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


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phil: Jeanette, What did you see?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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