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Mar 8, 2021

Crisis is a harsh but effective teacher

It does not please me to say this, but evidence is undeniable. The pandemic taught us many things quickly. Instead of 5-10 % of faculty who dabbled in online pedagogy for decades, we now have 100% of faculty with online teaching experience. Our campus was unable to replace paper forms for many years, always with a perfect excuse. It was done within a few weeks last Spring. Telecommuting was this complicated, exceptional thing, it is no longer. A huge bulk of our advising was done f2f. Do you remember the huge traffic in the first week of classes? It was not because students came to classes, but because they needed to meet with someone, solve some problems, get help registering. Oh, never mind, it can all be done without coming on campus. And the embarrassing thing is – the technology to do that has been уaround for a couple decades. We have long and serious debates about how faculty tenure and promotion portfolios can be converted to online, and at what cost, and what is the best platform – for at least ten years. Because of the hiring freeze, we were forced to reconsider work duties, and were able to do more with fewer staff. Well, it was done in a matter of few weeks, without much of a fuss. If it continues to go like this, we may be able to figure out the high art of HyFlex teaching, where some of students are f2f, and some are online. That’s a very complex skill indeed.

The truth is – change is painful, and most people do not really want to change. We may say something else, and even believe it, but only urgency can generate real change. Universities avoid conflict and abhor risk. Consider a recent Chronicle piece by Gabriel Paquette, “Can Higher Ed Save Itself?” especially if you are not planning to retire soon. If you think the end of this pandemic will restore tranquility in our industry, think again. We all are exhausted because this trial by fire is hard. And yet, it is very satisfying to look back to the year of pandemic, and marvel at how much we learned and accomplished. Who knew we had it in us?

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