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Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly look back at 2020, identifying lessons learned, and look forward to 2021. Are there positive developments to expect?

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Transcription:

Phil: Welcome to the last COVID Transitions podcast episode of the year. It’s been a very interesting year for us and I have enjoyed exploring the podcast area and working with you two. I’m Phil Hill and I’m here with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman.

I guess the good news for listeners of the podcast, thanks to the pandemic, there is going to be more in 2021. Turns out this is not just a 2020 subject. The bad news is this is going to go at least until 2021, not the podcast, but the pandemic that we need to worry about. It’s great to talk to you two. Are you guys looking forward to the holidays?

Kevin and Jeanette: Yes.

Phil: Good.

With the year end, I wanted to do not quite one of the typical blog post year-in-review top 10. We’re not going to do that. I think it would be worthwhile that if we take a look back [00:01:00] at the year 2020, Covid and how it’s affected primarily higher education, but also K-12, and what we think we’re going to be looking for in 2021. What should we expect? This is somewhat of a retrospective look ahead podcast episode.

Let me get started with the question of as we look back at the full year, all the data we’ve reviewed about learning, about how to adapt, about enrollment, everything that we’ve covered and looked at. Let’s start with this. What strikes you as the biggest negative impact of COVID-19 on education, in general? We’ll start out negative because the pandemic is negative. Jeanette, if you just have to look back and say what’s the most negative thing, impact of Covid, what would you say it is?

Jeanette: I would say that the leaving behind [00:02:00] of students of need, either from an economic standpoint, from students of color, any child that had any kind of learning disability or challenge were not really served at all during the Covid transition to online, or not served as well I think.

Phil: One thing I would add to that is it seems to be a little bit different between K-12 and higher ed. In K-12, we’re getting much more of a learning loss type of view. That even if they’re in school underrepresented groups are having learning loss. Whereas in higher ed, it’s not quite as clear. It almost seems to be as much enrollment or I can’t participate in class at all. I don’t know if there’s a precise way to do it, but it seems like it varies depending on which level the students are on, how big the impact is.

Kevin: I would say that’s only [00:03:00] because the K-12 environment does formal testing and regular intervals. That’s something that you can gauge that learning loss pretty easily, whereas higher ed needs to wait for the end of term grades to come in. In the next couple of weeks we will actually be able to tell. The research that I’m doing with different community colleges and universities, we are collecting that data for the same issue that Jeanette raised, is the one that I would pick that equity issues that have been amplified by the pandemic are the the biggest takeaway for 2020.

With the oxymoron that you presented, a retrospective look ahead, Phil, we really need to think about how do we address those more comprehensively. We’ve already got the Cal State system talking about going face to face in fall. A lot of people’s energy is going to be starting to think about how do you make safe environments and stuff like that. We’re not done making [00:04:00] the online experience palatable and not just accessible, but usable for online students in the spring. I think we need to help institutions think about that now as opposed to already planning for fall of 2021. We need to deal with spring.

Phil: Yes.

I will take a variation because obviously this is one of the most consistent findings we see, is the disparate impact of the pandemic. I’ll do a slightly different one to capture it. It’s a big unknown. Enrollment issues for first time students and higher education, that is going to have a huge negative impact moving forward.

One thing that we’ve seen overall, if you aggregate all enrollment, it wasn’t catastrophic. The way a lot of people looked at it was down four percent for four year [00:05:00] schools, but then you start breaking down the data. Community colleges were much worse and they have a different student population. The thing that jumps out from the data that I don’t know that people predicted, and I don’t think we fully understand how all it’s going to affect us, is that loss of first year students.

I think you’ve seen it anywhere around 20 percent of freshmen just didn’t enter higher education this year. Particularly when you look at community college and disadvantaged students, there’s a lot of questions about whether they will ever get back into college. We’re not just talking about a gap year. I’ll add that one is highly negative, problematic impact of the pandemic.

Kevin: I would say the Venn diagram overlap with the equity challenges based on what you just said about it’s a much bigger issue for community colleges [00:06:00] than for four year private colleges where people have the money to pay, then, yeah, I would say that they’re directly related.

Phil: Yeah, that one’s easy to understand. What’s not as easy to understand is first year versus second year, for example, even within community colleges. Why do we have so much bigger of an enrollment drop for first year students than we did for second year students? That one I don’t think we fully understand.

Kevin: Well, if I were to guess, I would say that’s an increase of the barriers to entry. If you’re already in and you’ve invested a year into your academic goals, that will hopefully help you increase your social mobility and all that, then perhaps that’s what you need to carry you through the next phase of this marathon. If you’re looking at the starting tape and the starter’s pistol goes off but you don’t [00:07:00] feel ready for whatever reason, then maybe you just don’t run the race.

Jeanette: I read a couple of things, more student voices this week saying that. This makes sense for me, I think just a common sense perspective. Some students who had such a really horrible experience when there was an immediate emergency transition to online in the spring felt like they couldn’t learn online. Those graduating seniors have decided to not go back to an online environment for their first year of college because they did so poorly during that transition and felt like they couldn’t learn online, which might have some role play. I don’t know how large. You will see if they decide to go back, if it was just really a gap year for them. I think the fear is that for a lot of those students, trying to start again after taking a break is just that much more of a hurdle for them to overcome.

Phil: I would point [00:08:00] out before we turn this a little bit more positive, that there are additional issues in K-12. I think it’s much more clear cut that we did not handle this well as a society and primarily in the U.S. That’s where we have a lot of our data. 

In K-12, I think there’s a lot more damage to student learning and student morale and all the other factors than there is in higher education. It’s not trying to minimize higher education, but when I read the K through 12 news, it’s universally bad for me.

Kevin: I keep coming back to, we prepared the teachers to the extent we could, but we didn’t prepare the students. How do you prepare a kindergarten student to sit online all day? That’s crazy.

Phil: Yes, that is crazy.

Kevin: I taught preschool and I know how much energy those kids have. To have them sitting in view of a camera for however many hours, even if they’re engaged with their colleagues [00:09:00] and the little things going by on the screen, even even up to eighth grade where their hormones are kicking in and they just need to move around. I don’t know that we’ve done a good job, as you point out, preparing those students to be successful in an online learning situation.

Phil: Well, I don’t want to turn this, what’s unfortunately become political as opposed to public health and decisions. I think there’s other conclusions. It’s not just how do you prepare them online. It raises the question about who should be online. Clearly to me at least, and many of the places I’ve read, the strongest argument for saying we need to get people back in the classroom physically is K through 6. It’s not just how do we do it online? There’s a huge question there.

Let’s try to keep things away from the politics too much and let’s put [00:10:00] away angry Kevin, even though we don’t have angry Kevin today. We really want to go for positive Kevin ad positive Jeanette. Every change has a positive and negative impacts.

As we look back still on the retrospective part, what is going to be that we’ll look back and we’ll say, oh, this is the biggest positive impact of the Covid pandemic and how education has responded to it. We’ll start with you. Happy Kevin, what’s the biggest positive impact? 

Kevin: I would say it’s the focus on pedagogy, the fact that so many faculty members engaged, whether it was willingly or unwillingly in improving their craft, addressing the needs of students.

The three part cycle that I bring up a lot that’s becoming aware of something, taking action and then assessing whether or not it worked properly. I think that [00:11:00] more and more people engaged in that process than ever. You characterize it as we’ve reached the mainstream in that crossing the chasm image on the MindWires website. I would say to me the most positive takeaway is that we’ve engaged people in a process that they either avoided, no pun intended, like the plague or they avoided because they just didn’t have time.

Either way, I think that’s something that can carry over to 2021.

Phil: There’s got to be a blog out there somewhere with “avoid it like the plague” title.

Jeanette, from your perspective, what do you think is going to be the biggest positive?

Jeanette: I have to agree. I mean, I think that faculty and teachers need to be celebrated in ways that I don’t know if they really are. That they moved so quickly to try to teach online to reach their students. The heroics that [00:12:00] I have seen from administrators, from faculty, from the I.T. groups to try to make sure that everyone is learning still and they’re reaching them. Social workers, everyone, I feel like there is such a community that’s been built around education now and to try to further education just kind of sometimes in impossible situations. I feel like that’s the most positive thing I’ve seen come out of this.

