really enjoy the upper division courses I think are more likely. They like that seminar class. They like being able to talk to their students in person. I think there’s more mentoring happening and a lot of cases at that level. And I don’t think they’re hoping that those are going to happen in person. I think the entry level courses, the professors I’ve been talking to, I think are trying to figure out how they can maybe rely on the teachers a little bit more to help in a system with the online course. If that happens, knowing that they can’t do it all themselves, especially maybe the one on one emails or discussions that are happening on the side.

I just I’m a little bit concerned for those people who are thinking this is all going to be over in the fall and not prepared for what could be at least partially online fall semester.

Phil: Kevin, what are you hearing particularly of the professional development work that you do?

Kevin: Well, right now, like I said, it’s it’s early days and people are starting to realize that they need to plan, but they haven’t done the planning and they’re waiting on others the same way. Students in small groups and online courses wait for somebody to make the first post I call it. The online discussions are the same as high school dances phenomenon where you need to see someone on the dance floor before you go do it yourself.

People are asking for ideas and they ask the rest of the world at large.

What are you planning? I can put together a list and steal your ideas. Beg, borrow, steal. That’s the motto and the mantra. But to tonight’s point, you know, at San Francisco State, when I was there full time, we worked with a professor of one of the largest classes on campus, an intro to marketing class. And he had this challenge where he the contract with the local theater near campus broke down so he couldn’t fit a thousand people in one room anymore. We were doing all these things like have TV’s and alternate rooms. And finally, we tried this hybrid flexible thing that I talked about where his thousand students dropped to about 150 in person, which could be spaced six feet apart in a big enough room if it were done in a way that provides maximum flexibility for students to choose how they participate. And in normal settings, non-covered era settings, again, around 15 percent of the students chose to come in person. The rest either chose to watch the lecture live while it was being recorded or watch it asynchronously after it had been recorded. And then they all participated in the online activities that everybody participated in, whether it be quizzes or discussions. To me, that’s the direction we need to consider because it provides flexibility for the instructors. If they start online and move to the classroom, start in the classroom and move online or we just don’t know what’s going to happen. It could be this toggling back and forth if they’re truly going to throttle, how many people are allowed into large settings where people can gather? Groups of 10 to 50. It gives us our best opportunity of success and not having a disruptive experience like we had in the spring.

Phil: And I really like the flexibility part of that, because one thing you know, one thing we’ve been calling out is we see continued turmoil in the fall. And part of that’s just due to the nature of code.

It might be people are talking about flare ups that might happen or there might be an ease and rules and allowing certain situations, let’s say a classroom. You know, we’re six feet distancing is the rule. But then if somebody, you know, test positive in the fall. Trust me, that situation is going to change on a dime. Flexibility seems to be such an important factor that we’re not just preparing for face to face or preparing for online. But we’re preparing to go back and forth as needed. That flexibility seems to be just a real key factor for all planning exercises coming in the fall time.

Kevin: Well, and I would and just to emphasize, Brian Beatty from San Francisco State, where I teach is the one who came up with the concept. But when we talk about flexibility, the context you just provided is institution centric flexibility, whether or not we go in the classroom or go online. And regardless of what happens at the institution level, that the point of hybrid flexible or what I called in my blog post hybrid flexible is the concept of giving the students the choice of whether or not they go online or stay face to face, because in some cases we may see a return to the classroom, but not every student can return. Giving the students the choice of whether or not they attend online, synchronously, in-person, synchronously or online asynchronously. It provides the greatest amount of opportunities for students to succeed. It follows the principles of Universal Design for Learning as well, of which I’m a big fan.

Phil: Well, that’s why I hadn’t really thought about that. But Universal Design for Learning that seems to be a useful concept that frequently gets overlooked, gets overlooked by me, and that it certainly has been a key element for addressing accessibility requirements and challenges in the past. But now it has the opportunity to also address what we’re going to be seeing, particularly in the fall time with this flexibility, need for flexibility. Why is it that that’s still not a well-known framework, if you will, for looking at this? That just sort of confuses me, just seems to be an underutilized resource, if you will.

Well, like my thinking is and people see the work in framework, and they choose not to follow it. Universal Design for Learning implies that you’re providing multiple pathways for learners to succeed, which means you’re doing multiple amounts of work for each part of the instructional process. You’re providing instructional materials in multiple formats like reading. Michael Wesch from K-State reads and records all of the text in his class so that students who are on public transportation need to wash the dishes after putting the kids to bed. They can still listen to the readings almost like a book on tape. That’s a he’s really thinking about the student experience, which very few instructors do. And he makes it so that students can download everything they need for the week with one download that’s light so they can stay asynchronous and offline.

