Category Archives: Pedagogy

Cornell Says No Remote Teaching as COVID Fears Persist

[Ed. 2020: universities don’t want to get sued for giving students covid. remote. 2021: universities don’t want to discount tuition for remote instruction. no remote. see a theme? $$$$$]

Scholars question the legality and morality of Cornell’s refusal to consider requests from faculty to teach online — even requests “premised on the need for a disability accommodation.”

By Elizabeth Redden
August 13, 2021

Cornell University said this week it will not consider any faculty requests to teach remotely instead of in person, not even from those seeking accommodations for chronic illnesses or disabilities.

Scholars questioned the legality and the wisdom of Cornell’s stance in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to individuals with disabilities who are qualified to fulfill the “essential functions” of a given job.

Michael Kotlikoff, Cornell’s provost, and Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education, said in a letter to faculty and instructional staff Wednesday that Cornell has determined that face-to-face instruction is vital to the resumption of “normal operations.”

“In-person teaching is considered essential for all faculty members and instructional staff with teaching responsibilities,” Kotlikoff and Nishii wrote. “Accordingly, the university will not approve requests, including those premised on the need for a disability accommodation, to substitute remote teaching for normal in-person instruction. For individuals with disabilities, the university routinely works to explore a wide array of possible workplace accommodations. Any faculty member in need of any disability-based accommodation should contact the Medical Leaves Administration office (MLA). For individuals who are not able to perform the essential functions of their position because of a disability, MLA can advise them of other options, including the availability of a medical leave.”

Some criticized the policy as unfeeling toward faculty who are immunocompromised or who have other medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe outcomes should they contract COVID-19.

“We teach because we enjoy it, and it’s rewarding,” said Rebecca Harrison, a Ph.D. Candidate in Cornell’s Department of Science & Technology Studies who represented graduate students on Cornell’s reopening committee last year. “And all of a sudden when we don’t feel supported, or our health matters less than the institution’s success, it’s demoralizing and eventually it’s not sustainable.”

Ruth Colker, an expert on disability law and the Distinguished University Professor and Heck Faust Memorial Chair in Constitutional Law at Ohio State University, questioned the legality of Cornell’s approach. “I would say they got bad legal advice,” she said. “Historically, employers have been given some deference if they put in writing what the essential qualifications are before the person made the request for accommodations. But we have an unusual situation right here because last year Cornell and other universities told students that they could accept their tuition and provide them with an appropriate education through all-online instruction.”

Colker added that the process of seeking reasonable accommodation is “supposed to be an interactive good-faith dialogue, in this case between an employer and an employee. The employer is supposed to refrain from having a priori conclusions about what would be reasonable in a particular circumstance, That’s why I’m shocked by Cornell putting this in writing in the way they did. It seems to me they’re violating that basic principle.”

Arlene S. Kanter, a professor of law and director of the Disability Law & Policy Program at Syracuse University, agreed.

“The whole point of the ADA is to provide an opportunity for an employee to have an individualized, interactive conversation with their employer about the appropriateness of an accommodation,” she said. “Blanket rules that would prohibit an individual with a disability from showing that in their individual case they’re entitled to an accommodation would be disfavored by any court throughout the country.”

Kanter also said that while employers do not have to provide an accommodation if doing so would present an “undue hardship,” she thinks a university would be unsuccessful in arguing that allowing a professor with a documented disability to teach online would present such a hardship.

“For the past year and a half people have been teaching remotely,” she said. “If they could do it then, why would it be an undue hardship now?”

Cornell declined requests for an interview about the policy on Thursday. In their letter, Kotlikoff and Nishii emphasized the safety protocols Cornell has put in place. The university is mandating vaccination against COVID-19, as well as requiring students to wear face masks indoors and to participate in surveillance testing.

“As has been repeatedly demonstrated over the course of the pandemic, the university has taken a careful and rigorously scientific approach to such risks, aimed at pursuing its academic mission while placing the highest priority on campus and community health,” they wrote. “Our plan for the fall semester is designed to minimize the risk of virus transmission and provide a safe environment for learning and discovery. While some transmission has been observed elsewhere among groups of people with substantial vaccination rates (for example, the CDC reported on a cluster in Provincetown, Mass., where roughly three-quarters of those involved were vaccinated), our on-campus vaccination rate of 94 percent is higher than those other instances. Moreover, the populations in which these outbreaks occurred were not protected by regular testing, nor did they use masks at the level that they will be used by the Cornell community.”

