Higher education

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If university campuses close, can everyone learn from home? What happens when the home becomes the classroom in India  

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/09/2020 - 4:59pm in

The reorganisation of work lives bought about by the pandemic has also been met with a reorganisation of domestic space as the site where work now takes place. For Higher Education, this means that homes have now become classrooms. However, the fundamental premise of successful online education is the access to both electricity supply and an … Continued

Why Does White Fragility Never Break?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/09/2020 - 9:00pm in

When I was a graduate student at Emory University in 2018, the law school suspended a professor, Paul Zwier, for...

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COVID-19 Mirror on the Wall—Who’s the Bravest College of Them All?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/09/2020 - 9:00pm in

Photo Credit: The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame football’s backfield in 1924 / licensed with CC BY 2.0 ––––––– The...

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Jessica Krug and Racial Identity Theft

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/09/2020 - 9:00pm in

In this episode, Neil, Natalia, and Niki discuss the racial dissembling of historian Jessica Krug. Here are some links and...

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Teaching in-person

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/09/2020 - 3:17am in

The Wisconsin State Journal ran this article (for which I was interviewed) about return to school. (For reasons I don’t understand, the article is not accessible in many countries: sorry). A colleague in the Economics department emailed me after seeing the article saying that, quite apart from admiring the picture of the back of my head, he envied me the in-person experience, and wished that the campus had a physically distance-able space for his 420-person class. The email brought into focus the thought that I’m kind of a free-rider here. If everything were in-person I don’t think I – or anybody – would be feeling safe, or enjoying it very much. But, given how we are actually doing it (with most teaching online), I feel very good about teaching in-person, and will regret it if we aren’t able to continue through to Thanksgiving (which is the plan). I have those of my colleagues who are not teaching in-person to thank.

How are we doing actually doing it? Well, it’s true, as the article says, that 43% of classes have some in-person component. Every single in-person element is small, socially distanced, and masked. And the 43% figure might really mislead you. For many classes ‘component’ is a key term. I’m thinking of a 240-person 4-credit class in which everything is online, except for 3 discussion sections. That class is included in the 43%: but out of 960-person-credit hours, only 60 are actually in-person. I don’t know the exact proportion of credit hours that are in-person, but judging by conversations I’ve had with students, and comparing the trickles of students on campus with the usual crowds I would be really, really, surprised if it is as much as 15%.

And I really do mean trickle. One of my classes is T/Th 11am in the Business School building (one of the few buildings new enough that all the rooms really were designed for learning). Usually during that slot the building is heaving with students – like Christmas shopping on Oxford Street but without the packages. Normally all the classrooms are fully occupied. Last Thursday, at what would usually be its busiest time of the week, the building was almost empty, with most classrooms free. It was no challenge at all to keep a 6 feet gap between yourself and the next person. It wouldn’t have been a challenge to maintain a 60 feet gap, if that were your preference.

If anyone is sick the instructions are clear: they should not come to class. Maybe some students will not comply with this rule; but it won’t be many. We’ve made it clear that we will accommodate absences: in my classes if you are sick but functional you will be zoomed in, and participate in the class just like everyone else (and, indeed, one of my classes is hybrid by design). On the first day one student had been tested, but her negative result hadn’t yet come through, so we zoomed her in, and her experience was less good than it would have been in person, but better, I am convinced, than if we were all online. Indeed, she’s the only student whose face I’ve seen so far!

One of the comments in the State Journal seemed to me to make an error I’ve seen elsewhere, conflating in-person teaching with everything else students living on or near the campus are doing. Our Chancellor is quoted as saying, rightly, that we knew that students were going to be back in Madison regardless of what we did. Nobody has proposed that we go out of business, but even if we’d done that most of them would have come to Madison. For sure, having young people come in from out of town, and then hang around with each other in town, was bound to increase the number of cases. The question for us was how to weigh the educational benefits of having some in-person teaching against the health risks of having that in-person teaching.

When requesting that my teaching be in-person I gambled that, for me, even in a physically-distanced, fully masked, environment, I would be able to make significantly more learning happen than online. The work I’ve been doing with our instructional continuity team since July has convinced me that I was right about that, and I remain convinced. It’s really remarkably normal.

The other gamble, I suppose, was that it is reasonably safe.

Remember that all the classes that are meeting in person are small – small enough to be physically distanced. As you can see from the picture of the back of my head, the larger of these small classes are meeting in vast rooms, and even the smaller ones are meeting in pretty large rooms. The evidence so far is that the administration is going to be quite vigorous in enforcing the public health norms that they have outlined. Students with symptoms will be too embarrassed to come to class, even if they want to; even the tiny minority of students who are incautious enough not to care about spreading the disease in class know that a substantial number of their peers will not appreciate being put at risk and will let them know in no uncertain terms. I haven’t heard a cough or a sneeze yet, but I anticipate anyone who does feeling very awkward. [1]

Offering some amount of in-person instruction has created some inducements to behave more safely outside of class. One advantage of having some in-person instruction is that many students really seem to value that and have a reason to avoid becoming infected (not just by COVID, but by anything). Another advantage that hadn’t occurred to me until talking to the students is that the in-person-class-valuing students are exerting pressure on their non-in-person-class-valuing roommates not to behave in ways that might bring infection into their abodes. I realise that we might, at some point, need to close down in-person instruction, but the moment we do that the following will happen: i) these particular inducements to avoid infection will be removed, and ii) there will be no more 50- and 75- minute periods during the week in which students are rigorously physically distanced and wearing masks. As things stand, if we move everything online, there’s a good chance that will make things more dangerous.