Phil: I would have to emphasize that point, something we’ve written about. We’re not just talking about a reaction over the past six to eight months. In particular, who would have predicted that you could shift the entire U.S. education system online in a matter of roughly three to four weeks with so few disasters?

I mean, the long term learning, the enrollment, you were dealing with that, but just the the flexibility [00:13:00] of people to be able to handle that was remarkable.

Kevin and Jeanette: Agreed. Absolutely.

Phil: One thing I would add to major positive impact, and it’s the same issue, but it’s slightly different take, is I think that we have stripped education down much more to the essentials and the essentials of teaching and learning.

Of course, it doesn’t mean I’m arguing for unbundling of education. I’m not trying to get into that trendy thing. It’s not just that more faculty got into pedagogical issues. It’s not just how well they did as a community. I would add to it the fact that we’re so much more focused on teaching and learning as a core mission is a net positive.

I know it makes it difficult with research and scholarly work, but quite honestly, this was a balance between [00:14:00] the three that needed to be adjusted. I think that we have much more focus now on teaching and learning. I think that will have a long range positive impact that might not be positive for people working on research or scholarship, but I think it’s positive overall.

Kevin: Or for some students who are claiming that instructors, because they’re not familiar with online teaching, are increasing the workload beyond what is reasonable, because it’s kind of a knee jerk reaction to, OK, we’re going to be online, that I’m going to make sure you’re earning your grade.

Phil: Yeah.

All right. Now we’ll do the oxymoron application of the retrospective look forward, which Kevin already started. Clearly, we’re still in the pandemic. I mean, we’re spiking higher now, in number of cases, not a number of deaths in the U.S., than we had before, areas of Europe, Korea, so across the world, we’re in a serious phase.

It’s obvious, [00:15:00] even with the remarkable development of vaccines in this time period, that’s not going to have a huge impact on the spring. At least for the next academic term, we’ll still be in a pandemic driven education. We’re reacting to the pandemic and we’re definitely not in a new normal. If we take that is the supposition, which I think it’s pretty easy to do, what are we looking for in the spring as sort of indicators on how well we’re adjusting and improving education? This one I’ll go back to starting with Jeanette. What are you looking for to learn in the spring or most want to understand?

Jeanette: I don’t know what I want to learn about. I think the thing that I’m most concerned about right now, this isn’t really learning, but just the long term effects of the learning gaps that we’re seeing with students with equity issues. That’s [00:16:00] what I’m focused on. I think right now I worry about what’s going to happen to a generation. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to know that by the spring. I think that we can look at enrollment numbers for higher ed, I think especially maybe commitments to freshmen entering college to see what’s potentially bound to happen. I just don’t know if we’re going to know enough. I think it’s going to take years for us to see what the impacts are.

Kevin: Well, I would say that you’re right on there. For myself, I’m interested in seeing what we can learn from these fall results and see if we can apply them in the same rapid transformation methodologies that we used in the spring of last year. Taking those results, making the adjustments, [00:17:00] I’d like to see more on student engagement so that students feel like they’re part of some sort of community of learners as opposed to everybody’s learning alone, just together.

Then I would like to see if we can’t keep the professional development for both the faculty and the students. I guess it wouldn’t be professional for the students, but that cycle hasn’t ended just because we’re doing this for the second full semester in a row.

Phil: If you’d asked me this two months ago, I would say the biggest issue for spring would definitely be retention. Are going to persist from fall into the spring in particular, or students saying, no, I’ve seen it, I’m going to wait it out. I think the more we look at data, it’s a big issue, but it’s not the overwhelming issue.  [00:18:00]

I’ll do two. I’m cheating. One is will we be dealing more effectively with the learning gaps and the disparate impact on student groups, like are we learning we can’t just do synchronous video and then just leave a lot of students who don’t have access leave them behind? Are we going to enrich that capability and specifically deal with students who don’t have the same ability to log in? Or are we going to give greater opportunities for mixed or hybrid or face to face where it’s appropriate?

The second thing I would look for, and it gets to the surveys, will students see a difference and an improvement in the spring from the fall that indicates, yes, faculty, course designers, schools, the support, the whole system is improving how well we’re educating people [00:19:00] moving forward. Some sort of signal from students that things are improving. Those are sort of the two things that I would like to understand moving forward.

Kevin: If we’re going to ask the students how they’re doing and how they feel about things and we have to be able to address them or at least try. The fact that we still have students and some teachers driving to Starbucks and McDonalds so they can use the Internet, download everything they need and go back home to study, that’s not equitable.

Phil: I know, and so the thing I want to do and I’m not quite sure how to verify what the numbers are, what’s the best source, is have we learned that lesson? Will things get materially better from fall to spring? That exact subject, probably the easiest way to measure that is going to be surveys. Have we learned in the fall and are going to make an improvement in the spring? That’s what I think is going to be very important.

Any final [00:20:00] thoughts for the year or any encouragement or what you think should happen? What would you like to see happen is a quick closing thought to this year and to this episode. Kevin, what would you like to leave us with?

Kevin: I’d like to see the concept that Jeanette raised, you did to some extent as well.

I just got off a call with instructors in Grenada who are teaching medicine and veterinary medicine, and they’re coming up with creative ways of having students participate in surgical activities without being in a surgery theater. How do they stop the procedure, ask students questions, and then continue going like ways to make sure that those difficult to teach online topics are still moving forward and students are getting the proficiencies they need.

Underneath all that is we need those teachers to tell their stories about how they’re adapting and we need the students to tell their stories as well.

Phil: Great. J [00:21:00]eanette?

Jeanette: I think I would like to see a commitment and an investment made to help support teachers and faculty and administrators as they try to continue to reach students. The learning gaps that we’re likely to see are going to be addressed by more outreach, addressing equity issues, resources, teachers being really rewarded for the amazing work that they’ve done. That’s what I would like to see.

Phil: That’d be wonderful.

What I’d like to leave is an encouragement. It goes back to the technology adoption curve that we’ve talked about, is definitely the spring was a remarkable reaction and just keeping people’s heads above water and keeping the system going. The fall we really got into the first time people truly taught in a certain way and a huge number of faculty and schools. Just the adoption of EdTech as a primary way [00:22:00] to deliver online or hybrid education.

My big encouragement is that’s been a massive shift. Now we have actual experience under our belt. Now is the time to make improvements. It’s no longer just a matter of I’ve never taught this way and I’m not sure what to do or I don’t think it could work. Now, we’re a matter of almost everybody can say, I have taught this way. I want to make it better and I know how to contribute to making it better.

There are certainly an opportunity for improvement and a lot of it in the power of educators to make changes. I think that will be good in the long run despite the pandemic.

It’s been a wonderful year working with you two again. I’ve really enjoyed doing this podcast, as we’ve learned how to do podcast, and look forward to working with you in the spring.

Kevin: Sounds good.

Phil: OK, [00:23:00] thanks.

Jeanette: Bye bye.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss recent studies looking at student learning in K-12 during the pandemic.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Links:

Transcription:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, the podcast where we discuss the transition that higher education and even K-12 is going through due to the pandemic this year. I’m Phil Hill and again, I’m here with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. It’s great to talk to you guys yet again. Another somewhat difficult subject as we look at K-12 learning loss.

How are you guys doing? Jeanette?

Jeanette: Doing OK. You know, hanging in there.

Phil: You got the kids partially quiet for the podcast.

Jeanette: We’ll see.

Phil: Kevin, you’re all set up now that we got the repairman gone?

Kevin: He has done his work. He’s done it well. I’m ready to go.

Phil: Ok, great. Well, the topic we wanted to cover today is that we’re starting to see a lot of data roll in, particularly the K-12 level, looking at learning itself. How much are students not learning compared to what they would [00:01:00] have been expected to learn in a normal circumstance? Some people call this a learning loss or COVID slide. It’s basically saying how are students performing from a learning perspective compared to, say, last year or what we would have expected to do?

Initially we talked about doing this podcast because The Washington Post reported on data from the Fairfax County public schools, talking how across the board for middle school and high school, the number of F’s that students were getting for the first quarter were going up significantly. Then we also had some initial data from Illuminate, which they provide some assessment and data platforms as a vendor. They were looking at some of the data and what is the learning loss relative to the annual monthly growth they would have expected. Both of these [00:02:00] reported pretty significant learning losses, and that’s how we wanted to cover the podcast.

