There is a very interesting article in EdSurge this week that covered a new guide to opening schools in the fall put out by New America, a Washington, D.C. based think tank.  While this guide is not a mandate by any means, it does cover four possible scenarios that could be likely. Each of the scenarios, while written for primary and secondary schools, has application for higher ed if you wish to apply it.  

It was an interesting read.

While much ink and airwave energy is being spent on how to open businesses at the moment, that level of pre-occupation on how colleges and universities are planning for the fall and beyond is just not there. That does NOT mean energy is not being expended at a furious rate to figure it out!  But simply that it isn’t getting the press that the business equation commands.

New America’s guide was developed by Kristina Ishmael, senior project manager of the Teaching and Tech team at New America; Rebecca Heiser, a lead instructional designer at Penn State’s World Campus; and Jennifer Payne, an edtech coordinator for an online school in Colorado.  This team used the “present understanding of COVID-19” and health experts’ best advice for school re-openings of all stripes.

Out of the four scenarios, returning to “what was” is conspicuously absent.  

There is a reason for this.  The CDC recently released their guidance for schools that advises refraining from reopening until schools are able to screen students and staff for COVID-19 symptoms and to be able to protect students and staff should a positive result be found.  You can find the CDC guidance for universities and colleges here.

The article states, “All four scenarios laid out in the New America guide are predicated on the idea that distance learning will, in some way, be folded into every school’s plans for the coming year.”

Here is a synopsis of each of the four models.  They range the gamut from traditional in-person classes with a twist to full online models if safety does not present itself.  The article has more detail, but these are the four high-level approaches.

  1. Brick to Click Learning

The school district will begin the academic year with traditional, in-person classes, but will have planned and prepared for an outbreak that causes the school community to transition swiftly to distance learning.

  1. Click to Brick Learning

The school district will continue online learning in the fall, monitoring public health benchmarks, and communicating with local government and health personnel to determine when it is safe to return to brick-and-mortar classrooms.

  1. Blended learning

The school district will offer a hybrid learning environment, in which both face-to-face instruction and online instruction are provided in a consistent, easy-to-follow schedule throughout the year.

  1. Online learning

The school district will provide all instruction, programming, and support services remotely so as to best protect the health and safety of students and staff.

What has taken place during the last two-and-a-half months, the authors contend, is “crisis distance learning,” brought on by near-ubiquitous restrictions on movement and stay-at-home orders since March. “The spectrum of crisis distance learning ranged from ‘drive-by’ course material pickups to telephone check-ins to haphazard online lesson plans and ad-hoc video conferences, all of which can be considered a low-fidelity migration to support continuity,” the authors write.

What this pandemic is showing us is that education is education, whether it serves primary school or postdoc.  

  • Do you know which of these models (or a hybrid of more than one) your institution will be utilizing?  Hello, fall…you are literally coming at us.
  • Are you using this time to evaluate your approach to distance learning during that “trial by fire” time?

There seems to be some magical thinking going on right now with the pressures to improve the economy and get people back to work.  

  • What if another spike occurs as the result of the reopening of society in the absence of treatment or prevention?  
  • What is the plan if we go backward instead of forward?  A good plan allows for both. A good plan makes people feel protected and supported that there is a way forward, even when the path isn’t particularly clear.

If literally all of the models presented contain a fair bit of distance instruction, how we measure the efficacy of that instruction matters.

  • Is online exam proctoring part of your solution?  
  • Is the online proctoring service provider chosen one you can trust to do the right thing for you and your students? 

Also underpinning these various scenarios is the critical need for professional learning and development over the summer, the authors state.  

  • Do you and your Administrators include a plan to improve your quality of remote instruction?  
  • What resources are you using to up your online game?
  • How do you make online instruction interactive?  
  • Do you have edtech support?  If so, use them!  They are worth their weight in gold.
  • How familiar are you with online proctoring solutions?

Honorlock wants to help however we can.  If you or your students need help with understanding how remote proctoring works, what insights it can provide, or even the nuts and bolts of using the tool, we are here.