17 votes

Higher ed: Enough already

21 comments

  1. [17]
    Atvelonis
    (edited )
    Link
    I have a hard time arguing with the author's assertion as a piece of information in a vacuum. Going back to in-person classes in the fall isn't going to help us recover from a pandemic....

    I have a hard time arguing with the author's assertion as a piece of information in a vacuum. Going back to in-person classes in the fall isn't going to help us recover from a pandemic. However—and this is a little tangential—I'd like to challenge the apparently widespread notion among non-college students that online class is literally anything close to a replacement for brick-and-mortar learning. I know that it can work for some people, and that's awfully nice for them, but it cannot work for almost everyone else. It should not be treated like it's somehow an obvious and harmless solution, our God-given pathway back to normality. It also doesn't just affect the oh-so-greedy university administrations; one must remember that schools are comprised primarily of students.

    This isn't a hot take. I know an extremely large number of students; zero have a positive opinion of online learning. In all cases, across multiple class years, institutions, and countries, my anecdotal studies have produced the same conclusion: it results in a significantly worsened education. This is an inherent problem with online learning and not something that we can somehow "lean into," as the article suggests. Even supposing that all students have the resources and spaces to reliably access online classes and materials, which they most certainly do not, there is a reason that online class has not already taken over for its "low-cost benefits": it takes the human experience out of an education. Humans are extremely social creatures, and learn through interaction. A passive learning process devoid of tangible physical presence is not effective or sustainable.

    As stated, the socioeconomic disparities between college students becomes massively exacerbated when they are forced to learn from their homes. It is simply not possible for universities to address this. It doesn't matter how many nice messages they send, how good the professors get at using Zoom, or how many therapy sessions the school offers students for free. If students are at home, they are in an environment decidedly not designed for serious learning. Perhaps it is one full of argumentative parents, raucous siblings, and other distractions at every corner. Perhaps being in that space instills in them constantly a regression back to high school. Perhaps they are not in a safe space where, in a discussion-based class, they can feel comfortable engaging as they would were they at a real school. Perhaps they literally do not have the technological capability to participate in academics unhindered. I would venture a guess that being forced to learn at home does not just affect the underprivileged—although they are certainly disproportionately negatively affected, per The New York Times piece linked above—but that essentially every student feels some type of significant barrier to their learning process in an online environment which is inherent to their location. These students will learn nothing, retain nothing, and have a miserable experience almost no matter what. The university cannot fix this, because the problems are entirely outside of its scope. Attempts to emphasize online learning do not "break the wheel of the emerging caste system fueled by higher ed," they enhance it. A lot.

    There is a very good argument to be made, therefore, that an online education for people who are not suited to such things is effectively not an education. In many fields, particularly in experimental, lab-based STEM subjects, this is hardly an exaggeration. I cannot overstate how little it's possible for students to actually learn by watching a video of a lecturer doing an experiment with some contrived form of student input instead of them getting their hands dirty and physically doing it themselves. One may point to computer programming as an individualized activity that can be easily learned on one's own, and while this might be true for some of the obnoxiously techy, lone wolf types who frequent websites like Tildes, learning the problem-solving techniques necessary to being an actually good programmer is made so much more effective through feedback from other students. Not professors, nor TAs; as helpful as they are, they're only a small part of the picture. What helps students learn the most is other students working through the same problem with them, sharing conceptual ideas back and forth. In class, muttering minor clarifying questions to one another; at lunch, talking through the structure of a problem systematically; in the lab, troubleshooting an issue with the software. It is technically possible to have such conversations over Zoom, but you're deluding yourself if you think that they will realistically happen with anywhere near the frequency that they would in person, and equally so if you think that collaboration in this sense is anywhere near as efficient. Discussion-based classes are affected just as much; a five-minute chat with a classmate on the staircase has just as much capacity to meaningfully affect one's understanding of a literary work as a professor's arduous half-hour interpretation of it.