Since that time, we’ve had new data come in. In particular NWEA, which is another assessment company, they put out a report looking at 4.4 million students. Unfortunately, there is a pretty big caveat in what they presented. What was reported is the fact of yes, we’re seeing significant learning losses for math, particularly in the middle grades, and that we certainly have differences with different ethnic groups or English language learners. It also got reported that reading really hasn’t suffered significantly. I found that was a pretty flawed analysis that you can’t ignore or just tack on the caveat, but really called into question how serious is the learning loss?

We’ll put these in the show notes, by the way.  [00:03:00]We also have a new report from Renaissance Learning Software Vendor that includes some assessment where they’re looking at learning, and they have a pretty comprehensive report. They’re showing significant losses as well. Then McKinsey, the management consulting firm, put out a report that largely relies on NWEA data.

The point is we’re getting a lot of new data looking at the learning loss. It certainly seems to be real, although there’s a question, particularly in reading about how to interpret the data or how significant the data is. That’s what we wanted to cover today, to sort of look at what are we finding out from these early studies. Then later in the podcast episode, we’ll discuss what are the implications for higher education.

Start with you, Kevin. You’ve done some of this research. I guess part of the question is why are we getting this for the K-12 field before higher education? [00:04:00] What are your initial impressions?

Kevin: Well, I think part of it is that higher education looks at retention and success after the term is over, whereas NWEA, Renaissance and other groups that conduct these assessments do them in the middle of the term so they’re able to get data and analyze it earlier than higher ed can.

When we look at some of the question marks that you’ve raised, I think Renaissance did a better job comparing fall 2019 to fall 2020. The same students, even though as a pool of five million, it was considered a small pool, but it was a better comparison, didn’t leave people out. Some of the things that we need to look at, though, are the same things we need to look at in higher ed, where the averages that we’re getting in these reports don’t show what specific demographics are experiencing. I liked how The McKinsey [00:05:00] report pulled out specific demographics for black, Hispanic and lower socioeconomic scale students and the impact that they’re experiencing is greater than for others.

Phil: Yeah, and probably should be a little bit more clear. The caveat that I’m talking about is in the NWEA, they do these assessments already. The previous year they had 5.2 million students taking the test. This year they had 4.4 million. Predominantly the people not taking the test this year come from schools that serve much more of a lower socioeconomic background, the exact students who are most at risk. That’s the caveat they were referring to.

If you look at the studies, what we’re seeing is, yes, those are the students, and I would add in English language learners, that are suffering the most. It’s beyond just a caveat. [00:06:00] It actually questions the analysis. I agree with you, Kevin, I think the Renaissance did a much better treatment of the overall subject. I think even Illuminate did as well.

Jeanette, how does this compare to what you’ve seen, including your own personal experience?

Jeanette: Oh, gosh. Well, I try to be sort of a glass half full type of gal.

These reports and those studies are just really depressing and bleak to me, I think primarily because we’re seeing the commitment and the investment that needs to be made in education 10 years ago didn’t happen. The gaps were there. The chance for such a drop, and especially Hispanic, black and lower income students is going to be great unless there’s a big commitment moving forward both in investment and quality of instruction, no matter if they’re online or in class.

I see it with [00:07:00] my own kids. I know that we come from a place where education obviously is really important. My kids are getting the support. They need it. I don’t think they’re getting it from school. I have the luxury of being able to hire outside tutors to help them in those areas. I’m also at home. I’m not a parent that has to leave the house for work. I’m here to support them as well.

These numbers are showing that unless as a collective community, see how important these slides are into our overall economy and growth for the United States as a whole and globally, because this is happening on a global scale, then we could be in big trouble in five or ten years from now.

That’s frightening to me.

Phil: Some of these studies are pointing out this is not just a temporary blip. This is expected to have a long term impact.

Jeanette: Right. [00:08:00] I think that’s the thing that is just really scary.

The number of dropouts we could potentially see in high school. I think there’s another thing that’s exasperating all of this. My daughter, my two daughters are in high school. One’s a freshman, one’s a senior. They haven’t been in school since March. There has not been one in-person class in Albuquerque, and that means they’ve missed out. Although my freshman daughter made the volleyball team, she went to two practices and they had to cut those down. There’s been no extracurriculars, there’s no orchestra, presentations or competitions. There’s nothing that they normally have. It’s been a tough road.

I know for most parents, just on the mental side of things, as well as trying to keep spirits up for these K-12 students and as it is for everybody during this time. The impacts that it could be having, especially [00:09:00] for some of these students that aren’t getting the additional support and have other pressures, I just feel like the equity issues that we’re going to see for maybe a lifetime could be really dramatic.

Very much a glass half empty kind of view. It’s scaring me a little bit, to be honest.

Phil: Let me take a stab at the common themes that we’re seeing and then just get you guys to react to it.

Even though there are different ways of doing assessments, all the way from looking at grades to actually formalize assessments from different companies is that we’re definitely seeing learning loss. It’s worse for math than it is for reading, although I would argue both exist. Math seems to be suffering more than reading, which is a little bit interesting because it seems like there’s more of an opportunity for some of the courseware and automated tool usage with remote. The [00:10:00] data are showing that it’s actually worse for math, it tends to be worse in the middle grades in terms of grades four through eight or nine than the learning loss that’s happening at one through three or in high school. We’ve already mentioned that the learning loss has a greater impact among disadvantaged student groups, whether it’s black or Hispanic, lower income, English as a second language. Those are the groups that tend to be suffering more than others. It’s not quite clear if the gap is getting worse. However, if you look at Renaissance learning, they actually have showed that, yes, while it’s not getting worse in terms of people who were performing academically worse before the pandemic. Socioeconomic, that gap might be growing. In terms of who was already doing well or not, there’s sort of common learning losses.

Those are some of the themes I guess I would [00:11:00] see. What would you guys correct or add in to sort of common descriptions?

Kevin: I would add in another at risk group as students with disabilities because there’s still not universally designed approach to this emergency remote moving towards online educational experience. Then there was an article in Educational Researcher, one of the authors, I think was an NWEA person, but they looked at projections based on absenteeism, literature, and summer learning patterns to see if they could determine potential pitfalls.

They thought that losing ground during school closures wouldn’t be universal. The top third of students may actually make some gains in fields like reading. It makes me again, think back to when you average everything out. It looks like things aren’t changing that much, but when you look at it by subgroup, then [00:12:00] you find those bigger discrepancies.

Then to the point that Jeanette was making earlier about the long term effects downstream, the McKinsey report had a couple of things that stood out to me. One, the loss of learning leads to loss of earning. They had an exhibit that showed that the economy right now would be significantly larger if it had closed achievement gaps in education ten years ago. Those are the types of things that we have to see what is going to be the impact of this pandemic, not just in the next year. McKinsey said the effects are not likely to be temporary shocks easily erased in the next academic year. We have to look at this as something we should be keeping an eye on for the next three to five years or maybe more.

Jeanette: This is me being an optimist again. I think some of those achievement gaps could be closed, but the investment needs to be made in education in terms of [00:13:00] even professional development with the wonderful teachers right now making sure that they’re doing it. That hasn’t been there. That’s why a lot of those achievement gaps weren’t closed 10 years ago. I feel like it needs to be made again. That’s the way that we can close it. I think it’s unsane if we’re going to be doing that, especially because overall revenues and budgets are down everywhere and people just don’t have the funding to make some changes that were needed prior to COVID.

Phil: That’s a good point. Let me take it up a level, meta level, but also somewhat depressing. If you look at it this way, there’s been a persistent talk that emergency remote teaching is not the same thing as well-designed online learning and that it’s unfair to make conclusions about online learning based on a lot of what’s happening today. Take that as a given. However, I think that what we can say in a common theme is if you look [00:14:00] at K through 12, what we’re doing this year is not working.

What we’re doing, particularly in terms of not being face to face, is not working in terms of learning, and it’s disproportionately affecting students who can’t afford to to lose anymore. Let me just state that and see if any comments on that, if you agree with that perspective.

Kevin: I would say it’s not working because they haven’t really thought through the online experience. I was contacted based on one of my blog posts by someone here in California who was trying to convince the board to allow parents to have their students have Synchronoss online options if they didn’t want to risk having their child in school, if there are people at high risk categories at home that they don’t want to get COVID. The board basically said it’s either face to face in the school, or you [00:15:00] can do this teach yourself online program that basically as this meets the same learning outcomes, but there’s no teacher interaction, you just complete assignments, which requires heavy investment of time from parents or someone in the home.

