We should bite the bullet and start thinking about offering students on-line tracks. No one wants to do it, and I don’t want to do it either. It would add a layer of complexity onto already unmanageable complexity of a large campus. However, we need to find reasonable way of guaranteeing students entire schedules online, within reason. This could be temporary for a semester, or permanent for as long as they are enrolled. It will not for sure be applicable to all majors and all programs, but it could be done for many. These students may get special priority in registering for on-line sections of large courses, in exchange for their lighter footprint on campus. Why would we do that? I have no deeper theory, or a sophisticated rationale. It is just a function of demand. Some students, a significant number, want it, for whatever reasons. And we should think of providing it to them, for no major cost is involved, and there is a cadre of instructors that are willing to teach online.
Life itself created a form of accommodation, where students
for whatever reason cannot attend a class. At least some faculty members agreed
to accommodate them by providing a zoom access to classes – either in real
time, or in recording. It does take extra time and effort and may be of
questionable quality of engagement. And yet, since people are doing it already,
we should recognize it, and perhaps create some incentives for faculty who are
willing to take on extra work to accommodate students. Again, the burden of
proof should be on those who opposes the practice, not on those who do more.
I know about the objections of identity. After all, we are
not an online university, and do not intend to become one. I do not find the argument
compelling. Having a substantial online track will not take anything away from
our identity. I just do not see how it could happen. As long as we do not force
people online, our reputation is safe. Students may still want to come to the
library, to hang out with friends at Starbucks on campus, or join a student
club. Some of them just don’t want to be sitting in class. Because we know we
can do it, it is not clear why we would refuse to continue, if enough students want
it to happen.
Innovation is many cases does not involve sitting around and
brainstorming. It does not often come from special people. Sometimes life
itself creates new things, and our job is to notice, support, and make possible
for new things to exist. If we do not, students may take their business elsewhere,
eventually. It will take many years, but if we miss this opportunity, we will
be looking back on this moment, wishing we acted differently.