Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss anecdotal information on how the Fall 2020 term is going for students in particular. In a word, disappointing. We need to hear what they are saying and focus on the reality of current courses.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Links:

Transcription:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss higher education as we adapt to the COVID pandemic and what it actually means to colleges and universities today. I’m here again with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman.

We’re going to be looking at now that we’re into the fall term, a couple of weeks for the semester-based schools and about to start for most of the quarter-based schools, were already getting firsthand reports back from the field, if you will.

This is a little bit different. We created a page on the MindWires site to capture student surveys because we think it’s important to get student input on what’s happening here. Instead of taking a survey approach, it seems more appropriate to hear some more firsthand stories and attempt to get some empathy for what people are going through. Students, faculty, and also support staff.

There’s a series [00:01:00] of resources that have been valuable, certainly to us, that we’d like to discuss. The EdSurge, they have a podcast series that is doing student diaries. They call it Pandemic Campus Diaries, where they’re talking to faculty and students, and they’re giving audio diaries of what’s actually happening in the classroom. Kevin has a colleague who started the Scholarly Teacher and that has some student essays that we’d like to discuss. From the support staff side, the TopCast podcast that comes out of the University of Central Florida with Kelvin Thompson and Tom Cavanagh, that had a fascinating episode recently looking at messaging and what they’re having to go through to communicate to internal and external stakeholders.

What we wanted to talk about today is what are we actually hearing from people on what classes [00:02:00] and life is like this fall during the pandemic. Welcome, Kevin and Jeanette. It’s great to have you guys, as always. Kevin, to get started. I hope you’re enjoying the blue skies that we’re finally having in California.

Kevin: I won’t sing the song, but I am enjoying this.

Phil: After weeks of smoke from the fires, it’s actually nice to have normal type of weather. Jeanette, how are things in New Mexico for you?

Jeanette: They’re fantastic. I just picked up my bushel of freshly roasted green chiles from Lemitar, which is an even better place to go than Hatch. My entire house smells wonderful. Looking forward to chile peeling later today.

Kevin: I am green with envy.

Jeanette: Yes, it’s the house smells amazing right now, so really excited for that.

Phil: Yeah. The fall is the best time. When I used to live in Albuquerque, my favorite time there was [00:03:00] the fall. Unfortunately, you guys won’t to have the balloon fiesta and some of the normal activities, but still it’s a great time of year.

Jeanette: There’s nothing like fall in New Mexico, that’s for sure.

Kevin: Just as a side note, we had turkey burgers last night that I made with Anaheim Chiles from our garden. Now you’ve got me really jealous that you have a house filled with the chile smell.

Jeanette: Yeah, it’s pretty incredible. This chile that we have from Lemitar has a much higher sugar content that it makes everything sticky, which I know people don’t think of that with chiles. It’s amazing. 

Kevin: It sounds like you should be making alcohol from them. 

Jeanette: The people do. It’s kind of gross. There’s definitely a few brewpubs here just for the out of towners, I think make green chili beer. I don’t know who is drinking that, that’s like heartburn city. We avoid that stuff.

Phil: Turning to the topic of the day, but it’s really going to be [00:04:00] the topic of the next few months, what’s actually happening in colleges and universities. You guys have been doing some of the research on the resources that we mentioned, and by the way, we’ll list those in the show notes on the podcast so people can link to them and hopefully subscribe to the podcast EdSurge and TopCast as well. What are your initial impressions based on what you guys have been seeing over the past week, listening to students, faculty and staff?

Kevin: Disappointment.

If I can, I’d like to add another. The South Phoenix Oral History Project from South Mountain Community College is another series of podcasts, and they’ve been going since mid-March, documenting student perspectives, faculty perspectives and staff perspectives around what it’s like to be going through the educational experience during a COVID era. Shout out to South Phoenix Oral History Project.

I definitely was disappointed [00:05:00]. The very first person they spoke with on the latest EdSurge episode was from San Francisco State University, where I teach, and she said her teachers were not really understanding the life that she has with two kids, both of whom need attention while she’s trying to do her studies. With a campus that’s as dedicated to social justice and equity as San Francisco State, to have instructors who haven’t gotten prepared for the emotional and social sides of the academic experience over distance. It just means we have work left to do.

Phil: Just on that one, that was Marjorie at San Francisco State. It struck me part of what she was describing, not just not being tolerant of her, but I also heard a lot of isolation. She didn’t have good [00:06:00] ways to connect and get support and encouragement from peers due to this.

Kevin: Right.

Jeanette: I think that disappointment is a good word. I think that across the board, we’re realizing now, compared to the spring, that this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. I think that some of the disappointment and just sadness of missing out, especially missing out fall. Is there anything better than being on campus in the fall?

I don’t know. I think that’s amazing, no matter where you are. That’s not happening. The excitement of starting classes up, the new learning, that’s all sort of been tapered down. At least there’s a lot of students feeling like this is what we have to do and getting through it. Just having to really acknowledge from the student side, from the instructor side, and then I think depending on your age, the parent [00:07:00] side, that these experiences that you were hoping to have in higher education or even the K-12 experiences, you’re not having them. It’s disappointing.

Kevin: Also in that EdSurge episode, they had students who were going back to campus and expressed surprise that their instructors weren’t joining them in the classroom. They’re watching a Zoom lecture while being present, physically distanced apart from one another. One of the students they talked to did a kind of an informal poll with some of their friends. Three out of four were saying, if I had known it was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have come back to campus. To your very point, Jeanette, that the students have been telling us in these surveys over the last six months that they’re craving connection with their classmates, with instructors, and what do we give them? We give them come to a room and it’ll be a little bit like a movie theater, but not with any popcorn. [00:08:00]

Phil: Ironically, we just saw some friends late yesterday afternoon and their daughter, they just sent her off to go to New York City, to a university. Several weeks in, she’s had enough. This is not what she was looking for.

Jeanette: Was she a freshman?

Phil: Yes. Freshman. She’s looking to either transfer or just change what she’s going to do. It sort of echoes what you guys are describing. It’s just this disappointment. I knew that we would have the pandemic and I knew some of the risks that were involved, but I wasn’t expecting such isolation. I wasn’t expecting to sit here and only know my two or three roommates. Also the disappointment of how the school are supporting kids from a lifestyle, from the food that’s being delivered to dorms, from how they handle quarantine, et cetera. You add to [00:09:00] that the case that you mentioned, Kevin, at Purdue where you walked in and it was just a TA who had set up a Zoom watching session in there. The student even said there was more interactivity for the students who chose to do this online because they could do chat and breakout groups, whereas the students who were in the classroom, they even had it worse off than the students who were online. It just seemed like a lot of disappointment or reality is hitting in so many different ways.

Kevin: We should send that instructor the notes on HyFlex course design so they can create an equivalent experience for every student.

Phil: Yes. The first thing that hit me besides the isolation the students are feeling and the demotivation because of it, and that gets to student life well beyond just the classroom, but to focus on teaching and learning, which is more of our sweet spot of what we cover. The reality [00:10:00] is, and it’s anecdotal, this is not a survey or quantitative study, but everybody is talking about Zoom being the predominant medium that people are working through. The reality in so many cases, despite everyone’s intentions, is that what class means is Zoom or something similar to Zoom.

There was even Elena, from the EdSurge podcast, they were talking about how her teachers specifically were trying to replicate the in-person experience in Zoom. She was saying even down to the point of instead of using a white board application to write things down, they were doing it by hand and using a camera specifically so that we can try to duplicate the in-person experience. That, to me, is just such a problem that the dominant [00:11:00] mode is trying to duplicate in-person through synchronous Zoom usage. No matter how much we’ve talked about that being a very poor strategy, I think we have to admit that’s what’s happening.

Kevin: If you heard the University of Central Florida TopCast episode, they were talking about trying to help parents distinguish between remote emergency teaching and learning and online teaching and learning, when the parents and the students just think this is an online experience. I go on the Web and there’s something happening there.

The fact that they’re still trying to make that distinction speaks to the concept that you brought up, that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Something we all recognized in previous podcast episodes that you can’t make the leap from a fully face to face instructor to a fully online instructor with an emergency situation and six months of preparation. Faculty members devoted more [00:12:00] time than ever to professional development over the summer and tried really hard to get it ready. It’s not like they have years of experience doing this. That said, the fact that there aren’t more asynchronous activities, there aren’t more things to engage students, no matter where the students are located, that’s where some of that disappointment I felt at the beginning of this episode comes from, the fact that we haven’t done a much better job than we did in the spring.

Phil: One thing I want to add, if you go to the Scholarly Teacher website and there’s a post by a student at a community college talking about features of online teaching that support my learning. And this is again, it’s just an anecdote, but it should give us empathy to hear them. It’s right. It’s describing asynchronous activities and saying what helps me hands down the most helpful tools, a hosted help forum. You have weekly recap videos, you can post things. And then the second thing is [00:13:00] flexibility, accessing course content. And the quote is “the flexibility of choosing where and when I access content and complete coursework allows me greater control over the environment around me.” So this isn’t rocket science. We already know it, but we need to hear it as a community. That that’s that’s my concern is, I agree that there’s a marathon and we can’t expect faculty to change overnight and a course designed to completely change. But what I’m seeing missing is the empathy to look at what students in particular are going through and saying this is the reality. We need to hear what students are going through. And if it’s a marathon, we talk too much about the possibility of the quality of integrated design, online learning being so much better than emergency remote. And I 100 percent agree with that. But we need to face the reality of what students and parents [00:14:00] and teachers are going through.

Kevin: And it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Right. So if you’re familiar with I forget the name of his book, Tom Tobin wrote a book about Universal Design for Learning. And they had this plus one mentality where just pick one thing and try that for this next semester. So pick one way that you’re going to provide materials and an asynchronous fashion or pick one type of activity that’s going to help students feel more engaged.

Maybe it’s with Zoom. I just heard that over the weekend that Zoom is going to add in a new feature where students can join breakout rooms on their side instead of having to be assigned them from the host. So, you know, they’re hopefully there will be some ways where we can weave this together and have a gradual transition to play off the name of our podcast instead of this abrupt transition of like, OK, in a year’s time, we’ll get it right and by then we’ll be back in the classroom.

Phil: I would definitely agree with that. So [00:15:00] as people look at this, part of the reason I wanted to highlight these other podcast is for the empathy’s thing up standpoint. Listen to what people are actually going through. Let’s try to understand where their pain points are, but also see where there are these little wins. And we need to make changes soon. I mean, and not, you know, not going from zero to one.

But as you were saying, Kevin, we need to have within the courses and even outside of courses some changes happening this fall. And it’s going to have a big impact on student retention, in my opinion.

And the thing I guess that’s frustrating to me is just how many of these lessons we already know about, but we’re just not seeing them widely adopted or at least not getting adopted more widely as I would have hoped for this fall.

So Jeanette, to put you on the spot -are [00:16:00] you disappointed are you surprised in the things that you’re hearing from the students or from other sources? I know you have a lot of good contacts.

Jeanette: You know what, I don’t think surprise is the right word. You know why is because I think that, like we were talking about, there just wasn’t the planning. Everybody was sort of playing the game of chicken, I think, over the summer, rather than going like, you know what, let’s just plan for it instead. And if we can’t go back to the classroom, that’s going to be our default. But right now, starting in April, start planning for fall, that you’re going to be your courses are going to be online.

And here are the concepts that you need to understand and you just have to do it. That didn’t happen. So that’s again, disappointing. Hindsight is 20/20, right? So that that we can go back and say people should have been doing this. I think everybody there was like some wishful hopeful thinking that everything was going to be better for the fall, even though I think we all knew probably it wasn’t going to be. [00:17:00]

I know we were hoping it would be. That’s where it’s just again, it’s disappointing because we didn’t see that.

I will say that, you know, again, to prop up New Mexico a little bit, I think that there were really science backed decisions that were being made by the state. And in fact, the state was just featured in Scientific American because of how it was not political. It wasn’t economics, it was just science. And the scientists were leading the decisions being made in the state. And because of that our COVID numbers stayed really low. And both in the K-12 or just the Department of Ed here at the state pretty much made those decisions fairly early on that there likely weren’t going to allow people to go back. And I do think that that’s been reflected in the things that I’ve seen here personally, just with my students in public schools and my friends that are professors at the university. The enrollment has been [00:18:00] up then compared to, I don’t know that officially from the UNM data, but I do know from my friends that are teaching all of their classes, their intro classes have more students than them now than they did last fall as Zoom classes. So I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job. You hear the disappointment for the lack of tradition – not being on class, but you don’t necessarily hear the disappointment from the lack of learning. So I do think that things were handled a little bit better here. So those are my experiences just directly. I just feel like now things have got to be better planned out, and our instructors and the administration helping to have that happen across the country and globally. And I don’t I don’t know if that’s what’s happening. I think it’s still become it’s pretty fragmented on how people are working.

Phil: I would certainly agree about the planning and about how too few schools or states [00:19:00] or what have you seriously started doing this planning back in April when they should have been. And that’s a major factor. I think there’s another factor, which is higher education’s resistance to have minimum standards, if you will. And I know that’s a dangerous concept, but I’ll give you a personal one. My youngest daughter, she’s a senior at a Jesuit university. And it turns out that one that Kevin Kelly has some firsthand experience working with faculty development with them. Actually to tell the story without using the school’s name, Kevin, describe, could you just sort of describe the development and the categorization of courses that you were saying that? I wanted to describe what we’re seeing it from a student perspective.

Kevin: Sure. If you mean preparing faculty to teach online, over the summer, we did some workshops for faculty to help them teach summer courses. So it was a pretty fast turn.

Around in [00:20:00] late spring and the differentiation was if faculty were to complete this training related to how they could conduct asynchronous activities online, then their course would have a designation that would allow students to know that there were asynchronous elements compared to the type of class that Jeanette has been describing, where it’s primarily a synchronous reproduction or facsimile of a classroom experience. And so they would have a different designation and the and the course catalog so that students would know what their experience would be and could make decisions based on if they’re an essential worker and can’t be at a specific time and place on Zoom, then, you know, they might aim for those asynchronous courses.

Phil: So looking at it, and my understanding from talking to you, was the fact that, all right, for your course to be designated this way, which implies [00:21:00] a set of training and quality standards, not not formal quality, but there is sort of you’ve gone through the training aspect. 

Kevin: And they also had their course reviewed with an instructional designer or a better said, a peer instructor who had been doing it for years and years. So it wasn’t just, hey, I’ve participated in this training, but I’ve also redesigned my course respectively.

Phil: So knowing that that’s happened, you know, my reaction just hearing that would be that’s really good effort to push things along to try to enforce some level of minimum quality. The course review process from a student perspective, what my daughter saw is through the rostering system, you do see if it’s fully synchronous or not. But there’s no communication to students that what this means for certain categories is that teachers [00:22:00] have gone through training and that there has been peer or instructional review of the course. So the implied quality.

She has a course, at least one course this term that’s fully synchronous. All she knew about it was the synchronous aspect, not the not the quality aspects. But so that means that she’s got one course where it is up to the faculty, they chose to do it fully synchronous. Every session, just like face to face. Well, this is a school that has students in Asia who are now from home being having to log in at 2 a.m. to watch. Of course, she’s got a friend who’s down in L.A. who lives in a small house with siblings that share share a computer. And they have no choice but to work within the synchronous environment. And to me, I guess it’s as a parent is I, I get the [00:23:00] frustration, because you look at it and you can talk all you want about faculty development. What we’re living in reality includes experiences like this where it comes across like I’m just not willing to deal with changes to my course or changes to what the educational experience is. And it’s very frustrating. And I think that we miss that frustration a lot because our natural tendency is to say, well, it doesn’t have to be that way. But the fact is it is that way in way too many cases.

Kevin: Yeah. And I don’t know if we can identify all the reasons behind the decisions. Some of them might be just pure I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing and some of it may be technological hesitations or just lack of readiness on the part of the instructor. So I don’t want to take away from the fact that other factors may play a role in those decisions. I do want to point out that that same university [00:24:00] that you’re talking about, I also got to work with them on one of the few student facing preparedness efforts where they created a course to help students get ready for a virtual experience in the fall and leveraged a number of student voices.

Over 20 students were involved in creating this course. And so I felt that along the lines of the podcasts and the essays that we’ve been describing as part of this episode, we’re producing the fact that they made an effort to have near peer coaching where students talked about what their fall, their spring experience was like, gave advice about how to prepare for the fall directly to their classmates and colleagues. That that was exciting.

Phil: I’m not trying to assign blame. I guess I’m trying to call out the viewpoint that we need to have, we need to be careful about talking too much about, hey, we’re doing these things, we’re not quite sure what happened, [00:25:00] and there were good intentions. And we need to do a little bit more of saying, let’s look at it through student eyes, and it gives us a harsher view a lot of times. And that’s what I like about the EdSurge podcast. It’s unvarnished. We’re saying this is what I’m experiencing. So I’m not trying to blame any one person or any one group, but I think it’s so important that we actually start, particularly this fall, seeing what are students experiencing in reality and how can we have that Plus one mentality that you mentioned? What are the things that we should be fixing, not even waiting until the end of the term? Let’s start addressing these pain points now. Make as many improvements as we can.

Jeanette: You know, and to follow up on that, I think that people, again, very patient and understanding in the spring. I think probably less so now. But still, there were things that we didn’t know as spring rolls around spring 2021 And some of these things haven’t been [00:26:00] figured out, and things aren’t moving more smoothly and things are still primarily online. There’s no more excuses at some level. You know, people really need to be on the ball. And I think that’s not so much not necessarily administration or staff and faculty, but the administration needs to really step up at this point and start requiring things and training. And I know that there’s so much being put on them in terms of budget and just a lot of pressure. But if it doesn’t happen, I just I don’t see students staying with a lot of these universities. The return on investment is just too low. And you start looking at those schools that really have been able to move online effectively and looking at their pricing and is if you’re going to be online anyway, where are you going to go to that’s going to give you the best education for that medium?

Kevin: Well, and if you saw the Educause quick poll that was released yesterday or today, the campuses, the stuff on campuses that made their decision [00:27:00] as early as May had a much higher feeling that their campus was prepared for fall then. And it’s a linear path. If you look at May, June, July and August and every month, the level of preparedness goes down. And so, to your point, Jeanette, we already know the Cal State University system, the L.A. County Community College District, both have decided to be virtual in the spring. And so, you know, they’re going to have that extra amount of time to be preparing now, even though they’re both already virtual now, they can hopefully get instructors to the point where students are telling EdSurge, my instructor was really giving me grief that I hadn’t done X, Y or Z. Hopefully those students will be saying, I’m so glad that my instructors understand my life experience and what I’m going through.

Phil: Yeah, hopefully we’ll have more like [00:28:00] the story saying, hey, these are the things that are helping me the most in my course from them, from the Scholarly Teacher. I don’t know how they and how your colleague picked the student for that essay, but I hope that we see a lot more of those types of stories. Hey, here’s the plus one activity that really changed things and they added it in October. And boy, I wish I’d done it from the beginning, but this helped me out. So I agree. I hope we see a lot more of that.

Jeanette: I don’t know how much this has been discussed. I don’t think we’ve discussed it. But I there’s another piece of this that I wonder is from the student perspective and also from the instructor perspective, say things go back to normal, whatever that’s going to look like, how much education was lost, do you think, in  what could maybe three semesters, where the students really take those classes. They got a grade and they’re moving on. [00:29:00] But do you think we’re going to see ripple effects both from the K-12 space, just say seniors that are moving into the college situation, when we’re setting or maybe they didn’t get their writing in classes because of how it was set up and people, instructors and teachers were being really compassionate.

