We’re going on a journey

One of the more enlightening exercises that I’ve undertaken as someone interested in pedagogy was an analysis of my language about learning.


The facilitator suggested that people tend either to see things in terms of a ‘journey’ or of a ‘framework’.

Me; I’m a framework kind of person, possibly because I tend to mistrust things that smack of a teleological project ‘to’ some destination, but also because I like diving off down side paths [sic], using the tools that I’ve got to explore new areas.

Importantly, neither way is intrinsically better than the other, but it is important to recognise the multiple ways of looking at the world: your reference points and heuristics will vary from others’.

I’ve been reminded of this by our current anguishes over the shift to online (and possibly, partly, back again).

How much do we see this as a track to be followed, to reach some new equilibrium, and how much is it about re-deploying or growing our skills to fit particular situations?

Logically, it’s both, since each approach offers something different to the mix.

Thinking of this as a journey can help us to manage the stages of change, by suggesting what it is that we need to be working towards. Right now that’s probably the most difficult thing, since your institution probably still hasn’t made up its mind either about such things.

Laying plans for “what might be” can give us purchase on the slippy slope of moving our practice from what it used to be to what it needs to be in future.

But equally, abstracting ourselves from the process and working on our capacities, our skills and our resilience can underpin that transition. As I’ve (and others have) argued here before, much of teaching online is about good generic teaching practice: clear learning objectives, alignment and engagement.

If you can recognise that, then you can cope more easily with this novel situation.

Yes, however you look at it, this means change and development. The difference is whether you locate that change within yourself, or in your environment.

This leads me back to one of the key insights of the negotiating theory that teach [no, still haven’t worked that one out for this autumn’s classes], namely that there are things under your control and things that aren’t.

Negotiation is a way of trying to improve outcomes on those things not in your control, or at least protecting yourself against their effect. But that works more generally too.

There is an awful lot of stuff out there right now that we can’t control, so the best strategy is to work on what is up to us, so that we can be better prepared for what might come.

The more that we can engage with our situation, the better we can identify where we might get the biggest problems (and either avoid them or prepare for when they hit), or indeed the opportunities.

As a general rule of thumb, there is an advantage in being an early-mover: agenda-setting is less effort than it might appear and its benefits can be lasting. Put differently, if you don’t make choices or take action, then others might do it for you.

And that might be a less enjoyable journey.

When the Sky Falls

A colleague recently asked for my opinion on two articles about the pandemic’s effects on higher education. The first is an interview with entrepreneur and NYU marketing professor Scott Galloway, who says that the current economic landscape makes higher education a tempting target for tech firms — the same point made by Kevin Carey and many others back in 2012.

I told you it wasn’t just a wooden horse.

The second is an op-ed by Glenn Moots, a philosophy and political science professor at Northwood University. Moots argues that online education lacks the “experiential learning, networking, and in-person collaboration, celebration, and commiseration” that students prefer.

Both Galloway and Moots distinguish between a college education and the college experience. The business model of many U.S. colleges and universities has long relied upon successfully selling the latter—i.e., “come here and you can continue playing the sport you played in high school for four more years while majoring in, oh, I don’t know, whatever.” The credential of the bachelor’s degree is an ancillary benefit one gets at the end, not the main product.

This is a business model that works until it doesn’t. The model is highly fragile because it assumes a static environment that conforms to one’s expectations. Given stagnant or declining household incomes, and shrinking numbers of 18-year old high school graduates in some regions, it has been an untenable financial strategy for many higher ed institutions for quite some time. The pandemic only made the model’s flaws more obvious. And thus we are now faced with an interesting economics question: how much are people willing to pay for the credential of a college diploma when the experience with which it has been historically bundled no longer exists? And which schools can survive at the price point they are now able to charge?

As Galloway points out, a few hyper-elite institutions offer credentials with such a high reputational value that they don’t need to worry about the college experience, or even, really, the education. Universities like MIT figured out nearly two decades ago that they could give away their curricular content for free and not damage their brands.

