Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In our inaugural podcast episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the phased transition that higher education is going through as a result of COVID-19 towards increased online and hybrid educational models. This discussion builds off of the multi-phase response of higher education to COVID-19 as described in this blog post.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome, everyone. I think that we’ve all got our dogs put away, the office doors closed, all the mandatory activities in this day and age, but it’s sort of funny. One thing that we’ve noticed here is you get so much people are talking about having to work remotely and dealing with, you know, dogs, kids and everything else. But part of it, I look at this saying I’ve been doing this about 18 or 19 years. It’s almost reminding me what I’ve had to deal with.

Jeanette: You know, what’s changed for me is that I’ve been working from home also for about I have about twelve years. I think at this point and if not more, actually, I think it’s more than that. But anyway, what’s changed for me is I always had this excuse that, well, I’m the one working from home. I’m not going into the office. There’s no way that I’m going on video with you guys, because part of the luxury of working from home is that I don’t have to get dressed up. And now everybody is on video. For the first time in, you know, over a decade, I have been actually trying to not look as sloppy when I get up and start work every day. That’s what’s changed for me, is that I’m actually doing better.

Phil: Kevin, anything changing from your side?

Kevin: No, only that people have at least realized that things have not changed much for me other than a lot less travel.

Jeanette: You were taking a shower before this. Come on. That’s just me. OK.

Kevin: I am putting on colored shirts for four Zoom calls. Things like that.

Phil: Yeah, well, I’ve always had the shirt, the taking in the bedroom for when you have that last minute. Oh, man. It’s a video call. You’ve got to go. Run grab the shirt even if you’re wearing, you know, sweat pants or something. It’s what Hillary, my daughter, calls a work mullet.

Jeanette: That’s a very easy for guys, of course.

Phil: Well, it’s interesting doing our first podcast during this time when everything’s changing day to day, week to week. I mean, it’s just been a wild ride over the past. What has it been? Now about a month of the major impact of COVID-19 hitting higher education where we work. It’s almost exactly one month from when the University of Washington and Seattle University first shut down their face to face classes and announced that they were going to be going virtual. I think it was March 6 where they made that announcement, and starting March 9th, their face to face classes were shut down. It just a month ago and to me, that was a seminal moment when those two schools made that decision public.

Kevin: Similar to our opening conversation just about life and how our eyes haven’t changed as much because I already taught an online class when my campus suspended face to face courses. They specifically said online classes will keep going as normal. And another way that my existence really hasn’t changed as much except for the workload has increased because everybody’s focused on online teaching and learning where I do a lot of work.

Phil: And that was becoming pretty obvious to me about a week and a half ago that there was a lot of move looking at what do we do now? And that was necessary. And everybody was figuring out how can we do all hands on deck? How can we start getting these – it’s called by multiple different names, remote teaching, COVID converted courses, online courses. The whole shift away from face to face was an all hands on deck moment. But pretty quickly, it became apparent that, yes, while that was happening, there’s a lot of things that were getting swept under the rug. You know, the equity, privacy, various concerns that people knew about, but they just weren’t front and center with what do we do this week? Well, the summer has got to be different than the spring because there are certain issues that we can’t tolerate them not being thought about.

With everybody rushing into a Zoom type of mentality where it’s synchronous videos and very little understanding of what that does for disadvantaged students or students with disabilities. You know, I could see that there was already starting to be a shift of, hey, by the time we get to summer, we better have our act together in this regard.

Even though it was it, it’s almost like we’ve gone through or gone from this, what I described as phase one. And already you’re starting to go into phase two just within a month’s time, even though both are somewhat reactive. They’re they feel different in nature to me as far as what’s happening for the spring term and what really needs to be happening now to be ready for summer term or the remainder of the spring term.

Phil: I’m not sure you know where that’s going, but that’s been a lot of the thought processes.What are the phases of the transition that we’re actually going through and how do they feel different moving forward? But, Kevin, one of the things that you really were pushing was the language of this, like initially saying, hey, there’s such a strong movement to look at, you know, calling this remote teaching and learning as opposed to online education. And I think a lot of that was an effort to call out that there’s different either different nature of this or different phases we’re going to be going through.

Kevin: Yes, I would say people had different reasons for. Clarifying language, so to speak. Some people have invested years of their lives to improving online teaching and learning and didn’t want to see a backslide based on people new to the process. Jumping in in an emergency situation and possibly ending up with different results. The other side of the coin, though, is the one that I. And more optimistic and so I lean to that side is the concept that by calling it something like it converted courses or remote teaching and learning that you’re removing. The stress that might accompany faculty and students feeling like they need to become experts overnight in using new tools for the teaching and learning process. So you’re right. The language is evolving. I won’t be surprised if is it Webster that comes up with the word of the year?