[1] I have been having the most awful seasonal allergies, and feared that it might cause awkwardness before remembering that one of the many things I love about being in classrooms and my office is that my allergies evaporate as soon as I enter a university building. Also, the only coughing I have done in the past 6 months has been caused by the masks my mother-in-law made, but fortunately I now have non-cough-inducing masks from UW Madison and Worcestershire County Cricket Club. Indeed, it now occurs to me that the only coughing I have heard in all that time has been my own, caused by masks, and my son’s, caused by his remarkable ability to cough at will and enthusiasm for annoying everyone around him.

Notes from a Physically Distanced Classroom

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 15/08/2020 - 1:14pm in

We tested some teaching strategies in a physically distanced classroom today. We filmed the proceedings, but obviously the film isn’t ready yet, so here are some initial thoughts.

First a caveat. The room was great: a room designed for learning. Good acoustics, screens on the walls, comfortable chairs which move easily and silently, and 6 tables each of which would, in normal times, seat 7-8 students. So, the best case scenario (I want to get us into some bad rooms soon).

Here are the rules. Everyone must wear a mask; everyone must remain 6 feet apart at all times, and there was no amplification (not a problem, in fact, in this room — I understand that in other rooms some sort of amplification will be provided). No moving of furniture is allowed, but moving students is, as long as they always at least 6 feet apart.

I’m hesitant about drawing conclusions, especially given how good the room was, but, for what it is worth, our whole team was surprised by just how well it went, and I’m much more optimistic about what my students will experience in the Fall than I was yesterday.

We ran the think-pair-share after watching a short video, and recorded two pairs; but, crucially, everyone in the room had to be talking at the same time. Basically, despite masks, and despite background noise being higher than normal (because people are speaking through masks trying to make themselves heard) almost all the students reported no difficulty hearing their partners, and those who did report difficulty said that they could hear, it was just more work than usual.

We then did a fishbowl. Here’s where the benign design of the room may have been a help. We stationed the fish (those who would be talking) at the end of each table, meaning that they were, in fact, relatively close to each other (but more than 6 feet). Only they were allowed to talk for the first 12 minutes, and then others were allowed to interject. Of the ‘fish’ two were quiet speakers, and it was tough hearing them: I found myself having to ask people to speak up or repeat themselves a little more often than in a regular small class, but not more often than in a large lecture hall class. But the others: the masks were not a challenge either to speaking or hearing. The conversation flowed as well as I would expect in a regular class with those sorts of numbers (and, bear in mind, that in normal circumstances students aren’t inhibited by being filmed, or by having a bunch of older adults they don’t know watching them). After the fishbowl nobody reported difficulty hearing or speaking.

One of the students is hard of hearing. I unintentionally placed the her close to the middle of the room, which I now regret a little bit: she reported having no difficulty hearing at all (she was also quite close to one of the quiet talkers, whose voice she is accustomed to because they are friends), but perhaps if I’d placed her at the edge of the room it would have been harder. (Just to be clear, my regret is because I want to see what worst case, as well as best case, outcomes look like). Also: she had observed to me ages ago when we were discussing what all this would look like that she can’t read lips at all, so maybe others who are more reliant on lipreading would find the presences of masks more disabling than she does.

Here are some very brief initial takeaways that may be relevant if you get allocated a good enough room.

  1. You'll have to remind students to speak up pretty frequently.
  2. You’ll have to remember to speak up yourself.
  3. Think even more carefully than usual about the use of the room: where you’re going to speak from, and where the students are.

  4. Even in regular times I am startled how many classes I observe in which the instructor has clearly not made choices about where it makes sense for students to sit, so they are scattered in inconvenient ways that don’t facilitate good interactions. Figure out where you want the students and make them sit there (within whatever constraints you have been given). Tell the students why you are making them sit where you’re making them sit, and be ready to move them again if you’re not satisfied with the results.

  5. Talking through a mask is really tiring. It’s tiring for them as well as for you. My standard class-length is 75 minutes, and I usually abhor a break, but I might make an exception this semester and next.

By the way, I am quite aware that everything might be online by September 12th. That makes me all the more keen to make the most of what little time we might have in an actual room together, and doesn’t make the exploration of physically distanced learning any less interesting.

Retaining the Human Touch When Supporting Students in Transitioning to Asynchronous Online Teaching and Learning in Higher Education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 7:59pm in

 The transition to online, asynchronous learning poses just as many challenges for students entering the online classroom as it does for academics mastering the platform. Cynthia Wheatley Glenn outlines what to look out for to spot students who might be struggling and key strategies for assisting students in overcoming barriers to successful participation in online … Continued

Statement launch and online Parliamentary lobby, Tuesday 21 July

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/07/2020 - 8:39pm in

Online meeting: Tuesday 21 July, 5.30-7.00pm

Covid-19 has plunged UK higher education into a deep financial crisis. Tens of thousands of posts are at risk, and over a dozen universities are predicted to be at risk of outright bankruptcy. But the pandemic has exposed problems, rather than creating them. Well before Covid-19, marketisation was wreaking havoc on higher education.

