You are still going to hear more and more this summer and fall about the "new normal" or the "next normal" as we hopefully move out of the pandemic and return to something similar to but not the same as what we called normal in 2019.
Isn't normal always changing? What is normal anyway?
Normality for an individual is when your behavior is consistent with the most common behavior for that person. But normal is also used to describe individual behavior that conforms to the most common behavior in a society. Normal is also at times only recognized in contrast to abnormality.
In schools, we talk about individual student behaviors that are not normal because they contrast with the majority of students. We can talk about an entire college as not following the normal behavior of other colleges.
In March 2021, Rutgers University was the first university I heard announce that all students would be required to be vaccinated in order to be back on campus in September. I am a Rutgers College alum and I was happy to hear the announcement, but it was met with agreement and disagreement immediately. I thought back to when I attended Rutgers in the last century, and to when my sons went off to college in this century. Some vaccinations were required for me and for my sons. The meningitis vaccine was required and is typically given to preteens and teens at 11 to 12 years old with a booster dose at 16 years old. I don't recall any protests about vaccinations for students in K-12 and college being public events before. Typically, vaccinations are recommended for college for measles, mumps, and rubella, meningococcal, human papillomavirus, and influenza.
Talk about "vaccination passports" is a discussion well beyond school campuses.
I read something online (I'm not linking to it) connecting the post-pandemic normal to the New World Order (NWO), which is a conspiracy theory that hypothesizes a secretly emerging totalitarian world government. It's not a new conspiracy. Believers will point to "evidence" such as the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States having the Latin phrase "novus ordo seclorum", since 1782 and on the back of the U.S. one-dollar bill since 1935. That translates to "New Order of the Ages." It is generally considered to allude to the beginning of the era where the United States of America became an independent nation-state. Conspiracy theorists claim this is an allusion to the "New World Order."
I also read online that PEW research feels that "A plurality of experts think sweeping societal change will make life worse for most people as greater inequality, rising authoritarianism and rampant misinformation take hold in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak." That is a harsh prediction. They do add that "a portion believe life will be better in a ‘tele-everything’ world where workplaces, health care and social activity improve."
Their research found that the next normal may "worsen economic inequality as those who are highly connected and the tech-savvy pull further ahead of those who have less access to digital tools and less training or aptitude for exploiting them." They also feel that the changes that may occur will include the elimination of some jobs and enhance the power of big technology firms. Some of that power was growing pre-pandemic through market advantages and using artificial intelligence (AI) in ways that seem likely to further erode the privacy and autonomy of their users.
Likewise, the spread of misinformation online was happening well before the pandemic, so I don't view this as a pandemic-caused issue. Some of the PEW respondents saw the manipulation of public perception, emotion and action via online disinformation as the greatest threat.
The WHO (World Health Organization) is talking about moving from the "new normal" to a "new future" in a "sustainable response to COVID-19." Some of their recommendations about global health could easily be recommendations for global education.
Recognizing that the virus will be with us for a long time, governments should also use this opportunity to invest in health systems, which can benefit all populations beyond COVID-19, as well as prepare for future public health emergencies. These investments may include: 1) capitalizing on COVID-19 enhancements to surveillance, lab, risk communications and other core capacities, 2) back casting to identify gaps and steer resources to future health needs like genetic sequencing and contact tracing with Information Technology, 3) building on COVID-19 innovations to accelerate recovery and address other pressing health problems, and 4) strengthening multi-sector collaboration to improve health services and reduce health inequity.
EDUCAUSE suggests that part of that next normal in education will be improved student engagement through lessons learned during the pandemic. For example, during COVID-19 teaching, breakout rooms emerged as one way to offer environments for collaborative learning. Their use both emerged from perceived "Zoom fatigue" and also contributed to that fatigue depending on how it was implemented.
Globally, writing on the World Economic Forum website suggests that this idea of a New Normal "must not be the lens through which we examine our changed world." Why? One reason is that what we call "normal" has not worked for a majority of the world's population. "So why would it start working now?" Then what should we do? The writer suggests that we "should use our discomfort to forge a new paradigm instead."
Large scale change - a new paradigm - is a lofty goal and what that new paradigm would be is still far from clear. Stay tuned.