In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the concept of Chronocentrism as applied by John Watson to an education context. What if a lot of the common predictions we have turn out to be wrong?
- Phil Hill
- Jeanette Wiseman
- Kevin Kelly
Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here with Jeanette Wiseman and Kevin Kelly talking about the transitions that higher education is going through due to COVID-19. It’s been a good week for me. I will say leading off that I was able to go away for the first time and had a meal, a lunch with my wife. It’s part of our anniversary. Out in a real restaurant with real server, so it’s been an exciting week for me. How are you guys doing?
Kevin: I’m doing just fine. I had a birthday this week and doing some good stuff this weekend, taking a class over Zoom. If you can believe it, for how to fingerpicking the blues.
Jeanette: Really? Oh, that’s impressive.
Kevin: We’ll see.
Jeanette: We were hoping to go camping this weekend, but still in New Mexico you can’t camp unless [00:01:00] you find a private campground. The overnights are still not allowed, which we were going to do. But it is so hot here that I think we’re just going to stay home. Except for if we could, we could. Maybe we’ll send the girls outside.
Phil: Well, we had our lunch in ninety five degree heat. I did not complain since I was just so happy to be out with other humans. What we’d like to talk about today builds on something that we mentioned two weeks ago. Two weeks ago we were discussing the community colleges and how their enrollments seem to be going up, and then we also looked at Arizona State University showing dramatically increased enrollment for the summer. And at the same time, it seems like the conventional wisdom had become, based on surveys, that enrollment was going to be dropping somewhere between 10 and 30 [00:02:00] % across all of higher education. We asked the question “at a certain point, we need to question, are these surveys right? We shouldn’t take that those are gospel.” We might be developing a conventional wisdom that’s just wrong. And at the same time, there was an article that came out yesterday from John Watson at the Evergreen Group, a consulting and analysis firm that works mostly in K-12. But I think this post was excellent. “Will post pandemic school be different? The case against.” And essentially what he does is refer to an article that came out in the Atlantic that essentially says, “I predict your predictions are wrong.” And it points out how often we actually look at our times as unique, and that we’ve never faced anything like it. And so there’s [00:03:00] a tendency to overestimate the significance of long term changes based on our current crises. And we’ll go over some more of the details.
John took the argument to bring up – what if so many of these arguments are wrong, and that we’re going to be a lot more normal than we thought we would be once we get into the fall or even beyond that, that we’re not just having fundamental transformations? I think it’s an interesting question and very interesting article. And point out that Moody’s came out today with their estimate of enrollment for the fall. They’re predicting that total enrollment goes up. Now they’re predicting that the rough enrollment revenue, or tuition revenue, goes down overall, but enrollment could actually be up. We have these contradictory signals. I’d like to explore – what do you guys think in terms of how significant [00:04:00] are the long lasting changes that are going to come out of this pandemic? But let’s start out with that idea from a high level. Jeanette, what’s your initial reaction to that argument?
Jeanette: So my thought is more along the lines of the Atlantic article, if you read it, because we’re all human and we crave social connection. And I think, Phil, you said it nicely when you started off, that this was a good week for you just because you were able to go out and be among other people that maybe aren’t related to. One, your lovely wife of 31 years.
Phil: And for the record, I want to state that I was very happy to be with her. That was not my point.
Jeanette: That’s right. So but that’s just we’re social creatures. We want to see people. We want to be with people. I think that what I’ve seen this week, at least in Albuquerque, it’s been respectful. [00:05:00] Anywhere you go, everybody’s in masks. But I’ve seen an uptick of people in the stores. It doesn’t seem as scary. And I can see how New Mexico is starting to open up more next week in terms of retail and things like that. There’s just there’s a desire to be with people. So I think on a high level, those things make sense. Absolutely.
Phil: Kevin, what what are your reactions? Your thoughts?
Kevin: Well, it makes me think of the article I wrote about the Edge of Chaos and how it’s an opportunity moment for education to make bigger changes than they might. And Watson’s statements that, ‘hey, public education is the way it is for many reasons, many of which are difficult to change.’ So what I always think is what is the cost of not making changes when these opportunities arise? We have to wait for the [00:06:00] next pandemic to make some substantive change, around seat time being the reason that we generate revenue instead of student success. California has already started moving in the direction of funding being predicated on student completion as opposed to student enrollment. I’m interested in seeing how we can drive some of those things forward a little more, even though I agree. And that’s why in my article I didn’t say that it would happen. I just said it was an opportunity for change to happen. But I’m interested and hopeful that we can still find some ways to turn the ship a little bit before we hit the iceberg.