Kevin: It’s something like COVID isn’t one of the top.

Phil: Jeanette, you deal more on the K-12 level than certainly than I do both from, you know, your background, but also having three kids in school. Are you hearing any of these language issues describing the different faces, the remote versus online or covered converted? Are you hearing any of that in the K-12 world?

Jeanette: I have absolutely I think it just. And it varies a little bit. I think, you know, one thing going back is and looking at where we started, I think that there was a couple of weeks and maybe where this transitioning language is happening is what I think everybody told us. I want to say it was like stages of grief. But I think that there definitely stages of like shock. Is this really happening? I think there was also, you know, the beginning of like this started like snow day mentality of like, you know, we’re going to have a couple of days where we’re all going to kind of hunker down and stay in, but then everything’s going to open up. And I feel like it’s just been this week, at least for what I’ve been reading and just personally and with my kids where we’re realizing, hey, this is going to be kind of a long haul and we got to really figure out how we’re moving forward. You know, some of the, I don’t know, say fond of staying home, but the novelty is certainly worn off of his fate. And I think what I’m seeing in the language from the K-12 spaces kind of reflects that, where I think there was this big push a couple weeks ago, at least in my community. I live in New Mexico. There’s a lot of savanna aged kids.

Jeanette: It’s really one of the highest states with kids in poverty that are living in poverty. I think the decision to shut down the schools that was the biggest concern was, you know, how to not only equity and getting equity around education, but just also basic needs that were met through the school systems. And that has now shifted to what they’re calling in terms of language, continue continuous education. They’re not looking at this as OK, in summer or fall, we are going to start up. And this is an online education and it’s not called COVID, but it’s called continuing. Trying to continue that education in any way they can. Not only online, but for the K-12 system, for the especially the K-5. They’re pushing lessons from some of the top teachers within the district or within the state and to private access television stations so that the you know, they have said language arts is happening on Tuesdays at 10 o’clock and you can change, you know, turn in to this one channel and get that. That’s kind of just the shift is that it’s not necessarily online. They’re trying to reach a really wide swath of students that have a lot of different capabilities and also a lot of different equity issues that they’re trying to meet as well. Yeah, there’s definitely been a shift.

Phil: Yeah, well, I’ve definitely shifted my language, mostly being intimidated by Kevin online about how I described it, which is a worthwhile reaction in my opinion. But at the same time, I’m a little bit concerned that there’s an internal language issue going on. In other words, do students really use the language as somewhat the same way? And are they differentiating what they’re seeing today? Like, I don’t see students calling out. What we have today is remote teaching. And yes, we understand it’s different than online learning. What I see students mostly doing is they are tolerant and understanding of the immediate. We’ve got to get something working and we have no time to do it. But they still are viewing it as I don’t like online education. I don’t like online learning or here’s my view of it. And they students don’t see the difference. To me, I think there’s a risk that we don’t want to take this too far. This differentiation, particularly if students are not seeing the difference out there in the same way that instructors, staff, you know, all the educators are actually saying.

Kevin: I’d agree with that. And if you look at, let’s say that Cal State L.A. student newspaper and that I cited recently in the article talked about students’ reactions to online instruction, full stop. They didn’t make a distinguishing characteristic between what’s happening now and what’s happened in the past and having taught online for so long and served probably around 3,000 students over the last 10 years. Oh, I do have students who say I shouldn’t take online classes after they have finished. I really need something because I don’t have the self-discipline that’s required to complete the activities on time. One of the things that I have been pushing in different circles is how do we support students to become more self-directed learners through orientations or other activities? Support networks, peer mentors at the student level so that those students aren’t left behind because they’re not well suited or it’s just not their preferred method of learning?

Phil: Some of this is we’re reacting to the situation and trying to read the tea leaves. I think a bigger differentiation from a student perspective is more of what we’re tolerant of. Like I think there’s a certain level of tolerance seeing what’s going on. To complete the term and complete this academic year. But I foresee and I’ve been reading a lot of analysis saying students are going to have a very different perspective once it comes time for the false fall term. You know, with a North America at that point, schools really better have their act together in terms of dealing with accessibility, dealing with disadvantaged students, but also just in terms of dealing with quality online learning experiences and even beyond that.

To me, I think that’s a big differentiation. Is this just the tolerance and what that actually is going to mean in terms of a school’s financial condition, to be quite honest. I see a lot of shift that’s going to be a different set of expectations. That’s going to be very important. Once we hit the fall term.

Jeanette: I agree. I mean, I think that especially if students don’t have never taken an online course, so don’t know how ones that have been really thoughtfully designed are supposed to look like and how you’re supposed to interact with them if they haven’t had that experience yet and they find out that fall semester is going to be mostly online for them if they want to continue. I wonder what’s going to happen if the student’s going to want to continue regardless of what that course looks like. And regardless of the work that maybe has been done so that it is different from what they originally saw this spring, I think that’s a real risk for some institutions and how they’re going to be able to get across it. These are going to be different. You’re going to have a different experience and we’re going to support you along the way.

