Bob Ubell: Online Learning Rescued Higher Education During the Coronavirus Crisis!

The COVID-19 pandemic forced U.S. colleges and universities to move courses online in a matter of weeks.

Image: Phil Hill/MindWires

Dear Commons Community,

My colleague, Bob Ubell, from New York University had a piece yesterday in IEEE Spectrum entitled, How Online Learning Kept Higher Ed Open During the Coronavirus Crisis.  His message was clear that without online technology what would our colleges and universities have done when ordered to close down. Higher education was fortunate that not only the technology was available but that a significant portion of the faculty and support staffs had some experience teaching online either fully or in blended formats. Here is an excerpt.

“This spring, under the threat of mass infection and with little or no preparation or planning, millions of professors and instructors around the world shifted their lectures, seminars, discussion sessions, and other in-person classes to online learning platforms. Millions of college students made the shift with them. Steering the giant lifeboat of academia from on-campus to online in just a few weeks has to count as one of the most unimaginable and exceptional feats ever achieved in higher education. Before the pandemic, only a third of U.S. college students were enrolled in online classes. Now, essentially all of them are.  Take a look at the graph above created by edtech trend-spotter Phil Hill, illustrating the magical crossing in which U.S. higher education leaped almost entirely online…

…Even if colleges and universities reopen in a few months, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many students will actually show up. Some will stay away out of fear of the continued threat of the disease or out of a desire to stay close to home. With people now out of work, many students will be unable to pay tuition.

Colleges and universities have also been hit hard. Collectively, they stand to lose billions of dollars, with enrollments expected to plummet, sports events cancelled, and non-pandemic-related research on hold. The University of Michigan, for example, expects a shortfall of $400 million to $1 billion. Some schools that were struggling before COVID-19 may simply close their doors for good.

How will faculty adjust to the new normal? Before the pandemic, more than a third of faculty at U.S. colleges said that online learning isn’t as good as face-to-face instruction. No doubt many of those now teaching online still hold that view. In a recent Nature survey of faculty in the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union who are teaching online during the pandemic, many reported being unprepared, unsupported, and fearful of the forced culture change. They worried that virtual instruction will result in faculty obsolescence and ultimately unemployment.

“It’s the end of the ‘traditional learning space’ as we know it,” one respondent wrote.

And so when colleges and universities around the world eventually reopen, expect the millions of instructors and their students to have conflicting reactions to this great experiment in pandemic pedagogy.

“Some faculty may come out of this experience not at all happy. They’ll be glad to return to face-to-face teaching when they go back to campus,” says Duke’s Miller. “Others may be surprised at how good the technology is. The stigma of online learning will be softened a bit.”

The astonishing lesson is that online education, so long derided by traditional academics, came to the rescue of conventional higher education.”

Bob makes important comments in this article.  It is clear to me that over the next year,  most of higher education will be operating in an online mode.  Not until an effective vaccine for the coronavirus is developed, will colleges and universities reopen their campuses.  And when they do, many more faculty will move part or all of their courses online.



Comments are closed.