    This is not to mention that for many students, college in the United States is a largely social experience. I think this is something that the middle-aged tend to forget; although their lives are certainly made this much more inconvenient by the virus, a year of being stuck at home represents a tiny fraction of their work career. Certainly it could hurt it quite a lot, and I don't mean to downplay the significance of the virus on the lives of the working population. But for a student, it has already stripped them of 1/8 of their entire college career. Not going back in the fall makes that 1/4. Another year and it's literally half of their undergraduate experience gone to the wind. I don't think that it would be remotely accurate to suggest that this is somehow a less vulnerable time for a person than just another day in the workforce. College is very much about networking, both for "fun" (essentially any activity that isn't work, which I would collectively describe instead as an impetus for personal growth over the course of one's entire life) and for one's career. It's not that you don't see people in online class, but you certainly don't get to know them in the way that you would someone in real life. There are no accidental meetings, no spontaneous circumstances that lead to friendship or entrepreneurship, nothing. Having to search these things out in such a way makes them effectively unreachable for many students.

    So the solution is... for everyone to take a gap year? No doubt, a lot of students will. I'm sure that many or perhaps most would be begrudgingly okay with powering through one or even two more grueling online semesters, although this would only be because there would be an end to the torture within sight, not because they are in any way benefiting from the experience. However, any acceptance of online learning as a reasonable alternative to its in-person counterpart for the duration of the pandemic makes an extremely naïve assumption: that it'll only have to go on for one or two semesters.

    Universities that, after siphoning $1.5 trillion in credit from young people, cannot endure a semester on reduced budgets do not deserve to survive.

    I hate the generalizations that people make when they say things like this. It's easy to look at Harvard's $40 billion endowment and accuse the entire higher education bloc of pure avarice, and in a lot of cases, they're not far off. No institution that large has any right not to liquify part of their dearly treasured endowment to keep staff from being furloughed. But most colleges are not that wealthy, and many are only just barely able to operate because of sustained donations from alumni (in addition, obviously, to full tuition). This is not because they are necessarily wasteful spenders; some are still recovering from the 2008 recession, where they could easily have lost 35%+ of their endowment. Even the few hundred million in endowment held by a smallish liberal arts college might sound like a lot, but it really isn't when you consider how much it actually costs to run the place year-to-year. Is it truly fair to group them in with the moguls of the world of higher education? Contrary to popular belief, tuition isn't high for absolutely no reason.

    But here's my point: do we actually know that this mythical vaccine is going to be available in early 2021, as some models suggest? What could begin as a single semester of halved (or less) tuition could very easily become a full year, or possibly two, or even three. Perhaps more! A one-year turnaround for a viral vaccine is astonishingly fast, and I seriously question any model that assumes the best-case scenario. I am not a cynic, a defeatist, or a doomsday-sayer, but if an article is going to talk "realistic," it can't do so selectively. I understand that this author is criticizing universities for their reluctance to dip into their endowment for just one semester, but I think that this overlooks the extremely real possibility that we could see another serious financial crash à la the Great Recession in the future. If such a calamity were by fate's withered tentacles destined to occur during an extended period of diminished tuition for the university biz, a lot of them would potentially have to close their doors for good—not because they "do not deserve to survive," but because managing a large-scale non-profit institution is extremely difficult. This is not all that much different from suggesting that we stop donating to Wikipedia or Médecins Sans Frontières or who knows what else, as people are wont to do. They have cash reserves, right? Why are they always asking for more money? Yeah, they've got them for a reason, but money burns out awfully quick. Breaking open the piggy bank is a last resort, not an initial reaction.

    Universities do not have an easy choice here, and I resent the author's implicitly high-and-mighty take on the matter, as if all the administrations of all the institutions of higher learning are either hopelessly greedy or just irreconcilably stupid for making this decision. As a professor, I'd think that he would be aware that implying such things is not true or productive. I believe he's right to say that reopening in-person classes will harm containment efforts in the long run, but it's not fair to pin quite so much preemptive blame on universities when we're just starting to see an upsurge in coronavirus cases already, when students are far from doing any sort of travel. Society is very large, and college students do not represent anything close to its entirety. Nor would any school be irresponsible enough to send sick students home to infect others; asymptomatic individuals will undoubtedly make this hard to reduce to zero, but I hardly think most students would mind an extra two weeks away from their parents while they're being cleared. I think they're more health-conscious than he's giving them credit for, and would in many cases be completely willing to contain themselves more or less to campus, with masks on outdoors and with gatherings at least somewhat limited. Obviously college parties will still happen, students will still break social distancing guidelines, and the virus will feel like less of a concern to an age group that's not primarily affected by it. But the effects of going back to school will be a far cry from the apocalyptic scenario that he seems to envision. Surely the hundreds of millions of other Americans deciding to travel freely again will be the much bigger catalyst. I'm not an idiot, and I recognize the harm that this has the capacity to cause, but the alternative—indefinite online schooling—is not in any way free of harm; its traumatic characteristics are just invisible to those who are not actively undergoing the process. I am not making a specific argument in favor of one decision or the other, but any conversation on the matter must contain a great deal of nuance or risk becoming completely useless.