As a contrasting example, IPEDS data and IRS filings show that Northwood University lost 25% of its FTE undergraduate enrollment between 2007-08 and 2017-18 and suffered budget deficits in fiscal years 2012-2014 and 2018. Positive net revenue for the years in between came mainly from sales of assets. It looks like the demand for Moots’ “own little corner of academe”—the experience provided to full-time, campus-residing 18-22 year old students—was in decline long before Covid-19.

What will Classes Look Like in the Fall?

As semesters come to a close, it’s a good time to take some deep breaths before we dive back in and start thinking about the fall and what classes will look like. This requires serious consideration of whether faculty should prepare to have part or all of their classes online in the fall. My short answer: yes.

Foretelling the Fall

’15 Fall Scenarios‘ set off much of the discussion regarding what classes will look like in the fall. It examines a range of options from ‘back to normal’ to ‘fully remote’, meandering through delayed starts, block scheduling, bringing some students back to campus but not others, and various hybrid and HyFlex models. According to the Chronicle, 68% of the 630+ higher education institutions they are tracking are planning to hold in-person classes in the fall. Given the uncertainties regarding the trajectory of the coronavirus in the US, and the near-certainty that we won’t have readily-available vaccines or treatments by August, at first glance its hard to understand why so many schools are engaging in what seems like wishful thinking. Certainly, that may be part of what is going on here–optimism in the face of pandemic is in some ways a good thing. Seen in a more negative light, this can be viewed as putting financial interests of universities ahead of the health of students, faculty, and staff. Covid-19 exacerbates existing financial problems at universities, with numerous reports of faculty and staff being furloughed or laid off, even at elite universities. Or perhaps universities are simply responding to what students want. A recent survey of students indicated that most of them want to return to in-person classes.

Another explanation is that this is largely strategic. Robert Kelchen lays out three explanations (link requires premium access) for why colleges have said they are reopening in the fall: sheer optimism, political posturing, and to keep students enrolled. As the deposit deadline shifted to June 1 for many institutions, students have more time to weigh their options. If campuses will be closed and classes online, why pay a premium to attend one institution when they could take online classes at a cheaper place closer to home? This is particularly the case as the hit to the economy will have made college harder to afford for many students and their families. Community colleges in particular are likely to be online in the fall; as a frequent safe haven during times of economic hardship, more and more students may shy away from attending a university that announces in May that students cannot return in August. Institutions that have announced they currently ‘plan’ on having classes in-person are therefore likely keeping a publicly positive outlook while they try to secure enrollments; I expect many to announce a change in their plans come the fall, whether before the semester starts or soon after, if an outbreak occurs. Several institutions are trying a third way, announcing that they plan to have socially distant in-person classes until Thanksgiving, or like Cambridge University are moving lectures online but not tutorials or smaller seminars.

Planning for Fall

Given the expectation that most classes in the fall will be online, either from the start or partway through, faculty should start preparing now for moving their courses online. In the spring, faculty had little or no notice before moving an in-person course online. Despite what your university may be announcing it intends to do in the fall, faculty should prepare their courses now, while there is time, to be effective in an online, remote environment.

Luckily, lots of professors and educational developers have started identifying best practices and are putting out articles on how to do this. Here are a few to get you started.

Planning for Virtual Courses. This is a guide to planning a virtual lesson and how to combine synchronous and asynchronous activities effectively.

Move to Online Learning: 12 Key Ideas, Dave Cormier, Dave’s Educational Blog

Online Teaching Toolkit, Association of College and University Educators

Turning Remote Education into Online Education this Fall, Elizabeth Johnson, Inside Higher Ed.

How College Students Viewed this Spring’s Remote Learning, Doug Lederman, Inside Higher Ed.

This post represents solely the views of the author, and does not in any way reflect the views or policy of the US Naval War College or US Department of Defense.

