The New Roaring Twenties

roaring 20sYou may have heard it said that since the decade after the 1918 flu epidemic was the Roaring Twenties in the U.S>, there is a theory that when the current pandemic ends we might have another Roaring Twenties for the 21st century. The roaring 1920s roared in economics, invention, and cultural craziness.

Much of the roaring was based on “pent-up demand” and I'm hearing that again now even in this spring when the vaccines are being distributed and some people seem to think the pandemic is over. I hear people say that at least we can see "the light at the end of the tunnel." Of course, when you do see the light, you are still in the tunnel.

With the virus under control, local restrictions lifting and spirits improving, the idea is that consumers will be rushing out to spend their government stimulus checks and money saved while sheltering in. 

As far as economics, we have all kinds of indicators, such as consumer confidence (how Americans are feeling about the economy) and recently it was at its highest point since the pandemic started.

The post-pandemic and post-WWI decade had a wide range of inventions: quick-frozen foods, the Band-Aid®, electric blenders, early television, vacuum cleaner, bulldozers, cheeseburgers, the radio altimeter and penicillin. The war had contributed to innovations and now that soldiers were home and money shifted from wartime needs to other things, inventions roared.

There is also a pent-up desire to get out and enjoy life again. I don't know that we'll have some of the cultural craziness we often associate with the 1920ss, but certainly, people are eager to go out to restaurants and go on vacations again. The hospitality and entertainment industries are eager for a comeback.

But will there be a comeback? I wonder if movie theaters will return to pre-pandemic levels ever again, even if there is a brief pent-up surge early in the recovery. We have become very comfortable with watching movies on streaming services including brand new films and libraries of old and new programs to binge comfortably from our home couch.

What about the 9 million jobs that still need to return? Not everyone has been saving monet the past year and eager to spend. Millions of people struggled and are still struggling.

Finally, I don't hear much discussion about a roaring twenties for education. There is pent-up desire to get back to "normal" schooling in K-12 and higher education. It seems like that will happen this fall. But will it last? Parents are eager to have their childdren return. Some students and some teacher are also ready to return, but not all. I suspect that some teachers and students have found online learning appealing. It would not surprise me if in the 2020s we see more online learning than pre-pandemic and more hybrid education with online and some face-to-face.

Zoom Fatigue

zoom screen

"Zoom fatigue” is a new term for 2020 that describes the exhaustion, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. I am sure that Zoom Video Communications (the company) is thrilled to have their name mixed in with "fatigue."  Like other generic trademarks, it is a mixed blessing when your brand becomes the common (lower case) noun or a verb for something. People used to say they were going to "xerox" something to mean they were going to make a photocopy no matter what brand of copier they were using. Today someone might say they have to zoom or have a zoom call to mean they are going to video conferencing. I know that some teachers and students who are experiencing "zoom fatigue" at the end of the year and semester have been using Google Meet, Skype, Facetime, or some other conferencing platform.

Since there are more than 300 million daily participants on Zoom alone, this psychological and physical exhaustion is a real concern. Some people who study this have suggested some counterintuitive explanation, such as that audio is main reason that video meetings are draining. How? Millisecond delays in virtual verbal responses negatively affect our interpersonal perceptions, even without any internet or technical issues.

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says another researcher. "Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally."

One of the Google search trends this year has been searching "zoom fatigue", possibly in search of ways to reduce the fatigue. The ways to at least reduce video conferencing exhaustion are not surprising but they may not be easy to put in place. Suggestions such as building in break time, reducing visual stimuli, reducing virtual social events, and using phone calls and email again are helpful but not always an option, especially if you are not the video conference organizer or host.

A psychiatric explanation of zoom fatigue

Zoom fatigue is taxing the brain 

 

 

Online Learning Has Its Advantages

learning online in cafe
    Image: pxhere

It is unfortunate that the emergency move to online classes in March 2020 is often being seen as the definition of online learning. This is especially true for administrators, faculty, students. parents and the general public who had no experience with it previously. I would say that what is being offered this fall should be of a higher quality if schools used the spring experience and a summer of planning to prepare for the possibility of being fully online again. perhaps the perceptions of spring will be improved.

In a journal article that I am working on now, I say something that may not be supported by research but is supported by every faculty member I have talked to for the article: It is easier to move a good online course to a face-to-face (F2F) format than it is is to take a good F2F course and put it online. Many articles have appeared this year saying that the elements of a good online course are essentially the same as a good F2F course.