    34 votes
    1. mftrhu
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Not just students, either. I was working as an high school physics lab teacher this year, and doing my job was pretty much impossible after we went on lock-down: leaving aside the fact that...

      I know an extremely large number of students; zero have a positive opinion of online learning.

      Not just students, either. I was working as an high school physics lab teacher this year, and doing my job was pretty much impossible after we went on lock-down: leaving aside the fact that laboratory classes are made pointless by this, it's not just students who might have unreliable internet access - a lot of us were using our cell phone data - or an environment/tools not suited to online learning.

      We saw students leave their house to participate to online lessons - because their siblings were still sleeping, because their home had only one room, because their parents were also working online - and it might be better for college students, but I'm not sure how much. It's not like them living in shared housing is exactly uncommon, and a lot of them will have returned to their family home once the universities closed down.

      Even those people with a fast, stable internet connection and a decent computer - which are not that many, despite what is often assumed - ended up having to share it with the rest of their family, as everyone shifted to remote working and online learning.

      As for university students, if some professors chose to drop the written part of their exam, a lot doubled down on it, making it much more difficult to "compensate" for the fact that people at home might be copying: this despite the extremely invasive proctoring software that the students were made to install, requiring a recent computer, a Windows installation, a webcam, a stable Internet connection, and to surrender complete control over one's system.

      Another year like this might be the straw that breaks the camel's back. I don't know if online learning can be made to work, but I know that whatever changes would be required cannot be made from here 'till September. Handing laptops out and bringing people up-to-date on how to use them is just not enough.

      15 votes
    2. [3]
      cfabbro
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      To add some stats to back up your already excellent comment: Only ~87% of the US population has internet access, Edit: See Greg's reply. So by education being moved entirely online you are cutting...

      To add some stats to back up your already excellent comment: Only ~87% of the US population has internet access, and 3/4 Americans lack broadband internet despite infrastructure being available in their area (source: see article below) Edit: See Greg's reply. So by education being moved entirely online you are cutting out a significant portion of Americans access to that education, especially in rural areas and amongst the already economically disadvantaged.

      There was a good article on this submitted here earlier this week:
      How the US’ massive failure to close digital divide got exposed by coronavirus

      11 votes
      1. [2]
        Greg
        Link Parent
        My understanding of the article was that of the 16.5% of people who didn't have home broadband (in 2017), 3/4 had infrastructure available.

        3/4 Americans lack broadband internet despite infrastructure being available in their area (source: see article below)

        My understanding of the article was that of the 16.5% of people who didn't have home broadband (in 2017), 3/4 had infrastructure available.

        4 votes
        1. cfabbro
          Link Parent
          Ah, my bad. I totally misread/misinterpreted that. Thanks for pointing that out.

          Ah, my bad. I totally misread/misinterpreted that. Thanks for pointing that out.

          2 votes
    3. [4]
      kfwyre
      Link Parent
      This is an incredible response. Thank you for taking the time to write it. I simply want to add that, as a career teacher, remote learning really showed me how much of my job is about having a...

      This is an incredible response. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

      I simply want to add that, as a career teacher, remote learning really showed me how much of my job is about having a "seat at the table" with my students. Sharing space, developing relationships with them, and navigating continual social and instructional moments is not just foundational but downright essential to my job and their educations. All of that is nonexistent when we're separated by screens.

      I'm dreading starting next year, which will almost certainly be partly remote, because at least with this year I knew my kids and they knew me before the remote lessons began. Next year I'll be starting fresh with students with whom I have no pre-existing rapport. That's almost impossible to build via video chat and is even harder than normal in-person. How can my students know that they make me smile every day when my face is hidden behind a mask?