What I’m wondering what the ripple effects are going to look like for just the level of knowledge that’s being transferred at this point. Is that a bigger question?

Kevin: It is. And it speaks to what I encourage online instructors to do, which is to address the bell curve of readiness for your particular course, never mind readiness for online learning. And so that you have these sets of resources, let’s say a science instructor has links to Khan Academy videos that might supplement or provide a different way to learn a fundamental topic that you’re going to need in order to build in the following course or on the other end of the spectrum, you have a folder if you want to learn more. Here’s some interesting articles [00:30:00] that are things that you can use to get a deeper dive, but you’re you’re talking about something that’s critical. And I know K-12 parents have been talking about it over the summer, that they don’t know that their students, their children are going to be prepared for the level of work that they’re going to have in this fall because they missed so much school. And if the parents weren’t able to, because of work circumstances or anything else, help those students kind of catch up or do whatever activities they could to stay at grade level, then you’re going to have a lot of extra work to do to accommodate the needs of students who just aren’t ready for the level of work they’re going to be asked to do.

Jeanette: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, we see that. I think in the K-12 space, I have a daughter who’s taking Spanish and pretty much the Spanish instruction has amounted to Duolingo. So that’s it. Pretty much. And a very non compassionate teacher. So that’s like the one maybe downside that [00:31:00] we’ve seen. But what we have the resources to do it. So now we’re going to be hiring a Spanish teacher so that she makes sure that she doesn’t get behind when she does have to take that eventually in college. But we have the resources to do that. And I just feel like there’s other parents. And in the K-12 space, certainly what their students going into college, they’re not going to have that. And I feel like those students are going to really struggle.

Phil: We’ll find a lot more examples like this where we can make improvements and actually advance the field overall. But in the meantime, is really trying to emphasize how important it is to hear students in particular and what their experiences are. And so I’m thinking we should create a page just like we did with the student surveys over the summer. We should create a persistent page on the MindWires site that captures so many of these firsthand diaries and essays and stories and just make them more easily accessible for people who do want to hear what’s [00:32:00] happening.

Kevin: And we can redirect people back to some of the blog posts that I put together around those surveys were recommending that we talk to students, not talk about students diving into the social, listening with the campus sonar and other tools like that.

But yeah, I would say let’s either expand the existing page or create another one to capture that qualitative data as well as the quantitative data.

Phil: Well, I don’t know if I was able to duplicate Jeanette’s passion from the MindWires Musings episode earlier this week, but certainly it was fascinating listening to these stories. But as you guys said, very disappointing. And we really need to face reality. It’s time for the higher ed community to to take the next step and really listen to what’s happening and deal with it. But it’s great talking to you, too. And we will keep looking at these examples and create some resources that hopefully will help as people are doing the same thing. [00:33:00]

Kevin: See ya.

Jeanette: Thanks.

Earlier this month Phil asked a question on Twitter about the growing usage of (and pushback against) faculty training based on the Quality Matters Course Design Rubric. That question led to a rich discussion – both pro and con – on the usage of the QM rubric in the attempt to improve online teaching in Fall 2020. The QM staff requested that we help with an alternate forum for them to address some of the issues raised online.

This is the third in a special series of podcast episodes on an important topic as we try to migrate from emergency remote teaching to purposely-designed quality online education. Link to Jesse’s blog post on the subject.

  • 15A: Introduction of topic
  • 15B: Interview with Bethany Simunich and Brendy Boyd from Quality Matters
  • 15C: Interviews with Stephanie Moore and Jesse Stommel

Transcript:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss the transition that higher education has gone through and is going through due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m Phil Hill, and in this episode, I interview Stephanie Moore and Jesse Stommel to get a deeper discussion on the critical perspective of how Quality Matters and its course design rubric are being used in schools, particularly the spring and summer.

I’m here with Stephanie Moore, recently of the University of Virginia, but on her way to a new post with the University of New Mexico. A collaborator: I got the chance to co-write an article with Stephanie early on about the Covid transition. So it’s great to meet with you in person. Actually, I think this is the most live that we’ve met before, so it’s good to virtually meet, Stephanie.

Stephanie: That’s right. Good to meet you, too.

Phil: So were you surprised to see how much commentary came out, and [00:01:00] what was your impression of it?

Stephanie: Yeah, I have to admit, I was, too. I mean, in some ways, I guess I should say yes and no. You know, I know how faculty feel about quality matters, and it’s really a mixed bag. I think most of the folks who I know, who I would describe as seasoned educators who have a very clear sense of what they like to do in their classroom, they know themselves as educators. They know what they want to do. Those tend to be the folks who are more frustrated with it and feel like it binds them more than it supports them. Whereas there are faculty, especially those who are very new to online and typically those who are really new instructors like newly hired teachers, they tend to like Quality Matters more, in part because they feel like it gives them ideas and scaffolding and tools that they’re [00:02:00] just not familiar with anymore. So I think you get a mix of reactions that hinges largely on people’s experience and their comfort level with instruction and especially their comfort level and experience with teaching online as well.

Phil: And as usual, as with your writing, you just packed a lot into that space. I wouldn’t mind unpacking a little bit. First of all: what is it? “Frustrated with it”, and what does that mean in terms of Quality Matters? Within Quality Matters, the rubric versus all of the services of Quality Matters, but then also Quality Matters versus how institutions are applying it. So can you get that down a little bit?

Stephanie: I think the best way to maybe tackle it is to talk about how we had a conversation about it occurring when I was there in the Curry School of Education. When we sat down, and this was pre-Covid [00:03:00] when we sat down, to have a conversation about what does quality or effective online learning really mean for us. Our faculty asked me to lead a half day workshop on this, where I went through: Well, here’s what the research has to say. And we looked at Quality Matters, OLC, some other examples out there. And I had developed one in-house as well, because a lot of times it’s these are proprietary – you have to pay to use them. And I had been asked in a previous setting to develop something so that we didn’t have to pay for that. And it’s all anchored in the same research-based principles and things like that. And it was interesting watching the faculty react to all of these different pieces. They really like the in-house model that I had developed, but they felt like that was more of an articulation, of a vision of what is it that we really [00:04:00] want online learning to mean, and to be for the Curry School of Education. And they liked the idea of using that as an anchor for annual evaluations as well, that they felt like the way that that was articulated was more aspirational and visionary. But yet when it came down to the nuts and bolts about, ‘OK, so I’ve got to sit down and actually build my course, how do I get that done?’ They liked various aspects of Quality Matters and OLC, in order to scaffold them, to help them get that done, but only insofar as it fit into that vision.

And I think that captures the tension that we see and feel really nicely, that a lot of people feel like, you know, the what Quality Matters or OLC or others help with is the nuts and bolts, or the micro level details of how to build a course. A lot of institutions [00:05:00] end up using the Quality Matters rubric as the definition of excellence, as the vision for online learning, and I think that’s where that tension point comes on. So and I think that’s what you’re seeing in the in the conversations that were happening on Twitter, too, is a lot of people were saying, the way in which my institution uses, it actually binds my ability to design quality online learning, and the way that I really want to go about that. And I know Quality Matters, they don’t intend it to be that way. It’s not really designed to be that way. And yet that’s that’s how it’s getting used by administrations. And so in that regard, it’s like any other tool in that when administration or leadership starts to use a tool in a certain way, associations get made [00:06:00] with that tool.

And and I do feel I really feel for Quality Matters because I feel like they’ve got like the rubric itself is nicely anchored in research based principles. But they struggle with a message that there’s a singular way to design an effective online course. And those of us who have been teaching know that whether it’s online or face to face are blended, there’s no singular way. There’s no singular type of course, there’s no particular way to go about this. And I know based on their conversations, or conversations with them, that that’s not what they intend, and that they really struggle with that message. But yet that’s the impression that a lot of faculty have, is that ‘this is a particular type of online course, and maybe Quality Matters is great for that, but I really want to build a very different kind of course.’ [00:07:00]

And frankly, we see the challenge comes in with courses when you’re working with adult learners, and you want to give your learners a lot more autonomy around how the course gets structured, setting class expectations, choosing what you’re going to cover in class, structuring and sequencing that. So in graduate school in particular, which is where a lot of online learning takes place, faculty express real tension between their educational philosophies or epistemology and what they feel the Quality Matters rubric is suggesting they do instructionally.

Phil: I’m hearing two things, and they’re not contradictory, but I want to make sure I’m hearing both. On one hand, a large amount of the pushback comes from the way administrators use Quality Matters and use it as almost a QA process and [00:08:00] not holistically. But at the same time, the Quality Matters rubric does lend itself to a particular course design, set of assumptions. So it does contribute to the design, this way type of mentality. So am I hearing that both of those are happening?

Stephanie: I think that’s that nicely summarizes both my own experience and what I felt I was hearing in the conversations on Twitter as well. There was one colleague who posted how Quality Matters tends to suggest a very constructivist approach. And honestly, that’s not a critique we hear just about Quality Matters, but about instructional design broadly. That instructional design tends to privilege the instructors’ decisions about how to structure everything rather [00:09:00] than being a more participatory process. And so it’s not terribly surprising to me to hear that. But I do think that the field of instructional design broadly has for some time been in process of pivoting away from that instructivist sort of perspective. I think the other challenge here, percolating in all of this, is that there’s a there’s a class issue in innovations, and diffusion of innovations, that I think is going on here, too. And that said, the developers are the creators of an innovation, invent it one way and envision it being used one way, and then it gets put out into society or whatever context, and it gets used in a very different way from how the designer or developer intended it to be used. And we see that gap between designer or developer [00:10:00] intent and actual implementation all the time.

And and I do think that Quality Matters, just like any other sort of innovative or entrepreneurial entity has to really think about, ‘OK, how much ownership are we going to take over the implementation that’s going on and and whether or not that maps to what our vision was and how that’s affecting the perceptions and the branding of our product that we’ve created’ versus how much they they don’t want to want to get involved in that. So I think they’ve got a very interesting conversation internally to have right now. You know, I’m not sure I have specific suggestions, but I have a few thoughts on how that gets managed. But, I do think that I would like to see them be reflective [00:11:00] about this feedback that they’re getting and really think about how can we be different partners? Can we be better partners not just with the administration’s or the institutions, but with the faculty who are really the ones where the rubber meets the road? And what’s happening at that point of contact is not always a very happy experience.

Phil: So even if it’s not something, that you said, that they intended.

Stephanie: Exactly.

Phil: Then taking a role in hearing where the frustration is and seeing how they might be able to influence the implementation, as opposed to just looking back, saying, ‘well, that’s not what we said to do.’

Stephanie: Yeah.

Phil: This is taking a little bit different way. But although QM, they’re much bigger than just the rubric, but there is a centrality around the course design process as opposed to getting into the course facilitation and teaching.

Stephanie: Right.

Phil: And the very name of Quality Matters. [00:12:00] And it has this implication of quality comes from course design. So when you were at Curry or just in general, what’s your view of what role should QM play outside of course design, or what role do you see them playing more into the teaching and facilitation?

Stephanie: Boy, that’s a great question, because, when we sat down, and we were actually cutting the rubric and different things apart, and reorganizing and moving it around, which is fascinating to watch, right, how faculty were thinking about it, interpreting these different pieces? And so, what we ended up with was the the Quality Matters pieces that faculty wanted to retain really did end up in the course development phase. There wasn’t [00:13:00] anything that they felt was about the course implementation phase of things. Now, there are some pieces in there that I think actually are, like timeliness of responsiveness on the part of faculty, things like that, that all come at the point of implementation.

I think even that you get into some tricky spaces where if Quality Matters were to decide, you know what, let’s flush out the implementation phase of a course and provide some guidance around that, having written guidance myself around this, it’s very easy to start to map out guidance that can make every course look like a cookie cutter. And so I think whether they do that, or just focus on the development piece alone, I really think they need to think about how do we communicate diversity of opportunities, or diversity [00:14:00] of design ideas, to instructors to get to put more of a focus on imagination, or just simply a range of different approaches as opposed to a good course. Is this a good course? Broadly, those of us who know the research would say there’s some broad principles that certainly crop up for an effective online course versus an ineffective course. But those principles don’t start to drive a particular sort of design, whereas when you start getting into the nuts and bolts about, make sure you do this and make sure you do that, that that’s when you start driving things in a particular direction for courses. I’m not sure I answered your question, Phil..

Phil: It’s a conversation, right? It’s not a Q&A. So that is helpful.

Stephanie: And and that all evolves as a result of a very social process [00:15:00] where, you know, innovations aren’t the they’re not owned by the developer, by the innovator. You know, the people adopting it have a lot to say back. Yes. And a lot of input back into that. And so I think once you understand that, it just it just sort of is how things develop.

And so I think for an entity like QM, the best thing that they could do would really be to look at something like that and say, OK, this is how it goes. And rather than trying to fight the social process, what if we actually adopt that as our way of doing things, and we’re collaborative and iterative along with the very people that we’re trying to work with? And none of that is to suggest that QM is not thinking that way or anything. I think what I heard in response from Brenda and Bethany, ‘we’re very positive, very engaged.’ And I think that’s a healthy way to go on the dialogue. [00:16:00]

So with faculty, we are used to having shared governance. And so we’re not simply answering to administration. We want to have a say in how things go because we feel like it’s it’s part of how universities are structured. Some universities will push on this more than others. But as far as faculty, we believe in having a shared say in the vision for what what it is that we are trying to do, and how we are trying to move that forward. If you’re communicating to that group, to faculty, that you’re not listening, if administrators feel like, ‘fine, whatever, this free tool,’ faculty feel like you’re not listening, you’re actually missing half of the governance structure of universities. And if you take a defensive posture to [00:17:00] that, you really do risk excluding a very influential voice and the decisions that get made in institutions of higher education.

Phil: Sure. And I would add to that just adding in my own view, you’re also likely to trigger even more extreme reactions. So it’s not just missing out, but it’s a difficult area.

Stephanie: Yeah, the analogies that I hear a lot of faculty use to QM are not flattering at all. And so if they’re already frustrated with the tool itself and the way in which it’s being implemented, and then they voice that and what they get back in return is defensiveness. And you’re all wrong at it. It’s simultaneously denying our experiences, which, as you can tell, our very shared experiences across institutions.

Phil: Yeah, I would say the mischaracterization risk goes both ways. Part of the risk is people [00:18:00] mischaracterizing what QM intentions are, what they provide. But at the same time, there’s a risk of them mischaracterizing the pushback they’re hearing.

Stephanie: I think that’s a good summary.

Phil: But I really appreciate your time taking on this and hopefully this in a different modality will be useful. So I appreciate your your help on this.

Stephanie: Thank you. Phil, good to talk.

Next up is my interview with Jesse Stommel.

But Jesse, welcome. And if you could give the listeners, you know, let them understand where you’re coming from.

Jesse: Great. Great to talk to you. So I’m Jesse Stommel. I have been teaching for a little over 20 years, and my research focuses in higher education pedagogy, and specifically critical digital pedagogy. I am the executive director of Hybrid Pedagogy and an associate director of Digital Pedagogy Lab, and [00:19:00] it’s great to join you. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Phil: Well, thanks. Well, to jump into it, this is clearly a topic that you’ve been thinking about. In other words, you were not just reacting to a Twitter conversation. And as a matter of fact, you’ve written a blog post that I believe was associated with a with a talk that you were giving. But to jump into it, what started the whole conversation was that I was seeing a lot more pushback on the usage of Quality Matters in terms of schools that are trying to help their faculty move into more of a quality online approach. Has this been a topic that you’ve been following and looking out for a while, or is this a fairly new interest of yours?

Jesse: Conversations about Quality Matters are something that I’ve been a part of for over a decade, and in different ways, at different levels. I’ve been at institutions [00:20:00] that have adopted the Quality Matters rubric. I’ve given presentations where I’ve talked about and analyzed the Quality Matters rubric, and I’ve really worked on this from all different sides. I’ve been an instructional designer. I’ve been an online instructor. I’ve been a face to face instructor. I’ve been an administrator. And so I’ve really given a lot of thought to the Quality Matters rubric and how it’s used at institutions. I’ll just be really honest and straightforward and say that I’ve never been a big fan of the Quality Matters rubric. Doesn’t mean that I don’t think there are some really great people working at Quality Matters, and working to help faculty move online. And it also doesn’t mean that I don’t think that there are some wonderful faculty members and administrators who are using the Quality Matters rubric and effective ways. I’ll tell you that the germ of this conversation more recently for me was watching how institutions were employing and rolling out the Quality Matters rubric in response to the pandemic pivot [00:21:00] to online learning.

Yes. And ultimately, my concerns about Quality Matters got a lot greater in this moment because I just don’t feel like it is a good tool to help brand new online teachers respond to and engage in emergency remote learning. I feel like the tool, and we can get into this, but I feel like the tool is far too elaborate. And when I see faculty grappling with this tool in the midst of an emergent crisis, what I see is a lot of faculty feeling like they have no way forward. Like there’s no point of entry for them into this conversation about online learning and that the Quality Matters rubric frustrates that even further.

Phil: And just to provide some context, because I know it’s a complicated subject – on Twitter part of the thing was about the rubric, and then there was also the [00:22:00] issue of the broader professional development of Quality Matters – but then we get into how schools are choosing to use it, sort of quasi independent of Quality Matters. So could you describe sort of the context? Are you talking about the rubric itself or are you talking about how schools are applying it, which might not even be what Quality Matters intended? Or is it a combination?

Jesse: I think it’s a combination of both. If I look at the rubric itself as an instrument, we can have a whole conversation about the issues that I take with it. But I think that the bigger problem right now is the way that institutions are are using it. And ultimately, the biggest problem is that is that I see a lot of institutions using this in an obligatory way, where essentially what it is is not a tool to help people become better online teachers, but is a tool for quality assurance – that it is a mechanism that institutions [00:23:00] are using to certify that their online teaching is good, and they’re basically running their faculty. And these are faculty who have never even thought, in some cases never even thought about teaching online. And these faculty are being run through what is essentially a bureaucratic juggernaut for them, a process that feels utterly at odds with who they are as teachers and what they feel like their work in education is. And so ultimately, the problem is the making of rubric like this, a 42 or 43 point rubric, very hyper precise, making it obligatory and also not really dropping faculty into a process of conversation around it where they feel like they can consent and be full participants in the work that this rubric inspires.

Phil: And one question I would have is, if this gets to [00:24:00] what the intention is versus actual usage, is the usage of is the rubric from your perspective being used as a design guide or as an opportunity to evaluate course designs after the fact? And specifically the actual usage today in the transition from emergency room teaching to online teaching?

Jesse: I’ve seen the rubric over many years. I’ve seen it used in all manner of ways. I mean, essentially I’ve seen it used as an after the fact evaluation of effective online teaching, as though we can do that neat and tidily. And I think that that’s one of the issues that I take. And I’ve also seen it used as a starting point, a place to inspire new or existing teachers to think about their online learning in different ways.

I think that the the problem comes when I see a rubric like this being weaponized [00:25:00] by administrations. And I don’t use that term lightly. I mean, I use it very thoughtfully because students are feeling precarious right now, but teachers and faculty members are also feeling precarious. And when a tool like this is used as a quality assurance mechanism, it ends up feeling like it is an instrument of an administration looking to control teachers.

That’s at least the way that teachers often feel about it.

Phil: I guess part of the thing that’s interesting to me is so we’re so much talking about the usage by school administrators and particular at this point in time, even though the issues have gone beyond this point of time. But does the rubric self encourage this [00:26:00] usage, or is this something, the overusage, the weaponization, is that something that’s completely separate from the rubric – it doesn’t need to be this way? How does one lead to the other?