Kevin: There will be a marketing component that’s necessary as we move toward whatever the fall looks like, because exactly as she mentioned, I was speaking to a colleague at the City University of New York, and he said he’s afraid that once students find out that part or all of the fall semester is going to be online, that they will just disappear. And partly because they do not want to pay for an experience like they’re having now and to go to your framing of its tolerance. Now, I would call it a begrudging tolerance because they are keeping their eye on the prize of completing those units or completing those degrees. People who are that close to graduation are just willing to accept it because that’s their only option other than just withdrawing and starting again somewhere in the future.

Phil: How widespread is that understanding of this difference in expectations? Let’s keep our conversation a little bit. Focus on the quality of the law, online learning experience. Kevin, you do a lot of, you know, faculty workshops, professional development support. Is it a widespread understanding that we’re going to have a different set of expectations come the fall and we really need to deal with these subjects, you know, be much more, as you said in your post, proactive instead of reactive. How common is that view from what you’re saying?

Kevin: I think it depends on who you’re talking to and how much support they have at their institution. I think the people who are working with faculty are more aware that this is an emergency situation and we’re making do. But the teachers themselves are still adjusting to the fact that they’ve never taught online before, never logged into a learning management system before. And now two weeks later, they’re doing it to whatever extent they can, but they’re still having a hard time eating how to do what they did before. In an online environment, I’ve heard stories of instructors who want students to print 80 to 100 page documents and mail them using the U.S. Postal Service.

Kevin: We’ve all heard stories about the faculty who have just shifted their courses to real time meetings on Zoom at the same exact time they met in the classroom, even though not everybody in their classes is able to attend. I think that understanding of the fall and what it means for the quality of our courses is it’s almost too soon and air quotes for some people because they’re still heavily in the deep end and trying to figure out how to get through the spring.

Phil: But even if it might be too soon for them to deal with it or to digest, you know, I think a lot of what we’re talking here would be the faculty who have had very little experience with using digital education and the class, whether that’s hybrid or online. But even if they can’t deal with that right now, it’s too early.

That doesn’t mean that from an institutional perspective that you can just wait and then until people are ready. I mean, it seems to me that people who are working on our staff, admen from an institutional side, they better be getting ready for this, even if it’s too early in some cases to get faculty to change behavior or to be ready to take the next set of moves. It’s almost like different groups need to be doing different levels of preparation right now.

Kevin: Well, that’s definitely what I’ve proposed. I think the thing we need to keep in mind is not all campuses are equal. We have campus leaders who aren’t highly familiar with distance ed, who are relying on faculty who have been released from one or two courses to be the distance education coordinator. Recent survey of California community college campuses, around 40 percent of those that responded to the survey said they didn’t have any staff hired full time to support distance education as an instructional design staff member.

Kevin: That conversation, that level of thinking about quality of online courses is something that they’re just made. You call it all hands on deck. What if there’s nobody to go to the deck?

Phil: Yeah. I wonder what’s going to happen to those institutions. And Jeanette, I know that you work a lot with, you know, you’ve done so much work partnerships with different providers, publishers, vendors, you know, the vendors who are supporting education in so many ways. What about from that viewpoint? Are you seeing any kind of common understanding of what’s different today versus what’s going to have to be different from the fall time you have?

Jeanette: You see, I think they I think any vendor, for the most part that is in the education realm really does want to support, you know, the institutions and the teaching teachers and learners in this instance. And they’re working really hard to do that. They’ve all seen, I think, especially the online vendors, an incredible increase and usage of their products. And they’re excited about it. You know, a lot of times, I think especially some of these vendors, you know, they’ve been pushing to have teachers, students, institutions find the value of what they’re trying to sell. And it’s happening now. And I think there’s from what I’ve been hearing, there’s a lot of excitement around that. But then I think there’s also you know, you’re looking at depending on the type of vendor that you’re talking to, some of the issues, again, are around. I think financial viability, especially if that usage is tied to using that cloud service and if their pricing is now set, if there’s so much volume on what they’re tools. And then I think the other piece that we’re seeing is. You know, we’re seeing a lot of things around data security, especially in terms of Zoom, which has been an issue.

And then I think within the content providers, they’re filling a really important role and being able to provide some well-designed courses and that have the content, have the assessments and have activities. And that can be really helpful for someone that’s trying to fill a class.