      10 votes
      1. [3]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        I'm curious how much this depends on the student and the subject? It seems like there must be some kids who could probably learn some subjects on their own if they had to, while others just...

        I'm curious how much this depends on the student and the subject? It seems like there must be some kids who could probably learn some subjects on their own if they had to, while others just wouldn't do it (for whatever reason) without a teacher's support?

        My memory of this stuff is fuzzy, but by college age, when I was in one of those enormous university classes, I remember being a loner who would just do the homework and take the tests without attending office hours, and I think I probably would have done just as well with a video lecture if I had to. And maybe that would have been true at an earlier age. But that's probably not true for everyone all the time and maybe for some people, it's never really true at all?

        3 votes
        1. Atvelonis
          Link Parent
          I come from a liberal arts background, so the whole "small discussion space" thing is a big deal for me. The largest class I was ever in was about 70 students, and the lecturer still knew my name....

          I come from a liberal arts background, so the whole "small discussion space" thing is a big deal for me. The largest class I was ever in was about 70 students, and the lecturer still knew my name. Another professor of mine once remarked in a sociological-based religion class of eight students that it was a "very large group." I can definitely empathize with @kfwyre's fear about having to introduce themselves to a new set of students without knowing each other previously. I think that learning is not just memorizing the material (although that's a part of it), but just as much playing off of different perspectives and such in a discussion. I'm going to have to regularly interact with a group of college first-years in the fall—mostly initiating discussions about identity, communal living, boundaries/consent, workload management, substance use, etc.—and if this process is online, I'd be very apprehensive about these sessions. Normally, they have power because of the space that they're carried out in, and in the unified way that I'm able to run them (e.g. including a moment of silence at the beginning, speaking from silence in general, etc.). Without that, I'm not sure they'd be effective.

          This article is specifically about higher education, but I think that college students are actually by far the best equipped to handle it. In my opinion, it's the Kindergartners who are hit the hardest. I'm pretty far removed from elementary school at this point, but my opinion of K-12 as a whole is that—whatever its actual educational purpose—its primary effect is to provide young people with an understanding of social dynamics, and specifically how to tackle problem-solving and conflict resolution within those dynamics. The actual content of what they're learning? Eh, they can figure that out for real in college or vocational school. K-12 lets them test the waters for subjects, but mostly teaches them general skills. And they rely on each other throughout this learning process even more than they do in college. So when students are placed in an environment where they're physically distant from one another, all of this starts to collapse.

          9 votes
        2. kfwyre
          Link Parent
          Yeah, as with anything so broad there's quite a spread, and a lot of it is dependent on age and development. As @Atvelonis mentioned, in general, the younger the students are the more adult...

          Yeah, as with anything so broad there's quite a spread, and a lot of it is dependent on age and development. As @Atvelonis mentioned, in general, the younger the students are the more adult guidance they need, and they increase in independence as they move up. By college, the expectation is that students are mostly independent learners, with adults filling expert and facilitator roles much more than navigator ones.

          Self-motivated learners of all ages will not have any problems with subjects they're interested in, but even they will have difficulty self-teaching in areas that they're less passionate about.

          5 votes
    4. psi
      Link Parent
      I agree with much of what you wrote, but I disagree with your conclusion. As a physics (lab) TA during the pandemic, I can attest to the fact that teaching online is awful from both the student's...

      I agree with much of what you wrote, but I disagree with your conclusion.

      As a physics (lab) TA during the pandemic, I can attest to the fact that teaching online is awful from both the student's and instructor's perspective. As an instructor, the rate at which instruction is facilitated is much slower. It feels as though we're tossing them across a canyon and hoping they can find purchase despite the rocks being covered in vaseline. The usual tools we use to anchor ideas in their minds are absent -- there's no physical experiment, and everyone's adverse to the tedium of communicating an equation either vocally or virtually. The latter leads to a catch-22: you can't do physics without math, but you can't communicate math on a zoom whiteboard. Instead we take the path of least resistance, defaulting to half-baked intuitive explanations for experiments the students haven't even conducted.