Sami Schalk, an associate professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Cornell’s protocols are “great safety measures that will protect probably the vast majority of their campus. But there are many disabled folks or immunocompromised people who have been pretty hyper-isolated over the past year and a half. To force them out, it’s just unconscionable.”

Schalk said that while she’s heard from other professors that their institutions have verbally discouraged faculty from seeking remote teaching as an ADA accommodation, she was surprised by Cornell putting such a policy in writing. “It is hard enough for disabled people to work and learn at many universities and this will force people out in a way that sets us back in terms of disabled people having access to higher ed,” she said.

Ellen Samuels, a disabilities studies expert at UW Madison and a professor in the departments of English and gender and women’s studies, called Cornell’s policy “morally questionable” and one that “flies in the face of all the claims about diversity, equity and inclusion that universities are fond of making these days.”

“You’re taking a group of people who worked very hard and took a lot of personal risk to keep the university going and now the university is turning around and saying, not only will we not grant you the ability to make your own choices about how much risk to take this fall, but we won’t even consider fully documented ADA accommodations requests that go through the usual university channels — even though the number of people who can make those requests and access that medical documentation is so small at a large university like Cornell,” Samuels said. “The message that’s being sent is we care so little about your labor and your safety that we’re willing to risk breaking the law in order to force you into the classroom.”

Closing the Empathy Gap in Online Teaching

by Russell Thacker, PhD

“Is it possible to know my students well enough to love them?” This question was on my mind a lot this year. As an online instructor with students dispersed around the country and in a pandemic when students and faculty weren’t able to meet as regularly as before, I found it difficult to know what was actually going on in my students’ lives.

Sure, I knew enough about my students. There was a nice headshot in the school directory and some background information about their class standing. They each uploaded a polished video introduction, and their papers contained some clues to their personal, family, or cultural backgrounds. But I often found myself wondering, do I really know them?

One student whom I had been emailing all week about a class issue mentioned in a discussion post to another student that she had just spent a few days in the hospital and was recovering from some health issues. Another had to withdraw from classes unexpectedly due to stress. And a third student who was uncharacteristically upset over an assignment later revealed he was immuno-compromised and had been unable to leave his apartment for some time. And on and on the experiences went. I often wished I could sit down and have a conversation with each of my students, face-to-face and heart-to-heart. Just five minutes during an office hour to say hello, ask a few questions, and check body language might be able tell me more than fifty minutes of email, discussion posts, or the occasional video chat.

But this was not possible this year, and it may not be likely in the future with the growth of online education. Even after the pandemic, distributed and asynchronous online learning will remain a staple of higher education. Online education has proven excellent at increasing access but poor at expanding empathy. This matters because faculty-to-student and peer-to-peer relationships are just as valuable products of higher education as the content of the learning itself. As one education scholar, Jennifer Morton, cautioned, “Online education can teach very many things, but it is not a promising space for students to practice and develop the non-cognitive skills they need to navigate many aspects of having a successful career in the middle-class.” It will be increasingly important for online instructors to find ways to build relationships with their students in new and creative ways.

How can you close the distance between you and your students? These five practices can help any online, remote, or asynchronous teacher better connect and empathize with their students.

Invest in Learning About Students Upfront
Making deliberate efforts to learn about students at the beginning of a course can yield important insight. One teacher distributes a personal background and goal survey to each class member and uses this information to make personal connections with them throughout the course. Others schedule one-on-one video meetings with each student in their first two weeks of the course.

Build Informality into Course Structures
Technology can be wonderful for connecting, but it can also make interactions more formal than they need to be. When I log into a Zoom meeting, there is pressure to begin right away and then sign off at the end to use the time responsibly. But in-person classes are not like this. There is informal time at the beginning, end, and at various points throughout. You can start online class with icebreaker questions to get everyone talking, schedule brain breaks for students to interact with each other, and practice “last one out” by staying online after class until everyone else has left in case someone wants to speak with you.