Jesse: That that leads me to a question that I’m often having with folks. The idea of is a tool neutral to its use. And I think absolutely, yes. I think tools have pedagogies baked into them. Tools teach us how to use them. And so I think rubrics in general – I mean, we could have a whole other conversation about rubrics in general – but if I think about this rubric in particular, the way and this is a lot of what my blog post in my keynote were about, and not just targeting Quality Matters, but targeting a way of thinking about education.

And ultimately, I think the issue is that when you take a 42 or 43 point rubric and that what it is, is when someone looks at this, even when they look at it visually without actually reading the words on the page, it feels immediately inscrutable. It [00:27:00] feels like the mechanism or the instrument has some sort of inherent wisdom that the person looking at it couldn’t possibly yet grasp. And when they look at it, they feel overwhelmed by it. A lot of people talk about the goal of rubrics being to simplify or to make transparent what is otherwise tacit or unspoken. But I think that this one does something different. I think when you see it, you feel overwhelmed. I was going to say you feel terror. Honestly, I think that there are some faculty who feel terror when they see it. And so I think using that word is I’m not exaggerating. I know faculty who when they see this, they feel terror. They feel this isn’t something I could possibly grasp or have entrance into. And so if they look at the tool or instrument or mechanism, and they feel this is something I have no power over, this is something that only has power over me. There is no point of entry for [00:28:00] me into this conversation. It is just a large page filled with text, and no white space on the page for me to fill with my own thinking about what good online learning might be.

I think then what you have is you have a tool that is over architectured, and an instrument that is telegraphing its purpose and its function too overtly.

Phil: Now, I realize after asking you the question that was that was a softball question for you, because now you could go into the LMS. But are you aware, have you seen their Bridge? They have a Bridge tool as well. One of the things I’m hearing from Quality Matters is the rubric itself is not intended to be a tool to help faculty brand new to online teaching to be used, and [00:29:00] here’s a tool that can help you there. Have you seen any of the non-rubric tools that they offer?

Jesse: You know, I’ve seen quite a few of their tools. And over the years I’ve I mean, I’ve researched Quality Matters, and I’ve looked carefully at their marketing. I looked carefully at what they say they’re doing and what they’re actually doing. And I’ve approached this from the experience of someone who just – and it’s not just about their website, but I’m saying this somewhat metaphorically, someone who just lands upon their website, who lands upon their work, and then where do you travel from there? Ultimately, the point of entry for most people with Quality Matters is the rubric. 

So the idea that there’s something else beyond the rubric is it just isn’t how it works. In practice, people approach Quality Matters through the rubric. That’s their entry point. And so that’s the first page of the book. That’s the first page of the story that Quality Matters is telling. And one of the things that I think that happens with the way that Quality [00:30:00] Matters their entire oeuvre of materials, which is there’s just a wonderful wealth of stuff that they have. I think that the folks at Quality Matters are incredibly well intentioned, and they’re doing really good work to think about what online learning is and how it works. But I think what happens is you come at it through the rubric, you come at it from this place of fear, terror, feeling overwhelmed, feeling afraid that you don’t know what you’re doing.

And then there’s a way in which the Quality Matters ecosystem is going to be an answer for you. And they draw you deeper and deeper into this ecosystem. And there’s lots of stuff there, lots of useful, productive stuff. But it isn’t how I see Quality Matters being delivered, if you will, on the ground. Any time I’ve ever been to a workshop that is employing Quality Matters, the rubric is what is led with. And I think that that’s a story that Quality Matters [00:31:00] can rewrite as an organization. But I don’t feel like they’re there yet.

Phil: Now what we’re saying is it’s very much the how things are implemented in reality in actual workshops on campuses, and also to narrow down the conversation to what you said, it’s in particular for teachers or faculty who have not taught online in the year 2020. So within this context, one of the questions that comes up is if this rubric, and if the usage of Quality Matters is not working because it’s overwhelming for the reasons you’ve laid out. What are better approaches to help these new faculty or faculty who are new to the modality and thinking through these subjects, including accessibility? How do you ensure that courses are accessible? What is a different approach that is much more realistic [00:32:00] to what these faculty needs are?

Jesse: I think and I’ve said this in lots of different ways, in lots of different forums, but I think we need to start with hard conversations about what the purpose of education is, who our students are, who we are as teachers at our institution, who are our faculty, what strengths, what wisdom’s do they bring to the work? And we start from a place of figuring out not what are the two best practices that are going to work for everyone at every institution. But we start by having the hard conversation about what specific approaches do we need to employ at our institutions in our context, even in our disciplines, even in our specific classrooms.

And I think that that’s those conversations get frustrated when we employ approaches that rely on best practices, because really, when I think about best practices, what I want us to talk about is good sometimes in certain contexts with certain students and certain faculty member practices. [00:33:00] And we can only get to that place if we start with a conversation. So if I think about a rubric, I think that the best place to start with faculty, would be having faculty in a discipline, in a department, at an institution, writing their own rubric, having a blank space, an empty page to fill where they determine what’s important for their students at their institution.

Yeah, thank you so much.

Phil: Great. Well, listen, I appreciate your time on this, and certainly we’re going to refer to your blog post and keynote address for more rich description of some of these subjects.

But I appreciate your your time on this. Thank you.

Earlier this month Phil asked a question on Twitter about the growing usage of (and pushback against) faculty training based on the Quality Matters Course Design Rubric. That question led to a rich discussion – both pro and con – on the usage of the QM rubric in the attempt to improve online teaching in Fall 2020. The QM staff requested that we help with an alternate forum for them to address some of the issues raised online.

This is the second in a special series of podcast episodes on an important topic as we try to migrate from emergency remote teaching to purposely-designed quality online education.

  • 15A: Introduction of topic
  • 15B: Interview with Bethany Simunich and Brendy Boyd from Quality Matters
  • 15C: Interviews with Stephanie Moore and Jesse Stommel

Transcript:

Phil: Welcome to a special episode of COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and recently we had an interesting Twitter conversation, or as interesting as you can get on Twitter, that involved Quality Matters and the usage of the rubric and how schools are using it to try to transition from emergency remote learning to online education, to put back into things that we know how to do in online education and improve quality. And it was a fascinating conversation, but it was on Twitter, which is very limited. We have Brenda and Bethany from Quality Matters, and they’ve agreed to join us so we can have more of an extended conversation and get to these important topics. But give give people more chance to discuss things in depth. So I’m with Brenda Boyd, senior academic director of program services at Quality Matters, and Bethany Simunich, director of research and innovation [00:01:00] at Quality Matters. It’s great to have you both here. And Brenda, welcome to the show.

Brenda: Thanks, Phil. It’s great to be here. We’re glad that we have this opportunity to have this conversation and to talk a little bit about some of the things that we saw and some of the arguments that are being made and how we were thinking. Well, some of those things are misconceptions. And so we’d really appreciate the opportunity to clear some of those things up today.

Phil: Great. And also, Bethany, welcome, and glad to have you here, as well as our first – you and I were discussing – our first external interviews as part of this podcast, but welcome.

Bethany: Yes. Yes. Thank you so much for having us. And as I mentioned to you before we begin, it’s very hard to have good conversations on Twitter. So I appreciate you giving us this opportunity to hopefully start a better conversation and to really bring some some new ideas into Quality Matters, and the discussion surrounding them.

Phil: And [00:02:00] this will be interesting, we’re going multimodal, switching from Twitter and moving to podcast, then having a blog post attached to it to jump in. As I said, a lot of the trigger for this conversation came from Twitter. Basically I was asking the question, ‘I’m starting to see a lot of pushback and commentary on the usage of Quality Matters in terms of schools trying to do quality assurance or manage the transition from emergency remote teaching to online teaching.’ And we just got a plethora of responses back, both positive and negative. But it raised some subjects that we wanted to get deeper into. Were you guys surprised with the general feedback of the discussion and on the rubric and course redesign process? And there seemed to be a lot of emotions involved.

Bethany: Well, I think emotions are high right now in general, but my general feedback and the initial [00:03:00] reaction were actually very similar. On one hand, a little bit of a disappointment at the misconceptions that are presented as facts, but also tempered that with some excitement and even a little bit of hope for renewed conversations about improving how QM helps faculty meet their goals. So, I think that in some sense, this conversation about quality in online learning, so not even specific to QM, but quality and online learning, is coming at a time where you have an entirely new group of faculty that are moving to the online environment. So, we know that we had the remote shift in the pandemic and for a lot of faculty, they were spending time this summer trying to improve the quality of what they did in the spring and to build on those successes, because I think a lot of us anticipate that we’re going to be shifting back in the fall. You’ve already commented on that. So, I’m sure they already plan to be teaching online. So, if this was your first foray into online teaching and learning, that was a big [00:04:00] gap for you to fill, right?.

So, there was a lot of time spent in spring and summer about faculty development. And with that came this conversation about QM and quality, because a lot of institutions use QM. So, I think that QM, though, it is way too often distorted and just seen as the rubric. And in truth, Phil, that really becomes a straw man fallacy. It does surprise me that academics – because we are trained to inquire and to analyze and critique something only after we understand it – that there would be criticisms for something that obviously there’s for certain people only of a certain surface level understanding of, right? So I’d like to actually use that Twitter thread, though, as a way to open up broader conversations with the community about quality in online learning, because the rubric is just one of the tools that QM has. It’s one of the core tools in helping institutions set up an integrated and sustainable quality [00:05:00] assurance process. And that’s the point of QM to help institutions continually improve their online and digital education and their student focus learning goals. Brenda, what was your feedback?

Brenda: So, I would have to say that I was also surprised about the the pushback about QM on the Twitter threads that I saw, and I was also kind of heartbroken. I got to be honest, because Quality Matters is not a behemoth EdTech company. We have thirty nine people who work for our little nonprofit and are very passionate about what we do and very passionate about improving online learning. And so it was really, I would even say, hurtful some of the things that were said, because we’re all on the same side. We all want to help students and [00:06:00] we are at a point in time where a lot of people who never thought they would be teaching online have been thrust into that. And institutions are challenged to support faculty in doing that. I think what a lot of people may not understand is that QM is the connector. The rubric isn’t developed by Quality Matters staff, it’s developed by the community. So, we have rubric committees that are composed of faculty, who have experience with online teaching. We get input from our community. We analyze the data from the course reviews. Initially it was pretty interesting, because QM is faculty driven. Faculty are the peers doing the reviews. QM staff do not do course reviews. So, there were some real interesting assumptions that were made. We call them peer reviewers [00:07:00] because they are faculty peers who are there to help their colleagues improve through the continuous improvement process. That is, of course, reviews.

Phil: But I did see quite a few comments that acknowledged, or pointed out the role of the college or university. And a lot of what I saw was how much it gets used as a QA tool or a cudgel to use in the process. Let me take a step back just a little bit. Which parts of the conversation in your mind do you see as, ‘oh, that’s a legitimate subject that we need to deal with’ versus the mischaracterization. You’ve already mentioned one of the main mischaracterizations is equating QM with the rubric only.

Bethany: I think there were there were several legitimate points that were being made. One of them is how QM interfaces with an institutional implementation of quality assurance around online learning. So I think that that’s a legitimate [00:08:00] conversation, not from the standpoint of, ‘oh, that’s all the institution’s purview, and what happens there is just what the institution happens, and QM is separate from that.’ But in the sense of how can we have better conversations for how to involve the right people at the right time, get the right individuals at the table for things like quality assurance implementations? How can we have better conversations and use tools better so that this is not always this top down initiative? And so that quality is continuously focused on student success – as QM positions it – and not weaponized against faculty? So I think that it really brought to light that there are ways and needs for having these better conversations with those that do the implementation of this work. I think all too often faculty are left out of that conversation. Instructional designers may be left out of that conversation. [00:09:00] I think this is a legitimate conversation to have.

The other thing that I thought was a legitimate point that I’m actually really excited to have some conversations about. And you had mentioned that you have an upcoming podcast with Steph Moore, and we plan to talk with her as well. So she brought up some good points, as did some other faculty, for the flexibility surrounding the rubric. Does it always work for every design approach? I think that’s a legitimate and good conversation to have. And that also, though, dovetailed with some of the other misconceptions that came out. So in reading that thread, it became apparent to me that a lot of faculty are unaware that there’s lots of different types of reviews that you can do, including MyCR, (My Customer Reviews), so that you can customize the rubric to meet your own faculty, your institutional needs. So I kept trying to ask the question, well, what’s the goal? You know, so for faculty that maybe feel, my course [00:10:00] doesn’t work with QM, or they’re really unfamiliar with the ways that QM can support the work that they do. What’s the goal? Is the goal for continuous quality improvement within that course or for that faculty member and their students? Is it a larger institutional goal that’s tied perhaps to accreditation?

Phil: Sure. Do you mind if I just jump into a very specific point, because you raised that about the flexibility, because I saw this in several comments about the 42 elements. And do you have to go through every one of them? You mentioned flexibility of usage. Should people use these 42 elements as you have to go through every one or use them in the same way, or what’s the right way to think of that?

Brenda: Well, I think that, you know, they’re the QM higher education rubric does have 42 specific review standards. They are organized into eight general standard areas. So those general standard areas include things that no one would disagree with, like providing [00:11:00] support to students or telling students where to go and what to do first, and introductions and overviews. To your question, where do they begin, or how much flexibility is there? It goes back to what Bethany is saying about the goals, like what are they trying to do? Are you trying to get all of your courses certified or are you getting your program certified by QM? What is it that you’re trying to actually accomplish? If your goal is to just improve the quality of your courses and maybe you’re not ready to have everything certified by QM, maybe there’s a subset of standards or selected standards that you want to use. So, we have tools that enable the modification of the rubric. One is called My Custom Reviews, and it enables an institution to take the rubric, copy it into this tool, and then they can take out the standards that they don’t want to address. And they also have the ability to add their own things into this rubric. [00:12:00] The rubric is designed to be interrelated and holistic. So, there are standards that refer to other standards and the list of specific review standards that are on the website is not the entirety of the rubric. That just lists the specific review standards. They are intentionally succinct. There is a whole bunch of annotations behind them that members have the ability to use and integrate into their professional development to use as examples and best practice, et cetera.

Phil: If you don’t mind me jumping on it to me that the theme that I saw it was how it’s being used here in 2020, there was a common theme about schools using it as a QA device, saying, ‘OK, we’re going online, everybody’s got to meet these standards or here’s how we’re defining quality.’ That was the usage is the QA method to enforce [00:13:00] a transition from emergency remote without standards to quality online learning. Are you seeing that as a common theme? And what is your commentary about if that’s an appropriate usage?

Brenda: We’re not seeing institutions coming to us saying we want to certify this whole program before fall begins. Some institutions maybe saying these are a quality assurance metrics. This is what we’re moving toward. But we haven’t seen like a huge influx of new course reviews. And honestly, we would not recommend moving from emergency remote instruction to the full blown rubric, which is why we developed the Bridge to Quality, which is the online course design guide. And it’s on our website. It’s free. It’s open to everybody. And we’ve been working this summer, Bethany spearheaded the Emergency Remote instruction Checklist to help faculty transition through the pivot, and then our next step was how do we help them move- exactly your question – from [00:14:00] this emergency remote instruction environment toward the quality standards? We knew that there was going to need to be steps in between there, that it’s unrealistic to take the course design rubric that’s designed to review courses that have been taught a couple of times and have had the opportunity to work the kinks out, too. We wouldn’t expect to dump 42 standards into your lap and expect to be magically met at this point in time. It’s just not realistic. And we have seen a huge influx of professional development over this summer to help faculty move toward online. Even in our own Designing Your Online Course workshop, we don’t address 42 standards and we look at our Essential standards. We look at that backward design approach, looking at the alignment of the learning objectives. Are your assessments measuring your objectives? Because [00:15:00] there are a lot of faculty out there who may not have thought about these things before. And in the end, this moment gives them that opportunity to kind of focus on what are what are really the outcomes for my learners and how am I enabling them to get there.

Bethany: Yeah, and just to piggyback on that for a second, so I think regardless of the tools and the processes used, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach here when we’re in this very difficult situation with the spring pivot and potentially a fall pivot. So I think most colleges and universities are facing a very big task of trying to do remote learning at a minimum level of quality, because we know at the very least that we, for our students, have to do a little better job than we did in the spring if we end up having to pivot in the fall term as well. And there’s lots of tools to help get there. But the rubric is a tool for evaluation, [00:16:00] and that’s not where most remote courses are. The big difference between remote courses and online courses are that online courses are those that are purposefully designed for the online learning environment, whereas remote courses are focused on recreating the Face-To-Face experience at a distance, and that those are two very different goals. So that’s also why I kept asking the question about what is your institutional goal? What is your faculty goal? So when the emergency room pivot happened, that’s when we created, as Brenda just mentioned, the Emergency Remote Instruction Checklist.

And that was designed to highlight what faculty pivoting to remote should concentrate on first and really how to connect with your students. How could they how they could improve the remote learning experience as the semester continued and as they had a little bit more time. But as Brenda mentioned, we’re a small staff. We worked nights and weekends to create that as a public free resource. And we knew then that there would there’s a gap between [00:17:00] that and where faculty institutions want it to be for the fall. And again, that’s why we created the Design Guide. And again, that’s a free public resource. But we also created that understanding that the rubric is not a design guide, it’s an evaluation tool. That goes and harkens back to the Twitter thread as well. There’s a big misperception that the rubric is a design guide rather than an evaluation tool. And I think that hits at the core of why this came out, and to your question, should institutions be using a rubric to get to where they want in terms of their their remote course quality?

Phil: But you mentioned the one size doesn’t fit all, and a lot of it gets to teachers who have never gotten into this before. And it raises the question, what is the sweet spot of what QM is designed for in terms of faculty experience?

Bethany: Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’m going to actually [00:18:00] let faculty speak for themselves on this one, because as far as the research person in QM, I do know that the data on the faculty that interact with us and their experience in our in our professional development. And because we regularly pull this data to see how faculty are responding and how they’re interacting. So, for some of our most popular workshops, so those on teaching online, designing your online course, our flagship workshop on applying the rubric, faculty have a high degree of satisfaction regardless of their experience level. So, for the design workshop, for example, those faculty that are newer to online design and teaching, they have a satisfaction rate of 95%. For those that have eight or more years of experience, so those that I would consider very experienced online instructors, their satisfaction is 93%. That’s one way to really say that the QM community is a home for everybody, because what those more experienced faculty [00:19:00] bring to the table is they also bring that knowledge to bear on peer reviews, for example, if they’re serving as a team chair and the mentoring that happens between themselves and the other peer reviewers. But there’s also opportunities for them to share within workshops their additional expertise, and also to help QM expand our own thinking with their innovative design and teaching approaches, with those faculty that are newer to online teaching. And as we just talked about, right now, we have a whole new section of faculty that really have never come to the table to talk about online teaching or to have a chance to really practice that at their institution. It’s a much larger community than it ever was. And I think really ready for even more the the benefits and the experience for those that have been doing this for years.

Brenda: I would agree, we see in our professional development faculty with no experience, faculty of 20 years’ experience, I just saw a tweet yesterday by a faculty member who was like, ‘I’m [00:20:00] teaching online for 20 years, and I took this professional development workshop and I feel like I’m really going to help my students this fall.’