How to run a webinar?

analog Zoom

Pretty much every time I’m talking about L&T these days, I find myself saying that we shouldn’t be beating ourselves up about being perfect, but we should be thinking about ways to improve.

It’s for that reason I’m going to reflect a bit on my webinar for the PSA, part of their Teaching Politics Online series (do sign up: lots of excellent speakers still to come).

And also because I wasn’t totally satisfied with how I did.

Part of the issue was that rather than the just-about-manage-a-conversation registration of 20 people, we instead got nearly 70 joining in (and a bunch more who’d registered). Fortunately, I’d been able to think about that beforehand, but not to a reassuringly tidy conclusion.

At the back of my mind was the message that we’ve all been writing about on this blog for years – what’s your objective?

The point

Yes, I’d been asked to talk about the impact of the online-shift on us as teachers, but what was the message I was trying to communicate?

Oddly – and I use that word sarcastically – thinking about it in those terms was a big help, getting me to fix more on the core points and working through to possible ways to reinforce them.

Here I got to something of a dilemma. On the one hand, 70+ people is too much to do much that’s interactive. On the other, who wants to listen to a talking head for 45 minutes (plus Q&A)?

So, a compromise.

As well as some (nominal) slides, I put together a couple of short quizzes and activities (you can see them all here).

These each only took a few minutes, and provided some input from the audience and some focus for my headline messages.

For instance, seeing that institutional uncertainty was a big barrier/problem meant I spent more time on that than on more nebulous concerns about personal motivation.

Plus the meme-making activity is quite enjoyable.

And the point is?

On the plus side, I think these did give something more to the session, and helped to keep some people more engaged, but that was at a cost of keeping it tight and focused: it turns out academics are just as good at staying focused as everyone else, so various people raced ahead on the activities, or lingered in making memes. And some people didn’t really do any of them.

As much as comments I’ve had have been very positive, I’m not sure I’d do it like that again, mainly because I’m coming back to my evolving thinking about online instruction.

In particular, I’m not sure about how much of a role synchronous formats can/should play. I feel I could have provided a much more concentrated pre-recorded lecture, asked for engagement with some brief activities and then followed up with another pre-record and/or a live Q&A.

That said, I know how hard it is to get and keep peoples’ attention: I’d guess I’ve have gotten much less engagement with the activities in that format than I did when I had them right there.

So it’s a trade-off, and we come back to the question of what we’re trying to achieve.

If I take this across to my teaching, does it matter more that I work with those who are present, or with creating content that is more passive, but is there for everyone, whenever they access it?

The ideal answer is that you maximise both tracks, creating compelling learning moments that students want to take part in, but also providing a more rigorous safety net for those that can’t/won’t.

Get to the point

I’m drifting from the original purpose of this post, but it’s useful to return to the question of how could I have improved on my webinar.

A couple of people said it had been a useful place to think about their situation in the round, to reflect on how they might draw on what they already knew. That’s good, because part of my core objective was to try and make All This look more manageable, because it’s actually primarily just another example of working around the constraints we’ve always faced with our teaching.

And maybe that’s a good point to try to end on: each of us has a different path of learning.

Just as creating varied learning environments can be useful in creating more points of access for students, so too might we have to learn how to create that variety in remote settings. No one way of doings is going to work for all learners and all subjects, so exploring the possibilities is essential.

And hopefully the reflecting on that exploration can open our eyes to how we might make the most of what we do.

Rethinking Remote Teaching for an Uncertain Fall

Today we have a guest post by Martin S. Edwards, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations, Seton Hall University. He can be reached at Martin [dot] Edwards [at] shu [dot] edu.

Faculty have certainly earned their down time this Summer, and that is certainly crucial. But the sad fact is for many of us, preparing for the Fall now becomes a heavier lift. We face the challenge of a semester that might start in person but revert to remote learning, or one that may be taught entirely remotely. The good news is that unlike the Spring, we now have ample lead time to get ready. It is important, then, to reflect on the lessons of the Great Remote Learning Experiment of Spring 2020.  Below are four thoughts to consider in preparing for a semester that may be marked by continued improvisation more than a return to normal.