That, to me, is not a well-designed instructional experience for every circumstance, trying to create some flexibility for people who work and other things. I would say you’re right that we need to be thinking about whether or not teaching and learning is moving toward a well-designed online experience. I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet. That partly speaks back to the investment that Jeanette’s been bringing up all along.

Phil: I guess part of what I’m pushing is saying, yes, that’s all true, but we first need to look at the students we have today and say we need to recognize there’s a serious [00:16:00] downside to what we’re doing today through K-12. We’re seeing some of the impact of it. It’s not just a matter of what could happen. It’s a matter of acknowledging what is happening.

Jeanette: I think the government officials have been in tough positions of trying to make really smart and critical public health decisions. I think in the spring, at least, I felt like they were somewhat of an emergency situation. Right now, though, I’ve had friends that are teaching elementary school and the ones that are in the lower grades. Those kids are just struggling.

I look at my kids, middle school and high school, and they’re able to be somewhat self directed. They’re fairly motivated to get things done. These kids that are especially K through third grade, there’s an entire learning curve of how to use the computer. [00:17:00] They still don’t even know how to read. If they’re in a house where there’s either parents that English isn’t their first language and there’s not that support there or parents that are trying to work, or maybe they’re there with older siblings, that learning is not happening and they see it. There’s only so much they can do as teachers to try to reach those younger students. I think it’s a huge issue. 

I think what you’re trying to say, Phil, is maybe these public officials need to start recognizing just the overall impact on the mental health of these students, the equity issues that are coming up that they’re not going to be able to overcome through technology or online learning, and that there’s got to be a balance between these public health decisions and what needs to be happening in the schools. It’s a hard balance.

Phil: I mean, if you want to stated eloquently like you just did. Yes, that’s [00:18:00] exactly what I meant.

Let’s turn this to higher education. What are the impacts or implications for higher education from what we’re seeing with some of this early data in the K-12 space? I guess I’ll just throw out there. I think there are two that at least seem obvious to me.

One is these are the higher education students of the future or potential students. We’re talking about long lasting learning impact on what they’re learning, particularly in math. Then there’s also the thing of we just don’t quite have as much data in higher education, but what are we expecting to see and what today’s college students are learning or not learning through this pandemic? I think that this is very tightly tied to higher education. I’d be curious to hear what you guys think, these implications, how is this going to hit higher education?

Kevin: Or how is it already hitting? [00:19:00]

Phil: Yes.

Kevin: We know from the TopHat survey that went out in October, almost 70 percent of the students said they did not feel they learned as well online. Whether or not we have the results of their learning, we know that they don’t feel they learn well. That’s backed up by the article in Inside Higher Ed this Monday stating that fall students are seeking the same pass fail options that they had in spring, even though colleges seem less willing to do that this time around.

BestColleges.com had an article back in October talking about digital divide, talking about things like housing and security as a factor. Now that students are the campuses are closed, they may not have anywhere to go if they don’t have a stable home situation that they’ve left. That article in particular brings up that same issue that Jeanette’s been bringing up. The lack [00:20:00] of investment in distance education for some colleges and universities, pre COVID is causing a challenge now. It’s something that Phil has brought up in some of our previous COVID Transition podcasts, where he says those that have taken the time and spent the money to work on these things beforehand are going to be the ones that are way farther ahead now. I think we’re just seeing that amplified as we go through the fall semester.

Phil: Jeanette, what are you thinking the implications are going to be?

Jeanette: Well, if you look at the McKinsey report that came out, they’re estimating close to a million new high school dropouts because of COVID. I’m actually exaggerating because I think when you go back, it’s 648 thousand.

Phil: Oh, you rounded up.

Jeanette: I mean, that’s a lot. That’s just what they’re estimating. I mean, I think that would be great if it ended up being a lower number. Right there, that is going to be an impact [00:21:00] in community colleges, maybe students that had considered going to some kind of post high school education, they’re not going to necessarily go that way. How is that going to impact local communities that were relying on that revenue. Not only the revenue, but also that educated workforce to help their economies in the coming years? Right there, I think that’s a huge impact that’s going to happen.

I think also just in terms of learning loss. For years we’ve heard that faculty have been saying that many of their freshman college students come into college, not prepared to be a college student, that they don’t have the skill set, whatever, in math or English and writing and all of those things. I just don’t see how those college freshmen going in who have experienced this learning loss because of COVID starting their freshman year in the same place that maybe three or four years ago where there [00:22:00] are already those complaints. It seems like that’s going to be a lot of work for faculty to get people back up to speed. Those are two areas that I think they’re likely to happen.

Kevin: To piggyback on one point that Jeanette made about the the dropout rate and the potential impact for students entering higher ed, we already saw that in a previous episode. We talked about the decrease in enrollment, especially in the community college level. What was it? Twenty three percent drop in first year student enrollment.

Phil: I think subsequent data knock that down to 19 percent.

Kevin: Ok, still one in five. Yeah, that’s where people are leaving the educational process. Whether or not they’re inspired to or encouraged by outsiders to come back is going to be the trigger. Or if they decide that they’re going to have to just enter the workforce and see what happens.

Phil: Yep. Well, I’ll steal something from Kevin who found this National Bureau of Economic Research working paper. In this working paper, they [00:23:00] looked at seven economics courses taught at four R-1 institutions in the U.S., research universities. I’ll just quote from the abstract. “We find that students perform substantially worse on average in spring 2020. Looking at the spring term,” that was sort of cut in half when compared to spring or fall 2019, “we find no evidence that the effect was driven by specific demographic groups. However, our results suggest that teaching methods that encourage active engagement, such as the use of small group activities and projects, played an important role in mitigating this negative effect.”

In this case, don’t want to extrapolate it too much, it’s early working paper. It’s in economics research university. At least in that context, it’s interesting that their initial findings are [00:24:00] in higher education, not correlating as much to the demographic groupings, but it also points to the well-designed aspect. The results suggesting that teaching methods, active engagement, small group activities and projects really mitigated the learning loss in higher education. It would be interesting to sort of see a broader view here. That certainly, I think, points out the same things we’ve been talking about. We are seeing significant learning impacts and we will continue to have to deal with them. However, an important element of that is that you get less of an impact and it’s mitigated. We’re even seeing some gains here and there based on people who have really well designed their courses, particularly around active engagement.

To end on a positive note, I certainly hope this type of research that we see more of it because at least [00:25:00] we have a chance to make some improvements based on how we do the teaching. I don’t know if that’s too positive, but that’s one way I look at that data.

Kevin: I think it’s positive in that the potential is there, but it means that you have to continue to move mountains. I think I’ve referenced in previous podcast, Cal State L.A. served over a thousand instructors with their workshops this past summer. That’s getting people ready. It’s not giving them life experience and online teaching for years and years and knowing how to facilitate things. They know how to set them up.

That’s going to take another semester or two for these instructors to really adopt these principles and strategies and stop recreating a face to face class where it’s talking head on Zoom and then go take a quiz on the learning management system. We need these types of engagement and do it and do it well, requires some trial and error periods. The students are suffering through that right now.

Phil: To [00:26:00] tie it with what Jeanette said, we know one of, if not the main area, that where we need this investment, it’s in professional development for faculty and support. We know what we need to do more of, but it’s going to take some investment during a very difficult time. We do know some of the key things that will mitigate the pain we’re going through.

It’s important to understand the aspect of what’s happening. I think this is important data coming out of K-12. It’s good to take a look at it, but we should definitely follow up and start looking for end of term learning reports from higher education, because I think that will be important to understand as well. Even if your only focus on higher ed, this K-12 data has some implications that you need to be aware of.

It’s great talking to you. To [00:27:00] the eloquent Jeanette, who really did a great job. I really do mean that. Kevin, thanks for finding a lot of this research as well.

Kevin: You bet.

Phil: I hope you enjoy your weekend and next week. Thanks again. Bye.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss signals we’re seeing and hearing about how the Spring 2021 term is likely to play out, including student survey results on whether courses are improving enough to keep them engaged and enrolled.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Links:

Transcription:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss how higher education is adapting and managing the transition coming from the pandemic. In a lot of our episodes and the original set up for this podcast, we were thinking of it more as we moved into the fall term and what was going to be happening there. Now that we’re deep into November, it’s quite clear that spring 2021 is going to be another COVID term, if you will, definitely not in the new normal, but continuing transition that we’ll be in. Today, that’s what we want to cover. Just trying to say, hey, let’s look ahead harder into what are we likely to see in the spring? What lessons are we already learning and what does that indicate that we should look at going forward?