So, I think that there’s a wide range that we have entry points for everyone. Our intention really is to have an open and collegial dialogue, let’s be honest, faculty members don’t necessarily get any professional development on how to teach online unless their institution provides a forum, or they went through an educational technology instructional design program, or they were lucky enough to have a teaching assistantship or a graduate assistantship that gave them some teaching and pedagogical training in their graduate programs. And I agree that there are a lot of different approaches to doing so. And we want to be clear that this is not about cookie cutter courses, because while there are 42 standards, there [00:21:00] are many ways to meet them.

We’re technology agnostic. So whatever tools you’re using or the tools you’re using, we, you know, we do look to see does this help support what you’re trying to do? But it’s not it’s not about evaluation of a specific set of tools either. So I think that there are lots there’s lots of room in Quality Matters universe for everybody to come in and to and take what you need to take what helps you. But we wouldn’t recommend that. You do that moving from emergency remote instruction to certification in the next semester and there is a learning curve, we all know that this is sort of jumping around.

Phil: But if you go back to the beginning, one of the first things you guys talked about was too much focus on the rubric, as if QM is all about the rubric. And the rubric by itself – correct me if I’m wrong – but is very centered on course design or [00:22:00] evaluation of course design. A lot of the discussion on Twitter was talking about, ‘well, that misses the whole element of actual teaching, what happens in the classroom.’ And then part of the issue is the pushback that quality, using the name quality to be associated too much with just course design misses a whole crucial element, the actual teaching. So, I guess my question is, what is QM’s role outside, of course design into the actual course teaching and facilitation, and the live aspect. Do you guys have a specific role there?

Brenda: Well, you know, Phil, we’re moving in that direction in terms of helping faculty with teaching online. So, we have a teaching online certificate and we also have a teaching online workshop that’s just two weeks long.

But the teaching online certificate gets at the things that are important to be [00:23:00] successful in online teaching. QM won’t be reviewing faculty teaching, and QM is not meant to be a silver bullet. If you have a QM certified course, yes, absolutely, how it’s taught has a tremendous impact on the quality of learner experience. And so, we have developed some of these things like the teaching online certificate. And in those workshops we touch on the rubric barely. But we talk about gauging your own technology skills. Are you ready to teach online? So, we get into some of the teacher readiness portion. We get into some of the orientation, connecting learning theories to your teaching strategies, evaluating your institutional policies so that you can determine, do those policies, what are they for online learners and how do I enforce them and who do I need to call [00:24:00] if I need to? Thinking about the pedagogy of the course as a from the teaching aspect, how are you going to take that course design and put it into action?

Bethany: Phil, your question also speaks to the fact that – and I’m saying this as a former face-to-face instructor who then moved online – when I was teaching face-to-face, design and teaching were pretty fully meshed together. I didn’t do a lot of proactive design, I really was uninformed about instructional design, and design approaches on online teaching or on instructional design. I was disadvantaged in that way. So I was teaching face-to-face, and I moved online … and online you can’t really design on the fly unless you’re a very experienced online instructor and you really have a high degree of skill in that type of a design [00:25:00] approach. But for me, when I first was moving online, I realized way too late that there was so much that I didn’t know, and I didn’t even know what I didn’t know, right? And the first thing that I had to tackle was really how to design this course, because I quickly realized it wasn’t just about my pedagogical approach. When you’re designing a course purposefully for the online environment, I also have to think about organizing that in an LMS. I have to think about Web design and user experience design and content strategy. I have to think about organizing my course in a logical way that allows students to move through it. I have to make sure they have access to technical support.

And those are things that happen in the design phase and need to be in that course before it starts running, and that’s separate from teaching, right? So QM and the rubric. Yes, the design rubric is focused on design, but of course, teaching is the other part of that. And as Brenda mentioned, design is only one part of [00:26:00] the overall good online learning experience that we want our students to have. I think that’s something else that I took away from that Twitter thread, that there may be faculty that are still unsure all those things that really need to go into a good learning experience for our students. It’s not just a well-designed course, purposefully designed for the online environment. It’s not just a prepared faculty member who is ready to be an effective online teacher. It’s also supporting students, and student readiness. It’s also having that institutional infrastructure and support. QM calls that the Quality Pie, and there’s certain things that we really help institutions do within that pie. But there’s also a lot that’s institutional purview. As Brenda mentioned, we are technology agnostic. So there’s lots of things that have an impact on a faculty member’s design and teaching, you know, like the LMS, like other institutional policies that are [00:27:00] separate from that from what Quality Matters helps with. But we’re moving more and more into helping faculty become better online instructors. As Brenda mentioned, we have professional development around those areas.

Brenda: You know, in the face-to-face classroom, we all know as students where we’re supposed to sit, where the teachers are going to be, that class starts at this time and ends at this time. We don’t have that framework online. It’s always there. We have to build the walls and put the seats in and develop the structures. And a lot of what General Standard One is all about is, is orienting students to that kind of situation. But you can’t do that until you have built the classroom. You can’t build the orientation until you have that done. So, the bridge is really there to support faculty, and walking through a phased approach with design steps that they can take [00:28:00]. 

Phil: To go back even further – and I appreciate the full descriptions – you mentioned at the very beginning about how part of your surprise at the conversation, or at least dismay was because you’re a nonprofit, you’re not a large for-profit EdTech company. But to help people understand, how does QM get funded, what is your monetization from an organizational perspective?

Brenda: So, we’re completely bootstrapped organization, so we are funded through memberships and fee for service. Professional development fees, and course review fees, and membership fees, are what fund QM. We don’t have any venture capitalists underwriting us. We don’t have any grant funders.

Bethany: No foundations, no state funders, no federals funders. That was that was such – I’ll be honest, Phil – it was that was a tough [00:29:00] tweet to read, because when when you are 39 people at a nonprofit that are funded by the community that you serve and the perception, you know, from people obviously that haven’t taken a moment to find out what QM is and who QM is, you are saying that it’s a big EdTech company … it’s a disservice, frankly, to the very dedicated and passionate staff that we have at Quality Matters. We are all dedicated to student success and working on behalf of our our members and the community, and we have been working as tirelessly as everybody in higher education and K-12 has, since the spring semester. We’re mission driven organization, and we are focused on supporting student success in digital learning environments.

Phil: One quick follow up on this question. You mentioned not everything’s on the website, but where is the line for what can be done for free [00:30:00] with QM materials, like seeing the course evaluation rubric, seeing the full rubric. Or where’s the free / paid divide from a school?

Brenda: If you really want to do QM, we would love to welcome you as a member, so membership gives you access to the full annotated rubric. You get access to our self-review tool, and it’s the online rubric that faculty can use to self-evaluate their own courses. You get access to our course review management system to do internal reviewing. And then at some membership levels, you can you can manage your own course reviews with appropriate professional development. So, we want the rubric to be used in spirit in which it’s intended. We teach how to use the standards, how they’re applied, how to write helpful recommendations to colleagues through [00:31:00] our professional development. As members, you get access to these things, plus member rates on our professional development, conferences, etc.

The standards are on our website to give you an idea of what we do. The intention is not for people to take them and go use the one line specific review standard because it can be misinterpreted without understanding the annotations behind it. There are a lot of free things that we offer, including, we’ve already talked about the Emergency Remote Instruction Checklist, the Bridge to Quality Course Design Guide, and we have a free Research Library, as well as an Accessibility and Usability Resource Site that’s open to everyone. That you can just go out register, and you can go out and hop in there. And the Accessibility and Usability Resource Site is [00:32:00] moderated by accessibility experts from our community. And they are sharing their expertise freely with information about how to do different things to make your courses more accessible from Universal Design for Learning to how to make a Word document accessible. If you can go in and ask a question and they will come in and answer it. We want to lift all boats. We want to help everyone.

And so we do things with, you know, such as the Bridge. It refers to specific review standards, but it doesn’t get into all of that stuff that’s behind the annotations. We are working on a version for members where we are looking at the annotations, and how do we help turn those into more design guides, because we know instructional designers are already using the standards to guide course development. And those can also sometimes help instructional designers when they’re having conversations that it’s not [00:33:00] just me saying this. There’s an organization that has a standard set that was developed by faculty and that kind of helps back up their urgings to do the things that are in the rubric that are the standards for quality online courses. Does that help?

Phil: Yes, it absolutely does. And I appreciate that full description.

Bethany: I just wanted to add one thing there. So, yeah, we do have memberships like most of the other non-profits. But I also wanted to add that a lot of the QM community creates additional things that are free to the public and to members, right? So Brenda mentioned a lot of the things that we’ve put out freely for the public, the ERIC, the Bridge Guide. We’ve done about two free public webinars per month since 2020 started, but also within the QM community, just as one example of how QM is helping institutions leverage what they’re doing and do things at a lower cost – for [00:34:00] our largest state system, QM Ohio, they created their own course review bartering system so that their membership can conduct certified reviews if they want to at no cost. So there’s lots of options to within the community. We have low cost train-the-trainer model so that if an institution wants to deliver certain QM workshops, they could train their own facilitator to do so and then deliver them for free or low cost, depending on what system they’re in.

Phil: Well, thank you. Yes, that is very helpful. And I’m glad you brought up the community resources as well. Well, listen, I’ve really appreciated your time today. This is obviously a longer episode than we normally do. But I think that this is an important topic in an important time for me. Bethany and Brenda, I really appreciate your time and your full answers on these subjects that came up and certainly wish you the best. But thank you.

Brenda: Thank you.

Bethany: Thank you so much.

Earlier this month Phil asked a question on Twitter about the growing usage of (and pushback against) faculty training based on the Quality Matters Course Design Rubric. That question led to a rich discussion – both pro and con – on the usage of the QM rubric in the attempt to improve online teaching in Fall 2020. The QM staff requested that we help with an alternate forum for them to address some of the issues raised online.

This is the first in a special series of podcast episodes on an important topic as we try to migrate from emergency remote teaching to purposely-designed quality online education.

  • 15A: Introduction of topic
  • 15B: Interview with Bethany Simunich and Brendy Boyd from Quality Matters
  • 15C: Interviews with Stephanie Moore and Jesse Stommel

Transcript:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss a lot of the transition that higher education has gone through and is going through due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly. Earlier this month, we had an interesting situation where I put out what I thought was an innocuous tweet asking about why am I starting to see more pushback on Quality Matters and its usage during professional development this summer. I’m not arguing for or against it, but is there something that happened on why this is becoming more discussed out in the open?

For those who don’t know, Quality Matters is a non-profit organization that provides a rubric of course design standards and creates a replicable peer review process, the goals being: training and empowering faculty to evaluate courses against these standards; providing guidance for improving the quality of courses; and certifying the quality of online and blended [00:01:00] college courses across institutions. And boy, it seemed like the Twitter conversation tapped a vein. We got all kinds of conversations going back and forth, a lot of it quite emotional where you get the sense that there was really pent up feeling behind this issue, that this is a topic that’s really hitting people right now and then they’re starting to let it out. Twitter is not the best medium to explore topics in more depth, and we agreed with Quality Matters request to provide a different forum.

Hence the special podcast series. In this first episode, Jeanette, Kevin and I introduce the topic. In the second episode, I interviewed Bethany Simunich and Brenda Boyd from Quality Matters to hear their perspective directly and in depth. And the third episode, I interviewed Stephanie Moore from the University of New Mexico and Jessi Stommel from Hybrid Pedagogy as they provide a critical perspective, albeit with constructive criticism and suggestions. [00:02:00]

But before we do that, the first thing that struck me surprised me all of the responses we got, but I guess the general sense that I got on why this became a big topic is because of how Quality Matters is getting implemented, particularly now as a method for administrators and schools to try to get either control over online education, or to help them migrate what they think is moving from emergency remote teaching to true online education. So it’s becoming the tool to say we have to get all faculty doing quality online education. And it’s the way that it gets applied is a huge portion of why there’s a lot of frustration and emotion out there.

But to get started, did this discussion surprise both of you guys? And, you know, why do you think there was such a strong online discussion on this topic? [00:03:00]

Kevin: I think there’s a couple of things at play here. Right. So you pointed out that this is in response to Covid, campuses are implementing processes at higher rates of speed. So you get this combination of forces, right? It’s like the wedge in Southern California, Newport Beach, where two different vectors of waves form this massive wave. That’s really fun to ride, but really scary. And people can get hurt. You have the use of a rubric which is in and of itself, not the the challenge. And when you say innocuous tweet, I don’t know if those exist anymore.

Phil: I got accused of that, by the way.

Kevin: Yeah, but I think, you know, when Stephanie Moore brought up this being used as a cudgel to force us all to mean regression, then she’s pointing out that, hey, some people have already been working on their online courses and may not need to go through the same process. Other faculty members are being asked to do something very quickly so it can get the [00:04:00] feeling of being like a Play-Dough factory and everything is going to look the same, maybe a different color, but it’s going to be the same shape and dimension. But, you know, I’ll stop there for a second. But there’s so much to say about the difference between using a course review process to improve the experience for learners and then implementing a course review process very quickly to standardize or try to guarantee a sense of quality to, you know, assuage the fears of students and parents and but also just to comment on that.

Phil: But there’s been building thoughts and emotions on this topic over the past few months, it’s becoming apparent to me as well, people have wanted to have this discussion.

Jeanette: I wonder if a lot of this is really based on just overall frustration. To some extent. I think that there’s likely a lot of people that are trying their best to get these courses up and running. I think the ones, people that are experienced [00:05:00] with running online courses and doing instructional design and pedagogy online, and they’re comfortable with that, find these rubrics to be confining and something that doesn’t allow them to really show and teach the way they want to.

And I’m wondering if that’s where I’m seeing a lot of the pushback is those people that are just like, ‘hey, I know what I’m doing. Please don’t make me do this because you’re requiring it.’

Kevin: Well, I’d be interested to explore how many of the tweets are by a part time lecturer or faculty who could really use some guidance, full time tenure track faculty who aren’t used to having their teaching in any form evaluated by a peer, or instructional designers who are used to helping faculty through these challenges. Because I think that those different again, it’s a sense of privilege that tenure track faculty members may enjoy. ‘Hey, my courses, my course, don’t tell me how to teach it.’

And when we talk about, hey, online learners are still [00:06:00] succeeding at lower rates. We just saw all the student surveys telling us how much students weren’t engaged. And the CHLOE survey by chief online officers said the same thing, that the students didn’t feel like they had any form of engagement. It was a very flat experience. So there are ways to use rubrics as a way to make faculty aware of the most common challenges. I know at Peralta we created the equity rubric as a way to make faculty aware of the biases, assumptions and institutional barriers that affect learner motivation and achievement, according to the research. And then we created online training modules to learn about the challenges, analyze what it looks like in a real course, and build their own activities. And so when you see some of these tweets referring to the professional development, the opportunities for conversation, again, I don’t think people are questioning the use of the tools so much as as how it’s being used.

Phil: The people that I know, [00:07:00] and you know have a bias of who you really pay attention to or give credence to if you know who they are, but so much of the pushback against Quality Matters, and where it seemed to tap a vein, if you will, came from people who were experienced online teachers, or instructional designers, but people who are have been already pushing for more faculty to increase their knowledge of how to use online modality to improve teaching and learning. And you got a sense it was more like we know that we need to improve things. And I’m not just speaking for my own personal case, but I’m frustrated that the way Quality Matters is getting implemented is forcing us down a path that I already know is dangerous. And so it’s the over application. I think that there is a pretty good sense that I saw a lot of very thoughtful responses where people were answering not just for themselves, but for what they felt [00:08:00] is needed in the in the market, if you will.

But at the same time, you make an excellent point. A lot of this is how it gets implemented. It’s like, well, somebody said it’s unfortunate that it’s called Quality Matters because it implies course quality comes from the usage of this rubric. So if you want quality online education, as in moving from emergency remote to online education, here’s how you do it. And so you take that sort of mentality, and then you use it as a cudgel to make everybody fall in line. And so I saw a lot of the pushback was argued not on the concept, some was on the concept of the work, but a lot more was on how it gets applied at schools, perhaps overzealously, how a rubric should be viewed. Is it a minimum set of standards? This is a guide to make sure you think of certain aspects, or is it the way to get quality into a course?

Kevin: Well, I’d see [00:09:00] it as a scaffolding device to help online instructors who might be newer to the process begin to improve the course experience based on what the research shows. And so those professional development opportunities that a lot of tweets described in both in response to you and Deb Adair are one place for those conversations to take place. But peer review processes are another where you can have much more in-depth conversations because you’re walking through your course and talking about why you’re doing certain things and you have a chance to hear from a veteran online instructor the way they do things. And so it’s more along the lines of what Jesse Stommel was saying. And others, maybe Peter DeCourcy, who were talking about conversations being part of the process instead of just having these ‘run people through the grist mill.’

Jeanette: I mean, to that point, Kevin, how often do you think that scaffolding is happening? And isn’t that what people are pushing back against?

Kevin: It’s probably the case that because you have to scale up your trainings [00:10:00] over the spring and the summer, that you’re probably going to have less time for conversations, because you’re just putting as many people through some sort of preparation as possible. We saw, and I think it was the CHLOE survey, that people are averaging somewhere between 20 and 40 hours of formal prep for the fall, which is more than a lot of instructors prep for. And then, you know, period, they don’t they don’t get pedagogical training and in this way.

Phil: But I do want to separate, because I think we can explore both. There’s a question not just how could it be used, but how it is being used. And that’s where I saw a lot of the argument saying, no, it’s not being used as scaffolding, it’s being used as the be all and end all. That’s a problem. Now, how can it be used or how should it be used as a separate question?

And to be fair, Deb Adair jumped into the discussion, and she mentioned some [00:11:00] things she had said. ‘It’s not an endpoint. It’s a beginning. It’s always been about being better than good enough. And that’s trying to say, let’s raise the floor for all of it. But that doesn’t mean that talented instructors and instructional designers can’t go further. So it’s ensuring the basic design is in place and helps all students to be successful.’ That was one of the things that she was arguing and the initial feedback.

However, I think there there’s an organizational issue that they need to be careful about as well, because the initial feedback that was happening both privately and within the discussion was, ‘oh, that’s just a bunch of grumbling faculty, that’s the five percent and they’re just grumbling about what they want. They don’t want any standardization, whatever students have.’ But so there was sort of this organizational pushback that they need to be careful about, because most of the comments I saw were not [00:12:00] of that vein of ‘I only care about myself.’ I think it was more people – and you mentioned Jesse Stommel – where they really have thought about what this means broader for education and what’s best for students. So I guess I’m cautioning, or hope they don’t interpret this too much as a bunch of rabble rousers, as opposed to a legitimate discussion that needs to be had and can lead to improvement.

Kevin: Well, I liked how some people point out – it might have been Kelvin Bentley, I’m not sure – but that we need to also be looking at facilitation. It’s something I brought up in that three part series about online course design rubrics on e-Literate that we use these rubrics for the course design process. But very few of the seven major rubrics out there and look at the facilitation process. And that’s actually just as important when you get the students in the online classroom. How are you engaging them and making sure that you’re assessing their learning and authentic ways?

Phil: Rob Gibson, he had jumped in, and I [00:13:00] believe he’s led a lot of Quality Matters training. So, he’s seen how it can be applied based on his direct experience. And he had a lot of good points talking about how the potential of it, that it really can improve teaching and learning. He brought up an issue about accessibility. Here’s a great tool to really force people to deal with accessibility comprehensively through a course. And if you just throw away the baby with the bathwater, where else are you going to get some of this advice to ensure that people aren’t ignoring issues? Kevin, you mentioned the Peralta rubric. Same issue there. If you throw out the baby with the bathwater, do you have another tool that does a better job of making sure that people think of the equity issues involved in education? So I thought that Rob had some very good points about how it can be used. And also almost a caution of if you throw it out, then how are you going to deal with some of these subjects?