So far, the government has offered only limited support, amounting to little more than a sticking plaster on a fundamentally flawed system.

Through two large online meetings, the Convention for Higher Education has developed a set of demands for policymakers on how to rescue universities and put our higher education system onto a truly sustainable footing.

Now is the time to start pressing our politicians for meaningful action. This starts with an online lobby with the Shadow Higher Education Minister, Emma Hardy MP.

This is a crucial opportunity to take real action to defend our universities and students. Please join us!


  • Prof John Holmwood (Campaign for the Public University) will introduce the Convention for Higher Education’s recommendations for a policy response.
  • Representatives from the hardest-hit institutions (including Reading, Liverpool, SOAS) will share what is happening to them.
  • Emma Hardy MP, Labour shadow Higher Education minister, will outline the risks to universities and what Labour believes the government should do to provide support.
  • Lord Rowan Williams (Council for the Defence of British Universities) and Matt Crilly (NUS Scotland President) will offer short responses.

Other speakers have been invited to discuss how we can build the movement to defend higher education and access. We will also take as many questions from the floor as possible. 

The meeting was recorded.

Teaching in person under physical distancing constraints.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/07/2020 - 12:16am in

My plan is to teach in person in the Fall.[1] Three classes: a small class for training TAs; a 10-person class (cap is 15, but for reasons that will become apparent I will not be recruiting to the cap) on teaching and learning; a 30-person upper level ethics class. All will be taught under strict social distancing rules (6 feet) and with everyone required to wear masks. [Needless to say, by September perhaps everything will be online anyway, and, regardless, we’ll have to be prepared to go online at the flick of a switch].

So. How will that work? For now, I’ve requested an additional timeslot for the 30-person class, so that I can do the following: one 75-minute meeting a week with all 30 of them which is more lecture/Q&A than I generally like, and then split the students into 2 groups of 15, each of which meets for a more discussion-intensive meeting. Still — even with 15 students it will be a huge challenge to run a discussion under social distancing rules with masks.

The best resource I’ve come across so far in helping think about the problem is this excellent post by Derek Bruff. He’s considering blended classes (in which some students are videoconferencing into the classroom, and others are in person in the classroom), but the suggestions also seem feasible with all-in-person classes. I have not been an enthusiast for the fishbowl in person, just because I tend to be in crowded rooms with poor acoustics and the moving around of chairs and tables makes it awkward. Well — that won’t be a problem this semester! and I can see fishbowls working well. I’m also considering a variant on his suggestion about pair work — Split the class in two, move them to opposite walls, and make them do the pair work by phone with the person they are standing opposite.

I’m going to be on a team to work up suggestions for our campus this fall. (My college’s team on online teaching already reported, and the results, which I think are both excellent and very well presented, are here). The challenge is that, as far as I know, nobody has actually taught under these conditions before. [2] I’m hoping that we will be allowed to convene groups of students sometime in the summer, go into classrooms and find out how things would actually work (and make films to illustrate various strategies for colleagues).

I would really appreciate other resources and suggestions!

[1] Our campus decided to move all large classes online for the Fall, and that the smaller classes would be split between online and in-person (with all classes online after Thanksgiving). Instructors don’t choose their mode of delivery, but my department at least has been able to match instructors preferences with modes pretty well (I was struck by how many colleagues said they would prefer to teach in one mode, but would accommodate to the needs of the department). Being reasonably fit, under 60, and, frankly, missing my students, I volunteered to teach in person.

[2] I have found exactly one picture of college teaching during the 1918-19 flu, and the students are all wearing masks, but are not physically distanced. Even if I’m wrong and plenty of physical distanced instruction during that pandemic, I’m guessing there’s limited social science about it.

ScoMo Exempts Degrees That Study How Good Captain Cook Was From Fee Rise

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/06/2020 - 8:07am in

morrison mapPrime Minister Scotty from marketing has given a last minute reprieve to a rise in fees for Arts degrees that study how good Captain Cook was.

”I’ve heard the feedback that not everybody was enamored with my Government’s change to the cost of a university degree so I’ve moved to make a few tweaks to it,” said Prime Minister Scotty. ”All arts degrees that focus on how good Captain Cook was will not be going up.”

”In fact my Government will be looking at offering scholarships and bursaries to people looking to study Captain Cook, with a particular focus on indigenous students.”

When asked why at a time when Universities were doing it tough the Government was looking to raise fees, the Prime Minister said: ”Under my Government if you have a go you get a go, you know.”

”Captain Cook was a great man, heck the electorate that I represent is named after him.”

”And I couldn’t think of a better way to honour him than by getting more people to study how good he was.”

”Well, we were going to put up more statues but then we thought they might get pulled down. You can’t pull down a university scholarship, can you.”

Mark Williamson


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