As always, I’m Phil Hill and I’m with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wisemen. Thanks for joining us again today. Let [00:01:00] me start with you, Kevin. This week you wrote a post where you looked at the Top Hat surveys and it gave somewhat of a longitudinal study. We’re starting to get better ideas of what’s changing. What are you seeing that’s happening in terms of higher education, adapting over time? What do you think that’s going to mean for the spring?

Kevin: I’m not sure if there is a lot that’s changing. I think the changes are slightly incremental. Students are still feeling anxious. They’re still not feeling connected with their fellow students. They’re still not happy with the online learning experience, for the most part. This echoes what we see in other surveys, like the Every Learner Everywhere Students Speak 20/20 report that came out and other information.

I think what’s most instructive is the questions around things like whether students are likely to return to their current school next term, which had a 10 percent drop of the people who selected the highly likely option on [00:02:00] the on the form. That dovetails a little bit with some of the metrics we’re seeing with enrollment figures and things like that. It’ll be interesting for sure to see how spring pans out. Student perspectives on the learning experience don’t seem to have improved a ton, but there’s more to dig into there and that’ll be my next post.

Phil: If they haven’t changed a ton, but is it positive movement that you’re seeing or negative? What movement have you seen so far or is it in the noise?

Kevin: Students are three percent less worried about completing their courses this term, but they’re two percent more worried about passing them. They’re not worried about finishing the course, but they are worried about passing it. Those numbers are not insignificant. There are like 35, 40 percent of the students have those worries. Getting into the thinking about how [00:03:00] are we supporting these students?

Again, these questions were for students. They weren’t asking the things like Every Learner Everywhere asked related to teaching techniques, what did you experience? They did ask about use of video and stuff like that, but they don’t give us a good overall picture of the learning experience,

Phil: I’m sure will jump into some more of that data as we go through this conversation.

Jeanette, tell me, what have you been seeing? I know that you’ve talked to your daughters, but you’ve also talked to other students. I know you’ve been doing a lot of reading. What have you been learning as you sort of think about what’s changed and what’s likely to change?

Jeanette: I don’t want to predict, but what I’ve been reading and what I’ve been talking to some higher ed students right now about, it’s just overall kind of bleak. I think at best the students seem somewhat apathetic at what’s going on and even looking forward to spring. It’s sort of this [00:04:00] hope that something could potentially change and maybe things would get back to normal. Spring 2021 seems to be weekly sort of slipping away that hope, and things are going to probably still just be all online is starting to become more concrete for these students.

They’re not happy overall. I don’t think that it’s a case of not happy with their classes or not happy with little things. In general, it seems like overall. There was an article this week in The Times just about the level of depression and mental health issues that are happening with young people right now. It’s across the board. I think that was echoed.

I did talk to some upperclassmen and also some freshmen about their experiences. It was the upperclassmen that seemed to be having more of an issue than the freshmen. The upperclassmen, the seniors especially [00:05:00] and the juniors, that I spoke to were just wanting it to be over. I think that what you could say is that they had something to compare it to. This was not the college experiences they had had up to date. For them, there was this real loss of community, or just the experiences of being on campus or having the mentorship with of some of their professors and not feeling that. For the seniors, it was really just trying to get through and be done. Then the anxiety of what they’re going to do afterwards, given the economy, came up.

I think for the freshmen, they seemed to be a little bit happier. They were excited to be in college, even though that college experience was really different. I did hear some complaints about just the settings and it wasn’t what they thought it was going to be. They still seem to be somewhat more upbeat. It could be, and this is just me hypothesizing about this, that they didn’t [00:06:00] have anything to compare it to. While it wasn’t what they were maybe thinking it was going to be like in their head, it wasn’t a comparison like the upperclassmen had.

In all, I think a group of young people trying to do the best they can, but not really enjoying the experience. I will say that there was one student who did say that she felt that this format, she would never have considered it, going online, but it was a format that she was comfortable with. It was something that, she seemed to be really introverted, she felt like it was a way for her to express herself and not be as nervous as she had been in class. It wasn’t completely all negative, but that was like one little tiny silver lining.

Phil: Just to add to the anecdotes, talking to my daughter, who’s a senior, they’re mostly online, but it’s somewhat hybrid and it’s restricted who can be residential [00:07:00] at the school. I was asking her what her plans are since we live so close to the school anyway as far as being on campus. Her response was really, I just don’t feel any connection to the campus anymore. I’ve got to do my courses. I’ll finish up. I still have my friends that I know directly. She’s just losing her connection to campus and really not caring as much.

It really makes me wonder what are going to be the long term impacts of students who just lose that connection to the school being a special place and something they always remember. Jeanette, you mentioned about connection to professors as mentors. It seems like there’s going to be a longer term impact from all of this loss of connection. At the same time, even though the lower division students might not be as disappointed, they’re certainly the ones [00:08:00] who are not attending. If you look at the enrollment numbers, there’s such a large decrease in first time students. There’s just a lot of loss of connection to the school that I think we’re seeing.

Jeanette: From a socio-developmental standpoint, I think that there’s some major issues that it’s going to probably take a long time to determine how it’s impacted these young adults and maybe teenagers, that they’ve lost that connection. It’s hard to keep up. It’s part of their identity. It’s part of helping form their identity, having those connections with peers. I think as much as we see this generation as ones that are always connected through technology with social media, they don’t seem to be getting what they need from that at all, I think from the Zoom classes. I don’t know if anyone knows what the long term effects are going to be, but hopefully they can rebound.

Kevin: I think some of the effects could even extend [00:09:00] to the financial spectrum where students are missing out on opportunities to network with potential future professional connections. On the campus side, the lack of connection to the campus could mean fewer alumni donations or at least smaller ones. We’re already seeing downsizing of revenue streams for those alternative channels like dining halls and everything else. Although some campuses are getting clever about order your food and come pick it up and eat it in your in your room, if there is a residential option. They’re working around some of the challenges.

Then to your points around the first year versus second, third or fourth or more, the Top Hat survey did do some cross tabulation around the students responses by year. It’s true, based on what you’re both saying, that the first year students are missing fewer things, [00:10:00] especially campus based things like student services or access to the training facilities or things like that. Surprisingly, they’re the ones who missed the campus housing the most. I think it’s reflective of what you are saying, Jeanette, that they want wanted to have a college experience where they left their house and went to a campus and have that non-academic experience that I’ve talked about in a number of my posts.

Vincent Tinto said for students to feel the need to persist at an institution, there’s an academic integration and a social integration, and they both have to happen. If the students aren’t getting that social aspect and if the campuses aren’t trying to do whatever they can to create a sense of virtual community, then they’re going to either see students maybe not staying at that particular campus. Maybe move back home and pick a campus closer to their house, or they may just drop out altogether.

Phil: One thing [00:11:00] I’d like to add in, the National Student Clearinghouse just came out with their most recent enrollment report because they do it about once a month throughout the term. If you look at the numbers, current numbers are the drop in enrollment for undergraduates is four point four percent drop overall compared to last year. Which on one hand, it’s not devastating, and grad school enrollment has actually gone up across the board. From fall 2019 to fall 2020 overall, total college enrollment is down three point three percent is what the current estimates are.

Yet at the same time, there are worrying trends behind that. We’ve already mentioned the fact that first year students is where you’re seeing the biggest drops. It actually [00:12:00] sort of is across different ethnic groups. Overall, it currently is estimated to there’s a 13 percent drop in first year student enrollment and there are going to be impacts throughout.

There’s another piece that I don’t think gets covered or hasn’t been covered enough, and maybe we should write a blog post about it. It’s that where the total enrollment is going up, you’re actually seeing quite a bit more enrollment by part time students than by full time. For a public four year, the full time enrollment down two point four percent, but the part time enrollment is up 2.5 percent. Private, that’s similar, down 2.5 percent for full time, up point nine percent for part time. Then for the for profit sector, full time enrollments down two point three percent and part time is up six point nine percent.