Jeanette: But one of the questions that I have around that is if everybody is using some of the same, you know, kind of canned courses without customization, how does how do you differentiate that instruction from one school to another? We talked to a vendor where they have a wonderful platform. They have really well vetted content from what we can see, very interactive, well-designed. But if you’re a student and you’re using the same exact content and course and you’re going to an elite school pain, you know, tens of thousands dollars a year in tuition. And that same exact course is being taught and used at the community college down the street. What’s going to happen to this school? I think that now they’re looking at how are we going to be able to customize per school? How are and how are those institutions going to do that as well, so that the students are getting the value that they’re looking for within their education.

Phil: You mentioned two things that in my head as you’re talking, I’m thinking sustainability is on one hand, it’s sustainability of the vendor. Are, you know, are they going to be able to financially survive? And you know, what’s going to happen to their model? But it’s also sustainability of the institution, of what’s unique about what they provide. And is that going to affect their enrollment and their financial viability. So to a large degree, sustainability is a huge part of what we have to be looking at going into the fall. And I would add to this that there was sort of a feel good component to the all hands on deck reaction that was, hey, we’re going to offer our stuff for free until July. We’re going to you know what, we’re going to be good citizens and offer this for free. And there was a lot of EdTech platform and content offerings that were thrown out there, but that didn’t address the question of does that help or hurt sustainability of the institutions or of the vendors themselves.

And while that was good in intention and I likely helped in many cases of just quickly moving things to remote learning, it doesn’t seem like it has a place. Once we get into fall and once organizations have to think about sustainability, you know, we’ve got to move beyond that type of reaction and to think more critically about what is going to help out in the mid and long term.

Jeanette: Right. And that’s something that I think, you know, Kevin, I talked about it and you hit on it already. Kevin, is that their incredible need for well-trained instructional designers right now? It’s huge. And there’s just not there’s not enough of them.

You know, these schools and these institutions need to be able to create well-thought out courses. And, you know, we all know that this is not going to go away by fall. There’s always going to be this sense of we need to be able to be nimble and not to get our courses online. And so professional development and, you know, really well thought out courses that have instructional design backing is going to be a need going forward, regardless of what vendors can do and what content providers can do.

Jeanette: These schools really need to be thinking very thoughtfully about how are they going to serve their students? You know, current ones and future ones, and how are they going to differentiate for courses online and what community are those students joining? And same with the faculty. You know what? What does it mean to be a faculty member or a teacher within a certain institution? What type of support are they getting and are they just throwing something and expected to create it or are they given the support to build it out?

Kevin: You took all the words right out of my mouth, but I think, you know. And I mentioned this in the in the blog post we launched today that we can’t wait until fall to be thinking about what the ecosystem will look like for the fall. Campuses have adopted great numbers of technologies and added them like. Transformers all coming together. Whenever that was. But it’s it’s not sustainable to use Phil’s word. They’re not going to have a budget that can afford all of the tools that they have adopted rapidly. And and it’s going to degrade the quality of the experience if you have people trying to learn not just one new tool or two, but six. And then you get to that point that you are making, Jeannette, where once you’ve made these adoption decisions, you have to weave them into the instructional design.

It’s not an add on like a space shuttle strapped to a rocket, but it’s something that you’ve designed to work together. And like you say, there’s not there aren’t many people out there doing that.

Phil: I like the way that you describe the ecosystem. You know, we need to figure out what the ecosystem is going to look like. Because part of this incredible pace of change we’re going through by, you know, by requirement, I mean, we have to, and we have such an important need for quality design of courses and really ramping up the student experience. And we have a lot of that. We have to get done by fall. But we need to acknowledge a lot of this is happening during a period where budgets are going to be cut and there are a lot of layoffs happening and there are financial crisis going on.

And we’re not quite sure what the impact is going to be there. It’s a challenge. I mean, this is a challenge of our time that we’re facing is trying to figure out. We need to figure out now what the eco system should look like, certainly come fall time to take care of these things that are somewhat contradictory and prove support and quality of instructional design and instruction in general at the same time that a lot of money is going away, at the same time that students have logistical challenges left and right on what they can do remotely. And we’ve got to figure out what’s the best that we can do to set ourselves up for the future, for whenever we do get to a new normal. And that sort of is the challenge of our time right now. A lot of good things that can come out of it. But boy, this is it. It’s just daunting, particularly when you think of the timeframes we’re dealing with.

Phil: As we move forward, this is a lot of what we’d like to explore in real time. We’re trying to figure out what’s happening and what our role is moving forward as well. But this subject of how in these times we can manage this transition and keep the focus on student learning as best possible and make sure that so many of these items that we already know about. I mean, we understand issues about equity, about accessibility, about quality course design. But the question is, how can we actually get them implemented in the greatest number of cases to improve education moving forward in a rapidly changing environment. And this has been a great conversation. Thank you, Kevin and Jeanette. And we’re going to keep exploring this topic in future podcasts.