Adding asynchronous learning. Some faculty tried to keep the number of changes to their spring classes down, running in-person sessions synchronously. The downside of this minimal course overhaul is that it can be a sure recipe for Zoom fatigue. It might be worth thinking about how to use asynchronous learning – like discussion boards – to the repertoire. This format extends class discussion outside of class time. In this manner, it can not only enliven the seminar format, but it also ensure that everyone has a chance to participate. 

Working with technology (and not against it). Some of my colleagues chose not to use Microsoft Teams, which the university supported, and used Zoom instead, which my university does not support. Test-driving different systems and finding one that that works organically with how you teach is essential. Take the extra time to make sure that the platform you use helps you do your best work. Take the time to get extra comfortable with it, just in case.

Accept that things won’t be the same (and that’s fine). One of my biggest challenges was realizing that I was not covering all the material in depth as in previous semesters, and that this was okay. I relied on news articles to jumpstart our conversations into the course material. Over the weeks, I realized this was an important way to demonstrate that our class work had real value in helping students make connections to what was going on in the world, and that if it meant that our coverage of the readings was more shallow, that was fine. The benefits of getting them engaged, and keeping them talking, as well as helping them to see the intrinsic value in their learning, far outweighed the costs.

Focus on student contact. Faculty faced a two-fold challenge this Spring. Not only did we need to learn a new technological toolkit, but we also had to deal with the traumas of having our students scattered and their lives disrupted. In the worst case (a continuation of remote learning into the fall) the challenge will be to build rapport with students we will not see in person. This will place a premium on making personal connections on the first day of class. The use of meta-cognitive reflections can be a useful tool to build these ties, and the attendance features in online meeting software can be used to reach out when students are missing class for additional follow-ups.

Nothing so permanent as ‘temporary’

Among the most minor of effects of this pandemic is the delay of the (second) move of our Department to a new building on campus.

As part of a more general reorganisation, we were due to be spending a year in temporary digs, with a very big pile of packing crates holding most of our stuff until we could get into our final stop.

I mention this not because I’m complaining – I have a very good view from my office on the days that I am in it – but to illustrate the basic notion that temporary arrangements have a way of becoming rather more permanent, just like that thing you’ve been meaning to do in your home, but haven’t quite gotten around to.

That crack (and some yukky textured skimming too)…

[This reminds me to look up at our dining room ceiling, at the huge crack that stretches across it, just as it has done for the past 11 years. meh]

Any way, this all comes back to our shared situation, where a bunch of stuff has been thrown up in short order, without much thought to its durability.

I’ve already written about why we need to revisit our online practices for the autumn/fall, so I won’t go over that again. But I will ask you to consider the personal dimension of this.

For myself, as much as this lockdown has been very manageable, I do now notice the longer-term effects.

Sure, I know not to try and sit on the sofa for a day of typing, so I don’t get really bad backache, but the dining table and (hard) chair still don’t make such a conducive space for getting into writing/working.

Likewise, I think it’s been really good that the family has a routine to the day, but it’s not one that sits all that well with when I might produce work: it’s often at the points I’m just about get into the thing I’m procrastinating about (and I’m procrastinating a lot) that it’s time for a cuppa, or lunch, or a walk.

Yeah, I need to do stuff, but so does everyone else in the house.

But mostly, it’s the gnawing sense that I’m missing out on the soft aspects of being in my office – the interactions, the cues, the sense of a space as being for ‘work’.

I don’t want to give the impression that this is a bad problem, but it’s one that is certainly there, and I get the feeling that most of us have it in some form.

Certainly if I had crappy internet, or had to share a working room with another family member, or if our finances were badly affected by the lockdown, or a family member were stricken, then I’d be finding it a whole lot harder.