Kevin: Right. And [00:14:00] I think it boils down to when groups create these instruments and processes there, they’re done with the right intentions. And so people have to be careful in how they’re applying them, even in cases of emergency. And so I think the conversation is a very good one. And it’s interesting that it took things boiling to a head during a time of crisis for it to emerge into the public speech scene.

Phil: So with that in mind, that’s part of the reason: Let’s take it’s a valuable conversation. Excellent point that you and others have made about Twitter is not the most innocent place to have a conversation. So that’s what we’d like to do. So that so we’re doing a podcast interview to allow two of the thoughtful leaders and the different sides point of view. Let them debate some of these issues in more depth on an important topic and get it out of the Twitter discussion. But looking [00:15:00] forward to hearing from them. And we will definitely like to also discuss what they’re saying, but also the general subject of rubrics, not just about Quality Matters and what the role can be.

Thanks for prepping the field, if you will, Kevin and Jeanette.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the issue of equitable outcomes and whether or not higher ed is prepared to support all student groups this fall.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss the changes that higher education is going through and reaction to the COVID pandemic. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here again with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. So it’s great to talk to you guys again.

Kevin: Hey there,

Jeanette: Hey Phil. 

Phil: Just a little bit of a personal note. It sounds like we’re doing some socially distant vacationing next week, or at least doing as much of a vacation as we can handle. Kevin, tell me what you’ll be up to next week.

Kevin: Well, because I prefer a physical distancing to social distancing, Daphne and I will be going to Yosemite, and we’ll be doing some camping far away from people and closer to bears, Pumas and other things that don’t wear masks, and you want to stay six feet away from.

Phil: Yes, that’s true. And Jeanette?

Jeanette: Yeah, so we’re going [00:01:00] up to the northern part of New Mexico, Navajo Lake, it’s right on the border and we’re renting a houseboat, which I’ve never done.

So we’ll see how that goes. Almost camping.

Phil: Up on the northern part of New Mexico. Is that the U.S. border? I used to get that a lot when I lived in New Mexico.

Jeanette: Yes, it is the US border between Colorado and New Mexico. Yes.

Phil: Well, as for us, we finally have accepted reality that we’re not making it to my oldest daughter’s graduation in Paris in September. We just canceled that trip officially. At least we had a month of pretending like there was a little bit of real life, and doing planning, picking places to stay and things to do. I think it was a charade, but we finally canceled that. We’re going to try to find a different place where we can just hole up in a house and with a pool and wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. to watch a Zoom graduation. That’s not next week, but that’s our vacation [00:02:00] plans.

Kevin: Well, get some French food to bring.

Jeanette: Lots of French wine.

Phil: What wine is appropriate at 4:00 a.m.? Is that a white or red or a rosé?

Kevin: I’d go with the Margaux, but champagne is a French appellation that you could go with as well.

Phil: I think that’s socially acceptable.

Kevin: Especially if you add orange juice.

Phil: Last week we talked about accessibility and how it was a ticking time bomb – that as schools transition dealing with COVID, that accessibility concerns were going to become more prominent in the fall. It’s based on things we know how to do in higher education. As we rushed things online and as we deal with budget cuts, a lot of it’s getting getting overlooked. It was a caution about what might happen in the fall.

This week, we want to talk about a companion issue, which is about achievement gaps. We’ve [00:03:00] long had achievement gaps in higher education between online and face to face. Specifically, we want to talk about different demographic groups. First generation students, ethnic minorities, various groups where for several years people have been focusing on we need to pay attention to what achievement gaps are. In the very least, make sure that they’re not getting worse due to digital learning. Obviously, we’d like to reduce the gaps.

There’s been a lot of effort for online learning, face to face and hybrid as well as a system. We’re learning what works and what doesn’t work. The caution this week that we want to talk about is how much of this effort we’ve been doing around reducing achievement gaps might get thrown out the window and might come to bite us in the fall because we’re over looking it.

The [00:04:00] two things I would posit that is a concern of mine, first of all, you have budget cuts. You’re talking about things that are not as easy to quantify. They’re susceptible to all the budget cuts that schools are going through. Are they keeping their support staff? Are they funding any of the programs they’ve already put into place? The second reason is because there’s been such a mass migration to emergency remote teaching. Quite a few schools and a growing number of schools are going fully online for the fall that are not typically there. Do they even have the support structures in place to implement the programs that we’ve already seen, increasing the success to reduce achievement gaps?

I’ll start out with saying this is a big concern of mine. As awful as I think that people aren’t talking about it enough and where it’s really going to raise its head and become a problem for schools [00:05:00] in the fall, not just as an embarrassment. It’s something that should be worked on, but it also could impact state funding, accreditation. It could impact other issues that target schools, trying to make sure that they are improving these areas. That’s my hypothesis, that we have a real problem that’s going to become much bigger in the fall. I’d like to start out with saying, do you guys share the same concern? Jeanette, what are your initial thoughts?

Jeanette: Absolutely. I think that a lot of things are being overlooked. Again, I think people are doing the best they can with what they have been given. There’s been a lot of things written about how, especially lower income and first generation students are struggling with housing and food security. That leads then to things like if they are going online, if they have a place in their home to to study. [00:06:00] Do they have a computer or do they have Internet access?

All of that is things that are much more controllable on a campus and students are able to get the services they need.

Now, I think there’s a couple of things going on. A lot of these students, because they are on scholarship, if they decide to take a gap year, because their online learning experience in the spring wasn’t what they needed. They may lose that financial aid or the scholarships. They’re almost required to move forward without the services. I think all of those things need to be taken in consideration. In the long term, effects are not only not having a community in a population that’s better educated, but also for those individual schools.

There’s real enrollment risk here as well moving forward beyond when we get out of the COVID issues. Those are all things that I’ve been thinking quite a bit about, actually.

Phil: Well, as long as we’re negative, Kevin, what do you worry about? Do you [00:07:00] share the same concerns?

Kevin: I share the concerns, but maybe not the negative outlook because Angry Kevin is somewhere else today. I’ll start with the nomenclature.

Right now, groups I’m working with are changing “achievement gap” to “education debt” to recognize that students aren’t necessarily responsible for the gaps. It’s embedded in how we talk about and work toward these equity improvements, we need to consider that there are institutional barriers. There are different aspects of what we do as instructors. As Jeanette was bringing up, the student services side of the house and making sure that equity is kind of embedded in supporting students, even outside the course experience.

The other thing I want to bring up is while mainstream media like Inside Higher Ed haven’t talked about equity for maybe a month and a half, small efforts are being made locally. [00:08:00] For instance, Des Moines Area Community College made universal design for learning and equity the theme of their annual summer conference, which was virtual this year. Kevin Gannon from Grandview University and I gave the keynote addresses. What was really nice to see was that this was a continuation of a year long arc dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. While we may not be seeing the mainstream media in higher ed focusing on the equity challenges as fall looms over us like a haboob down there in Arizona and New Mexico. That’s a mile high cloud of dust of equity challenges. I think there are efforts out there and I’ll talk about more of those as we go through this particular chat.

Phil: I’ll take a step back, I do think that there has been discussion in education circles in the media about equity in [00:09:00] terms of Internet access, having a computer, having a quiet place, particularly for synchronous video conferencing. I do think that’s gotten the discussion, and hopefully people are dealing with that. I think it goes deeper than that. To think that even if you talk about it, it’s a challenge.

One of my favorite visits when we were doing e-Literate TV years ago was when I visited Northern Arizona University, and they had a somewhat unique position being a research university with up to 40 percent of incoming students were first generation students. What they were discovering is they had to address that if they were going to deal with retention, student success, and they had invested in several programs to deal with this. I wouldn’t say all of it, but most of it happens outside the classroom. It got into the [00:10:00] emotional support and encouragement for students who don’t necessarily have family members who can say, ‘hey, I went through the same challenges you went through when I was in the situation.’ Instead they would match them up with peers who were one year ahead of them. That would provide a lot of the mentoring. They invested a lot of their advising systems so that whatever level of support they’re getting from the university, people understood them, who they were, and could target their support and be proactive to help them out.

These types of programs are expensive. Part of my concern is what’s happening with the budget cuts. Are we seeing cuts to the very support programs that actually have been improving the results in these different areas?

Kevin: That’s tough to say.

I mean, looking at listserv comments and things like that, I’ve been encouraged to see, and I made a blog mention of this, that different [00:11:00] campuses are looking for new ways to incorporate students into their workflow so that they’re able to address the needs of students.

I know we’ve brought up first generation students and students from disproportionately impacted ethnicity groups like LatinX, Hispanic students or black African-American students. We aren’t able to track progress for many of these groups other than gender. That doesn’t even take into account non-binary students, which the HEDS consortium found was negatively impacted in the spring. I think having an attention to it is one thing, but knowing how to help each distinct group is another. You brought up some great examples with respect to first generation students, what we call a hidden curriculum and making sure that we’re clearly stipulating all of the aspects of anything we’re asking students to do, including the why and not just the what and how. The support for students of student services, [00:12:00] like mentoring programs or things like that, are going to be critical.

Phil: Jeanette, do you have much of a sense on are we going backwards in support? Are you seeing things about budget cuts and that might impact other schools, even have the resources or can support people making these programs or any kind of insight you have on this?

Jeanette: No, I haven’t seen a lot of insight. I think the budgets are still being worked on. Right now, it seems to me, at least what we’re seeing collectively within the job or what I’m hearing from other professors and instructors that I know, are that the budgets are so in flux because of the lack of clarity around what is going to be provided at the federal level right now. I feel like that’s making things really kind of just muddy about what they can cut and what they can’t cut and people [00:13:00] just trying to do the best they can. I was just thinking while Kevin was talking about this, we also have to keep in mind a lot of these communities are also the ones that were hit the hardest with COVID. Not only are they dealing with just educational issues, but they’re also dealing with serious health issues or people in the family that are not doing well. School is always sort of a safe place for a lot of these places in terms of housing and even jobs on the campus and also food. Those things have been taken away from these students, not only the services, but how are they going to manage next fall?

I think the positive side, and it’s not necessarily achievement gap of what I’m hoping will have just really long lasting effects that could be really positive for the higher ed system in general. Because of COVID that ACT’s and SAT’s have been canceled and [00:14:00] so a lot of these students that were not able to get ahead because their testing scores weren’t where they’re supposed to be, that it looks like admissions have maybe changed so that it’s not necessarily about the test. More students that were kind of falling into these places, are now looked at more for ability and achievement rather than one test score.

Phil: The focus where there is a bigger risk is more on the retention side than on the admissions side?

Jeanette: I think so. Right now it seems like if people think a lot of looking at those admissions was always really skewed.

I think we saw that especially last year with all of the admissions scandals that were happening. Things were happening that if you were a student of means or you came from a wealthy family, then you were going to schools based on that.

To me, it seems like if admissions changes, for [00:15:00] the long term, because of COVID, that’s only going to be better for students overall in my mind.

Phil: You guys are both telling me I should be more optimistic about the fall, or at least I’m hearing the message that there’s potential upside on this. Let’s also talk about the subject of if you look at online programs, online schools, they’re aware of this issue and there has been a lot of effort, in my opinion, over the years on how to support a greater variety of students, partially because there was a recognition that students who went into online programs often were quite different from an ethnic background, from an age background, from a situation of being working adults and having other life responsibilities to balance. There has been this general sense that we have to think of our students differently and support them where they are. That’s already happened.  [00:16:00]Now what we’re dealing with are students who have not chosen to be in an online program, but they’re getting put into an online program at least. Definitely for the spring, but increasingly for the fall. I think there’s sort of a first time situation where it’s not just let’s support the students, but what about all the students where this was not their chosen modality? Do we even understand what we need to do to support them adequately?

Kevin: Working with different community colleges in California, the spring 2020 statistics showed that in courses that began the semester as online courses, students continued to improve with their success rates compared to the previous year, whereas the traditional courses that were forced into emergency remote teaching and learning circumstances were [00:17:00] anywhere between five and 10 points lower than the previous year in terms of number of students who pass those classes. What’s interesting that you’re pointing out is how are we addressing the needs not of the online courses that have been set up to be online, but those that have probably going to have to revert to online again after campuses feel like they could have open, but now can’t. That article in Inside Higher Ed that we saw this week, will virtual learning be better this fall? Will it be better enough? That quote I really liked and there was from Jose Bohane, there has never been this kind of investment and pedagogy in American higher education in my lifetime.

It’s something that we all talked about in the last podcast, that there is this increase in uptake of faculty members trying to improve their teaching. I do think that statistic we saw in spring 2020 may not be as bad as it was in spring 2020. I don’t think it’ll rebound to the normal rates [00:18:00] that traditional classroom experience will generate.

Phil: On balance, though, and I don’t think we have statistics here, but one of the observations I made from NAU, for example, is the fact that so much of what they and other schools have put in place, that is helped them with students who have challenges, first generation, students of lower economic means, is support outside of the classroom. What you’re describing is classroom support and improvement. There’s got to be a balance there. I don’t know that there’s a simple answer, but how much of the challenge is met inside versus outside of the classroom?

Kevin: Well, that points to what I’ve been telling folks they should try, which is take some student, work student money and convert it to create online learning mentors.

People who have taken five or more online classes should be recruited [00:19:00] to be mentors to students who are new to online learning, have only taken one or zero and be their buddies alongside them outside the course experience, but providing guidance. Working with one university to create near peer coaching videos by students for students that are a little bit like that Texas A&M video that a student talked about working at home and how to set up your space. Even that, the students I’m working with right now said that type of video needs to be more transparent and show that it can be challenging. You can’t just show how easy it is to set up a space. When some students are faced with sharing a room with two other people and may not have a quiet place to study, may not have good Internet, may not have a device, all those things.

Phil: I like that idea, especially because it’s raising the subject of how much of the opportunity for improvement, but also the need for support and encouragement. Ideas [00:20:00] should come student to student from their peers, and school, setting it up to enable that to happen, but the power of using peer support.

Jeanette: Kevin, how difficult do you think setting up a program like that is?

Kevin: The example I’ve been giving is the one at LaGuardia Community College. They have what’s called the student tech mentors, which before COVID was a group of around 50 students that were helping not only other students with the coursework that required technology, but also helping the instructors who needed help using the technology for teaching. That has been in place for a number of years. I do it in my own class and in the beginning of a semester, I ask every student in our in-person meet ups how many online courses have you taken? If they say five or more than I asked them offline, would you mind being a mentor and watching the discussion [00:21:00] forum and helping students who look like they’re new? I capture the names of the students who haven’t taken an online course before, and I try to pair them up if they’re both willing.

If I can do that as an individual instructor, I can imagine that somebody from an academic technology unit could find ways or maybe the head of student undergraduate dean or something like that would be able to put together some kind of survey and create a structured way to provide matching between veteran online learners and new online learners.

Phil: So part of it is just the awareness for faculty and course designers, but mostly faculty of that this is a big opportunity in a big issue experience and these types of courses and the opportunity to turn them into mentors and how powerful that idea could be. It’s really an awareness or it’s not solely an awareness, but awareness is such a huge part of [00:22:00] this opportunity moving forward.

Kevin: Along the lines of awareness, I’ve talked about the South Phoenix Oral History Project as a podcast that includes students and now they’ve been including blog posts. I think they’re over 40 blog posts by students about learning during COVID and these podcast interviews as well. Just today, they launched a campaign that they’re going to donate 10 dollars to a fund that supports underserved college students for every subscriber or people that follow them on iTunes or Spotify. At least in August, they’re going to give that money to the Maricopa Emergency Grant Fund. Those are the types of things that are outside the course and in some cases outside an institution that’s just an instructor who took it upon herself to start helping students in her area. I just I love to see that kind of effort.

Phil: So part of the issue, it raises a question how [00:23:00] do we know? Do we even have adequate information to tell us how things are going once we get into the fall? We’ve worked and we’ve mentioned several times that California community college system and they’re doing a much better job with their data. You can actually look up and look based on ethnicity. You can look at first generation and you can break down data based on these various demographics. Unfortunately, most of it is purely based on course success. Doesn’t do as good of a job of tracing not just how do you do in this class, but how does this impact you and your subsequent classes? Still, there’s quite a good system here. How many systems or schools have that type of data, not just in their systems, but available for people to explore and figure out if how the achievement gaps are progressing, particularly [00:24:00] as we get into this big unknown fall situation? I don’t know, again, that there’s a simple answer, but that’s one of the questions I have is do we even have that information available?

Kevin: Can we trust the data? Because working with different community colleges at the individual level, the data for first generation students is a field that’s not filled in for 60 percent of the population.

Then your data is really not accurate. You have yes, no and don’t know. The don’t know outweighs both the yeses in the noes. Age, gender, that doesn’t count for non binary students, and ethnicity are really the three demographic factors that you can track. Student information systems right now with a reliable sense of we have data on most of the students, but things like status as a veteran, status as a foster youth, all those different factors. Students with disabilities sometimes don’t report [00:25:00] it, all those different aspects of students, we know we need to be helping more because of all the surveys and reports from the students themselves, it’s really tough to tell.

Phil: It’s going to be interesting to see in the fall. I guess these two issues are the accessibility and achievement gaps or how did you phrase it again?

Alternate education debt.

Education debt. I tend to be more negative right now or I’m worried about it quite a bit. Yes, I do see the opportunities as well and the increased focus and the changes to admissions.

Certainly we’re seeing signs of opportunity in these areas. I also, personally, think that we’re going to have a little bit of a rude awakening in the fall once we get a little bit more data or information on this. It’s certainly something that we need to be watching for because logically, there’s [00:26:00] higher risk in these areas.

Kevin: If we can look at, let’s say, just the attendance at the Black Minds Matter series that was put on by the center of organizational responsibility and advancement, they repeated, it was so popular. When I tried to log into the first session, it said all 2500 people have already logged in. You’re going to have to watch the recording on YouTube.

If there’s that much interest in supporting students of color in online courses with this Black Minds Matter series led by Doctors Wood and Ford, then we know that there’s a craving for it. It’s just are there are enough offerings and is it going to be done where faculty can actually make changes to their courses in time for the fall? You bring up really good points that this is something to think about and make sure we’re attending to. I guess we need to balance my sunny optimism with the reality that not everybody’s working on it or aware [00:27:00] of it.

Phil: I hope I’m a little bit too pessimistic on this for what happens. I will just reiterate the point that we also have this unknown situation of different groups being thrown into a modality they didn’t choose. Do we even understand all the impacts there? Yes, there’s a lot of opportunity, but this is a topic along with accessibility that I think we need to pay a lot of attention to in the fall to see what’s happening, to see what we can learn, and to see if we’re taking advantage of opportunities to make improvements in these areas.

It’s great talking to you guys and look forward to our discussion next week.

Although, Jeanette, I’m not sure. Will you be back in time for a discussion next week?

Jeanette: I think so. We’ll keep them guessing so that I think I will.

Phil: Ok, well, great talking to you guys and enjoy your vacations next week.

Kevin: Yes, you too.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the issue of accessibility for emergency remote teaching and online education. Are we making problems worse for the fall?

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

Phil: Hello. Welcome to another episode of COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here again with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. This week, what we wanted to talk about is the subject of accessibility. Accessibility for students to online learning environments, particularly given the transition, the remote transition of teaching the spring and leading into the fall and try to tease this out about what’s really happening. Do we have a problem here?