Jeanette: I think that’s going to happen. I think that even there may not be massive change. But one thing, from the least a faculty and a teacher standpoint, is there were a lot of teachers who maybe were always resistant, and instructors resistant [00:07:00] to using technology to teach courses for whatever reason. And there is a million of them. And because they were forced to do this, they probably found some things that they really like about that and those types of things. Yeah, there’s gonna be change for good. It could have been the way they’re addressing certain teaching habits or learning needs that they may be had in the past. And I kind of feel like those things are just going to snowball into maybe a larger effect where technology is becoming more important to teachers that were looking at it before as a teaching tool.
Phil: And if you go back and look at the Atlantic article, I like the way they set this up. It said, “In 1974, the sociologist Jim Bowers coined the term Chronocentrism, the belief that one’s own time is paramount, that other periods pale in comparison.”
But what you’re describing is not so much ‘Our times are paramount and change will happen [00:08:00] no matter what we do.’ You’re both really talking about the opportunity for change. And even the hope that some changes will accelerate, and I assume some that we try to minimize other changes. But it gets to the question, not just everything is gonna change. We have no choice about it, but it’s also, ‘Well, what are the changes that we either hope or even want to advocate for sticking with us as we move forward?’
You mentioned the comfort with technology. Let’s start with a question. Given everything that we know right now, what are the changes you guys see that you think this is happening in the fall and it’s going to continue, and we’ll look back, let’s say, five years from now, and say 2020 was a period where we accelerated X? And that is now with us and it’s stuck. What are the changes that you guys think [00:09:00] or predict will stick with us at least for five years or more based on what’s happening this year?
Jeanette: I think there’s going to be an increase in hybrid or HyFlex classes and courses that are being offered. I think that teachers are going to start seeing the benefit of a flipped classroom and how they teach. I think that there’s been so much literature and research done about how instructors often teach the way they were taught, and this forced them to kind of look at those teaching habits and change them. And I think that’s probably going to stick. And I think the other one is greater use of technology that’s institution-wide like the LMS. Kevin, what do you think?
Kevin: I agree with all of that and I will raise you equity, raise you one equity. I think that the the whole concept of being more aware of students needs at multiple [00:10:00] levels as learners. And that starts with access to the technology. But even this week, with all the tumultuous activity, in Wednesday’s session at the California Community College chancellor’s office, the little webinars they do every week. Chancellor Oakley said ‘we cannot hide behind the veil of collegiality when it comes to racial equity.’ I think equity is going to stay in the forefront of mind space for the next five years at least.
And I do believe that that means it will translate into actions that people take that they normally don’t, whether it be checking their course for equity with things like the rubric that Peralta Community College District created, or taking the time to understand what students’ needs are, and helping meet them before students show up for classes. Because that’s a really hard time for students to gain new skills that they’re going to need to succeed in a class, on the first day of class. We [00:11:00] need to be starting to prepare students with the technology they need. We heard that student during the student Senate of the California Community College webinar. One student said it took a month for her to get the Chromebook from campus a month after courses restarted. She was borrowing other students’ or neighbors’ or relatives’a laptops in order to continue her studies. And if we’re looking at community college, especially as a way to increase upward mobility and give students a chance to get some economic stability, especially in this time where there’s a lot of unemployment, we can’t afford to go back to the way things were.
Jeanette: I agree. You know, what I also think is that I think the health of an institution in the future is going to be based on how they’re treating equity issues and how much they’re doing student outreach. If you’re going to a school and competition may be fierce, [00:12:00] especially as things are moving online, and your school’s not really paying attention to what your needs are, you’re going to probably find another school.
And I think that’s it’s going to help those institutions that are really recognizing equity issues that, well, I think really thrive in the coming years.
