Dear Commons Community,
Imagine you’re a student in Fall 2020, juggling the excitement about your classes with the fear of attending them in person because of Covid-19.
That’s the premise of an online simulation created by Cait S. Kirby, a doctoral candidate in biology at Vanderbilt University. Users are asked to make a series of decisions that align with what a single day of in-person classes might look like for students this fall. The first choice — whether or not to sleep in — quickly illustrates the effects of a socially distanced campus. Choose to sleep in, and you miss your allotted five minutes in the bathroom. Opt to wake up, and you realize as you’re leaving your dorm that you’ve forgotten your mask.
Kirby’s story is a fiction rooted in reality: More than 60 percent of colleges in The Chronicle‘s fall-reopening tracker plan to resume in-person instruction this fall. The simulation resonated with academics on Twitter, many of whom told Kirby they planned to share her work with colleagues or administrators. Before long, she followed up with a second interactive story, this one told from a faculty member’s point of view. Now she’s planning versions that are told from the perspectives of a graduate student and a contingent faculty member.
The simulations, which Kirby made with the open-source storytelling tool Twine, force users to make a string of tough decisions that illustrate what day-to-day life in academe might look like this fall. The Chronicle of Higher Education interviewed Kirby about how the simulations came to be, the importance of including marginalized perspectives in fall planning, and whether she sees her work as a form of advocacy.
Most interesting simulations that will likely play out in real life in two months on college campuses.