Phil: Jeannette, you and I have talked to at least two different groups recently where it hits on this idea where Kevin brought up. He said, hey, Phil, you’re talking about the institutional perspective, but there’s also the student perspective of flexibility you get to choose. And that raises the issue about how we’re dealing with a very complex thing here. How do we deliver higher education in unprecedented times. This idea of hybrid could be cut in many different ways. It might be in terms of large lecture classes or large lecture portions of the class versus discussions. But there are other ways to divide this up as well. I’ve seen one from, I believe, Alex Usher the Higher Education Strategy Associates. He was talking about lab courses where he could foresee schools doing the theoretical parts of the work in the fall and pushing lab portions into the spring when we might have more time to be ready to do labs. What are some of the other ways that you’ve heard described?

Where you could sort of divide up the face to face and online if you’re taking a hybrid approach, in particular if you want to maintain some flexibility.

Jeanette: You know, aside from doing, I think the entire upper level courses. I think there’s been some.

I’ve seen some discussion of those intro courses, maybe need to take more of the the small group that you see for like an early entry level English one on one class or usually see those as being much smaller, but at typically like a T N level that they’re just not going to be the large courses. I’ve seen a little bit of that. I think it also leads to the flexibility discussion of, you know, what we’re seeing as could potentially be a really large recession coming up or even depression. And typically, when we see those, there’s this push to go and get extra education online.

I think that’s you know what, that flexibility and a worry that I think with the recession. It could be that we get out of it very quickly if people go back to work.

But you’ve already invested so much money into some education, having that flexibility – the ability to either go online and finish up the course or go in person – will add to some potential revenue drivers for schools because they’re able to really market and serve their students that maybe decided to get some education online, how to go quickly back to work and can’t be going to class.

Kevin: Well, and to piggyback on what Jeanette said, Usher and the Higher Education Strategy Associates, also pointed out that micro- credentials may become bigger than we’ve seen in the past because people aren’t quite sure what the future looks like. They don’t want to invest in a long-term program like an MBA, but they might go and get six or eight week my credential and something that will advance them either in their career path or toward some sort of lateral move. I wouldn’t be surprised if some things pop up that help people become more proficient at working remotely. Virtual teamwork in that kind of thing.

Phil: Let’s come back to the professional development aspect again is there’s a lot you know, we’re talking about these flexible models. We’re talking about hybrid models, we’re talking about universal design where you have different pathways and preparing different pathways.

Everything we’re talking about here just further clarifies what a big challenge we have and preparing instructors, instructional designers, TAs, everybody who’s going to be working to do the instruction portion. And it’s at a time where there are already stressed out. If you’re school, this is the challenge you have to face, but it can’t be viewed just simply as a binary. Are we going to be online? Are we going to be face to face? But how can we be in-between in a way that fits our student population? And how do you be prepared for it when it might change during the middle of the term? There’s just a lot of preparation that the schools are going to need to be ready to do from the instruction side and from the learning side, from the students’ side.

If somebody is bringing up these options of, hey, what if you do it with multiple pathways or what if you do it with a hybrid flexible model? Would that be viewed as more or less work? Is that more daunting or less daunting from an instructor perspective?

Kevin: Think a little of both. I think the key thing is what I normally promote is building over time, which we don’t have or building with others, which we do have. If everybody is doing this type of work together, then we can create orientations for students to become more proficient online learners once at the campus level, instead of instructors forced to create their own orientation modules on their own. Even better if we can do it at the district or system level. It’s done once for let’s say in California’s case, one hundred and fourteen community colleges can leverage one orientation. But in terms of the concept of building flexibility into your course because they did some work this spring, then the reusability of the objects that they created as it becomes an important part. And it’s actually one of the four principles of hybrid flexible. The concept on the teacher side is that they need to create a ‘many hands makes light work’ mentality, split up as much as they can pull and other people on the student support side. I advocated in my most recent blog post that they start using work-study money to pay veteran online learners to become mentors to newer online learners so that they aren’t struggling. Because we do know in these large classes the ones that Jeanette has promoted as the ones that should go online in the fall regardless. Those are the ones that have a MOOC-like feel and have a higher level of drop off students who don’t feel they can succeed. Maybe because they don’t feel like they’re part of a community, they’re a part of a virtual cattle call.

Phil: You packed quite a bit in there that I think would be useful to sort of unpack a little bit and take some time to talk about. We’ll set that up as a future episode to go through this hybrid flexible model on the different aspects of it.

I don’t want to just glance past it quickly. We’ll definitely cover it in the blog post, as Kevin has already done. But we’ll also explore this in more detail on an upcoming episode.

Our next one, however, is I actually want to talk much more about the student perspective, what they’re already seeing in the transitions. For our next episode, we’re going to talk more of the student perspective of what’s working and what’s not working and how that’s going to impact us. But we’ll also line up this discussion more on the hybrid flexible model. But for now, we’re still in an area with a lot of unknowns, but that means that we need to be prepared for it.

It’s very important to think not just face to face or online, but to think about hybrid, to think about different ways to set that up. Thanks for joining us today and we will catch you in future episodes.