      But despite that, I'd still prefer to teach online. When my school switched to online classes for the Spring semester, the number of active cases in my state (and most states) was much lower than they are currently. Nevertheless, my school continues to maintain the fiction that, by starting and ending the early, we can somehow preempt the second wave, despite the fact that the first wave is still cresting. Administration solely made the decision to reopen for the Fall, consulting neither the grad students nor faculty in the process. We have no choice in the matter.

      My university is located in a college town. If/when an outbreak inevitably happens, the fault won't lie with tourists -- it'll lie with students and administration. I believe most students will act responsibly, but ultimately the university's relying on social pressure as the enforcement mechanism. But social pressure doesn't work unless we all share a common set of norms, and as the failure of the American pandemic response has demonstrated, we don't.

      So the solution is... for everyone to take a gap year?

      If you can, yes. Let the small fraction of students who can manage with online classes take them. The "college experience" will be greatly restricted even for in-person teaching. Outbreaks remain likely, which will revert progress in containing the virus and send us all back to online classes anyway.

      9 votes
    5. archevel
      Link Parent
      Online learning is definitely not a drop-in replacement for regular classes. The coriculum needs to be adapted to the medium. There are cases where recorded online lectures have an edge (I can...

      Online learning is definitely not a drop-in replacement for regular classes. The coriculum needs to be adapted to the medium. There are cases where recorded online lectures have an edge (I can rewind them, speed them up for instance). Then again any work that involves some form of collaboration get much more difficult. Partly because audio/video quality issues, partly because current tech makes having multiple conversation over the same link hard. Normally if we are sitting around a table I can lean over to my neighbor and have a short chat without necessarily interrupting the larger conversation. In a video call that's not as easy.

      Having assignments is as you mentioned challenging. Practical lab work is off the table for hard sciences. And any other assignment likely requires more discipline... which is a rare trait.

      On a wider note I wonder if there is a mental model for the notion that effects that have a general negative impact on a population tend to have a disproportionately larger negative effect on non privileged subgroups.

      6 votes
    6. [4]
      Kuromantis
      Link Parent
      I guess I will agree/confirm/anecdote all these things on the student side about online v physical education. (Although I'm not in college and US education works very differently from anywhere...

      I guess I will agree/confirm/anecdote all these things on the student side about online v physical education. (Although I'm not in college and US education works very differently from anywhere else in the world.)

      As stated, the socioeconomic disparities between college students becomes massively exacerbated when they are forced to learn from their homes.

      I agree. My phone is pretty crappy and only one charger works well on it. My battery maybe lasts about 7 hours. A student routine is more than half that.

      At some point I needed to update the app the state government where I live made for us to follow our classes. I lacked the space to install the app without moving a bunch of images to my SD card.

      By the time I finished doing that, the class was already over. If I couldnt do that, I would be shut off of one of the classes they don't broadcast in TV.

      If students are at home, they are in an environment decidedly not designed for serious learning. Perhaps it is one full of argumentative parents, raucous siblings, and other distractions at every corner.

      I agree. The 3 cats my parents take care of are a good examples of this. While neither of the 2 examples you cited are true for me, I can't claim to be able to maintain any sort of attention to studying. If there is one thing I have learned from this it's that 95% of my attention in school comes from having nothing to worry about other than other people talking with eachother too much. I was never very good with school projects or homework and having that as the only way of studying is exactly what you shouldn't do.

      Attempts to emphasize online learning do not "break the wheel of the emerging caste system fueled by higher ed," they enhance it. A lot.

      As another example, needing to read stuff on a phone the size of my hand is not exactly the best. When I tried reading a PDF of metamorphosis I requested for a project I literally chose the book.

      I cannot overstate how little it's possible for students to actually learn by watching a video of a lecturer doing an experiment with some contrived form of student input instead of them getting their hands dirty and physically doing it themselves.

      When they broadcast PE classes over TV I often don't have a place to try to follow what they're doing.

      for a student, it has already stripped them of 1/8 of their entire college career. Not going back in the fall makes that 1/4. Another year and it's literally half of their undergraduate experience gone to the wind.