Sadly, lots of us (and lots of our students) are in just those kinds of situations.

Making something work for a few weeks is one thing, but if this how things are going to be for the foreseeable future, then that’s a whole new ballgame.

Dealing with that is going to be an ever more important part of this process, which is why I’m heartened to see growing amounts of support from employers, study associations, colleagues, friends and family out there.

But we also need to talk about such things, to help make it easier for others to do the same. You might be coping, but coping isn’t the same as thriving, and there’s not a lot of thriving going on right now.

Yes, we’ll need robust processes and practices to make the coming year work, but an essential part of that is our own emotional and professional resilience: however we teach, or facilitate learning, we still need to be in the room, both literally and metaphorically.

Maybe the trick is to pretend that would just be a temporary thing; and that way we can make it stick for good.

Carpe lectionem

Don’t ask me…

Well. This is fun, isn’t it?

Talking with family, friends and colleagues, I get the distinct impression that we’ve moved to the second phase of lockdown: boredom.

Those first weeks of frantic adjustment, of adding an extra tin or one into our shop (because none of us stockpile), of working out the un-mute keyboard shortcut for Zoom, of deciding whether the walk to go shop should also count as the walk for exercise, all those are done.

Now, it’s routine. You probably even know what day of the week it is.

That’s good, because it’s now the time to get focused on what’s still to come.

I’ve written before about the autumn/fall semester, which is going to be a global challenge for HE: there will almost certainly be massive disruption on student recruitment, both in terms of overall numbers and of their location, plus lockdown elements are going to linger for a long time yet, so we have to assume that we’ll all be doing some form of online instruction.

Right now, my impression is that this is still a bit up in the air. Partly that’s because this situation is too fluid to encourage much strategic planning; partly it’s because we habour hopes that this will all be a distant memory by September; and partly it’s because we’re all up to our eyeballs in stuff right now.

It’s that last element I want to focus on this time.

Many of us still have a few weeks of teaching left, which is why we’re so busy. But that’s also an opportunity.

If we are going to have to sort ourselves out for the autumn, when we’ll need to have a much more robust offering to students, then we’ll want to have as much confidence as possible in different approaches.

That’s why this period, right now, is really useful. It’s a time to try out ideas we might want to pursue more further down the line.

It’s with that in mind that me and my colleagues here at Surrey are trying to be a bit more systematic about this.

For context, we’ve already worked up a draft plan for the autumn, with both general principles for delivery of our provision for both online and onsite students, as well as worked examples of different types of courses.

The aim is to ensure all colleagues have a robust, and evidenced basis for transforming their teaching, to ensure all students can access the same high-quality learning environments, not matter how they participate.

The next step is now to work on some more specific activities, to get a proper feel for them. That includes some remote simulations, groupwork exercises and asynchronous presentations.

When our semester ends, we’re all going to write up [OK, we’ve asked everyone to write up, so, you know] these trials, with practicalities, strengths and weaknesses and options for adaptation. Just short, one-pagers to capture the essentials.

That will give us a more grounded sense of how things work in remote settings and allow us to think more clearly about these can relate to in-class work that might be in parallel.

It’s not a perfect process and we’re still going to make some missteps on the way – which is why we’re also going to have lots of running reviews now and in the autumn – but it’s an effort to make our lives easier this summer.

As a student of politics, I’ll also note it keeps us ahead of the institutional process that’s unfurling for us (and for you), so we’re more likely to see our plans (which are not particularly disciplinary) getting picked up by others, rather than us having to cleave to other people’s ideas.

It’s been one of the more enjoyable aspects of all this that L&T has plonked itself in the centre of people’s attentions, but now we need to make the most of that opportunity right now, before it passes.

And, as always, if you have an idea you’d like to share with a global audience, then just drop us a line here at ALPS blog.

Push the tempo

You’ll be shocked to read that people only have short attention spans, especially online.

