Do you have any clue what higher ed will be like post-COVID-19? Does anybody?
How will academic life, and academic jobs, change once everyone is vaccinated?
Among the questions I'm wondering about:
Q: Will we all be wearing masks?
In my mind, I picture classrooms filled with mask-wearing students and professors. Masks worn by everyone in libraries and other campus indoor and outdoor spaces. Masks at sporting events among the spectators.
Is this right? Will masks be necessary to protect immunocompromised students, faculty and staff?
Q: Will we gather in big groups again?
At this moment, it is hard to imagine wanting to gather in a big group -- especially a big group where everyone is close together.
Gathering in groups, however, is sort of the definition of traditional residential higher ed. How long will it take until we are comfortable with face-to-face convening? How will that uncertainty change campus life?
Q: What will face-to-face campus classes look like?
Post-COVID-19, will every class (and every course) be blended? Will expectations shift so that students can participate in-person and online?
Are we going to see a reaction against remote learning in that face-to-face attendance norms and participation are magnified? Or will the post-COVID classroom be flexible when it comes to where and how teaching and learning happen?
Q: Will lecture-based classes return?
Now that every professor and every student has experience with remote learning, will traditional lecture-based teaching methods return when we return to campus? The alternative is face-to-face classes built around some lecturing (to clarify muddy points), integrated with active learning activities such as discussions and student presentations and in-class work and coaching.
Professors know how to use Zoom (or other platforms) and can now record lectures for their students to watch ahead of class time. Digital lecture recordings would free up precious face-to-face time for interaction instead of information exchange. Will COVID accelerate the shift to flipped classrooms?
Q: Will office hours be mostly virtual?
What parts of teaching and learning will stay virtual, and what will return to face-to-face? Office hours seems like a good candidate for shifting to Zoom. Scheduling and logistics are easier for online versus office discussions.
But what would be lost if students no longer came to faculty offices? For professors lucky enough to have private offices (a rare privilege for most U.S. college instructors), the office can be an inspirational space. All those books. The cartoons on the office door. What do we lose by being virtual?
Q: Will online learning participation among traditional residential undergraduates accelerate?
Now that we are all more experienced with remote courses, will online education expand rapidly post-COVID? Many more faculty will be better prepared to develop and teach online courses. Many more students will have some confidence in enrolling in and navigating online courses.
We might see rapid growth in online offerings among traditional residential institutions. Good candidates for new online courses could be summer sessions or any other spaces in the academic calendar.
Q: Will residential master's programs shift online?
The trend away from residential master's programs and toward online master's programs was already well underway pre-COVID. The pandemic might throw the trend toward online master's degrees into overdrive.
Save for a very few highly elite and selective residential master's programs -- where the appeal is networking as much as credentials -- it is hard to imagine many working adults wanting to quit their jobs to get a master's. The post-COVID master's degree may be default online and part-time (or at least flexible around work and family).
Q: Will colleges and universities place a greater emphasis on equity, access and accessibility?
COVID-19 did a great deal to both reveal and exacerbate structural inequalities within higher education. These inequalities include access to learning based on one's family resources and home environment. Not everyone has a quiet place to study for and participate in class, reliable internet, and a working laptop.
During the pandemic, discussions of universal design and other strategies around learning equity became common on many campuses. Conversations around social and racial justice and how higher education can ameliorate and exacerbate inequalities of opportunity became (more) prevalent through 2020. Will those campus conversations continue once the pandemic is over?
Q: How will the balance of on-campus and remote work change?
Pre-COVID, we had a small but growing number of higher ed people (mostly staff) mainly working remotely. After COVID, will the proportions of on-campus and remote work switch? What higher ed staff jobs can be done perfectly well by people who only occasionally come to campus to work?
How will university HR policies on remote work evolve to adjust to this new reality? What might schools do better with newly empty staff offices -- such as providing dedicated and private spaces for adjuncts?
Q: Will academics starting going to disciplinary and professional conferences again?
What will happen to the face-to-face conference and professional meeting? Will anyone want to fly to go to a conference? Will academic disciplines and professional associations decide that virtual conferences are more accessible to a broader range of participants?
Will conferences that go back to face-to-face radically evolve in recognition of the affordances only offered by in-person gatherings?
Q: Will the academic job market ever recover?
I hear anecdotally that the academic job market for tenure-track positions is the worst in living memory. The financial crisis that COVID has brought to academia, as costs have gone up and revenues have dropped, is resulting in a freeze on new faculty lines across the nation. Posted tenure-track positions are getting vast numbers of highly qualified newly minted Ph.D.s.
Will grad students end up hanging out in Ph.D. programs? Will we see a growth in new Ph.D. graduates going into alternative academic jobs?
What questions about higher ed post-COVID-19 do you have?
How might we together come up with more questions -- and possibly answers -- for academic life after the pandemic?