After watching this video I feel even worse about the upcoming semester. I am overcome with dread.
I’m sure this school designed this video to make their students feel confident about the fall, but it’s a joke. It could have been made by The Onion or SNL. What is left behind in the quest to deal technically with the problem of a poorly managed pandemic is pretty much everything that makes teaching and learning in person valuable at all. No discussions, no conversations, no ability to work closely with colleagues. Assigned seats. Rituals of purification and distance.
Sure, if you think college is just sitting and listening to a lecture this might be OK, but then why not just record a video students can watch at home while eating a bowl of ice cream?
If we are talking about actually discussing material or working our way through problems together, online conversations are going to be the most effective and have the clearest communication. Reasonable class sizes, thoughtfully planned course design and live classes in real-time will work much better.
Sure, these are not the same as physically-present classes during normal times—but this is a pandemic. There is no normal and there certainly isn’t a “new normal” in a pandemic. It’s all an emergency—everyday.
During an emergency flexibility and connectivity are the most important. I hope that along with lots of plexiglass and cleaning agents every school has first nailed the basics: Does every student have a laptop computer that is capable (not a hobbled Chromebook, for example) and the software they need? Do they have access to high-speed Internet? Because if these two basic conditions aren’t met then schools are not truly prepared for the fall semester.
The contents of this video by Emerson are absurd. They are a performance of managerial control, instrumental problem solving and utopian marketing that will fall apart if not as soon as the first cases of COVID-19 appear certainly when a student, faculty, staff becomes gravely ill or dies.
The people who made these plans were solving the problem of trying to recreate a normal that ended last March. They were trying to solve the problem of “in person” not the problem of how to deliver a pandemic education. As long as they try to solve this problem they are setting the table for massive student dissatisfaction and health risks.
We won’t get normal. This isn’t a technical problem, it’s a problem of honesty, thoughtfulness and care.