I [00:13:00] guess the point being is while looking at enrollment, it’s gone down, not by devastating numbers. It’s becoming a lot more of a part time student population that’s happening. It’s almost like students are saying, OK, I’ll keep things going on, but I’m not fully committed to this anymore or I’ve got to do it at the same time as working or there are various reasons for it. I think it’s important to note how much difference there is between full time students and part time students.

Kevin: In that same Clearinghouse research that you were citing, if you go to the bottom of that article, the online institution enrollments across all undergraduate students full time is under one percent, but the part time is over 12 percent. Just reinforcing what you’re talking about.

Phil: Every way you look at it, part time enrollment is much higher than full time enrollment, which signifying that there’s a pretty significant [00:14:00] shift towards part time enrollment. To me, I think that relates a lot to what we’ve been talking about, the loss of connection.

Take this hypothesis. It’s almost as if education is becoming much more transactional during this pandemic. I don’t have as much of a close tie to the school as a special place. I don’t have as much of a tie of being in it full time. I’m more likely to shift which school I go to. It’s feeling more transactional to me. That’s something I guess you could argue was already happening, but it seems like that’s accelerated the trend of making this education much more transactional.

Kevin: At the risk of bringing up a pre COVID buzzword, it could lead to block chain transcripts where students are just doing their part time instruction at whatever institution makes the most sense for that semester or quarter.  [00:15:00]Then they compile a transcript of small micro credentials or just courses that add up to something at the end, but it’s not an experience where you’d feel tied to an institution where you’ve made some great relationships that will last a lifetime. It’s transactional, as you say.

Phil: For the people playing bingo with the podcast. I do believe that’s the first usage of block chain on the COVID transition podcast.

Jeanette, give me your thoughts. Does it feel like college university is becoming more transactional?

Jeanette: You guys were saying that. I was thinking I have this really interesting experience and I don’t have anything to compare it to because it’s my oldest daughter is a senior in high school and we are now in the process of evaluating some of the early admits. She’s gone to different colleges, determining if those are places she wants to go to, some recruitment happening to see if she’s going to commit or if she’s going to take a gap year next [00:16:00] year.

I just find it interesting that we’ve been having these calls with some different universities that are offering some nice scholarships for her to attend. The things that they’re offering, they haven’t quite figured out how to offer that community or that education absent her being on campus. None of the people that we’ve spoken to, to date, have anything to offer us that would be available online. It’s all once everything comes back to normal, this is the activities you can do. These are the seminars you can take. This is the special program the honors students go to on the special field trip and that type of thing. Or this is what the town is like. None of it has been something that can be offered to her as well online. Just because everyone is opening by next fall, everything’s going to be back to normal.

Yes, transactional for sure. At this point with this [00:17:00] real sincere hope that there are students in every campus life will be as it was, pre 2019.

Phil: It seems like it’s a double edged sword, though. By becoming more transactional, it’s not all negative. It’s something that a lot of people have argued for.

Kevin, you were mentioning more of the block chain approach or trying to patch together your education to get what you need. There’s even cost implications. A lot of the looking at the cost of higher education is focused on, we’ve spent too much on college life and it often gets in the way of being able to provide cost effective education, particularly for students who are have difficulty paying for it.

There could be an argument that if we’re stripping away a lot of the college experience, focusing more on the transaction, get what you need from your courses, [00:18:00] your degree or certificate, there are potential benefits to this as well. At the same time, there’s a loss of connection and it’s going to hurt the business of higher education and losing the connection to your peers has got to be a negative side. It’s a mixed bag to me.

We need to be aware of how much this is shifting. It’ll be interesting to see in the spring. What does this mean? Does this mean a lot more transfers that we will see from fall to spring than we would typically see or students going to check out and say, oh, I’m going to try again next year? To mw, I think the transfer and the retention are two of the biggest data points that we should be looking at moving into the spring.

Kevin: I think the song for this episode now as the outro is going to have to be Satisfaction. That’s what [00:19:00] you need.

Phil: I think for copyright reasons, we’ll have to sing it.

Kevin: All right. Well, that means more drinking. First karaoke on COVID.

I think you’re right in terms of how you frame that argument. I think it’s still early to tell what’s going to happen in spring. We know students are unhappy about some of the plans that campuses are making. If you look at the University of Arizona’s desire to get rid of spring break, for the right reasons, so that students aren’t traveling somewhere and coming back and they’re spending some of those spring break days as reading days throughout the semester. The students didn’t have any input in that and are upset about it, at least on social media. It’s going to be interesting to see how students react to some of these ways that campuses are trying to address the virus while trying to provide a comprehensive educational experience. It’s a no win situation [00:20:00], in some ways.

Phil: One other element I do want to add in here, and that gets more to the teaching, the course design. I’ve definitely seen surveys showing where faculty are becoming more accustomed to teaching online and not as resistant and incrementally changing their practices, not as strong as what a lot of us would hope. It seems like incrementally you’re seeing faculty becoming more comfortable with the medium. I don’t know that it’s fast enough. Certainly I’ve been frustrated as a parent and for many of the schools that I’m directly working with. Are we seeing an incremental adaptation by faculty and through course design to improve the education using online or hybrid modalities?

Kevin: I can jump in with some of the data from the Top Hat survey that’s going into my next [00:21:00] post. Students have reported that instructors are more likely to engage in collaborative activities or interaction, but they’re not satisfied with it. They’re noting that instructors are trying, but they’re they’re not satisfied. 66 percent like real time online learning activities, like synchronous lectures, but only 56 percent like online chatting with other students during the course period.

A lot of them, I think it’s over 75 percent, don’t feel they learn as well online. You have a certain number of students. I think it was somewhere between one and three and one in two, pre COVID, that had taken at least one online course. Now you have all students taking online courses or hybrid courses. Those students who didn’t choose to do so are in this space of what do I do now, especially [00:22:00] if they’re in the middle of their studies?

Phil: I like the way you phrased that, or I think it’s a good way to phrase what you did. It’s not necessarily good news where you were essentially saying that faculty are more likely to be incrementally improving or using different tools for engagement. By and large, students aren’t satisfied. It’s almost a picture of, yes, things are improving, but not enough to make a material difference yet.

Jeanette: I’m wondering too, it’s the extra work that those instructors have put in to try to make it more engaging or try to move online successfully with their curriculum, and then if the students aren’t satisfied with it, that’s got to be really disenchanting. Just having these instructors who are already so overworked and then perhaps whatever modality they were in, it seems like even if it wasn’t planned, a lot of universities now after Thanksgiving will be either moving online when that wasn’t planned. T [00:23:00]hey’re asked to shift again. I’m sure there’s a lot of frustration right now with staff.

Kevin: I think it’s that ambiguity of not knowing what’s going to be happening next. In those campuses that are lining up to be on campus again in the spring could end up like that one campus that had to shut down three weeks before Thanksgiving because they just had too many cases. Others are doing a good job of mitigating the COVID load on their campus. You see campus websites with tickers that show the percentage of students who’ve been tested and the percentage of students that have been quarantined because they tested positive. It’s like a new phenomenon. Instead of a ticker like related to a sports team, it’s a ticker related to every student on campus and whether or not the load is high enough that they have to shut down.

Phil: To hearken back to a previous episode of ours, one thing that this says to me is we’re going to see an even stronger trend towards what we described before as [00:24:00] the strong get stronger, the weak get weaker. The schools that have already invested in online and hybrid education and helping support faculty to make engaging courses or primarily online, and that’s what they’ve been from the beginning. They’re just going to continue to do better and better, is my guess, even into the spring. Students are saying, incremental improvements, not enough. I want to be at a school who’s doing an adequate job with what I need. If it’s on campus, it better be a school that did prepare properly and is not changing things around or stopping to soon. To me, it just feels like we’re going to see more of that. The strong getting stronger moving forward.

Kevin: Especially with budgets going down and the need to ramp up things like professional development for teachers. [00:25:00] I’m going to be the broken record and say, when are we going to start helping students become better online learners? The best you see are some websites with a couple of PDF’s or different tricks. 

I’ll point to Santa Clara University that I worked with to create a more robust offering that includes student voice videos to help students help their peers become better online learners. It’s too few and far between. I really think that we’re going to have to ramp that up over the winter if we’re going to have a better experience in the spring.

