“Teaching” On-Line: A Report From The Front Lines

Midway through week 3. In three words, a roller coaster.

Last night the graduate Sociology of Education seminar was a case study of incompetence. When exiting breakout groups I disconnected everyone from everything so we had to scramble to reconnect. For good measure, I added in some pedagogical incompetence by talking too much. One other student saw my blabbing and raised it, and I didn’t know what to do as his classmates, like dominoes, tuned him out one after another.

After class, I retraced my steps and realized the errors of my ways. And so today I was an online teaching rock star, turning off the waiting room, screen sharing, moving between small groups and large with aplomb. I damn well better win the prestigious “Most Improved Zoomer” award, Boomer Division.

I just unplugged from the First Year writers. I forgot to tell them they could jet after they were done peer editing, so they all returned to “office hours”. And they just wanted to hang out, which was cool. They’re a fun subset of the bad luck Covid Class, those 18-19 year olds who missed their high school graduations and have had to start college with electronic teaching hacks like me.

One of them had hilarious background images repeatedly rotating behind him last session. Today, another student did. How long until I lose complete control?

But their daring to be different provided much need levity. They’re not just funny, but resilient, still in good spirits despite “the invisible enemy which no one could’ve seen coming”. After shooting the breeze a bit, I had to tell them it was 72 degrees outside and sunny for one of the last times in a long time. I pleaded with them to “go outside and toss a frisbee.”

Thursday, we’re meeting in-person for the first time. Glory hallelujah.

Reinventing College

There’s lots of talk of radical change as a result of the pandemic. I think a lot of it is premature.

Things may never be the exact same, but that doesn’t mean an era of tele-medicine and working remotely will be ushered in as soon as we receive an “all clear”.

We’re a forgetful people. By 2021, I predict most of the changes, like not shaking hands, will be relatively subtle.

I’m most intrigued by all the talk of higher education disruption. Not just the financial destruction of institutions that were already on the brink, but a major shift to on-line learning. Specifically, some like Scott Galloway predict a Big Tech firm like Google will partner with someone like MIT, or maybe Apple will partner with Stanford or Cal, to offer 2-3 year programs to 50x more students than at present for a fraction of the current costs. Mid-tier and lesser institutions will all suffer greatly; and this shift will be accompanied by major reductions in faculty and staff everywhere; with a few, surviving all-star faculty, making a lot more.

The prognosticators think this could happen in the next five years, which reminds me of all the over-excited driverless car talk from five years ago.

Those types of changes probably will happen, I just wouldn’t bet much money they will happen as fast as many opinion leaders are currently thinking.

The educational status quo is far more resistant to change than even the “education experts” realize. Probably best to measure “disruption” in decades.