How Will This Turn Out?

I write this in the midst of the pandemic. What the coming weeks and moths hold are unknown. All I can hope is that we are nearing the end of this rather than the beginning.

For several days, I have been working with faculty to figure out how to teach online. We are preparing for the potential that our classes (most of which are face-to-face) will have to “move online.” I have become quite facile at showing faculty how to set of video conferences, how to “go live” on YouTube, add voice over to PowerPoint presentations, and convincing faculty they have a responsibility to make sure students can actually see the information they share.

A common worry among the faculty who have been in my workshops is “what is going to happen when this is over?” We all have faith that the public health officials will be able to overcome the medical and political challenges and help us return to “normal” life soon. They are wondering, however, about the future of education. “If we succeed in teaching online, what will become of our face-to-face courses (and jobs)?”

I have come to believe a few things about online versus face-to-face education:

  1. One is not inherently better than the other. If we classify teachers as “good” or “bad” and independently “face-to-face” or “online,” we would see there is little correlation between where one teaches and the quality of one’s teaching.
  2. A corollary of my first statement is the observation which has been around and around for decades that “online learning is not significantly different (in outcomes) than face-to-face” is meaningless.
  3. Face-to-face and online teaching are very different activities. What one does as a student or a teacher in one is very unlike what one does in the other.  At the most basic level watch teachers; face-to-face teachers spend their time talking while online teachers spend their time typing.
  4. Face-to-face and online teaching are very similar activities. Online teaching is not conducive to lectures. The students are unlikely to watch and entire lecture on a screen. Try it sometime: They are boring… really boring… and I write that as one who enjoys a good lecture. Of course, in good face-to-face classes lecture takes a back seat to active teaching and learning as well. Those faculty who believe their job is telling students the information they need before these events were wrong. They were able to maintain a small part of the market so that (an increasingly smaller number of) individuals who taught in their way could keep their jobs.

When convid-19 illnesses fade into the background, we in education will be faced with the prospect of returning to classrooms and offices. The teaching experience will have been disrupted and we will be faced with the dilemma of reconciling the disruption with our future. How many students will return? How many teachers will return?

How many will return, but insist on a different experience?