Phil: The message is clear. Another transition term coming up and halfway doing things is not a way to go right now. We’ll share more of these data signals and the anecdotes as far as what we’re predicting for the spring. Right now, it’s looking sort of bleak. There are definitely opportunities, but it’s almost the schools that can take advantage of the opportunities [00:26:00] or the ones that prepared years ago. Don’t want to say there’s no chance to adapt, but things are getting even more serious here in higher education.

Kevin and Jeanette, great talking to you guys today and hope you have a great weekend.

Jeanette: You, too.

Kevin: I’m going to go play Satisfaction on YouTube right now.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss National Student Clearinghouse data on Fall 2020 higher education enrollment. It’s not pretty.

Hosts:

  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly

Links:

Transcription:

Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss higher education as we deal with the pandemic and look what it’s doing with our enrollment and operations. In particular, now that we’re deep into the fall, we want to purposely go beyond just saying what’s going to happen and start looking at real results of the fall and also start looking ahead to what this means for the spring term and beyond. I’m here, as usual, with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. It’s great to talk to both of you.

Kevin: Hello.

Jeanette: Good morning.

Phil: To set up the discussion, I had written a blog post. It was looking at the National Student Clearinghouse data. Essentially, they put out a second look at the enrollment in the fall 2020 for U.S. higher education. On one hand, it’s slightly worse than the first estimate.

Now that we have more data in, the total undergraduate enrollment looks to be down four percent compared to a year ago, [00:01:00] which is not the greatest. That headline sort of hides some very troubling data that we wanted to discuss today and some significance that we need to think about. In particular, I’ll call out two just to get started.

The big one is that first time student enrollment is down 16 percent across the board, and for community colleges, it’s down 23 percent. At the same time, community college enrollment overall is down nine point four percent compared to a year prior. They were already worse than before, but now it looks to be much worse. In particular, first time student change has got to have some major repercussions going forward. We’ll get started with that, but there are definitely other observations we want to add in.

Let’s just start with this. How concerned should higher education institutions [00:02:00] be, particularly around the first time student drop and the community college enrollment drops? Kevin, how concerned are you?

Kevin: Well, I think that the person you quoted from Inside Higher Ed, the community college dean, gets it right. He talks it’s more about affordability, underlying income and wealth than it is about the tuition. I think the lower the tuition, especially the City College of San Francisco is seeing that even free tuition, is still not really enough because those people who are possibly needing to work or having challenges or other priorities they need to focus on. It’s a function of things more than tuition. I think he gets it right.

Phil: Just to add to this from a data perspective, because at the same time that the low cost community college has gone down even more, the for-profit enrollments have gone up and [00:03:00] private non-profit. Basically some of the more expensive options have actually increased somewhat. Jeanette, same question for you. Are you surprised? Are you concerned? How do you look at this drop?

Jeanette: I was a little bit surprised because I thought that people would choose to do a community college. You quoted Stephanie Moore, how she decided that her son was going to go to a local community college and then move over into a traditional four year for his sophomore year. I was thinking people would choose that option, be closer to home and do that. I thought that there was going to be an increase in numbers for at least the community colleges and the local state schools. That was a little bit of a surprise. I think your quote about what Kevin just said, that it’s an overall reflection of wealth and where a lot of the people who traditionally go to those schools are right now. That’s incredibly concerning.

I think that across the [00:04:00] board you’re seeing just what this pandemic has done for people in terms of income and wealth. People that are really struggling not only in higher education, but you’re seeing the haves and have nots in the K-12 space, in terms of the type of education they’re being offered right now. You can go everywhere to health care and things, where the higher ed space has just seen a reflection of what’s happening overall because of the pandemic.

Phil: I would even argue, and I’ve thought about this since I wrote the post, I don’t think that the data necessarily avoids the conclusion that we were thinking about people going to lower cost options. At least anecdotally, you mentioned that Stephanie Moore has done this. I read an article that was looking at Ivy Tech in Indiana and they did extensive quoting of a couple of students who were doing exactly what you described. Hey, as long as I’m going online and things are changing, I’m going to shift to the community colleges [00:05:00] and go there. To a certain degree, I do think that’s happening, which might actually say the drop is even worse than what the numbers suggest. It’s sort of offsetting it. It’s just the matter of yes, I do think there are students going to lower cost options, but the overall economic impact is so much more to overwhelms it.

Kevin: If you think about the fact that the numbers of people going to college has increased as they’ve tried to make it more accessible to people from lower socio-economic income levels. What we’re seeing is a kind of a downshift of everybody, where the people who can afford to take on debt are doing so, because this is a time that they can get a graduate degree and MBA while they’re staying at home with their family and give them something to do. The next tier of people are saying, well, in order to save money, because I don’t want to leave my undergraduate [00:06:00] degree with a lot of debt, I’m going to do as much as I can, general education or part of my major, at a community college, and then jump into the four year when things settle down. Then we get to the group who says, hey, there are 11 million people still unemployed, we’re seeing this play out in the choice to just not reenroll in the fall because of those factors.

Phil: Kevin, you mentioned something I hadn’t thought about before, which was if you look at graduate enrollment across the board, enrollment went up this term. Public four years that went up four percent, the private nonprofit four years went up just like zero point two percent, but for profit graduate enrollment went up nine point three percent and overall two point seven. The point is graduate enrollment went up across the board. That gets to your point that those who can afford to take on debt and [00:07:00] get their degree are doing it. That really, even more so, shows the divide that’s growing. 

Jeanette: In the past when there is recessions or economic downturns, it seems like education was a safe place to go. It was sort of a safe industry, if you will, that people were still going to attend school. Maybe they decided to change careers or shift a little bit and they reinvest in themselves.

Phil: Beyond this aspect, I want to pick up on the important point about beginning first time students dropping off and not being a part of the class. Overall, the number was at sixteen point one percent of undergraduate, what they define as beginning student enrollment, went down this year. Some of the numbers are far larger. The community college, it’s down twenty two point seven percent pretty much across all age groups. If you look at public four year, it’s down [00:08:00] thirteen point seven percent for beginning students and private non-profits, down eleven point eight percent, but for profits, up three point seven percent.

This seems significant that you’ve got these beginning students, far fewer of them who are entering. That raises the question, are they going to be entering higher education later on? Is this a blip or is this going to be a longer term trend, at least for this cohort of students, if you will, or potential students? Kevin, how do you view it? How concerning is this drop in beginning students?

Kevin: I think it is concerning. The Student Senate from the California Community Colleges had a survey this past spring that students who responded they were experiencing higher levels of stress, were also experiencing loss of income and having to drop courses due to financial reasons. When we look at the people who are making the choice, can I afford to [00:09:00] jump into an academic endeavor when I’m also juggling possibly employment, possibly taking care of family members, either children or seniors or both, because we’re staying at home and clustering in family units. That just adds all these pressures where the first thing to shake out is going to be the education.

Add to that we have a smaller number of people who are college age going to college right now because the population’s smaller of that group of students. We just have a mix of factors that play into whether or not people are able to jump in. Now, whether or not that means they won’t be able to jump in later or that they may pursue something different, like a micro credential or a certificate rather than a full degree. That’s something that probably time [00:10:00] will tell.

Phil: Jeanette, what are your thoughts on this situation and how long lasting it might be?

Jeanette: I agree with Kevin on a lot of those points. I do think that there could be students that decided to sit this semester out for whatever reason, or perhaps the entire year, because they didn’t like the online experience. They really had it in their mind that they were going to have the full college experience, being on campus, wanting to be in the dorms, whatever, and that wasn’t open for them. They decided to take the year. It could be, though, like we’ve discussed, that was more of a financial burden, that they just weren’t able to attend college. I think that’s the more concerning one. Are these students not going to go back? Are they going to have other ways that they need to try to get that education, to get that better job to live the American dream of having a degree somehow and [00:11:00] have bettered themselves? I think what’s concerning is what’s going to happen to those students.

Phil: One of the arguments I made, and it’s probably the main argument I made in the blog post, got to the fact that there’s a demand for in-person learning, particularly for community college students, not all of them, but for a significant number of them. It was actually quoted in the article where the president CEO of the American Association of Community Community Colleges was saying, we are hearing from several sources that community college students are looking for in-person learning. The disruption of in-person learning to remote was absolutely necessary, but the enrollment figures show us that it’s not a good long term solution for many students.