I had mentioned in a previous podcast that there’s a ticking time bomb of accessibility that’s not being addressed. If we go back to early April, there was an article that set a good context. It was at Inside Higher Ed, titled Accessibility Suffers during a Pandemic. It essentially said, quote, “And the quick shift by colleges from in-person to online instruction in response to the coronavirus pandemic. [00:01:00] The needs of students with disabilities can sometimes be overlooked.” It quotes an accessibility coordinator for Iowa State University saying, “Wiley said although some faculty members may have discussed digital accessibility in the past, they may not be aware of the importance of insuring it for all students and may not understand that it goes beyond making special accommodations for individual students that specifically request it.”

It really is talking about another quote or somebody saying what we worry about now is that in the rush to move everything online in light of COVID-19, universities are paying even less attention to whether it’s accessible or not. That’s the point that we wanted to focus on. Are we actually falling backwards in terms of accessibility because it’s always a challenge, but are things getting worse?

If we jump ahead to some of the surveys that we’ve been looking at, we certainly [00:02:00] saw in the Every Learner Everywhere, Time for Class report, where Tyton Partners had put this out. They talked a lot about how we need to ensure accessibility for all students. It’s showing that faculty are saying, we understand this needs to happen, but it’s not necessarily that it is happening. If you jump to the CHLOE report from Quality Matters and Eduventures, they essentially are saying little was spent on accessibility needs.

There was one chart where they were asking schools, when you did investments for the remote teaching, where did you spend that money? Accessibility accommodations across the whole gamut, only five percent of online officers reported that they invested in accessibility due to the increased need [00:03:00] for this subject. That’s really where we are or what the survey data and some of the analysis is telling us is that we have an issue that’s becoming a bigger problem because of this transition to remote learning.

Let’s start out with discussing a little bit more why is this happening. Faculty are saying, hey, we’re aware we need to do accessibility, but there are indications it’s not happening. So why is that?

Kevin: I think you talked about the quote, little attention’s being paid. I think it’s partly because there’s attention deficit disorder going on right now at an organizational level where they cannot focus on so many things at once. We need to think about ways to support institutions, individual faculty, the people who support faculty and students to make [00:04:00] this rise to the top so that it does get the attention it deserves.

When you’re thinking about the different aspects of accessibility for students and for faculty who may need accommodations as well, there are just quite a range of topics to consider. There’s captioning for videos, there’s accessibility accommodations in documents you upload to the learning management system. There are considerations on how you structure your course for students with different learning disabilities and many more.

Paying attention to all that while you’re in the middle of a crisis, trying to put a course online that was completely face to face, I think we missed the mark because it was an overload for those instructors who couldn’t focus on all of those things at once.

Phil: Ok, and Jeanette, give me some of your thoughts about why we are in this situation or why this is becoming an even bigger [00:05:00] challenge on properly providing environments that are accessible by all students.

Jeanette: I agree with Kevin. I think there’s ADD happening right now for good reason. I think that it was always a difficult thing to do for a majority of instructors, especially ones who maybe are directly affected by someone either that they love with a disability or that disability themselves. They don’t understand the implications of what it means to not have their course be accessible. It just takes more work. I think that everything we’ve seen is these people that do apply accessible and universal design techniques to their courses, that it benefits all learners, but it’s time consuming.

Phil: I would add to this, besides the overload, there’s also the nature of all the teachers that you’re talking about that haven’t taught online in particular. [00:06:00] I think there was likely a lack of appreciation of how much effort has already been applied to try to improve accessibility and accommodation for sight or hearing or various disabilities. Now that the faculty are thrust into it, it’s not just that it’s overwhelming. I question whether they really understood how much hard work was already happening in the community. That’s part of the problem as people say, well, I had no idea. You mean we have to do this, this and this? I didn’t even know that or I didn’t think about that very much.

Now, there’s a silver lining to the cloud, if that’s accurate, which is there could be a broader emphasis on increased accessibility because of the pandemic now, that could even potentially last after we get to whatever the new normal is. I think there are various reasons on the human level why [00:07:00] this is happening.

I would also argue that there are some technical reasons as well or pedagogical, is there’s such a predominant migration to synchronous video. Zoom U is the oversimplified but description of what’s happened. Well, once you go synchronous and live video, that’s actually quite difficult to handle. You can’t do alternative formats very easily. About the best that you can do is live transcriptions. If you look at Zoom, which is the most popular thing, you have to have it, enable it. But even there, Zoom hasn’t figured out all of the nuances of accessibility, such as enabling it for breakout rooms. It’s only recently you’ve been able to do live transcription. I don’t want to pick too much on Zoom, but I think part of the reason that we’re in this trouble is because of what became the default shift for so many people during remote transitions.

Kevin: Well, [00:08:00] I’d agree with that. I’d go a step further and say that automatic captioning or a transcription service that Zoom provides is usually not up to the standards that accessibility requires. If you have a student with a hearing disability in your class, then they would require a live captioning or an American sign language translator to be present. Then that student could pin the video of the translators so that they’re able to see that person signing the lecture. But you’re right that the technology hasn’t caught up with some of the demands that this puts on the infrastructure and the instructor.

Phil: If you get into where I’ve seen the most emphasis and higher education accessibility, at least from a technical standpoint, Blackboard Ally is the tool that’s most frequently [00:09:00] used to address the accessibility. That’s really set up for asynchronous pedagogical tools, detecting which files and which web pages, and what has accessibility issues and how to fix them. What they were really pushing at the Blackboard World conference this week, the ability to create alternative formats to documents. That sort of relies on the fact that you’re not just doing a live video conference class. I think that we’ve talked about the need for more emphasis on asynchronous elements of pedagogical, if not that being the default, but part of the reason is accessibility as well.

Kevin: I would say that equity needs to be a higher priority than the legal aspects of this conversation. The fact that we need to level the playing field so that every student has no barriers between them and the [00:10:00] learning should be the way we’re looking at this. There are groups out there right now that are providing guidance. The Association on Higher Education and Disability, the National Center for College Students with Disabilities, they’re all putting out different guides for the students themselves and for campuses and instructors. They’re important to know about.

Phil: From what we’re seeing, is the view that I describe from Inside Higher Ed, that was written back in April during the middle of the transition or right near the end of the initial transition, is it still an issue now that we’re into late July? Do we see this being a ticking time bomb for fall? I don’t know that we have a clear answer. 

Do these surveys indicate no, we’re not doing enough and this is really going to be a problem? Both, if you look at it in legal terms, from a Department of Justice setting up schools for lawsuits based on what’s happening in the fall or [00:11:00] as you’ve described, getting into equity.

Well, that gets into are students really able to succeed, which could show up in retention and student success numbers. Just based on what we’re seeing right now, what do you two think is going to happen in the fall? Do you think that we are going to have a growing problem that’s going to be more apparent both legally and equity based?

Jeanette: I do. I think that the spring, people were understanding of the transition that had to be made. At this point, students, instructors and institutions have been given the summer to figure this out. I think the schools that were best case scenario and thought everything could go back to normal are going to be the ones that are going to be caught flat footed at this point because they didn’t do the preparation that was needed. I think that’s across the board.

If you’re a student that needed those courses [00:12:00] to be online, needs to be accessible, or if you’re a student that had equity issues and your school didn’t provide that for you, they’re not going to be able to succeed and that’s not going to be their fault. I think that they are going to see a lot of issues come up.

Phil: Kevin, we’ve mentioned this before, but I think you have a unique role in how many faculty workshops and how involved you’ve been in the professional development of faculty across multiple schools. Are you seeing this as a well-known topic? Do you see any signs that people understand what needs to be done? What’s your view from the professional development trenches, if you will?

Kevin: Yeah, at San Francisco State, when I was in my role as an academic technology manager, we had the whole system wide initiative around accessible technology. They had three different components, procurement [00:13:00] and instructional materials and one more. The instructional materials aspect, we were training faculty how to make their documents accessible, their files. They’re also thinking about what’s beyond the technological to reducing those barriers for students that Jeanette brought up earlier and the professional development aspects, it’s woven into a lot of different tools.

The CVC, OEI, the California Virtual Campus Online Education Initiative, has a course design rubric for people putting their courses online and one of the four main sections, at least until 2018. I know they just revised a couple of months ago. One of the four core sections in that rubric was accessibility. They are making it so that people are aware of the need to make their courses accessible in a lot of different ways.

Phil: It’s almost part of [00:14:00] what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing also is we don’t need to reinvent the wheel in the situation we’re in right now. We’ve always needed improvements in accessibility and equity, but we’re in a situation where we don’t need new solutions per say.

What we need is broad adoptions of the solutions and the teaching practices that we already know about. This is not just a technology. It’s a practice adoption challenge that we face right now. Let’s at least apply the things that we already know about as opposed to how we’ve got a new problem and need to come up with a completely new solution. Does that sound right to you, too?

Kevin: It does. Even if you’re looking at articles like the June 17th article and campus technology where they said COVID-19 intensifies the need to tackle digital accessibility. That’s more recent than when we were in the thick [00:15:00] of it in the spring. They referenced landmark settlement with Harvard University and the National Association of the Deaf. They’re bringing to the forefront the concept that moving a ton of content and live activities into a virtual space requires more consideration for those people who need additional support or us to think about the barriers we may be putting in front of them.

Phil: I know that we prefer not to look at this purely as a legalistic method. I have to say in the area of accessibility, it’s taken DOJ lawsuits to wake a lot of schools up to the issues that they face. It’s certainly not what I would wish would be the preferred method happening. I’ve seen that actual legalistic lawsuits have been the trigger pre-pandemic to take this more seriously. Is that what’s [00:16:00] going to happen in the fall? Part of the challenge is does it need to be legalistic to push people forward, or is there enough emphasis right now to take care of it outside of legalistic concerns?

Kevin: Yeah, like I said before, it would be better if we looked at this through an equity lens than a legal lens, because that’s focusing on the students and not covering our ass.

The truth of the matter is, and it’s not just higher ed, Target had a big lawsuit because their online shopping cart wasn’t accessible. There’s a lot of different businesses that have to think about how the virtual experience needs to change to allow everyone to participate.

Jeanette: I think that we, of course, don’t want the legal aspect to happen, but I think it’s a really important tool for students and for consumers to be able to use when their needs aren’t being met.

Phil: Yeah.  [00:17:00]Well, let’s talk some specifics. Particularly for if you’re a faculty who’s new to teaching remotely or online or hybrid or just for people who aren’t fully versed in it, what needs to happen? In other words, what are the key things that instructors or course designers can do to make sure that courses are accessible?

Kevin, what are some of the things that you’ve seen in professional development or the rubric that are the starting place?

Kevin: Jeanette brought up universal design for learning, so providing multiple pathways to consume instructional materials and resources and videos to participate in instructional activities to assess your learning, either for your own purposes or for a grade. All of those need to be viewed as the more options we provide for students, the more accessibility accommodations [00:18:00] we’re making by default. As Jeanette brought up, that takes time because you’re doing multiple versions of different things.

The other thing is just to do a quick self check. If I were a student with visual impairment, would I be able to get all the information from this complex diagram? If not, do I have to create an audio recording of myself describing that diagram as if I were talking to a friend over the phone who couldn’t see it so that way that person is getting the same amount of information.

When I talk about it’s not just technological practices, it’s pedagogical practices. That includes knowing that some of the students are going to be watching a recorded version of something. Talking about where you are within the presentation here on slide two, I want to bring your attention to X or I’m going to ask you to press pause, go do something and come back. You’re creating audio versions of what people with sight would be able [00:19:00] to tell by looking at the screen. You need to make sure that information gets conveyed in multiple ways.

Phil: I would also add in, the ability for students to interact even as the recording is asynchronous video. If you’re not watching or doing something live synchronous, how do you engage and have a discussion? As an example, Jeanette and I both attended the virtual LMS conferences this week. One of the things I noticed for the sessions where I chose to do it on demand, after the fact, is the chat windows. While obviously I can’t participate in the chat windows because I’m watching it on demand, but the software did not do a good job of synching up the previous chat window along with the video itself. There’s an issue of the discussions as well. Is there an option [00:20:00] for students to have a meaningful engagement that they might have been able to do live?

Kevin: Well, that’s what HyFlex instructors are faced with, too, right? You have this live experience where people are either in the room or on Zoom or some other video conference solution. Then how do you engage those asynchronous students and equivalent activities that may not be the same? For that example you just gave, Phil, having the chat stream synchronized with the time code of the video is goos, but it puts students with vision impairments at a disadvantage because the screen reader can only focus on one thing at a time. They can’t hear the speaker and the chat being read to them simultaneously because it’s like trying to pick up conversations in a crowded cafe, once we get to have those again.

Jeanette: SKevin, are there any solutions to that?

Kevin: It’s all in [00:21:00] the preplanning. The article I wrote for Phil on EdTech about hybrid flexible course design, I thought through some ideas of what a 50 minute or a 75 minute course might look like. You have to be conscious of the fact that some of these people are going to be asynchronous. You have to create an equivalent activity. You might take that chat text and dump it into a discussion forum after cleaning it up and creating a summary version. Instead of having to read through an hour’s worth of chat, which some might be “great to see you online, Jeanette.” Instead, hey, these are the themes that emerge. These were the top questions. Here were the answers. Now add yours and then bring it up t the end of the session. Say, for those of you who are watching the recording, be sure to go to this discussion and we’re going to pick up the conversation where we left off. I’ll be sure to summarize all the key points. We want you to add your questions and comments to the discussion. You just [00:22:00] have to plan it ahead. You have to create a run of show that includes multiple channels of participation.

Jeanette: When you’re designing those courses,to me, it seems like people who’ve gone through educational training and pedagogical training know that there are sometimes these templates that you create with learning objectives and then what the activities are. Is there something similar for people that are designing HyFlex courses that it’s almost a grid, you are identifying the key elements that need to be captured for the different types of audiences?

Kevin: I don’t know if you’re throwing a softball for me to hit, but as part of that article I referenced, I did create a Google doc that’s open to the public that has columns for if you’re in the classroom, if you’re on video conference or if you’re asynchronous and it basically says what the instructor does, what the students do in each situation, how they wrap it up, [00:23:00] how they’re tied together.

It’s just meant to be a set of ideas for people to consider. How would I incorporate a poll activity in multiple channels of participation? How would I do think-pair-share and how much time would it take? It’s going to take longer than it might if I were just doing it with an in class group of students because I have to walk over and set up the breakout rooms in Zoom and I have to do all these extra tasks. You have to say maybe that means I’m going to record some of my lectures in advance and flip the classroom so we have more time for activities that are going to take longer. How do we do that in a room where people have to be six feet apart?

How do you do a think-pair-share when you’re shouting at your student neighbor who’s three seats away in the stadium seating fixed chairs? There’s a lot of things to think about. Accessibility is just one of those things that because there’s so much to consider, it hasn’t been on the list, but it has to be.

Phil: It’s difficult, but the planning aspect. This [00:24:00] can be done, but it takes some planning. Clearly, we didn’t have time in the spring for the vast majority of courses to have that type of planning. For the fall, this gets to Jeanette’s point, expectations are going to be different. We should have had time to make significant improvements in these issues and planning out activities for the various modalities. It’s going to be fascinating. Hopefully in a good way, but possibly in a cringeworthy way, once we get into September and October and we see actual results to find out just how much did do the teaching practices get improved in this area? I’ll have to say it’s not easy.

We’re not teaching courses here, but with the podcast, we go through a transcription and we provide full transcriptions. We use Sonix.AI. It does quite a good job of transcribing. However, every [00:25:00] episode I have to go back in and change things like it never understands LMS or even COVID, which is sort of funny that the software providers haven’t figured out that’s a key word these days. The grammar on adding commas and making the spoken word sound more structured in a transcription, it takes extra work. When we first started doing it, it was sort of fun for me because I was learning quite a bit about what it’s actually like and how much has to be changed. For a 30 minute episode, I would say that the transcription is automated. I just upload it. It takes about 15 minutes, but then it probably takes me 30 to 45 minutes to correct each transcription before it posts.

If you’re teaching now, the question is, are we asking the faculty members to do that type of work or should there be academic technology [00:26:00] support staff who do that for them? Just that one example, it really points out the resource needs to do this holistically, if you will. That’s got to be a challenge in the budget times, especially.

Kevin: You brought up the word I was about to bring up, because there are certain services. I know the California community college system has a limited budget for instructors who have students with hearing impairments to have their lectures captioned for an online course. I forget if it’s 3C media, it’s one of the groups that the system has a contract with. 

Kevin: When you put almost every course online and you have to consider the needs of where the students are and which courses get the transcription dollars, then you’re not making it so that every course is transcribed. You’re only thinking about the ones with students this semester that need that particular [00:27:00] accommodation. We definitely need to start following the chancellor’s statement that we can’t let COVID get in the way of learning equity. It means they might be putting some dollars behind that weren’t there before.

Phil: To wrap this up in a negative view, this gets back to why I called it a ticking time bomb. What I’m nervous about is if you go back to the CHLOE report, if it’s representative and accurate, they’re describing that only five percent of schools really invested more to deal with accessibility issues. You just gave one specific example of it, investing in a service that can do the transcription. We’re not seeing that investment.

That’s what makes me nervous. Maybe that fits back into what we’ve used a couple of times on this podcast, “Entering Darkness.” I think we’re going to see a lot of issues come up in September and October that are going to be quite stark [00:28:00] and how badly we’ve adapted for accessibility and equity. I’m hoping that since we know a lot of the potential solutions, that it will act as a way to spur schools and even instructors and course designers on to fix things and make that investment in time and effort to improve in this area. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s where we need to watch for what happens in the fall.

It’s going to be a different set of expectations. It’s an important topic to start looking at more seriously.

Kevin: Maybe we call this “exiting darkness”, planning for the fall.

Phil: Well, that’s the optimistic view. I hope you’re right. I expect this is something that we’re going to talk more about because it’s a subject that needs to be explored more thoroughly. If we’re right if some of these subjects are going to become very stark very soon, we need to understand them and what schools [00:29:00] could do.

It’s great talking to you guys. Sorry for ending on a negative note, but that’s what we’re looking at right now.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the latest CHLOE (Changing Landscape of Online Education) survey report put out by Quality Matters and Eduventures Research, based on responses from more than 300 online leaders at US colleges and universities.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

Phil: Hello, welcome to COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. We’re talking about the CHLOE report, the fifth one that’s coming out on Monday when will publish publishes podcast.That’s the Changing Landscape of Online Education (CHLOE) that is put out by Eduventures and Quality Matters. There’s a lot of interesting insight in this survey that I thought it was worth us discussing.

In particular, to me, this survey provides the most usable context of any, except for maybe the Tyton Partners – Every Learner Everywhere is the other one I would put in this category where there’s useful context behind the survey that could be actionable by schools. What I mean by that is they don’t just go with the simple narrative of everybody’s going to Zoom. Students don’t like online this. They actually [00:01:00] provide a lot of context about what percentage of faculty and students have never had an online course in the past? And how does that affect this?

What are the multiple tools that are being used? Almost all the data is broken out by two year public community colleges versus four year in private. To me, it just has some of the most useful context of any of the surveys out there, say, the Tyton Partners. I would put that in the same category. I think it’d be useful for us to discuss this. I guess I’ve already shared my lead. This has context and this is a very usable survey and we’ve got a ton out there. So we’re starting to get into the point of, well, what can you do with these? Let me get your initial reactions. How how usable and what was your impression of the overall survey report, Jeanette?

