The need for a break
I am hoping that you will be taking a well-earned break soon. It’s been clear to me that almost without exception, instructors, administrators and support staff have been working their socks off since early March, scrambling to ensure students are able to continue their studying in the best way possible.
However, it is important for mental health reasons that everyone takes a break from work before the fall semester. I will be taking a few days off over the next week or so – a ‘staycation’ – to spend some time on the Jervis Inlet, about 2 hours drive north of Vancouver, and one of the most quiet and beautiful spots anywhere in the world.
I never intended to be so busy myself. I had decided to retire completely and was doing well until I returned home from a vacation in Mexico on February 28, when the s… hit the fan. Since then I have done:
- 34 blog posts, including one, Advice to those about to teach online because of the corona-virus, that received over 54,000 hits. March in fact was the busiest in terms of hits to my website since I started the blog twelve years ago.
- 19 webinars, mainly for organisations in Canada, but also in Greece, Ireland, UK, USA, Nigeria and South Africa
- 12 videos for the Commonwealth of Learning
- 7 media or research interviews
- contracts with three institutions to provide advice and support for digital learning.
This may sound like boasting but I am sure every one of you could report something similar in your own way, which is why I am urging everyone to take a break.
Well done the HE system; not so good the school systems
I am deeply impressed by both the flexibility and commitment of everyone in the post-secondary education system during this very difficult period. Most institutions pivoted to online learning within a couple of weeks. Was it all good? No, but it was remarkable that it was done at all, given the usual glacial pace of change in the post-secondary system.
I am not so impressed by how the school systems have responded, at least in Canada. Most school boards are not finalising their plans for September until mid-August, few provided any emergency training for the teachers in basics such as how to use an LMS or video streaming technologies effectively, never mind effective online course design. I have been shocked to find that some school boards do not even have a system-wide LMS for teachers to use, and that others have failed to listen to their own online specialists from Open Schools for advice and guidance for September.
I know there has been a lot of consultation between provincial ministries, school boards and trustees, and teachers’ unions, and I do understand the uncertainties around children and the transmission of Covid-19, but nevertheless parents and kids deserve better from their school boards. Decisions should have been made by now so teachers have time to prepare. Too much responsibility is being thrust on their shoulders to adapt and make things work at the last minute.
Major progress in teaching and learning will result (in the HE system)
There has been a huge increase in the number of faculty and instructors seeking help from Centres for Teaching and Learning for advice on how to go online. There will be a lot of learning also resulting from experimenting with online learning for the first time. I suspect we will see some significant breakthroughs in online and especially blended learning designs as a result. While there will be failures and disasters, I see mostly progress as a result of deep, experiential learning (perhaps better expressed as trial and error).
Poor first year students
I feel deeply sorry for first year HE students this fall. They will not get the kind of education they were hoping for. I am less concerned about the academic side. I think students will scrape through for one semester at least, but they will have lost a lot of the fun of post-secondary education, especially the social aspect of making new friends, and widening their horizons through clubs and societies. It is not clear how soon, if at all, that aspect will return, but it is a great loss while it is restricted by Covid-19.
Will universities and colleges go bust?
This is a real concern. Certainly this will happen in the USA, because of dire state budgets and the loss of international tuition fees and even local tuition fees due to students taking a year off. In Canada, some provincial governments (Alberta, Manitoba, for instance) were cutting budgets before Covid-19. Some institutions, such as Cape Breton University, received more than 50% of their income from international fees. All provincial budgets have lost tax revenues due to Covid-19. Only the federal government in Canada is able to print money and they are not directly responsible for post-secondary education.
Nevertheless, I am optimistic that most Canadian post-secondary institutions will survive, although I am not sure all faculty and especially adjuncts will. This will put pressure on institutions to be more ‘efficient’ in their teaching, which will probably mean larger classes, which in turn may lead to even more pressure for blended or hybrid learning, and increased use of automation in teaching.
Enjoy your vacation
But leave these worries for a couple of weeks, if you can. You have well earned your break. I will continue to blog a little for the rest of the summer but please forgive me if there are more gaps than usual as my wife and I intend to spend a good deal of time with friends (socially distanced) in my yard, talking, drinking, eating, and I hope laughing. The best cure there is.
Keep safe and keep well.