I think people get tripped up on that saying, wait, there are plenty of people in community colleges with strong online programs, but the majority aren’t. I think that’s the group that’s really getting impact, the ones who [00:12:00] aren’t able to do a remote program, they don’t have reliable, quiet, predictable, or safe Internet access, or they need the social interaction with peers on campus. That group of people appears to be looking at college saying this doesn’t work for me, I can’t do this, or economically, doesn’t matter how good a quality it is, I can’t do it. I need to have a job right now or I need to have multiple jobs. I think there is a strong demand, particularly in community college, for in-person learning that we can’t overlook. We need to understand that.

Kevin: It would be interesting to see if the numbers line up from the different sets of data. The fact that we have about 23 percent drop in first time students at the community college level, and in the student surveys that we looked at all through the spring and summer, it was almost a quarter of students don’t have reliable access to a computer. Almost [00:13:00] a quarter, don’t have reliable access to the Internet, a stable connection at least. We’re seeing a lot of students driving to Starbucks or McDonald’s and sitting outside for the wireless and working out of their car for hours at a time, which is really hard to do. Almost a quarter said they don’t have a quiet place to study. I’m guessing that the Venn diagram is probably a strong overlap in those circles.

Also, there’s that social component that you’re talking about, not only from the president of the AACC, but the student that you quoted from San Francisco State, where I teach, lamented that she wasn’t able to have those in-person connections. Those connections are really important, especially if you think about, I quote Vincent Tinto, the concept that there are two strong streams that help a student persist in the academic enterprise. One is academic integration, do they feel they’re [00:14:00] able to complete their coursework and their degree long term. Also social integration. That social integration is more than just having parties. It has to do with classmates with whom you can study. They become future network connections in the workforce.

We’re social creatures, so a lot of campuses aren’t doing a good job of creating a virtual community of practice or of learning for those students. There was a great article in The Atlantic that described how students are seeking an experience, and how Americans, in general, are seeing it as a tradition to have a personal growth experience on a campus. It’s really hard to replicate online.

Jeanette: Yeah, I thought was a great article. It was by Ian Bogost, I think. It was more about how the college experience sort of seeps everything into that town, to just the [00:15:00] overall presence of what it is to be an American and how important it is. Like you said, it’s not just the partying, but that’s part of it. Right? It’s the studying, it’s being on the quad, it’s all of that. That’s what people are craving, and they can’t have right now, at least not safely. It’s a rite of passage for so many people because it continues on. You’re alumni, you’re still attached to that college. It’s part of a lot of American identity to be going to school and going to college. We can’t have that, at least it’s been really hard to replicate online.

Phil: Now, the trap we have to avoid, however, is thinking that all students are alike. There’s certainly a large number of students who remote may have worked in the spring, but it’s clearly not working for the fall and likely will not get much better, if any better moving beyond. At the same time, online education, it [00:16:00] has been growing slowly, but now it’s growing quickly and the numbers back this up.

If you look at primarily online institutions, which are essentially defined by more than 90 percent of enrollments at a school are for exclusively online programs, that went up across the board into fall, twenty six point eight percent increase at the undergraduate level, seven point two percent increase at the graduate level. For all age groups and all sectors that serve undergraduate and graduate education, they all went up for these POI’s. Part of what that shows, to me, is that there is a strong demand for online education.

At the same time, there’s strong demand for in person. If you’re going to have to go online, a lot of students are saying I might as well go to a school who already knows how to do online, a school that has already invested in online [00:17:00] education and all the support structures. These pre-existing POI’s, and that includes for profit and the Western Governors of Southern New Hampshire’s, but it also includes Penn State World Campus. Those enrollments are all going up. Arizona State is going up. Not everything is dropping. POI’s are actually increasing across the board.

Jeanette: That seems logical to me, right? I mean, if you’re a smart consumer and you know you’re going to be spending money on education, and especially if you were at a school that went online and it was not a very good experience, you’re going to start looking for someone that really knows what they’re doing and is going to give you the flexibility and the education you’re looking for if you’re going to be online anyway. To me, that seems like common sense.

Phil: Yeah, but there’s data behind this common sense now, so it reinforces it.

Jeanette: Yes, exactly.

Kevin: There’s data behind [00:18:00] the next step in the chain. Right? That’s getting people in the door. The group that I work with in Oakland, Peralta Community College District, their statistics from the spring craziness, the courses that started this semester online had higher persistence and success rates than the courses that began on ground and were shifted to remote. It’s the first time in their last six years of data collection that the online courses had higher levels than the face to face classes. They didn’t see the same disruptive factor of the move to online because the students were in a course that was designed to be online and they had even higher levels than the previous semester of online courses. In addition to getting in the door, people are succeeding in those environments because they’re built that way.

The converse is also true. I don’t remember if it was St. John Fisher College in New York or one of those smaller schools, but [00:19:00] they had like 3300 students go back to campus and a thousand of them left within a month to do the remote version of the courses because they weren’t satisfied with the in-person experience the way it had been set up for the fall. I think there’s a lot of factors at play in how the on ground campuses, those that have chosen to stay open, are conducting things as well.

Phil: There’s sort of an argument of whatever you’re going to do, you better make a decision early and do it right. If you’re going to do on ground or on campus programs, you better decide it early and you better have put in the precaution so that you can handle it and minimize risk, and that you’re actually serving the students who really need on campus education. If you’re going to do online and this is unfortunate for a lot of people, it’s like, well, you should have decided that years ago. Now it’s going to pay off by [00:20:00] having options that can work for students. 

Peralta’s benefiting from these online course persistence that’s actually, above the on campus version or the transition that’s there. You sort of need to pick what you’re doing, but then really commit and support it properly. That’s part of my interpretation of the data thus far.

Kevin: I’ll be putting together a blog post soon, looking at the announcements that campuses are making over the last six weeks. It’s interesting that very few of them are choosing to do anything different. If they went virtual in the fall, they’re pretty much going virtual again in the spring. If they were on campus, then they’re maybe making some tweaks to their core schedule. Not having a spring break seems to be pretty popular, and the students are pretty upset about it. They’re like, why do we have these five reading days? That’s a waste of my time. They’re not really paying attention to the wellness factors and all that, but more to come on that.

Phil: We should point out that the numbers that we’re primarily [00:21:00] talking about from the National Student Clearinghouse, that is basically beginning fall enrollment. It doesn’t capture the case of, hey, we started online, went to remote and a large number of students dropped out in the middle of the term. That type of enrollment change is not reflected yet. That’s something else to watch for with data.

We’re in some very challenging times, but that’s part of the reason that we want to look at this data and try to figure out what lessons learned we can apply. Really we, Kevin, Jeanette and I, are trying to focus much more on what does this mean for the spring? What does this mean for the next term? I think there are elements where we can be optimistic, but we’re not done finding situations that we need to worry about either.

Any final thoughts from both of you on what we know thus [00:22:00] far and what we’re looking for?

Kevin: I think we know that we don’t know enough. I think, again, that the tweaks the campuses that are choosing to stay open in the spring, they’re not making many pedagogical tweaks, they’re making cosmetic tweaks in my mind. I’m really interested to see, again, if we’re going to see an upswing in the quality of online courses for those campuses that have chosen to stay virtual because those instructors are getting more experience with online teaching and those campuses that are trying their best to provide some sort of hybrid experience, limited number of face to face courses. Are they doing them in a better way than they did this fall? Hopefully we’re learning from what we’re doing and not just maintaining a status quo, because that’s what we feel compelled to do for financial reasons.

Phil: Jeanette, any final thoughts? Try to end this on a cheerier note than we’ve been so far. That’s the challenge.

Jeanette: I will try. Piggybacking [00:23:00] off of what Kevin said, I think that schools are likely going to need to look at how to do hybrid or at least Hyflex. I think the one thing that going online has really shown is that students are going to likely want to have that flexibility moving forward. It may be when things back to normal. It’s going to be interesting to see how schools adjust to this and to see if they can continue on in offering really high quality education. I think that’s what it all comes down to in all of this, and if they can do that moving forward. I think most schools are up to the challenge. There’s my positive.

Phil: Just close out and finish on it, I do think the schools that make it through, because not all of them are going to make it through, I don’t think we’re going to have the bloodbath of 30 percent of schools shutting down, but I think that this experience will make schools more resilient in [00:24:00] the future. To varying degrees, there will be winners and losers. I’m also hoping that we’ll have a long term benefit by institutional resilience moving forward.

It’s great talking to you, too. Enjoy your weekend.

Kevin: You, too.

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.