This not only gives me the occasion to write a short post, but also allows me to remind you of this fact when thinking about your ventures into online L&T.

As part of the work I’ve been doing with colleagues recently on preparing for the autumn, a consistent message from the literature and the practical advice is to keep it concise, and keep it frequent.

That means making your online lectures into 15 minute blocks and group activities that can be broken up into smaller chunks.

It also means talking a lot more to your students, regularly producing interactions and demonstrating the continuing nature of the work. It’ll not be enough to set out a workplan at the top of the semester, then sitting back and waiting for the assessment to roll in.

You know this, both from your previous experience with students and from your current situation.

In both cases, the presence/absence of being co-located means you lose much of the soft interactions that help sustain interest and engagement: the chat in the corridor, the messages relayed through mutual contacts.

Think about how you’re working now, in lockdown: a lot more structured interactions and meetings, alongside a lot more undifferentiated time where you could be doing lots of things (writing that grant bid/article/etc.), but you’re possibly not.

[and yes, blog writing is a good example of this]

Students are in the same boat, and even if lockdowns aren’t as strict, then the nature of distance learning is that it’s really hard to get and keep someone’s attention if they’re down the line.

So if you want to make your teaching work better online, then you’ll have to lean into it: not just reproducing what you’d do in class, but creating a novel structure that guides, supports and interacts with students in a rather different manner to before.

That’s not an exact science, but the most useful rule of thumb is still that you’re not as interesting as you think you are, so you will need to work for students’ attention.

And with that, let’s back to whatever it was we were doing beforehand.

Prepping for Autumn

Excessive (for now)

Last week I was worrying about stuff. This week I’m, errm, still worrying about it.

Still high up my list is the autumn/fall and how I’m going to teach my course on negotiation, mainly because it’s going to be such a massive pain in the proverbial.

But rather than go, once again, through my agonising about that, I’m going to try to get you to think about the generic points of getting ready for next semester. Because you’re in this too.

The logic is simply that even if we hit peak infections now or in the coming weeks in our respective countries, covid-19 isn’t going to be solved. Instead, much of the local population won’t have been infected, vaccines won’t exist and the scope for a new wave of infections is substantial. Throw in the warm weather thing and the last quarter of this year looks like we well be doing this again, maybe even doing it still, but let’s hope not.

I note in passing that this view is, A) downbeat, and; B) in line with my general teaching practice of assuming that things might not work out as I wish, so I’d better have a fallback. And as I write last week, trying to do online learning properly is not a quick proposition, so we need to get moving now.

But it’s worse than that.

Not only will students’ expectations of provision be that much greater than they have been in the past few weeks, we also have to recognise that any new lockdown might be only intermittently in place during the new semester. So we’re going to have to design and run courses that might have to be simultaneously digital-native and ready to go back into the classroom.

So how to tackle this?

As so often, three ideas come forward.

Firstly, start with the digital. Given the profound uncertainty about It All, it makes sense to plan very conservatively. In this case, that means assuming that there will be some form of significant disruption to delivery at some point during the semester.

Even if there is only a brief lockdown, you may find that effects are more lasting, with travel restrictions on your overseas students, plus unwillingness by all students to return to campuses (especially if they become associated with being sites of infection). That all points to online delivery being useful in any case.

In addition, online is your fallback: there’s no sign that any of this is going to compromise either digital access or electricity generation [goodness, this is cheery, isn’t it?], so online is the sensible plan to start from.

That means building your course with a digital core, and the capacity to run it entirely digitally, but with scope to move elements back into the classroom as needed/possible. However, even when moving back, you probably still need to provide for digital access to those classroom spaces, for those that can’t be there.

Put like that, it’s much simpler to think about the balance of what goes where.

Second idea is that we treat passive and active elements separately. How you handle transmitting knowledge/skills is going to be different from spaces in which students get to explore.

This is a bit more tricky, because the boundary is rather blurred here: active learning is precisely about developing knowledge and skills, but through practice rather than transmission. But let’s work through the thought.