For example, if I am designing a brand new online course, I will be including all the "handouts" I would use in-person but also ones I wouldn't have included in creating a new F2F course. For example, in-person I might take 15 minutes to explain to students an upcoming assignment. For the online version, I will need that explanation in a document or as an audio/video file. If my online course is ever used to teach F2F having that explanatory document or video available for students who want to review it again after class and especially for students who missed the class session would be very useful. For the online version, I will need to create "lectures" that are chunked into smaller segments. For he F2F class, I might use those mini-lectures to flip the classroom as before class "reading" assignments. For the online course, might even rethink my entire approach to lectures.

One thing we learned from the rise of MOOCs was that there were a lot of people who wanted to learn but had no interest in credits or a degree. They took courses to learn what they wanted to learn and most of the time were not even interested in using all of the course or "finishing" the course as we would expect in traditional courses or training. This was initially the biggest criticism of MOOCs - students did not complete the course - but we came to see that completion was not an objective for most of these learners.

Skills and career advancement are the primary motives for many nontraditional learners, and online courses allowed that with a number of advantages. While in some jobs an additional degree or a certificate can mean advancement in salary and position, you can also "move up" by acquiring new skills. Online courses, degrees and certificates allow learners to continue working while they study.

Pre-pandemic, Santa Clara University surveyed hundreds of distance learners about how online learning impacted them and more than 50% of respondents recognized and appreciated the benefits of online classes.

Traditional and non-traditional learners can take online classes and the advantages apply to all. Some of the most often mentioned advantages are:
- flexibility in scheduling (most of my online graduate students have been working full- or part-time)
- lower costs
- options for preferred learning spaces
- options to take courses from other campuses or institutions
- self-paced learning
- technology and other skills learned by being an online learner

Flexibilty includes MOOCs and other offerings that allow those seeking a degree, credit, a certificate or skills advancement to start a course immediately. Even traditional programs with a 16-week structure might also offer accelerated eight-week courses. This accelerated course should have the same academic requirements and only works well for learners with no significant work or family obligations. They are sometimes offered in "intersessions" between semesters when students may be taking only one or two courses.

Some terms that have become much more familiar this year in the online learning experience are asynchronous, synchronous, hybrid, and HyFlex. Asynchronous refers to a fully-online course that does not hold scheduled meetings and students complete work at convenient times but must still have assignment deadlines. Synchronous courses, like on-campus courses, have set meeting times where the instructor conduct classes using a video conferencing service. Hybrid courses offer a combination. A course might meet once a week synchronously (on-campus or online) and the rest of the time asynchronously online. A fully HyFlex course (AKA converged learning) offers the option of F2F attendance as well as a synchronous offering of that live class session and a recorded version that can be used asynchronously. 

Although most online courses run asynchronously in order to provide maximum scheduling flexibility, some also offer or require learners to participate synchronously at set times or meet with an instructor during virtual office hours. This year, I am seeing more schools offer the options of hybrid or HyFlex courses that combine online and F2F which can increase or decrease the flexibility of being fully online.

There can be cost advantages with taking online classes. The caveat to this is that in most of higher education, online learners pay the same per-credit tuition rate as on-campus learners. There are exceptions with MOOCs, certificates, and a few fully-online degree programs. An overlooked cost advantage is that the fully online student saves on not needing campus housing or meal plans and on commuting and parking costs.

Students can also save money by using cheaper digital textbooks. But the real saving there occurs when faculty embrace using Open Textbooks (generally available for free) and other open resources. I have found that faculty in designing online courses are much more likely to consider those resources than F2F instructors.

The learning space for the online student can be their dining room table, home office, work office during lunch, a local library, a coffee shop, or a park on a nice day. "Learning styles" may have fallen out of favor but clearly each of us have ways of learning and settings where we learn best. I write notes, drafts, and final versions directly on my laptop. My wife likes to spread out paper notes and references on a big table and work on her tablet.

One of the big attractions to MOOCs was that it allowed you to take courses from anywhere in the world. A student at a small community college could take a course in artificial intelligence offered by Stanford - an opportunity never available before. I took about a dozen free courses online back in 2012 when the MOOC was a hot topic even though I have no need or desire to acquire additional certifications or degrees. I took them from elite universities in the U.S. and beyond that I never had the opportunity to even consider for my own degrees.

Not having to be restricted by geographic location means attending an elite school or finding the best professor for a subject doesn't require relocating and possibly (in the MOOC option) not paying any tuition.

Anyone who has taught or learned online has probably discovered that they have learned technical skills that were not part of the formal course curriculum. Many of these skills will be needed in jobs, such as learning new software suites, doing research online, communicating by using discussion boards, and teleconferencing. 

The advantages of online learning are real. They are best appreciated when the instructor learner has made the choice to learn online. That was not the situation in March of this year, but hopefully, it has led schools, faculty, and students to learn by necessity how to learn more effectively in the online world.

Will education after 2020 be "forever changed"? I doubt it. The pandemic may have been a seismic event, but moving the tectonic plates of education is very difficult.