Here’s how schools should be thinking about fall classes…

In-person? Online? Hybrid? … What to do?
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My view: Educators (especially at the college level) are making a fundamental mistake when trying to structure their curriculums for the fall.

They’re thinking about the problem in the wrong way.

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Now, most schools are simply trying to maintain past schedules and coax all courses online, essentially emulating what’s currently being done in the classroom.

Rather, they should strategize around  two fundamental questions:

1. Which courses require classroom presence?

2. Which courses are most suitable for online delivery?

When those questions are answered, load the fall schedule with the most online-suitable courses … and defer the classroom-dependent courses until the virus is behind us (hopefully when the calendar flips to 2021)

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So, which courses are classroom-dependent and which are online-suitable?

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My take:

Relatively few courses make the cut into the classroom-dependent category.

For example, science labs that require specialized equipment, specific materials and close supervision probably make the cut.

At the other extreme, large enrollment lecture courses clearly don’t make the cut. What’s the value-added over online delivery? Arguably, a fast-paced, well-produced video might be more engaging and impactful than a boring in-class lecture.

Even discussion-dependent courses (think: philosophy and ethics, seminars) are eminently “Zoomable” … just limit the number of students in each Zoom session to, say, a maximum of 6.

Ditto for advanced courses (think: plasma physics) with very complex subject matter that may require dynamic drill-downs depending on whether or not students are grasping the material. Again, just limit the number of students in each Zoom session.

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Some courses have established content, pedagogy and track records online.

Some courses (think: statistics, accounting) have a concrete body of knowledge that is delivered in a systematic way that has been road-tested for years (decades?) and is quite amenable to self-study.

For example, one of my sons got his CPA certification in about 6 months. All of the “content” was delivered on DVDs – a predecessor mode to online delivery. No professors, no classrooms. Just him and his laptop.

The magic sauce: He was very motivated to get the certification, the content was well-honed to the purpose, there was substantial self-testing functionality … and the final testing was rigorous (i.e. majority of test takers fail) and done in a testing facility with tight proctoring (to minimize any improprieties).

Now, that’s what I call online-suitable!

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So, my advice to educators planning for the fall.

1. Defer classroom-dependent courses until later … don’t force fit them online.

2. Load the fall schedule with online suitable courses.

3. When possible, use established online courses that have already been developed and road-tested … swallow your pride and beg, borrow and steal from established programs.

4. For discussion-based courses, Zoom them but limit each Zoom session to no more than 6 students.

5. Provide extensive, dynamic online tutoring capability, e.g. grad assistants available 24 x 7 to answer questions and provide guidance.

6. Elevate the importance of assessment … use it as a “stick” to ensure that students are doing the work and grasping the material … and, as a concrete means of determining whether the online approach is working.

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