Phil: Well, let me bring the conversation down a little bit. It sounds like that’s my role today, since you guys are both optimistic. I was in a session with Future Trench Forum with Brian Alexander yesterday, and George Station asked me a question about how optimistic or pessimistic I was on the access issue and accessibility. When we talked about the equity-based access issues, you know, access for all, I said, ‘well, I think that the conversation around equity issues is absolutely increasing and won’t go away. You’re getting college leaders talking about the subject [00:13:00] quite a bit.’ But the immediate context of our conversation, if I recall, was about the fact that so much of what we learned about supporting different ethnic groups and first generation students comes down to support outside the classroom, advice, not just class activities, but the broader support network, that that’s what’s crucial. Yet at the same time, that’s what institutions are cutting quite often right now. Do they really have a strong belief in doing that type of investment in these economic times to make meaningful improvements to equity? I believe George’s argument is – he was concerned that in the name of equity, we’ll talk about things, but there won’t be strong changes. So I’d like to challenge. Are we going to see actual progress with investment and things that seem to work, such as general advising?
Jeanette: Again, I’m [00:14:00] going to go back to the reason why I think it’s going to happen, and that it’s going to be end up being tied to retention and revenue. And I think more than ever, that’s going to be the crux of it, that schools are going to need to be able to recognize. These are issues where I agree with you. And what is really worrisome, I think, about the spring – and let’s see what happens going into the fall – is the accessibility issues. How people feel like that’s not as important during this emergency time, and that, I hope, changes for fall. But I worry about how many students, and I think having Kevin can speak to this much like in a larger state that I can, but there are a lot of students that were not being served over the spring for whatever reason. And we’ll see what happens there.
Kevin: Yeah, from some of the surveys that I’ve reviewed, some of the populations or some populations of students who did not feel as supported by their [00:15:00] campuses in the spring were non-binary students of color and students with disabilities. Both of those groups felt like the campuses didn’t do enough to support them and meet their needs.
Kevin: I would add – not only Jeanette’s point about some people thinking that ‘hey, I’ve got so much to do, accessibility is just one more thing that I can’t fit on my plate right now.’ But there’s also that group of people who are finding that it’s a lot of work to make every piece of content and every activity and every tool you use to be accessible. And so some people will be kind of frozen like a deer in the headlights. They won’t know exactly how to get started because there’s so much they perceived to do. In a workshop that I gave to faculty about putting their courses online, you could see the tears forming in one teacher’s eyes when she said, [00:16:00] ‘do you really mean that these things that you’re doing, I have to do to every document in my course. There’s like a hundred.’
She she was both visibly upset because of the amount of work, but also because she felt that she was providing all these obstacles.
Phil: That also goes back to the support need, we can’t just rely on instructors to handle the entire set of problems on their own.
Phil: We need to have support staff who can either provide a lot of this conversion of materials, audio, video, different different paths for students to take, particularly those with disabilities or at the very least training during professional development to help instructors get the job done.
That’s I guess what I’m worried about – it’s sort of twofold. Instructors, faculty are going to say this is a lot of extra work and now I’ve got to do even more. And at the same time, [00:17:00] there is an important issue for schools to invest in areas at the time where most of their budgets are getting cut. So there’s room for pessimism here. My view was that in the short term, I’m pessimistic. I think things are not going well, just as you said with the survey. Students with disabilities, they’re not getting served well right now. And I don’t believe they’re going to be served very well in the fall. But over time, I think it’s becoming a subject, just like equity, that institutions can’t avoid. My hope or my prediction – and they’re tied up together – is that in the long run, even three years down the road, that we will see a material improvement in both of these areas, not just in words, but the actual actions in investment. I hope you’re right about that. The retention type of issues will ensure that this happens. But short term, [00:18:00] I’m pessimistic. Long term, I’m optimistic on these issues.
Kevin: I have to push back a little bit first, before we move on to a different topic. Because with the different groups I work with, I’ve got an example of a public community college in Southern California and a private four year university here in Northern California, both of which are planning online events for faculty to learn how to teach in whatever format they’re going to be using over the fall. And both have large sections of the coursework related to both equity and accessibility. So while it’s true that there needs to be a greater investment in staff to support faculty, maybe harkening back to the World War II days, when you had these instructional design teams, where you had a subject matter expert, you had a developer, you had a producer, maybe to diffuse some of the workload for faculty who keep having everything piled on them. But [00:19:00] right now, I see active efforts to address these challenges head on before the fall. And so it probably is always going to be the case. More can be done. But I don’t think that people are waiting for the budgets to reconstitute before tackling.
