I read that two recognized universities in the United States, Duke and New York University (NYU), driven by the effects of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in China, have decided that the students on the Campuses that these universities have in Kunshan and Shanghai, respectively, should not go to class, transforming present-day courses into online ones. The source of the news, Lindsay McKenzie, told Inside HigherEd the decision was not easy and had to be made quickly, with the difficulties involved. As one NYU official stated, "the clarity of the crisis has brought us together."
Because of a crisis, as usual. Historically, distance education and nowadays online education have always progressed in critical situations. No matter how many experts in the field write, explain, advise and recommend developing online education models based on the social, individual, learning benefits and making people ready for a digital society, the great decisions made advancing the implementation of online education have always had its origins in extreme situations. The law of last resort.
This was the case at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where the first and best multimedia materials for forensic training were developed. This university at the state of Maryland suffered of a severe shortage of corpses for internships at its School of Medicine. The solution was to invest heavily in the development of multimedia applications for autopsy by students in their final years of study. Not only was it a success, but the improvements made later made it one of the best learning materials in digital environments.
In Vancouver, Canada, traffic congestions are a constant. The beautiful University of British Columbia (UBC) is located on an isthmus. The landscapes are idyllic, but the fact the entrance to the university has to be done through a single street, which is the one that gives access to the isthmus, had a lethal domino effect for the city. Early in the morning as all students headed for college by different means of transportation, the entire city was blocked. The solution was to stagger students' entry into college, and the way they did so was by transforming first thing in the morning courses into online ones. In this way, the bottleneck that the university supposedly provoked in the morning was drastically reduced. UBC has been one of the pioneering and recognized universities in the hybrid and online education industry for many years.
The same news informs that the transition has taken place faster than these institutions could have expected, and that the students' assessment is satisfactory. They also say that teachers have felt comfortable, despite the fact that 88% of their teaching staff did not have significant prior experience in teaching online.
Later on, we are likely to hear that the results have not been completely as expected or, above all, not as good as they could have been if the classes were done in face-to-face, as originally planned. What will be surprising, when making these assessments, is that no one will be reminded of this 88% of teachers who had no experience or, especially, any training in online teaching methodology. They will blame these hypothetical results for the modality used, as if the modality itself is to blame if no one has bothered to practice in the best possible way.
Of course, not everything is solved through online education; it would only be terrible to have such a responsibility. And not all so-called online education is the same or worth the same. There are several models of online education, some far more rigorous than others. As it happens in face-to-face education, of course.
When will we see online education from a truly proactive perspective that will allow us making our education systems progress, and not just as reactive mechanisms to face reality?