Jeanette: Well, first, I think we need to point out who was [00:02:00] surveyed, because I think that makes an important distinction for this one, because it’s a little bit different than we’re getting students or faculty survey, For this report, which is a little bit further. Not as many as they usually do. What I’m reading is they mostly survey chief online officers for this report, for the survey. This time they only did three hundred and eight, although they did break it down across the different types of institutions that you listed.I will admit I’m getting a little bit of survey fatigue, and I shouldn’t be, since you guys are really doing more of the reporting on that, especially you, Kevin. I thought it was really interesting. I also think important to read the report because I think there’s some insight there that’s not just part of the numbers, but they call out some really important distinctions, which I think some people aren’t doing. I agree with you that it’s an important one. I think there is a lot of insight. I think between the lines sometimes [00:03:00] in this report is even more important than the actual numbers.

Phil: So basically, I failed to provide the context of who was even surveyed in this. But thank you, Kevin. What was your impression?

Kevin: Well, if Jeanette hadn’t brought it up, I would have, because I thought that was a key factor, especially when you’re looking at charts about faculty and students feelings about online teaching and learning. It’s the chief online officers feelings of how faculty and students are feeling. Let’s just call this second hand information for some of these responses. With that in mind, I still think you have a good point, Phil, that it’s got some good background information. These officers probably do have access to the statistics in the student information system and elsewhere of who hadn’t taken courses online before and who had taught online courses before covered hit. There are some interesting data and I’m really happy that they paid attention to the plight of adjuncts [00:04:00] and other groups that typically don’t have this much attention.

Phil: So one way to look at this then, is that we need to have a little bit of caution reading this report where it gets into purely impressions, particularly second hand. If there’s implications of what students or faculty thought, we need to be aware that this is certainly second hand and not as quantifiable, whereas other things such as which tools are you using and how many courses did you convert? Those should have a much higher reliability.

Jeanette: Right. That’s why I mentioned I think reading the report, not just looking at the data was important, because I think that when I read, how successful was your transition to online for your students? I’m like, well, why are we asking these people? I think that’s my first impression. When you read the actual report, they recognize that that’s a bias that they’re having. They also say, this is [00:05:00] the subjective question of the nature of this question, what we’re saying is these students we did put these courses online, we did get through the spring on them and they were able to complete their classes. That was the level of success for them. It wasn’t how much do they enjoy being online? It wasn’t how much did they learn online? It was that they completed their course online.

Kevin: Was it possible for them to complete their course? They didn’t actually talk about how many students actually completed the courses. I think they made a reference to what they called DFW Iron, dropped, fail, withdrawal, incomplete rates. I know for a fact, as an online teacher myself, that even as hard as I tried in a class started the semester online, I still had around 15 to 20 percent of my students not finish. ‘m guessing that the measure of success for chief online officers was did they provide [00:06:00] the opportunity for students to complete their courses?

Phil: I hope that when the media coverage comes out of around this report and we need to look to ourselves and what we write on the blog, but I’m a little bit worried that there might be a lead of online officers. Oh, they think everything was peachy keen. Then you compare it to an online survey of students and they’re saying we weren’t happy. In the report, they’re very explicit. Our goal of a successful transition, as you’ve mentioned, Janette, was quote, did they have the opportunity? So I hope that doesn’t get buried in the reporting as well.

Kevin: Well, I think there was one through line. If you look at student surveys, the other faculty surveys, like Every Learner Everywhere and even some of the institution specific surveys like University of Pittsburgh or George Washington University or even Penn State, but they all came away with the feeling that we need to improve student [00:07:00] engagement in these online courses that chief online officers felt that way. The 4000 faculty from 15 hundred institutions for Every Learner Everywhere felt that way. It just goes down the road. Everybody agrees on that.

Phil: This report, what it provides is — and I thought that the wording was a little bit confusing, but I hope that people get it — it compared online versus remote, which we’ve talked about quite a bit. The point being remote is what happened this spring where half of the teachers were moving face to face and they’d never even taught online before. They’re calling that remote. Then they compare that to online courses that have already been designed and released as online courses at their institution. I think that was a very useful way to break down the data as long as people understand what they’re saying. Then that captures your point right there [00:08:00] about the engagement. This report really shows the difference in engagement.

The figure eight student engagement online study, which means the stuff that was happening before the pandemic versus remote study in the spring 2020. In this case, across the board, across all institutions types, these are online officers say it was far superior and online courses that had been supposedly thoughtfully designed ahead of time. It’s not just that engagement is a common thread, but in this report, it even says, let’s compare these two different situations and see what the difference is. Now, there is an impression here. It’s judge mental, if you will, not hard data. It is interesting to see that from the perspective of this audience.

Kevin: Well, the writers themselves, my favorite line in the whole report is so it should be no surprise that little attention [00:09:00] to faculty, student and student to student interaction characterized many remote courses. We had this statistic in previous CHLOE reports. Basically they’re acknowledging that faculty members in classroom situations often haven’t been trained how to teach. They’re not going to pay attention to the thing that people who are trained to teach online at least are made aware of the importance of student engagement. I think that’s going to be the takeaway. That is going to be the strongest. This is happy, optimistic, Kevin talking here. The number of instructors that have been exposed to pedagogical training as a result of COVID-19 is possibly going to change higher ed teaching and learning forever.

Phil: Yes, it’s a good point. Jeannette, are you positive or optimistic or pessimistic, Jeanette about this topic? About how [00:10:00] usable this is and how it points to the future,

Jeanette: How usable the survey is? I’m not sure. I think that there was components to it that I felt like need to be pulled out specifically around things like you said. There were more quantifiable, like the use of video conferencing. Seeing that, I mean, Zoom is  like the most used video conferencing tool. Which I think is somewhat fascinating, given that there are tools out there that have been created for education but are not being used. I thought that was interesting. I think they use of textbook or online courses and or the lack of use of those, especially in the case where here’s some instructional design. In most cases, instructional designed courses with content. Universities weren’t necessarily looking at them to use them online. I thought those things were really interesting to me. I do hope that there is now some more teacher training [00:11:00] and professor training in terms of how to conduct classes, both in-person and online that haven’t happened for a lot of disciplines. We don’t do that in higher education. I think it’s something that’s been needed for a long time. I think this hopefully will push a lot of instructors to look for that. I do want to make a point that I don’t think instructors in almost any case, there’s going to be these outliers. I think everyone wants to teach as well as they can. I think that push to online create a lot of self reflection, which is also a tenant of educational planning, is that you reflect on your teaching. I think that’s maybe the best thing that’s happened out of this, is that there’s been some self reflection on instruction and pedagogy that maybe wasn’t happening.

Phil: How do you guys take if you’re sort of getting into self reflection and moving forward? If you start looking at figure 10 and beyond, campus [00:12:00] faculty attitudes towards online learning after the pivot to remote teaching. This goes against a lot of the narrative that you see in coverage, which is the popular narrative is now that so many teachers have seen remote teaching, they’re even more against online in general. In figure 10, this shows at least the interpretation second hand is that faculty are very positive or somewhat positive in improving their attitude towards online learning after this. They have a better understanding of what’s involved and what’s possible. This gets back to the point of how much weight do we put to this type of finding? What it’s saying is it implies that this will improve online learning moving forward and more faculty are aware and have a more positive attitude about what can happen. How much weight do you put on this [00:13:00] type of finding particularly and figure 10 and then figure 11 gets into the student attitude.

Jeanette: These are CIOs and a lot of cases, these are executive level people at your university. These aren’t the faculty.

Phil: Well, I’d say they’re  executive level. I don’t think see, unless I miss that. I don’t think they’re primarily CEOs. It’s more online officers. Quite often that will be more on the academic technology side or an executive dean of online.

Kevin: For a community college, they may not have an academic technology unit. Especially if you look at the statistics, they said for the average number of FTE, for instructional designers was three. IF you looked at the community college, it the average was one, which we know from California Community College system. 60 percent of them don’t [00:14:00] have any Full-Time staff for instructional design. With your question about figures 10 and 11, we can take it as somebody on a campus in a leadership role has probably a decent understanding of how people feel. I don’t think it’s as representative as the faculty and students surveys themselves.

Jeanette: I agree. That’s that’s a question being answered by someone that wasn’t doing the teaching or not doing the learning. I think they maybe have a more positive spin. It’s a very subjective question and we don’t know that the feelings behind it necessarily, nor were the people experiencing it. I think it’s nice that they think that, but I don’t know if that’s really reflective.

Phil: Yeah, I’m more Goldilocks. I’m not all the way saying we should play the full opinion here. From what I’ve seen at a lot of schools, you give them more impression. The online officers being on campus [00:15:00] hearing what people are saying. I think there’s some weight that we give to this. I wouldn’t reject it, but I guess I would read it with a grain of salt. Be careful about not over-interpreting this. This might be a little bit boring, but it is quantifiable. I think we should go back to a point that you were making, Jeanette. We actually have some better data now on what tools were used and consistent with the Every Learner Everywhere / Tyton Partners report and some others. While video conferencing, such as Zoom, such as Blackboard Collaborate increased the most during the spring of 2020, the LMS, as they described in this report is the workhorse. It’s essentially ubiquitous that it is more used than any other system for even remote teaching. That doesn’t [00:16:00] mean it’s in-depth usage or valuable usage, but we need to keep in mind this sort of counteracts a narrative that faculty just threw things on Zoom and there was no organization or structure to the course. That does imply that there was heavier usage of LMS. How meaningful is that data?

Kevin: If you look at the Every Learner Everywhere information about that same question, where they put existing users and new users and their table on page 19, the learning management system. 78 percent of the population were existing users, whereas only 21 percent were using video conferencing before the transition to remote learning. Then if you look at that graph, 49 percent of the users that were added to that, 21 percent for video conferencing bring it up to 70 total were new users. That was a huge spike. Almost 50 percent of the teaching faculty began [00:17:00] using video conferencing as a result of COVID. Only 9 percent began using it as a result using the learning management system, as a result of COVID. The totals reach almost 90 percent for learning management system. It’s that new user total that really leapt out at me from that Every Learner Everywhere, certainly.

Phil: Now, one thing I would also look at in this data helps confirm it. When you get to the fourth most used system, remote proctoring is another product category that’s become more and more important, and it has a big increase. You’re reading a lot about schools trying to say, if we’re doing things remote, we have to have some way of knowing who the students are. Some sort of academic integrity and remote proctoring truly is increasing in importance across higher education. Then that comes with a cost that comes with real questions about student [00:18:00] privacy and even pedagogical usage. Should you be doing tests that require proctoring? It’s certainly the data certainly confirms how important it is in the usage of systems.

Kevin: I’m not quite sure with 308 chief online officers predominantly overrepresented in private non-profits, if that’s representative of the whole country, because you just don’t know that every campus has the funding to support something like ProctorU or Proctorio or some of their proctoring.

Phil: I’ve seen other studies saying there definitely is a increase, but yes, it has to vary between the different sectors and the size of institutions. It certainly is becoming an increasingly common or important factor within higher education. It’s got a lot of questions behind it.

Let’s jump ahead. There’s an interesting section looking [00:19:00] at online program managers and what their roles are. For example, Figure 16 is talking about how did you manage the transition? 90 percent of school or chief online officer said we managed the transition entirely in-house. 8 percent said they did, mostly in-house with some OPM and 0.3p ercent were saying mostly OPM, but some in-house. It certainly doesn’t appear that OPM are massive factor in the transition that we did in the spring. In fact, as schools look at what’s important, it’s really the number one factor schools are saying is they’ve got to build up their internal capacity. That’s more important than expanding their agreement with OPM providers. I have to be careful about drawing too [00:20:00] much. It’s interesting to see data about how schools perceive OPM players and their role in this type of transition that we’re going through. Jeanette, did any of these findings on the OPM surprise you?

Jeanette: I don’t know if it surprised me. I think that what I see is a real need from institutions and maybe some of a role that OPM can step in to or new vendors of assisting. There’s some out there, assisting the creation of courses, not necessarily programs at the undergraduate level that include content creation and instructional design and working alongside faculty. That’s typically a role that OPM do. There’s right now more of a need to try to build that out internally within these institutions. To do that, OPM can step in or other like vendors can.

One of the sponsors of the report is I-design. Something that you might see I-design do. [00:21:00]

Phil: You have to actually mention, like in figure 17, if you already have an OPM contract, what it is almost one in four said, we do plan on expanding our agreement with our OPM partner moving forward. It’s not that they’re a nonfactor, but it’s definitely a clear message that internal capacity is an even bigger factor, much bigger factor in these schools, even if they already have an OPM partner.

Jeanette: The other thing to add to that is I think what we’ve discussed in other podcasts and things that we’re really seeing is the financial impact that the pandemic is having on everybody. It’s certainly these institutions higher out in K-12 and those revenues are really needed right now by these institutions. OPMs take a lot of it. I think that there’s likely some hesitation from institutions to go forward with an OPM that’s going to be taking a majority of your profits.

Phil: Sure. The one thing I would caution [00:22:00] there. Where the OPM have been taking a majority has been typically master’s programs with full revenue writers. I think a lot of the expansion we’re talking about is across undergraduate programs. I don’t believe those they’re looking at revenue share and 50 plus percent. I think there’s more of a fee for service where you’re getting your OPM partner to help with students that they hadn’t been helping before. I agree, I think there’s a headwind, however, that budgetary constraints have to be a part of saying we’ve got to be able to figure out how to do this ourselves.

Jeanette: Exactly.

Kevin: Well, also to consider that figure 17 is the percentage of the 10 percent or fewer of that figure. 16 schools that had an OPM contract before the pandemic began. 25 percent of 10 percent is 2 and a hald percent.

Phil: There’s certainly not an overwhelming story of OPMs that this [00:23:00] is the time that they’re now into undergraduate education and they’re fully established as a key part of broad based undergraduate. My interpretation of what we’re talking about right now, that’s not happening. There are isolated cases where they’re getting involved and helping schools out. Statistically, it’s still a very small number of cases.

This is this been a good discussion of what we’ll likely have a blog post out as well looking at some of these findings. Jeanette, you mentioned the fact that you’re getting fatigued, and I guess I’m sort of in the same place. Maybe not fatigue, but I feel like I’m getting bombarded every day. I’m seeing a new survey and it’s getting pretty hard to keep track of it. That’s part of my impression, is it’s you have to spend effort to get value out of the surveys personally because so many of them are coming out right now.  [00:24:00]Any final thoughts that you two have on this or the general state of surveys?

Jeanette: My final thought, I guess, is that it’s going to be interesting. I think the things that are most valuable right now on these surveys, are the quantifiable pieces of data. I think that we are seeing these surveys over and over again and they pretty much say the same thing. Spring was heroic and how everybody transition to online so quickly, but not ideal and both for learning and teaching was not ideal. I think that because there is so much more of a variety of how schools are going to be either going online or in person or hybrid or Hyflex, I think the fall surveys or the fall data coming out, this is going to be more interesting because it’s not going to be so homogeneous of how people went online. That is where we probably will find real variations in how education is being taught, [00:25:00] how education is being delivered and how we are going to move forward. I think that’s where we’ll start seeing trends.

Phil: Kevin, any final thoughts you had on this or surveys in general at this stage?

Kevin: Yeah, I would say we still are not paying as much attention to students. I know these were faculty surveys, but if you look at the CHLOE, over 50 percent of those institutions are going to require faculty development and only 35 percent are going to require student orientation. If everybody is acknowledging that student engagement needs to increase, we need to help students figure out how to do it. Also just one small thing from Penn State’s thing that made me think of the NFL Buccaneers head coach who said, I think every player on the team is going to get COVID at some point during the season. Two thirds of the employees self-assessed that they’re COVID risk was moderate to high, but only 14 percent were reported being unwilling to return to face to face teaching under any circumstances. It’s almost like they’re acknowledging that we’re at high risk. We need the workspaces [00:26:00] too. 74 percent believe the work spaces need some changes before to support social distancing. They’re all basically accepting that they’re going to go back to some face to face interactions. I know that’s part of the challenge that these faculty surveys bring is what we’re hearing in the news. I thought it was interesting that Every Learner Everywhere brought up how some of the faculty findings in their survey were very different than what’s being reported in the news. I think as we move closer to the fall, as Jeanette said, we’ll be getting some data where people a little bit further away from the urgency and emergency of the situation. We’ll have more about what campuses are actually doing. I’m surprised that we’re halfway through July and we still have campuses that haven’t figured that out yet. I’m an armchair quarterback position. I have the luxury of not having to make that decision myself.

Phil: If I combine those two [00:27:00] a references to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and you’re an armchair quarterback, you are the Tom Brady of EdTech, so I’ll buy that. As long as we’re going dark, I do want to add one more point. This, as far as a depressing statement, but it confirms what we’re saying. Little attention was paid to accessibility. That’s another area, particularly for students that I think is sort of a ticking time bomb. Is that in the spring that heroic efforts? It was remarkable, the transition, how smooth it went. I don’t think schools have come around to understanding how important accessibility is and the risk they face as an institution by not paying attention to this. The Department of Education, Department of Justice, they’re going to start cracking down on the accessibility front again. Students deserve more attention to be paid. As long as we’re going dark, that’s the I’d like to throw that one in there as well. Moving forward.

It’s [00:28:00] been a great conversation. Expect this to come out on the same day the CHLOE 5 survey is released in public. It’s great talking to you, Kevin and Jeanette.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the growing pushback from many in the academic community to colleges’ and universities’ reopening plans, focusing on two recent articles arguing that we’ll be all online in the fall.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and we’re back again with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. And great to talk to you guys this day, even though it’s been a very interesting week.

Jeanette: Hey.

Kevin: Hey.

Phil: Let’s jump right into the topic, which I have to say ahead of time, it seems like the pressure in higher education has really been ramping up over the past few weeks on the decisions about fall plans. And that’s somewhat predictable. We talked in our podcast called Enter Darkness about how the fall was going to be entering into this period of uncertainty. And people would second guess you, no matter what the choice was, for an institution to open up. But I don’t think I really had in mind or understood just how intense a lot of the pushback was going to be.

And this week, we wanted to talk about a lot of the academic community pushback on [00:01:00] school plans for reopening a particular looking, as an example, two Op Eds that were published this week. They were really calling out, saying that colleges who were planning on any form of face to face reopening, having any students on campus, that it’s just going to end in disaster. And it’s a major mistake. And one of the Op Eds was at Inside Higher Ed. It was published this morning – today is Friday – by Ryan Craig. For each of these I’ll set up the premise, as they did it. His post is titled “Flim Flam: College in 2020.” And jumping ahead:. 

“The story of every mark who encounters a flimflam man is a carnival version of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. First, the flimflam man approaches the mark. Second, temptation, followed by a small payoff to demonstrate the scheme’s purported effectiveness. Third, the hard sell to go all in. Finally, a sudden unanticipated crisis or change of events that results in a complete loss.Millions of college students are now on this sucker’s journey. College students and their families are perfect marks. They’re told a degree is the only pathway to good jobs. After a remote spring and summer best characterized by the great They Might Be Giants lyric “If it wasn’t for disappointment/I wouldn’t have any appointments,” they’re primed for the temptation of a return to campus and normalcy.” [00:02:00]

That’s the end of the quote. The second one is from the Chronicle of Higher Education, and it’s from Robert Kelchen, and his is titled “This Will Be One of the Worst Months in the History of Higher Education”.” It actually builds off of a Twitter thread that he put out that got a lot of attention. So in his first two paragraphs: [00:03:00]

“Summer is usually a period of relative calm for most of American higher education, but this one is different. Faculty members are increasingly indignant about the prospect of being forced back on campus in the fall; administrators are quietly scrambling behind the scenes to do contingency planning. These disruptions are just the beginning. Whether colleges are willing to admit it or not, chaos will be greeting many of them in the coming weeks, and wishful thinking will not be enough to avoid it.

