Lots of Flexibility in Reopening Colleges

The decisions to reopen schools K-12 and colleges have been difficult ones.
 
As the spring 2020 semester was ending, two-thirds of colleges had announced that they would hold in-person classes this fall. That was according to data presented by The Chronicle who teamed up with Davidson College’s College Crisis Initiative (C2i) to present the reopening models of nearly 3,000 institutions.

As of their latest data, there are only 3.9% of the reporting schools fully in-person. Another 23% are the rather confusingly termed "Primarily In-Person" - which sounds like hybrid but that's another category taking up 21%. 

chart

chart via chronicle.com

Clearly, the 66% of schools last May who expected to be in-person in some form haven't reopened in that form. In fact, I'd call almost every category shown here hybrid/blended/HyFlex (the terms are getting blurred) in some form.  34% selected "primarily online" as their status which does not mean hybrid. Many schools are putting some courses back in labs, lecture halls, or classrooms with some restrictions, while other courses are fully online and others are meeting half in-person and half online (the classic hybrid). So, a school's approach to reopening might be a hybrid of several totally different approaches.

Flexibility - a key element these days.

Higher Education Responds to COVID-19

empty lecture hallThe coronavirus has been an unexpected disruptor to education around the globe. In March 2020, most institutions K-20 started canceling in-person classes and moving to online-only instruction. The pandemic is also disrupting things on campuses outside classrooms and labs. Admissions and enrollment, athletics, and many social and campus community activities have been halted or severely altered. Financial instability from unexpected costs and reductions in revenue touch on all aspects of school operations.  

This summer the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) began posting information about what it is seeing happening in higher education in response to COVID-19.  (There is also a K-12 responses page.)

Many responses from the spring no longer apply to this fall. The situation continues to develop. The immediate problems in March and the short-term solutions implemented have become long-term challenges. NCSL is obviously concerned with legislation enacted because of the pandemic. Bills to ensure students receive refunds for room and board expenses, pause the collection of payments on state held student loans, and in some cases to require higher education institutions to develop and expand emergency preparedness and response plans. Like the colleges, legislators must have strategies to address funding and appropriations for public colleges and universities.  

The NCSL site has a lot of information and I will summarize some that seem pertinent here. Any report from the spring semester or summer plans is likely to have been changed. Every school probably had several possible plans for fall 2020 but there was hope early on that we might return to something like normal classes or at least a hybrid approach. But we saw reversals in in-person classes almost immediately in September with some schools switching back to being almost completely or completely online.

The 3 plans that almost every school were preparing:
In-Person Instruction (with social distancing and precautions)
Hybrid-HyFlex Model or Limiting Students on Campus
Moving to Online-Only Instruction

A good number of colleges planned one of those things over the summer, perhaps even implemented the plan, but have already moved to another option.

Concerns and Issues:

  • The quality of online-only classes for instruction, particularly for students who are already academically struggling
  • Helping students who might lack access to an internet connection, including opening university libraries on a limited basis and distributing mobile hotspots to students.
  • Reconsidering grading systems to try and accommodate and support students in transition.
  • Under "unexpected expenses" we find pro-rated refunds issued to students for room and board (tuition refunds demanded by many students have not materialized)
  • Sanitizing dormitories, classroom, and facilities
  • A variety of technology costs associated with moving to online courses. 
  • Hiring freezes for faculty and pay cuts or furloughs for staff.
  • Adjunct and part-time faculty make up more than 40% of faculty nationwide have issues with generally lacking paid sick leave and health insurance from their college.  
  • Postponed campus tours and admissions events and a decline in admissions visit requests.
  • Limited access to college dorms, dining halls, and work-study programs
  • Closures impact current and future students’ ability to receive and manage financial aid.  
  • Dealing with more than 1 million international students studying in the U.S. (2019, who make up about 6% of the total higher education student population.
  • Collegiate athletics is not at the top of most faculty concerns but it affects college budgets (including income) and student financial aid through scholarships.

Many of these issues were thought to be (or hoped to be) short-term concerns but have become long-term items.

Is Technology Destructive By Design?

Technology is good. Technology is bad. Both are true. 

The highest tech has transformed the world. It has changed our culture, made information accessible to many more people, altered businesses, education, and the economy.

I came across the book, Terms of Disservice: How Silicon Valley is Destructive by Design, by Dipayan Ghosh recently. Ghosh was a Facebook public policy adviser who went into government work with President Obama's White House.

The book's title is a play on those terms of service that products offer and are often not even read by users. Though you can view this book as being negative on the effects of technology, it actually offers ideas for using technology in positive ways, such as to create a more open and accessible world. That was actually part of the original plan (or dream) for the Internet. The extra level of service he sees as lacking is consumer and civilian protections.   

Ghosh is a computer scientist turned policymaker so much of the focus in the book is on industry leaders and policymakers. Technology has done a lot of good but it has also exacerbated social and political divisions. This year we are hearing again about how technology in the form of social media and cyberterrorism has influenced elections. Civilians has wittingly and unwittingly given private information to American companies which was wittingly and unwittingly passed on to terrorist groups and foreign governments.

We have heard this on an almost daily basis, and yet it seems that nothing is being done to stop it.

In an interview with the LA Review of Books, Ghosh was asked about what a broader “digital social contract” would look like. He answered, in part:

"If we can agree that this business model is premised on uninhibited data collection, the development of opaque algorithms (to enable content curation and ad targeting), and the maintenance of platform dominance (through practices that diminish market competition, including raising barriers to entry for potential rivals), then three basic components of possible intervention stand out. First, for data collection and processing, all the power currently lies within corporate entities. For now, Google can collect whatever information it desires. It can do whatever it wants with this data. It can share this information basically with whomever.

Europe’s GDPR has begun to implement some better industry norms. But to truly resolve these problems, we’ll need to transfer more power away from private firms...

We also need more transparency. Basic awareness of how this whole sector works should not be treated as some contrived trade secret. Individual consumers should have the right to understand how these businesses work, and shouldn’t just get opted in by default through an incomprehensible terms-of-service contract. We likewise need much better transparency on how platform algorithms and data-processing schemes themselves work.

And finally, we need to improve market competition. We need data-portability arrangements, interoperability agreements — and most importantly, a serious regulatory regime to contend realistically with monopolistic concentration."

One of the takeaways from this book is that these institutions are destructive by design. It reminds me of the late revelations about the American tobacco industry that they knew their products were addictive and caused health problems and designed the products to increase that addiction while they ignored and even covered up the health concerns. Can the same be said of technology products? 

Useful Free Tools for Back to School From the Internet Archive

As students around the world resume their education - perhaps in a physical classroom - probably online - there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The nonprofit Internet Archive is dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge. They provide a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world—check out these tools for remote learning!

Over the past several months, the Internet Archive has collaborated with a number of educational specialists to determine how our collections can best serve teachers. You can leverage the Open Library to get new material or find lesson plans to make curriculum preparation easier.

oregon trail screenStudents can also access the Open Library books. For younger students, there are Kid-Friendly resources. For homework help, The Internet Archive has a huge array of textbooks and study guides. If you’re looking for primary sources to cite in your History assignments, our 26 million historical books and texts are a great place to start; if you’re trying to get through English class we also have thousands of works of literature from around the world.

There is even a huge collection of educational (and some less-educational) software and computer games if you need a study break.

The American Libraries collection includes material contributed from across the United States including the Library of Congress, many local public libraries, including material in the public domainand materials sponsored by Microsoft, Yahoo!, The Sloan Foundation, and others.