      Here in Brazil, they introduced something called 'project of life' for 'fundamental classes' (1-9th grade) and thanks to this, I will basically miss it, which is really fucked given it's literally aimed at establishing what I want to do in the future. There is also a mass exam at the end of middle school that is now a clusterfuck. What happens to them? I don't know. This is also happening with the SAT and ACT IIRC.

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        Do you post on Tildes entirely from your phone?

        Do you post on Tildes entirely from your phone?

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Kuromantis
          Link Parent
          Not entirely, but the vast majority of the time. Unfortunately the computer I have is really old (~10-12 years, Windows Vista turned Windows 7) and weak (512 MB DDR2 ram).

          Not entirely, but the vast majority of the time. Unfortunately the computer I have is really old (~10-12 years, Windows Vista turned Windows 7) and weak (512 MB DDR2 ram).

          4 votes
          1. skybrian
            Link Parent
            Huh, I guess I feel better about sometimes posting AMP links then, though some people don't like them.

            Huh, I guess I feel better about sometimes posting AMP links then, though some people don't like them.

            1 vote
    7. [2]
      MonkeyPants
      Link Parent
      How do you see on campus working? Professors can teach remotely or fully masked up like they were in a hospital? Young TA's can be in person? What about those that require hospitalization? The...

      How do you see on campus working? Professors can teach remotely or fully masked up like they were in a hospital? Young TA's can be in person? What about those that require hospitalization? The risk for the young is remarkably low, as long as hospital facilities are available. But is that feasible in America, with a fatal lack of leadership?

      4 votes
      1. Atvelonis
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I have a lot of potential ideas about it, some of them grounded in reality, some of them pipe dreams. The unifying theme is that not everyone could realistically be on campus. The institutions...

        I have a lot of potential ideas about it, some of them grounded in reality, some of them pipe dreams. The unifying theme is that not everyone could realistically be on campus.

        The institutions returning to in-person classes in the fall that I'm most connected to are making an effort to allow distance learning for students with autoimmune weaknesses or who otherwise can't make it back (e.g. probably some international students), and are also allowing professors to lecture from their homes if they choose not to return themselves. This is definitely not a perfect solution, because it still involves the whole "online class" thing, but the students being back together means that they can still learn from each other very well, even if the professor isn't physically there. It also equalizes the playing field as far as distractions and resources are concerned.

        I know that some schools are repurposing dance studios and other large spaces as lecture halls. Others are spreading out more lecture times to evenings and weekends to decrease the average class size, and thereby allow students to be spaced physically farther apart during in-person meetings. An additional option to reduce class size would be to do a hybrid between online and physical meetings:

        • Day A: Group X goes in-person, Y watches a video of the lecture
        • Day B: Group Y goes in-person, X watches a video of the lecture

        In terms of living situations, I know that some colleges are renting out nearby houses, apartments, or even hotels so that students can all have single-person bedrooms. Dining centers could just do take-out. Mask usage could be required anywhere outside one's hall or building (perhaps room?), and social distancing could just be encouraged elsewhere. Universities do have campus police to monitor student activity in general, and I'm certain that they would enforce the rules where they could, so it wouldn't rely entirely on social pressure. Colleges would probably have students sign a form saying they'll make all efforts to adhere to these rules, so in the event of, say, off-campus parties, the administration could take justifiable disciplinary action against student hosts in ways that police might not be able to.

        This isn't an actual plan, just an unrefined list of ideas (not all great ones), but the point is that there are solutions out there that don't involve all students learning from home.

        5 votes
  2. patience_limited
    (edited )
    Link
    I'm a little conflicted about this, since I've had a number of recent years of studying via online classes versus the earlier in-person experience of a STEM curriculum. Frankly, I was a rotten...

    I'm a little conflicted about this, since I've had a number of recent years of studying via online classes versus the earlier in-person experience of a STEM curriculum.

    Frankly, I was a rotten student during early undergrad, and got through most classes (for which I regularly skipped in-person lectures to take work hours instead) by cramming texts and notes just before exams. Many of those 100- and 200- level classes were delivered in auditoria to several hundred students at once; the school had started releasing most lectures on video. Even thirty years later, the basic science and math course curricula haven't changed substantially, even if the texts are updated. The professors nominally in charge farmed out all the labor of handling student questions and grading to pathetically overworked, underpaid graduate students. The packs of cutthroat pre-med students didn't really collaborate a great deal. There was little in-class discussion which couldn't be handled just as effectively with a video meeting.