Phil: Actually I like disagreement, I want to build on this given what is common between the two schools that you just mentioned. I don’t know them by name, but you’re essentially saying these are the schools where you actually help them out with some sort of PD training or or advice on how to get the job done? Correct.
Kevin: True. And yet they both had developed their programs before pulling me in to help. So accessibility was on their radar and equity was on their radar before I even entered the conversation.
Phil: I’m not arguing that you created the solution or the awareness. What I’m saying is it’s a selection bias. There could be a [00:20:00] selection bias going on. It’s not just the schools who are already thinking about this. The question is broad based, what’s going to happen across higher education? I mean, I certainly hope that your case for more short term optimism is right. But I just I’m questioning if there’s a selection bias as well.
Kevin: It could be that. Birds of a feather flock together, so I probably could be hanging out with people who feel around the same way I do on these issues. But I will be doing an Online webinar or online keynote for Des Moines Area Community College, so I’m going to check in with them and see what other programming they have in store for faculty preparing for the fall and see if it’s different in the Midwest.
Phil: Let’s take this a little bit of a different direction, even though it’s interrelated. Zoom U. What’s going to happen to the dominant usage of synchronous Zoom [00:21:00] sessions as the major use case of how schools have taken their courses online or hybrid? Are we going to see the over – I’m being pejorative here, but I believe strongly in it – are we going to see the continuation of the overuse of Zoom as the primary way to have courses either online or the hybrid design, the online component of hybrid? Will that continue throughout the fall? Or will it start going down significantly?
Jeanette: I think that Zoom, the use of Zoom was a crutch that people had to rely on. I’m hoping, I don’t know, but I hope that it starts to see a decrease because it’s not good instructional design in most cases. And with that, I hope that there is going to be an increase, at least in the value of instructional design and helping [00:22:00] faculty with their courses. And when you look at it that way, then there has to be a decrease in usage overall for each of the courses, at least not relying on it for the majority of instruction.
Kevin: And you see in some of the threads of conversations and professional developer listservs and on forums and things like that, that they are having challenges with formats even like HyFlex, which are meant to provide flexibility and student choice. Because they’re concerned that faculty will see it as a way to prioritize in-person lectures like they’d been getting all along, and they really want to put it in an equal emphasis on asynchronous instruction, as Jeanette’s suggesting. So I think that the intent is there. I think the challenge will be, maybe I’ll be more pessimistic like Phil for a moment, and say that the timeline from spring 2020 to fall 2020 may not be long enough, even though [00:23:00] there are an infinite number of points between zero and one. You probably don’t have enough time for a faculty member to become highly conversant with the technologies for asynchronous instruction. So they may be relying on Zoom more than they should, but less than they did in the spring. It’ll be a slower on ramp than, let’s say, what people would hope.
Phil: And this will get to long term changes, in my opinion, that the pain of Zoom U. It did help us, that we need to acknowledge it did help. The remarkable transformation this spring, in three to four weeks time moving online. But it’s got to be pulled back. And the balance, it’s got to go on ecreasing the synchronous video methods and increasing asynchronous methods. And even when you use video to do it asynchronously, there’s a lot of solid pedagogical usage of asynchronous video. I also believe that the usage is going to drop this [00:24:00] fall for Zoom and the other synchronous video methods. But here’s where I’m optimistic, because this is getting debated so much in all circles of higher education that it’s hard to avoid the subject. I think that there’s only positive outcomes from the public discussion about Zoom U and about how, by and large, the online courses of spring just have been disappointing to students and we can’t keep this up. This is a case where I think that even if there’s negative discussions, it’s going to lead to a longer term improvement in teaching and learning, because you just can’t avoid the subject, where people even understand pedagogical usage of asynchronous versus synchronous – that’s now becoming part of the lexicon. Even for faculty who had never taught online before. So I tend to be optimistic in this regard that we’re going to see improvements long [00:25:00] term.
Kevin: That I’ll agree with. I think that we’re seeing not only with respect to technology use, but the concept of teaching and learning, as you said, are becoming part of what faculty consider. And when you can think about the fact that not many faculty learned to teach before they are hired to teach. It’s exciting to be in a space where even though it’s a pandemic and it’s chaotic, the fact that faculty are considering the needs of the students and the strategies that they can adopt to help students learn better. Those are all wins.