IF you have lectures, then these can be parked into a digital package relatively easily. You park yourself in front of a webcam, set up your preferred/mandated package and record a lecture. That can be kept on your local intranet, for students to watch whenever: the content (at this point) doesn’t need to seen simultaneously, so park it and focus on building spaces for what does need to happen at the same time.

More active elements typically fall into those categories: if you want debate or discussion, especially face-to-face, then you need time-slots and technology to make that happen. But also, that’s not essential: think about the options you have for asynchronous debate (forums, threads, wikis, etc.).

A big part of this is putting yourself in the shoes of the students. How are they going to encounter and interact with your course, if they are sitting at home (again) or if they are sitting in the classroom? Again, given the uncertainty, might you run multiple elements simultaneously, so that you can weight them differently as the situation changes, or so that different students in different situations all have opportunities to learn?

And all of this comes back to the final idea: digital is different. Yes, you can move stuff online, but that’s not the same as creating digital learning spaces.

Partly, that’s about options available to you. There are things you can do online that aren’t really possible in the classroom: the production and use of multimedia, the accessing of asynchronous learning, the manipulation of learning spaces. But equally, there are things you lose: the physical collocation (with all the interpersonal skills development that allows for), the scope to pick up on cues from those struggling, the (relatively) undivided focus.

But also it’s all a reminder that we can’t keep making the same assumptions about our students as before. As you’ve seen in the past weeks, students have many other concerns that your class: in a minor way, that’s been because of the format, but that minor way is likely to grow as they become more comfortable with their changed personal situation and try to get back to ‘normal’. It’s precisely at that point that you have to offer something that is compelling enough to engage and stimulate them.

Some of it’s good, some of it’s bad, but we have to think about it primarily as just being different, and with that difference comes opportunity. See it as a moment to try out something new, that works in that space.

And that new isn’t going to be the same for all of us.

Just like before, there are many, many different ways to help students learn. You need to find one that works for your objectives, and for your students. So look around, talk with colleagues and students themselves, read the copious materials available online, and lay your plans now.

If nothing else, it’ll help pass the time.

What support do you need to teach online? Take this short survey!

This guest post comes from Alexandra Mihai (VUB) and was originally posted on The Educationalist blog.

Although it may seem like a long time ago, it’s been just a few weeks since universities were forced by the coronavirus crisis to move their activities online. Many discussions are currently taking place, especially on social media, on the effect of this sudden change on students, teachers and universities in general. New networks are being built and older ones are revived; most importantly, online learning experts are doing their best to pool resources that can be helpful for teachers in this emergency transition. I reflected on the newly found fame of online education and the impact the crisis has on Higher Education herehere and here. Now it’s time to focus our efforts on coming up with solutions that enable teachers and universities to offer quality online education in the near future. Ideally, instructional designers and educational technologists should be available to support teachers as they (re)design their courses.

What’s the problem? And how to fix it.

We easily forget that not all universities have resources to provide support for teaching online and unfortunately this is not likely to change soon. There is a lot of valuable expertise out there, but often supply and demand don’t match- either for geographical/ time zone reasons, or due to language barriers. Or sometimes it’s just about each of us living in our own filter bubbles and often being unaware of resources and ideas we could use that belong to other bubbles.

I am currently working on ideas to increase access to valuable knowledge and expertise on online teaching and learning. This could be very useful in the short term and it would also provide teachers with tools and resources they can use in the future to rethink their courses.

In order to design the right channel for providing accessible support I created a short survey to find out more about the needs of Higher Education teaching staff in terms of support for teaching online. If you are teaching at university, it would be great if you could fill in this short survey and share it with your network. It only takes 5 minutes and your contribution will help shed light on a topic that is becoming increasingly important. I would also welcome any comments in response to this article or via email: alexandra.mihai@vub.be. And if you are interested in the results, I would be happy to share them with you in the following weeks.