The Post-Pandemic Campus

empty classroomAn article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (unfortunately, "premium" for subscribers even in these pandemic days) is called "How Should Colleges Prepare for a Post-Pandemic World?" by Brian Rosenberg. His general advice is to "anticipate and plan for change rather than merely hope that it will not arrive." Change has arrived.

This article may be for higher education but almost all of these thoughts apply to K12 schools too.

Here are my highlighted excerpts with some commentary:

  • College is staggeringly expensive. Students and their families are going to be hard hit. Plus, colleges that have lost enormous sums of money will be attempting to recap but from families that have lost income and savings: Most colleges will need to provide more financial aid and possibly fewer services with fewer people.
  • When the lockdown is over there will still be a period of voluntary separation. With no vaccine, many people are still going to be hesitant to travel, return to campus, interact in groups in classrooms and labs. I suspect there will be more gap years than in the past.
  • Distance learning was forced upon us. Some of it was fine. It had been fine in many courses before all this. Some of it was lacking. It was done in a panic without much time to prepare and with faculty and students were not ready for it and never wanted to be online before. Schools need to really evaluate what worked, what didn't work and what they will change next time this kind of longterm disruption occurs. And it will.
    What courses and subjects can use the online model to be less expensive but still highly effective? Of course, most schools still charge the same for an online course as a face-to-face one, so there is no savings for students.  way to teach. Can a hybrid model of in-person+online lower cost? These are not new questions to ask, but too many schools have still never addressed them - and the answers may be different in 20121 than they were in 2019. 
  • Is distance learning "good enough" in a world of sharply diminished resources? The author suspects that for many students and families the answer will be yes. I agree.
  • So, how should schools prepare for the post-pandemic world? It is better to anticipate and plan for change than merely to hope that it will not arrive. One change might be rethinking the traditional academic calendar - "which is almost unique in its inefficiency."  The author suggests the "simplest way to lower the cost of college" but it is not the easiest way - eliminate the long breaks and make it easier for students to graduate in three years.

EdTech 1994

Apple IIeIn 1994, I was teaching at a suburban middle school. The first computer I had in my classroom was an Apple IIe (sometimes stylized as ][e) with its 128k floppy disk versions of word processing, database and spreadsheet (bundled as AppleWorks). It worked well and I am still amazed at what it could do without a hard drive and with those floppy disks. I used it to create lesson plans and handouts with my dot-matrix Apple printer, and students in my homeroom loved to play the many MECC games that we received as a subscription, like Oregon Trail and Odell Lake on it.

The Apple ][e wasn't the first computer students had access to in school. Our first computer class and lab was built using the Radio Shack Tandy TRS-80 computers. I didn't have on in my classroom, but I learned to write programs using BASIC and made a vocabulary flashcard game using the vocabulary lists I was having students study in my English classes. It was a very basic BASIC game but students loved it because it was personalized to their school life.

But videogame consoles were also entering their suburban homes and my TRS-80 and Apple floppy disk games soon became crude or quaint to students who had better systems at home. 

The next computers in school and the one in my classroom were IBM or IBM-clones and in the 1994-95 school year. They were running Windows NT 3.5, an operating system developed by Microsoft that was released on September 21, 1994. It was a not-user-friendly operating system and students didn't like it or really use it with me.

Windows 95It wouldn't be until the summer of 1995 and the next academic year that Windows 95 would be released. That much more friendly and consumer-oriented operating system made a significant change in computer use. The biggest change was its graphical user interface (GUI) and its simplified "plug-and-play" features. There were also major changes made to the core components of the operating system, such a 32-bit preemptive multitasking architecture.

The Today Show’s Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel didn't have a clue about the Internet in January 1994. It is amusing to hear them ponder what the heck that @ symbol means Gumbel isn't even sure how you pronounce it and Katie suggests “about.”  No one wants to have to say “dot” when they read “.com”.

They have many questions: Do you write to it like mail but it travels like a phone call? Is it just colleges that have it? Gumbel bemoans that anyone can send him email - somehow forgetting that anyone could send him snail mail too.

It would only be ten years later that Google would make its IPO and it was only another few years before this Internet would go from obscurity to mainstream.