“I Just Called to Say…”
You don’t need to wait for a reason to check in with students about how they are doing or how the class is going. Through email or chat, ask if there is anything you need to know as an instructor that is happening outside class that could affect their class performance. Better yet, be familiar with what they have shared about their background and goals so you can follow up on their interests.

Ask for a Mid-Class Evaluation
Honest feedback is hard to come by in an online space until the end of the course. Students may say the right things when asked, and online discussion boards typically have a rosy complexion. This leaves me wondering how students are really doing in the course. I have found that asking for feedback during a course through a mid-term survey or focus group yields better insight and gives the students a place to open up and be more vulnerable in their responses. Also, reaching out to individual students to ask for their feedback on an assignment is a great way to build rapport.

Treat Information with Utmost Care
Finally, it can be difficult for students to share information with their instructors whom they have never met in person or who live far away. When students reveal any piece of information, treat it with utmost care. Carefully regarded information can go a long way toward building trust and deepening connections.

Of course, loving your students isn’t solely dependent on knowing them. We should love them regardless. But online teachers can build better relationships of trust and be more effective in supporting students through a stronger personal connection, and this requires more awareness than online teachers usually have. What other techniques have you found useful in closing the empathy gap between you and your students?

Non-traditional student

What I do has been given many titles: Professor of Practice, Teaching Professor, Clinical Professor, Instructional Professor. I am not a classic academic, although I do research.

My intentional student has always been the non-traditional student. Why? Because I have never felt greater, more immediate power to effect social change than when I teach. Not merely in the information I may impart, but in the professional behaviors I may teach. The disciplines of maturity and scholarship. Many students I teach may not have had a professional in the home growing up, so how can we begin to expect them to understand professional behavior? Why and how?

When a student gets angry at me, rarely, I make them an offer. Let’s not do this now at the beginning of class. I have to start class. Come see me after class is done and let’s make an appointment to discuss this. Come see me in my office during office hours and let me show you how to disagree with your boss and not get fired. Then, I will reconsider your grade (and, likely improve it if they accept my offer).

I am a first generation college student. We didn’t have a dictionary in the house when I was in grade school, and I am the youngest of six. My parents had to buy me a dictionary because I needed it and wanted it for school. Lovingly, my parents and my brothers would make fun of my interest in school.

I refuse to allow in my classroom what call “Stinkin’ thinkin'”. I can’t. I’m not good enough. I don’t have what it takes. Others are better than I am. They belong here. I don’t. “Imposter syndrome”, call it what you like. I don’t allow, and I will pause whatever is going on privately, and make the student say, in the words of the (joke) great Dr. Stuart Smalley, who teaches at SNLU, “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And, gosh darnit, people like me.” They don’t get the points until they say the magic words. And, when the bad habit rears its ugly head again, the magic words, or no points.

When I took my students on a field trip to the Motorola system staging area where they could see all the engineers integrating all the equipment before shipment, one of my students paid me a great compliment and said, “Mr. McCormick, that was tight.”

1 in 5 college students don’t plan to go back Fall 2020


https://www.axios.com/college-poll-students-campus-coronavirus-7b6c2687-e2df-4f72-9305-7b9f1a611f04.html?utm_source=linkedin&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=organic&utm_content=1100

As the coronavirus pandemic pushes more and more universities to switch to remote learning — at least to start — 22% of college students across all four years are planning not to enroll this fall, according to a new College Reaction/Axios poll.

Why it matters: Scores of colleges were already approaching a financial cliff before the pandemic began. Steep drops in enrollment could push some over the edge.

Students are making alternative plans for the fall.

  • Of those not returning to school, most — 73% — are working full time. Around 4% are taking classes at a different university, and 2% are doing volunteer work.
  • Freshmen who are unwilling to sacrifice the experience of a normal first year of college appear to account for a big chunk of those who are planning not to enroll this fall. Harvard, which is going fully remote, says 20% of the students in its incoming freshman class are deferring.
  • Students also recognize the risk. 85% believe they are likely (or very likely) to be exposed to the coronavirus if they’re on campus this fall.

Some colleges are planning to welcome students back. And those kids are preparing for a very different college experience.