    I can't say that the end result for these lower-level lecture classes differed greatly from the current online experience; I'd love to see some well-designed, controlled studies comparing them. I don't think a majority of students would find either method a wholly satisfactory experience, or in any way a justification for the steep fees they're paying.

    I wholeheartedly agree with /u/Atvelonis above that there's no substitute for hands-on laboratory experience, the more the better. As far as I was concerned, the best justification for the vast costs of university education was to support the facilities where experiential learning could take place. Even so, much of my undergrad and grad experience was of paying for the privilege of acting as an unsung menial assistant in a prestige researcher's work. I learned a great deal, but again, the cost in both time and money was too steep for the privilege.

    It still astonishes me how little well-designed, replicable research there is on effective pedagogic methods, especially considering how much is invested in the delivering institutions. We casually apply all sorts of epithets to students who don't succeed, rarely turning attention to the evidence that schools have been designed around the demands of administrators and senior faculty. Why not gamify parts of classes where it's provable that gamification improves retention? Why not develop ways to quantify how effectively work experience covers class material, or whether class material establishes a usable basis for real world practice? How much does social interaction and collaboration reinforce learning? Does a college education actually foster social learning? Are "elite" institutions somehow better at this, and if so, why? There are so many natural experiments that could be undertaken...

    As to the lab work, there's some merit in the idea of assigning "quaranteams" who stay together through a semester. As in Galloway's article, it's unlikely this would succeed wholly with young adults reveling in their first taste of unsupervised existence. But students who've made it to higher undergrad or grad education should be more able to persist and complete their requirements without undue hazards.

    10 votes
  3. tempestoftruth
    Link
    I don't necessarily agree with all the author's points, but I agree universities need to stop pretending fall is going to be in-person. Delaying the decision until later just increases the degree...

    I don't necessarily agree with all the author's points, but I agree universities need to stop pretending fall is going to be in-person. Delaying the decision until later just increases the degree of uncertainty for everyone's lives. That being said, people should understand the real reasons that universities are waiting on making this decision: it's about liability and it's about money. It seems like the author understands that, too.

    8 votes
  4. skybrian
    Link
    McSweeneys: A Message From Your University's Vice President For Magical Thinking

    McSweeneys: A Message From Your University's Vice President For Magical Thinking

    Since we first announced our plans to reopen this fall (a far too early decision given the lack of reliable data about the likely prevalence of COVID-19 in the fall, but done out of necessity to beat the June 1st National College Decision Day deadline), many students, parents, faculty, and staff have asked us how we plan to ensure that we reopen safely. Our strategy is outlined below, but the short answer is this: Our university will proceed as if everything will be okay because we really, really want it to be.

    6 votes
  5. skybrian
    Link
    From the article: [...] [...]

    From the article:

    Every university catalog brags that their student body represents all 50 states and 20/30/40+ countries. This means every large university will be welcoming thousands of people from regions that have some of the greatest infection rates globally. After 12 weeks together, those students will travel back to all 50 states, and international students to the 4 corners of the earth. What. Are. We. Thinking?

    [...]

    In the next six weeks, after receiving deposits/tuition, more universities will begin announcing they are moving to all online courses for Fall. The scenario planning via Zoom among administrators rivals D-Day. But likely all scenarios will lead to one realization: the protocols mandated by the surge in US infections will diminish the in-class experience to the point where the delta between in-person and Zoom will be less than the delta between the risks of each approach.

    [...]

    Universities will face a financial crisis as parents and students recalibrate the value of the fall semester (spoiler alert: it’s a terrible deal). In addition, our cash cows (international students) may decide xenophobia, Covid-19, and H1-B visa limits aren’t worth $79,000 (estimated one-year cost of attending NYU). This has been a long time coming and, similar to many industries, we will be forced to make hard decisions. Most universities will survive, many will not. This reckoning is overdue and a reflection of how drunk universities have become on exclusivity and the Rolex-ification of campuses, forgetting we’re public servants not luxury brands.

    2 votes