Macintosh 1984You might think that after using the Apple IIe in school we would have "upgraded" to Apple's Macintosh computer which was introduced in 1984 with a memorable Orwellian-themed commercial (see below). The original Macintosh is usually credited as being the first mass-market personal computer that featured a graphical user interface and a built-in screen and using a mouse. More obscure was the Sinclair QL which actually beat the Mac to market by a month but didn't capture a market. Apple sold the Macintosh alongside the Apple II family of computers for almost ten years before they were discontinued in 1993.

Of course, there was other "technology" in classrooms at that time. For example, VHS videotapes were wiping out the 16mm films and projectors and recording video was big. I was teaching a freshman "film and video" course in those days. But it was the personal computer and then the Internet that really changed educational technology in the mid-1990s.

What Is on the Horizon in Higher Education

horizonThe annual EDUCAUSE Horizon Report for Higher Education is always interesting to read. The report for 2019 is online now. It is 44 pages, so it would be a full lunchtime read, but as a cheater's guide or preview I offer the two parts that I always look at first.  

One is the section on "Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption."  If you look back at past reports you will see that some trends come back for several years. That is partly intentional as the report predicts ones that should be considered "Short-Term" meaning in the next one or two years, as well as ones for 3-5 years and long-term trends that are probably 5+ years away.

Of course, there are also trends and tech developments that are almost perennial. We always seem to be rethinking online learning, learning spaces and assessment. And some tech, such as blockchain and rethinking degrees, have been "on the horizon" for a chunk of years and still don't seem to be really making a big difference.

In the short-term, the report lists "Redesigning Learning Spaces" and "Blended Learning Designs."

For Mid-Term Adoption in the next 3-5 years, they list "Advancing Cultures of Innovation" and a "Growing Focus on Measuring Learning." I think the latter should be moved up as a perennial topic.

In the 5+ years category is the rather broad "Rethinking How Institutions Work" and the returning "Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees."

The other section I always jump to is called "Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education." Again, there are predicted "Time-to-Adoption Horizons" given for each. 

The report also considers the challenges in adopting any of these technologies or trends. For example, one that I have been challenged by since I started in higher education tech in 2000 is what they term "The Evolving Roles of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies."

The report says about that (and I generally agree) that:

"At institutions of any type or size, involving faculty in the selection and implementation of educational technologies can be difficult. Whether an institution is implementing a new courseware platform for the purpose of personalizing learning or building a completely new program by applying a pedagogical approach such as competency-based learning, such efforts face a range of challenges. Identifying learning outcomes and engagement strategies before identifying educational technology solutions creates an advantage by establishing faculty buy-in at the earliest stages of a strategic initiative.

The role of full-time faculty and adjuncts alike includes being key stakeholders in the adoption and scaling of digital solutions; as such, faculty need to be included in the evaluation, planning, and implementation of any teaching and learning initiative. Institutions that address the needs of all faculty through flexible strategic planning and multimodal faculty support are better situated to overcome the barriers to adoption that can impede scale.

...in order for faculty to fully engage in educational technology, training and professional development should be provided to facilitate incorporation of technology... adjunct faculty also need to be considered in professional development...workshops that include both faculty and students could enable learning for both groups of stakeholders."

But I do always bristle when the business of education overrides pedagogy, such as the statement that "frameworks for tech implementation and prioritizing tech that offers high ROI should be a guiding principle for institutional tech adoption for faculty use."

Mergers and Acquisitions in EdTech

Mergers and acquisitions are not just the business of Wall Street. They happen in education - especially in the technology side of higher education.

Last week it was announced that Cengage and McGraw-Hill plan to merge. (A move that may have monopoly implications.) They are both at the top of the country’s textbook publishers. With a merger, they would have 44,000 titles in a range of fields. 

This week, John Wiley & Sons announced they are buying the assets of Knewton. Knewton started out as an edtech company with adaptive-learning tools that could work with content from commercial publishers. But beyond that attraction, Wiley is probably interested in Knewton's more recent move towards being a platform that incorporates open educational resources (OER). In 2017, Pearson moved away from using Knewton’s adaptive-learning technology. Knewton's Alta digital-courseware is its OER platform.

Wiley’s president and chief executive, Brian Napack, told The Chronicle that the product costs students about $40 per course, and that Wiley wants to “double down” on low-cost options, "because we think the future needs to look different than the past.”