  • No more dorm life: Of the students returning to a campus, 56% are living off-campus, 7% are in single dorms and 9% are in doubles. Many universities are limiting dorm capacities.
  • Party police: A clear majority — 58% — of students say they’ll tell the school if they see a peer violate campus safety protocol.
  • Tailgating is over: 77% say their school shouldn’t participate in football and other sports this fall.

Pressing pause on the college experience


https://www.collegereaction.com/post/pressing-pause-on-the-college-experience

Coronavirus swept students from campuses this March as America absorbed the full impact of the coronavirus. Since then, colleges have been monitoring COVID’s “surge, sink, surge, settle,” and blueprinting their plan to bring students back.

Now, students are trickling back onto campus in formats from “Zoom class from your dorm,” to full-on, in-person instruction.

The big questions:

Will students come back?

Will they follow protocol?

What will things look like?

o Dorms?

o Sports?

o Classrooms?

o “Parties?”

Our latest findings suggest things will look different. They imply there is potential for success in safely re-opening, with some key warning signs.

Enrollment: 22% of current college students say they are not attending college this Fall.

• Most of whom are working full-time in the interim.

Work: 27% of students lost their job this summer.

COVID compliance: 58% say they will not notify their school if someone breaks campus safety protocol.

• Though, 83% say they plan to comply with COVID protocol. We will monitor this statistic.

Sports: 77% say their college should not participate in football and other fall sports given the risks.

Below are the complete list of key findings:

Key findings:

College Reaction/Axios Poll | n=798 | August 16-17

• 27% of students lost their jobs this summer

• 22% are not enrolling in college this Fall

• 83% say they plan to adhere to college’s complete COVID-19 protocol (we’re going to track to see if they actually stick to their prediction).

• 77% say their school shouldn’t participate in football and other sports this Fall

• Of those living on campus, 58% say they will not notify their school if someone breaks campus safety protocol

Going Online in a Hurry: What to Do and Where to Start

https://chroniclevitae.com/news/2315-going-online-in-a-hurry-what-to-do-and-where-to-start?cid=VTEVPMSED1

March 9, 2020


-by Michelle D. Miller, is a professor of psychological sciences at Northern Arizona University

“The coronavirus has colleges and universities swinging into action to move courses online. In the coming weeks, we’ll find out just how prepared (or not) academe is to do this on a large scale. Those of us in online teaching and educational technology have moved quickly to help, too, and it’s astonishing how many helpful resources have already been pulled together.

Even just a few weeks into the crisis, and really only a few days since class cancellations started to become a reality, there are top-quality guides free for the taking, created by people who really know their stuff. I will make no claim to have read all or even a fraction of them, but there are several that are clearly share-worthy:

A detailed Google doc, written by Jenae Cohn and Beth Seltzer — both academic-tech specialists at Stanford University — is geared for Stanford, but there’s a lot there that anyone can use. Their guide is particularly noteworthy for how it breaks down the synchronous-asynchronous distinction, explaining advantages and disadvantages of each and offering guidance about how to use Zoom for virtual meetings.

Derek Bruff, director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, has pulled together a lot of useful ed-tech advice under the heading of “just-in-time online teaching.” Read this page, in particular, for step-by-step instructions on key aspects of going online fast (the advice is geared toward the Brightspace learning-management system, in particular, but is general enough to apply to other platforms, too).

As a veteran of online teaching and education technology, I’ll offer my own short list of advice for faculty members who need to move online, fast, with the twin goals of maintaining instructional continuity as much as possible and finishing the semester strong.

No. 1: Begin by going over your course assignments for the coming weeks. Are they accessible online, so that students can find the instructions and materials that they need? Is it clear how students will be turning in their work? Have deadlines changed, and are all of those deadlines prominently posted?

No. 2: How will you give feedback on their progress? Consider how students will be able to practice the key skills and objectives you want them to get out of the course — things they would normally do in class. How will you give them opportunities for practice and feedback, for both small-stakes and high-stakes assignments? Undoubtedly those opportunities will be different from what they were before you moved the class online. Just be sure that it’s very clear how students can access those opportunities.