Phil: All right. Let me ask you to a question that goes on the other side of the coin. What changes that you’ve heard being discussed about higher education do you think won’t happen? Too many people are talking about this, I don’t think this is going to happen. And I’ll lead off this discussion with one that I hear quite a bit now, Plexiglass as a primary method [00:26:00] of controlling physical spaces. I predict that will not last. By and large, and it’s not going to be effective, and it’s not realistic, even in the fall, to use Plexiglass as a primary method of safety between faculty and students or throughout the system. I don’t believe that the Plexiglass is going to be a major change moving forward.
Jeanette: I’m sort of laughing. I totally agree. I have a 17 year old as my oldest. And there is no way. I think one thing, that if you know about older teens and young adults, is that they crave touch probably more than anyone. And they’re just going to get around the Plexiglass. It’s kind of funny to me, actually, to imagine that and actually imagine it working. I just I don’t see it happening at all.
Kevin: Even at the taqueria or the grocery store where they do have a Plexiglas barrier to protect the [00:27:00] people who are working at this time in history. People still go around it to have themselves heard. Because you’re not only speaking through a mask, but also a Plexiglas sheet. And I can’t, I can’t imagine configurations … It’s going to seem like your classrooms are a labyrinth, or a maze of different configurations, even restaurants. That part I hadn’t heard as a trend or an option.
I just know that you are probably going to see fewer students in the classrooms, possibly switching the days. So if you have a Tuesday, Thursday class, half the class goes on Tuesday and half goes on Thursday. And the other time you either squeeze it all into one time space that you only need one or you’re you’re forced to go online. But I could see those Plexiglass fishbowls that everybody could wear them over their heads like scuba old-school [00:28:00] masks when you walked in along the bottom and those giant domes over your head. That could be a way to accomplish it at a much more individualized and cheaper level.
Phil: Personalize Plexiglass. I like that, personalization. This gets back to the original conversation. I think that what we’re saying is the physical methods of addressing the pandemic, and what might be longer lasting. You’re much more likely to see changes due to hybridization of higher education, fewer students in class because the courses have been designed to have various options, or to have some face to face and a lot more online. Those are going to be the changes that likely impact not just the fall, but long term, that we’re going to see that as long term changes. The Plexiglass, in and there are a lot of articles predicting this, I just see that [00:29:00] to be a mostly a waste of time that maybe money gets into the liability front. Maybe it will make some schools feel that they have some protection, from a legal standpoint, but I don’t see that happening and particularly, as Jeanette said, it’s not just that it’s unrealistic, but in particular for younger people.
Kevin: I just can’t see that working out, to go back to students with disabilities. Somebody in a wheelchair is going to have to navigate around these Plexiglas sheets. And are they going to be on wheels so you can move them around the classroom and then you have to clean them? Because you’re going to be touching the thing that’s on wheels. I mean, it’s creating more work.
Jeanette: Yeah, it’s kind of ridiculous. I really I, I don’t know if our schools do that, Phil. I just it seems like also such a waste of money. I hope they’re not.
Phil: I read articles about schools – I don’t know if they’ve spent the money yet, but yes, I see in articles where schools are saying they’re spending a lot of [00:30:00] money on bringing in physical barriers, primarily Plexiglass, and reconfiguring classrooms and dining halls to use that. So yes, I am reading quite a bit about them using it there. I know this is going to harm our ability to get a Plexiglas manufacturer or sponsorship of the podcast, but it’s going to be a waste of money.
Jeanette: That’s a California company that people used. You know, it’s too bad.
Phil: It’s too bad. Well, it’s been a great conversation. But going back to the original premise, we’re talking about so many changes that are going to affect higher education forever.
But most likely, this Chronocentrism that we have means that we’re overestimating how many changes are really going to be with us long term. And certainly, at least among us and the stuff we’re talking about, in part there’s an aspiration here that we hope happens. The hybridization [00:31:00] of higher education is a trend that we do think is going to accelerate and stay with us and hopefully have a much greater emphasis. And true solutions to improve equity based access and disability-based accessibility from a long term, and that these become subjects that schools can’t avoid in the future. We’ll keep watching to see where things go. It’s been a great conversation and we’ll talk to you guys next week.