Most colleges have been optimistically pitching a return to campus for students, even if they acknowledge the experience will be much different than normal. The Chronicle’s tracker of colleges’ fall plans currently shows that about 60 percent of colleges are planning for an in-person fall, while less than 10 percent are planning for a mainly online fall.”

So these are not the only two situations where a lot of people in the academic community are pushing back [00:04:00] on college plans. But I think they’re pretty illustrative and worth exploring. We haven’t discussed this between the three of us much, so let’s see how it goes. Let’s start out with the Inside Higher Ed article, the flimflam article by Ryan Craig, and let’s hear what your initial thoughts are. Let’s start with you, Jeanette. What were your thoughts on this article?

Jeanette: If it was a really interesting article. It was I thought thought out. I think it’s probably what a lot of people are fearing right now, especially students and their families, that there’s a lack of transparency, slight, maybe, wishful thinking from their colleges. And I don’t think that it’s necessarily something that universities or colleges are being dishonest about. I think that they’re just hoping for the best. They’re realizing that they’re trying to balance [00:05:00] revenues and what students are wanting, and making sure that they don’t close, with what is the safest for their students and the faculty on campus. And that balance has become really, really difficult.

Phil: Ok, great. Kevin, what are your initial thoughts on the inside higher ed article?

Kevin: My initial reaction was a little disappointment, a little ‘Hey, we’re using hyperbole.’ To make a point on Jeanette’s thinking that this is not a conscious effort to frame universities and colleges as flim flam artists, when really they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, and haven’t made a decision by the time they probably should have.

I was guessing most institutions would have made their decisions by July 1st, and would or should have planned for what might happen if things don’t get better. The wishful thinking paradigm [00:06:00] doesn’t really work when you’re running a multi-million dollar organization with thousands of students and staff and faculty all affected.

So to me, the article makes some good points, but it does so in a way that’s calling on, you know, the magic of that article from – was it McKinnie? – took away from its strength.

Phil: Oh, the McSweeney’s article, which is satire.

Kevin: Exactly.

Phil: It’s a satire site. Well, I’ll take you one step further. I thought this op ed was crap. There might have been some good points, but it got so buried in hyperbole as you’re saying. It illustrates to me how toxic some of the conversations are becoming, and how unhelpful this pushback – not all pushback – but this type of pushback is. I mean, setting up the whole thing as a flimflam, carnival, [00:07:00] is making the argument that collegiate administrators deliberately know they’re wrong, and they’re deliberately trying to trick people just for their own financial gain. And there’s no acknowledgement that, hey, there’s a difficult choice being made and we’re trying to weigh one risk versus the other. And we’re in a tough situation.

And ‘let’s consult people and make the best guess we can,’ which obviously I’m laying out that’s sort of my opinion more generally, but laying it out as flimflam and carnival scam artist. And then even throwing in a gratuitous calling his former college classmate, a Nazi. What was the purpose of throwing that in there? And so to me, by doing all that stuff, all the good points that were in there, I had to force myself to read the whole article to try to find something useful in there. And I think the hyperbole really harms [00:08:00] the whole thing. So that was my reaction to it.

Kevin: Well, and if you contrast it against another opinion piece that came out in the last week on CNN, Roopika Risam talked about the fact that if being humane is not motivation enough, universities should consider the role of racial equity in their reopening plans, going toward students, going toward the staff who might work in dining halls or housing facilities, or cleaning the buildings, that are at risk just as much as anybody else and may have less of a choice. Like faculty members may be able to teach online, even if it’s with students in the classroom. But some of these staff members may not have a choice about whether or not they get to go on a campus if it reopens. And so I prefer that approach to an opinion article than the one that could be left on the fiction shelf.

Phil: Sure. Jeanette. You’re the one who’s much nicer than Kevin [00:09:00] or I am, certainly than myself. Did do these issues – the hyperbole – did they affect you in the reading, or do you have a different opinion on it?

Jeanette: So I think my reaction to it wasn’t quite as angry as maybe the two of you. I think I read it and saw it as being a bit of hyperbole, but someone that was trying to get the point across. And I think that there’s some truth to it. I mean, I do think that there is some truth to students and and parents feeling a little bit like they’re not being told the honest truth and that they’re worried about their kids going into school and not really being protected. And I think that it was a little McSweeny-ish, but it’s got the point across, and I didn’t get angry reading.

Phil: Well, the bigger issue is not – certainly not myself – but I mean the bigger issue: Who’s it going to convince? I mean, do people when you call when you set it up as saying, ‘hey, [00:10:00] you guys are being flimflam artist,’ what are the chances this will influence somebody to rethink or to hear your point of view if you’re directly arguing that way? That’s what I’m concerned about, is how much positive influence on the dialogue. I don’t want to sound wishy washy, but who’s going to listen?

Kevin: Maybe that’s not his audience. Maybe he’s trying to incite the parents and students to take action.

Phil: And while this gets to a point that I had an episode earlier this week with Inside Higher Ed and another op ed that was called “When Generals Die in Bed,” where they made essentially the argument, you know, you’re sending your troops out to die. But the generals who are making these decisions, they’re just going to die peacefully in their beds. And I get the point they’re trying to make there, which is that faculty and staff are going to be much more on the frontlines in terms of in classes with students. But by putting [00:11:00] it that way. And that article demonstrated a strong lack of understanding of online education. It just to me, it ruins the opportunity. So I guess I’m not saying they shouldn’t be published. I’m just saying we’re seeing a lot of this type of academic pushback that’s happening right now. This is one example of one approach. And I think you might be right, Kevin. Maybe the approach is to try to get other people up in arms.

Jeanette: Well, I think it also reflects the sentiment of where a lot of people are right now, especially faculty who are reading this. We keep on focusing, I think not just we, but I think the general media are focused on the students, how the students are going to be back and forth with the students are going to be doing what you know, their impact is going to be. And there’s not been as much conversation, or things written about or even spoken about, the faculty and the faculty impact – both not only on just getting the courses up and running, but their [00:12:00] health and looking at especially, not necessarily community colleges, but maybe some of the more established schools where faculty are on the older side and asking them to come to teach in person is a risk for them.

Phil: You don’t think that’s getting covered? I mean, heck, with a big New York Times article. I think there’s a lot of coverage, at least over the past two weeks on the subject, maybe over the last two weeks.

Jeanette: I don’t think up to this point there hasn’t been as much focus on the stress and strain that it’s putting on faculty, aside from, hey, there’s a lot of faculty members and I don’t really know how to teach online. I think a constant theme since spring, but it’s not necessarily looking at what our schools are doing to protect faculty and staff. I was learning this week about a whole group of even the custodial staff of a certain school that was supposed to be really protected, and [00:13:00] it was subcontracted out by someone else. And the majority of that staff has been infected by COVID, and they’re the ones cleaning the campus. And I think that there’s a lot of those types of discussions that aren’t happening. And I think maybe these both, or at least these articles and one the two that you mentioned at Inside Higher Ed are just reflecting that sentiment of fear from faculty.

Phil: Kevin?

Kevin: Well, I was just going to say the CNN article was last Thursday the 2nd, and there is an article in San Francisco Chronicle last Friday. The third called A Problem for College in the Fall: Reluctant Professors and gets into if you look at the average age of instructors in higher ed, there are quite a few who are in a range that would be considered at risk for coronavirus. And so they definitely have to consider what if a faculty member says, no, I’m not going to do it? Then what? And even more upsetting for some [00:14:00] are the union issues related to lecturer teaching roles being basically changed or admitted so that full time tenure track faculty members can have a full load because certain classes are getting cancelled. And so the whole kind of class system on a campus is amplified when you have an emergency situation like this. And the CNN article did bring up the stuff that you just brought up as well, the custodial staff, Jeanette. So I think you’re right on line with – we’re getting close enough where people are paying attention to more factors. And it’s too bad that we didn’t have more thoughtful preparation a month ago, because I think we’re going be in this place where ambiguity reigns right up until the end. And so all the things we’ve been saying about students wanting clear communication. They want to know what’s going on. Even if you’re not quite sure. So that they are aware [00:15:00] that you’re preparing for their safety, that you’re looking for their learning to be a better set of experiences than they had in the spring and much more.

And right now, like the University of Southern California changed its mind and said, we’re not going to do a hybrid after all. We’re going to be mostly online. So students are getting mixed messages or no messages at all. And it’s it’s making it difficult for them to make decisions.

Phil: Well, if you look at it in these terms of the timing, I think you’re right that where we have seen the issue of faculty, not just preparedness, but health and their willingness – that’s been very recent, where these articles are all coming out. And in the spring, it was all about students and what they were going to do or what their well-being as does. That sort of runs counter to the narrative of higher education, that higher education has become all about faculty and what they want [00:16:00] and really not being student centric. I find it interesting that we’re talking about the reverse right now. Hey, there hasn’t been enough, or certainly until recently, conversation about faculty and what this does to them sort of goes against the popular narrative.

Jeanette: It does. But I think a lot of what has happened up to this point is the fear of loss of revenue, which is controlled by the students primarily except for auxiliary revenues. And so I think that’s where the focus has been. Is this school gonna be able to stay open? Are they going to be able to even offer any kind of education to these students? If not, is this school going to close? What’s how that going to impact not only the school but the faculty and the community that where that school resides? And I think just now, I think there’s two things that are happening. Not only are we getting closer to school start, but also I think in the spring and probably even in early May. Everyone thought that by this point, especially in July, [00:17:00] we were gonna see the COVID cases going down. And that’s not happening there, spiking in so many, so many places. So there’s now a real risk to these faculty members and it has to be something that people are looking at.

Phil: So let’s jump to the other article. The Chronicle of Higher Ed article from Robert Kelchen.

Jeanette: Well, I like that one because I have a lot of data and tables with information, especially around just looking and seeing how some of these schools, especially the smaller ones, rely so much on not only tuition, but auxiliary revenues, which are described in that article as being things like housing and food and things that are things people buy while on campus.

While I really did like the article, I thought it was well researched. And to have that information right in front of me, I really enjoyed. It was very depressing. What he is saying is pretty much so many schools are probably going to be closing in the next five weeks. And [00:18:00] that’s a real disturbing thought for me.

Kevin: Well, to me, it was sound. I had a lot of data and it reinforced some thinking that I’ve seen in other data that I’ve been reviewing for this meta analysis of student surveys. And one of them by the Hope Center at Temple University was talking about how COVID has exacerbated basic needs, insecurity like housing and food. When not only is that a problem for the campus, that, too, not just brought up that you’re losing that auxiliary revenue, but it’s also a problem for the students who may not have a place to go live and may not have a really hard time finding food. And so the challenges are are big and we haven’t figured it out yet.

Phil: I thought this was an excellent article. I didn’t agree with all of it, but I think it was excellent. And it contributes to the conversation, as [00:19:00] you guys are saying. It calls out situations. It explains itself. Robert did a good job of backing his arguments up with data as opposed to name calling, as opposed to just trying to inflame the reaction. So I applaud The Chronicle and Robert for publishing this, and I think it contributes to it. So in all ways, I like that. Where I have an issue with the article is it almost self refutes as he knocks himself down. But he doesn’t come to the point of saying he is so sure that all of these colleges are going to close in the next five weeks because of the risk and the increase in cases. Yet his own article lays out why that’s an existential problems for colleges. The revenue, will they be able to stay in business. And the point is, there is such a high demand on each side. Go [00:20:00] online or open some form of face to face.

And he calls them out within here. But I think that his conclusions are obviously they’re going to have to close, move to fully online without saying it could be that because of all the issues he calls out on the financial pressures, it’s going to ensure – and ensure is probably a strong word – it’s going to make it more likely that colleges will dig in and say, no, we really have to keep some form of face to face or hybrid going. So I think he missed that part. But overall, I think it was a very good article and it leads to some very good conversations.

Kevin: Well, and I think by taking a firm stance at one end of the spectrum, that’s the way public discourse happens. You get these perspectives and you react to them and inform them. So the fact that his only call to action at the end was to tell everybody you’re going online immediately, [00:21:00] his subsequent sentences about now you can devote resources to improving online education while you’re a month away from classes taking place. It’s going to be really hard for a faculty member to redesign a course and get ready to facilitate it online if they haven’t done so or haven’t been doing so already. And so it misses the mark in another way by not looking at the number of campuses that are looking at hybrid or hybrid flexible or some form of either one of those courses to increase the safety for students to make sure that there’s some sense of instructional continuity. And it kind of belies the fact that there’s been a lot of thinking and doing around the summer around the country. But it’s not that every campus has decided to go online fully. And so that’s where I think you could have done a better job.

Jeanette: Well, and I also wonder, would Robert write the same article after some announcements this week? You know, in terms of [00:22:00] from the administration, in terms of international students not being able to get visas and unless there’s in-person classes and then also about public funding of any schools that are going online.

Phil: What we’ll call THE tweet.

Jeanette: The Tweet, that’s right. So, the whole article is essentially about how the finances of these schools, and calling to question those things, and then saying to go on line when those things go against what the schools are really having to struggle with. If they go online, then not only the international students who really contribute a lot to tuition, but also in the communities of having these people in person. It’s going to impact those revenues, going online.

Phil: Well, we’ll call out Robert. See if he’ll listen to this.  [00:23:00]It would be excellent to get him to do a response to, or an update. Because this whole thing started with a Twitter thread, so it was done thoughtfully, but in a medium that can be done quickly. I think that’s a great question that we should ask him. What changes in your analysis based on this?

Kevin: And he he does a lot of focus on the small private nonprofit colleges that are at risk of closing and things like that. But what about the large systems, the the ones that maybe have a even harder time, maybe not because of the alternative revenue channels, but for reasons that Jeanette just brought up, that international students may comprise a large portion of their tuition. If they are fully online, those students may be at risk of going back to a place where it’s less safe than in the states. They may be working in labs where they’re no longer able to pursue the non coursework that they’ve been doing and their [00:24:00] contributions to the communities where they live are going to be removed as well. So there’s so many factors that are just not only about the money, but about students lives and their ability to to reach their own goals. There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not gap years turn into just no longer pursuing a college degree and other things that students who don’t have the luxury of sitting around will have to consider.

Phil: Even the Cornell study, and that’s just one example. But I don’t think there’s been enough discussion of, OK, if you do a fully online, what is the impact on students? So some of the surveys that you’re looking at, Kevin, on the students, it does get into it. But when you’re looking at this tradeoff of do we do a hybrid fall or do we do an online fall, it’s a mistake to say, well, if we do an online fall, well, then students [00:25:00] will be safe. No, they won’t. They’re doing a lot of the same activities and parties, whether or not they’re on campus. And the Cornell study, that they did for their planning, essentially argued that they will actually have a lower incident of cases if they’re on campus, because we can get students to test, and we’ll be able to have influence or control on students to a much greater degree than if we do fully online now.

Some of the pushback on the Cornell study is saying, hey, but you’re ignoring the impact on faculty and staff. And I didn’t think the study ignored it, but it just called out that this is not a moral question. In my mind, that there is no risk if you do one type of behavior versus the other, you have risk on both sides. You have a risk to student health, faculty health. You have risk on both sides. It’s what’s the most realistic and [00:26:00] appropriate decision for it. And I don’t think there’s enough of that understanding or discussing what the about what the analysis and trade tradeoffs are outside of finances in particular.

Did I squelch conversation with that?

Kevin: No, it’s just a really where do we go from here? A question that I don’t know if anybody has the answer.

Phil: So had this gets back to the Enter Darkness. I think that what we’re facing in the fall, we’re entering a dark fall on what we mean by that: It’s full of uncertainty. If you’re a school administrator, heck, if you’re even faculty member, whatever choice you make, you will get second guessed and there will be arguments about what you’re doing is wrong, and there will be students who are going to suffer either way. I mean, that’s just the nature of the fall that we’re heading into. And so I think the main point of these articles is just highlighting that this pushback is happening. And as Jeanette [00:27:00] was saying on the Inside Higher Ed highlighting the fact that it’s only recently that we’ve looked at the faculty perspective from a health and safety. And students, are they tuitions and are they getting ripped off? It is highlighting this perspective. Boy, this is an interesting fall that we’re heading into.

I did have one other point I want to bring up before we do a wrap up. Both of these articles, and I’m seeing it everywhere, tend to reference the Chronicle data tracker on what the college plans are. But there’s a persistent problem with the Chronicle data tracker, that they classify 60 percent, some 60 percent as fully in person. If you look at it, there’s very, very few colleges or universities who are truly opening up in-person for all students. The majority is some form of hybrid, which we’ve written about. But the fact is, people keep [00:28:00] referencing back to the Chronicle article, and then particularly for the general public, you start thinking, oh, most colleges and universities don’t have plans. They’re just going to try to reopen it, that the Chronicle data is missing its categorization. And I think it leaves some of this conversation astray.

Kevin: Well, I think some of it is based on public statements about intention rather than what’s actually going to happen. And so you get some conflation or some confusion or some other CONF word that I probably can’t think of right now.

Phil: Don’t use the CONF word effort.

Kevin: D’oh! Conference.

Phil: Yeah, but it’s a great data resource, and I’ve done a visualization based on the data. But I really made a mistake by doing the first visualization purely based off of their categories without addressing this issue first.

But as I look at these articles, people love to [00:29:00] reference this plan, and it misses that a lot of these schools that are have some form of in-person – they do have pretty in-depth preparations they are going through. They’re definitely making efforts to address safety concerns and figure out how to minimize. I guess I’m just complaining about that. But I wish that we had better categorization on what the plans are.

Well, this was not the cheeriest episode, but I think that’s where we are in higher education. We’re in a very tense month. That’s understatement as far as Robert Kelchen is concerned. This is a very difficult month and probably will be for the next few months for higher education, both in terms of the pushback and the polarizing discussions around fall plans, but also as budgets become more apparent. I had noted that the City University of New York system has gone for a budget trifecta where they’re cutting 25 percent roughly [00:30:00] of their adjunct faculty. They’re cutting 25 percent of their course availability, meaning larger courses, most likely. And at the same time, they’re raising tuition on students. And I called it the budget trifecta potentially, they haven’t determined yet if they’re also going to kick your dog for you, but I think that we’re going to see a lot more of these cases where it’s difficult decisions. But they can be done poorly, they can be done well. It’s a tense area at this point.

Kevin: Well, it’s gonna raise more equity issues on this, to get to Jeanette’s earlier point about refocusing on faculty as we get closer, is those adjuncts that are now out of jobs, where are they going to do for work? And I know there is a tendency to protect the tenure track faculty members first and make sure they have full loads because they’re [00:31:00] the permanent expense. There are something that you’re investing in, but when 75 % of the nation is lecturer or adjunct faculty, you can’t ignore that fact. And what the repercussions are downstream.

Phil: All right. Jeanette, any parting thoughts to our happy conversation today?

Jeanette: Just that, I think incredibly depressing. I mean, there’s no way to look at it where it’s not it’s not really dark, like you said. No.

Kevin: Well, if we truly are closer to entering darkness, then we might need to go back to the old Viking tales, because they had stories of the Fenris Wolf swallowing the moon and the sun. And so that’s how they dealt with darknesses, just creating myths around it.

Phil: Okay. So we’ll decide between that and Beowulf for the next metaphor that we work off of something dark and Nordic. Well, it is great to talk to you two on the subject, and really appreciate your insights on a very difficult time for higher education.

But thanks a lot.

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?

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

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.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

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.