And if you don’t spend much class time having students practice and get feedback, now is a good time to increase that aspect of your course — given that you won’t be presenting content in person. For example:

If students would have been developing their skills in analyzing and synthesizing assigned readings via in-class discussion, perhaps they could do that online using collaborative annotation of the text. (Perusall is one such tool to do that.)
Or, if you’d normally have students practice by attempting to answer questions in an interactive in-person lecture, present a version of those questions in online discussion forums or quizzes, and offer feedback on their responses.

No. 3: Then, move on to the in-class experience. What do you normally use your in-class time for? Try to define what you do in class at a higher, more goal-oriented level (e.g., presentation of content, checking for understanding, collaborative project work — instead of just saying “lecture,” “quiz,” “discussion”). If you keep those goals in mind, you will have a better idea of how to achieve them online, as well as what aspects of the in-class experience you ought to focus on simulating.

In particular, this mini-reflection should help you decide whether to go with a synchronous means of engagement (e.g., a real-time Zoom meeting), an asynchronous one (e.g., VoiceThread decks or narrated videos), or some combination of the two.

No. 4: Decide what you’re going to do about any high-stakes assessments, particularly exams. There are no easy answers here, especially if you planned to have a good chunk of a student’s grade hinge on what would have been a proctored, in-person test. Perhaps you could take another route to summative assessment for the course, such as replacing a big supervised test with some type of project that is easier to personalize and less dependent on proctoring.

You also could explore online proctoring, but there are potentially objectionable aspects to this kind of test surveillance. Such concerns — along with the time required to research, select, and put into practice an online proctoring system — are significant hurdles. But it may be worth a look, depending on your situation.

No. 5: Consider the course materials. In all likelihood, your readings and other materials exist in digital form, and you may have posted them already. But you’ll need to double-check that any readings, videos, problem sets, quizzes, and the like are accessible, along with key documents such as the course syllabus and calendar.

No. 6: Once you’ve dealt with those things, the name of the game is communication. In the face of all this uncertainty, you need to explain — as clearly as you can and in a variety of places — what students can expect about the course in the next few weeks. Be sure to cover what it is that students are responsible for doing, how they can find the things they need to meet those responsibilities, and what they should do first. Make sure the lines of communication are two-way, as well. When in doubt, offer more ways to get in touch with you (text, messaging app, email, video call), not fewer.

That’s my teaspoon of advice to add to the pool that will no doubt be growing in the coming days and weeks. But I also want to acknowledge, and heartily agree with, the caveats and outright frustration being expressed by many in the online teaching space over the way our generously contributed advice could be misused.

As my colleague Flower Darby, told a Chronicle reporter: “We don’t want [people] to get the idea that this is what effective online education looks like. Moving online with inadequate support is a short-term solution.” She noted that an undersupported, hasty move could create bad impressions about online teaching, in general.

I fear that such impressions will outlast the present crisis. And so, while we all want to be as helpful as possible, online-teaching advocates are unanimous in cautioning that these options for salvaging the semester are not to be confused with the kind of intentional design that’s needed to create high-quality online offerings over the long run.

And sadly, we do need to put that message on repeat, because if we online-teaching veterans have learned anything, it’s that there are too many programs and institutions out there who do see this kind of rushed online teaching as a quick fix. How many of us have heard some variation on the idea of “just putting it all online” — in the name of profitability, convenience, or catching some imagined wave of the future?

It’s always telling to dig deeper into what people think “it” is in that put-it-all-online edict. Is it the readings? Videos of a professor giving lectures? Or (I hope) something else entirely?”

Why the Convenience University Will Rule Higher Ed

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2020-01-13-why-the-convenience-university-will-rule-higher-ed

By Robert Ubell (Columnist)    
Jan 13, 2020

“A couple of decades ago, when I was dean of online learning at Stevens Institute of Technology, a small STEM college on the Hudson with a view of mid-Manhattan, we polled our digital students about why they chose to enroll as virtual learners. Did they come to our virtual classrooms for the strength of our faculty? The quality of the program? The reputation of the college?

When we tallied the results, one reason emerged as a driving force for our online learners: They came seeking convenience.

We shouldn’t have been surprised. Noted Columbia University legal scholar, Tim Wu, has called convenience, “the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today” and “perhaps the most powerful force shaping our individual lives and our economies.”

