⇧ ⌃ Because absolutely no-one asked for my COVID-19 hot take on how to shift control from face-to-face to a student-focused digital learning bridge.

I write this post as I see lots of tips emerging from digital humanities teachers and faculty developers about how to transition or switch to online formats in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though I find much to laud I also find much lacking, especially when considering my college, which is on spring break. I keep reading about “shifting gears” or “switching to an online format.” Another path that Normandale and MN State might take would be to build bridges by shifting control (⇧ ⌃) to faculty and students in different ways. I do not see my college canceling face-to-face meetings for the rest of the semester. So, here are some steps we could take to make the time away from campus for students useful:
  1. Ask students not attend face-to-face classes for three weeks as part of a bridge to the end of the semester.
  2. The campus would be open and faculty and staff would continue to report for work, with social distancing as appropriate.
  3. The first week of the bridge would not involve coursework, but would instead involve planning by faculty and staff on how to complete the next two week’s of the bridge. Planning would include:
    a. What are the accreditation requirements for different courses?
    b. What faculty development do faculty need to create learning bridges for their students? The focus should be on clear, high-impact learning strategies that use the minimum digital technology necessary.
    c. What are the options students can use to complete work away from campus and how can those options be enhanced?
    d. Contacting every single student by email, phone, or text until they respond to set up an action plan. This would involve significant time on the part of faculty, but would have huge payoff because every single student would have a check in. Scripts, written by or in collaboration with faculty would be useful. “Hi, it’s professor X from Normandale, how are things? I want to let you know my plans to help ensure continuity of learning in this course. Plans. What questions do you have?” Many students will respond to email, some will need to be called. EVERY student needs a check-in.
    e. What social support services need to be readjusted (food shelves, counseling) to service student needs?
    f. Asking students what they need to succeed during the bridge period?
After a week of planning the semester bridge, the next two weeks of courses will be conducted remotely, now that they are well-planned. Different courses will look radically different, with some cramming content from textbooks so that labs can be privileged later in the semester and others shifting work from paper to digital formats. The key is to shift control to students and faculty, and not to the LMS or meeting software such as Zoom, in crafting the learning bridge. After three weeks, it will be April 6th which leaves a full month in the college calendar. As multiple doctors have noted, the point of institutional social distancing isn’t to eliminate COVID-19, it’s to flatten the curve of its spread so that our healthcare system can deal with it.
My fear is that my college and the MinnState system is too slow to plan a meaningful response and we’ll wait until there is widespread infection, and then cancel face-to-face course, telling instructors to immediately start teaching through the LMS. Building a bridge while trying to cross it seems. . . perilous.