Of course, technology has brought new conveniences for on-campus as well as online students. Back when I was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, for example, each semester I’d queue up for hours in the school gym in front of long tables with blank-faced staff to register for class. I’d fret that my longed-for Shakespeare class would close-out by the time I finally reached the front of the line.

Today, students register painlessly from their dorm, home, or anywhere with their laptop or smartphone. And that is what students now expect, since digital services have practically eliminated standing in line anywhere. Raised on apps and on-demand media, students can access almost anything, merely by keying a link. But these days colleges can be left behind in their digital services.

“Higher education has not yet figured it out,” Peggy McCready, associate vice president for IT services and support at Northwestern University, recently told me. “Service and support at universities are not up to the level of personalization we’ve grown accustomed to at the drugstore, where your prescription is refilled automatically and you’re reminded when you haven’t picked it up.”

One reason, she argues, is that colleges and universities are often radically decentralized, making the standard of service different in different campus departments and sectors. “With a more diverse student population, nontraditional students, without helpful and easily accessible tools, struggle to find resources they need to succeed.”

Inconvenience–like forcing students to rush around campus from one dean’s office to another for approvals–neither builds character nor imparts learning, but inflames exasperation with a college’s inattention to student needs. Student life is complicated and stressful enough without adding unnecessary obstacles.

“As consumers, convenience is one of students’ key expectations, but not often realized on campus,” said academic IT guru Lev Gonick, Arizona State University’s CIO, in an interview last month. “Even so, convenience is a huge and basic student expectation. Wrap-around services make students feel they are very much part of the university.”

Eighteen months ago, ASU launched a mobile app, an online one-stop-shop, helping students, not only with maneuvering campus services, but decisively providing robust student engagement. ASU students have now downloaded it 130,000 times, accessing it more than 3.4 times a day to check class schedules, navigate campus services, or see student alerts–all in the palm of their hands. Thanks to an integration with TicketMaster, it even gives students access to ASU football games.

One place on campus that has been quickest to bring in conveniences has been the library, where paper card catalogs were long ago retired for digital searching. “The importance of convenience is especially prevalent among younger generations in their studies, but is true across all demographic categories—age, gender and academic role,” concludes a recent report from OCLC, the giant library technology cooperative.

And for plenty of students, college is just not possible unless it is made convenient enough to fit into the limited time and space they have to devote to studies. That’s especially true for students working full-time jobs, for parents caring for children and for others who cannot just hop into their cars and drive off to a campus.

That’s why online programs at colleges have also been a leader in focusing on convenience, and why more than a third of the nation’s students are now online.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that digital replacements for onerous tasks will be simpler or easier to use. Just recently, it took me more than 20 minutes, with several failed attempts, to submit student grades to an awkwardly designed online form that would have been a snap with just pencil and paper. And no one is spared the frustration, waiting while rudely long irritating tunes keep you on hold, attempting to right some trivial, but hostile digital error. Flaws in online convenience can turn into a nightmare of dysfunction.

There are those who think that convenience is just an expensive trick, exploited by capitalism to circulate commodities faster than ever to increase profit. Like Sirens in The Odyssey, consumerism seduces our desires–envy, fame, or happiness, and love–compelling our keyboard fingers to click-open our credit cards faster than ever.

“Making things easier isn’t wicked,” argues Wu. “On the contrary, it often opens up possibilities that once seemed too onerous to contemplate, and it typically makes life less arduous, especially for those most vulnerable to life’s drudgeries.”

For scholars and academic leaders who encourage young minds to explore philosophy, science and other heady pursuits, focusing on student convenience may seem a foolishly trivial detour from what matters most. Yet ignoring convenience could send college students fleeing to more accommodating places that pay more attention to what they need.

And we owe our students convenience for the respect it represents, the sanity it embraces and the kindness it demonstrates. And for some colleges that face falling enrollments, becoming more convenient may be key to survival—just like the shops along my street that have been threatened by Amazon and other online options.”

Robert Ubell is vice dean emeritus of online learning at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. A collection of his essays on virtual education, Going Online, is published by Routledge. He serves on the advisory board of the Online Learning journal. He can be reached at bobubell@gmail.com.