A colleague forwarded around a Peter Bryant piece called The Snapback. Bryant, a professor and associate dean at the University of Sydney Business School, writes:
Lockdowns, second waves, insane tier systems, leadership vacuums and closed borders represent a pretty overwhelming disruption to our normal state of being. Whilst we have all gained some catharsis from the communion and connection this engendered amongst colleagues across the globe, I have begun to observe the first shoots of what I term ‘the snapback’. The strength of the desire to return to ‘normalcy’ and live our lives again litters the discourse about the vaccine, controlling the virus and even defining what COVID normal looks like.
As Bryant observes, many of the changes that colleges and universities have been required to make to accommodate remote students are enormously positive from the perspective of learning. These changes include eliminating large-lecture classes, the deployment of new collaboration tools, experimentation with new assessment methods that rely less on summative high-stakes exams, and more attention to the social determinants of learning.
The risk is that the sheer exhaustion of professors and students of navigating teaching and learning during a pandemic raises the risk of returning to our pre-pandemic educational ways.
Zoom fatigue and the logistical challenges around online exams will push us back to lecture classes and proctored high-stakes tests.
We are all in a situation where post-pandemic, nobody would want to continue with the worst elements of remote teaching and learning. ZoomU has few champions. At the same time, we’d all like to retain the best aspects of the teaching and learning experience that professors, students, and schools have co-created during COVID.
Bryant ends his essay with these thoughts:
As people who are either developers or technologists or lead these teams, we need to have a better story to tell about what we have learnt in our liminal year (or two). This isn’t’ about case studies, conference papers or vendor demonstrations. It is about knowing the human impact of what we have all been doing. It is understanding the affordances of a horrible situation and knowing what we have learnt from experience, and telling those stories, to the right people, at the right time.
That seems exactly right.
If I have one wish for this summer, it is that all of us somehow find a way to take a break from the craziness of keeping higher ed going during a pandemic. And that we use that time to think – and perhaps write – about what we have learned and what we want our post-pandemic colleges and universities to look like.
The necessity to avoid the ‘snapback’ is at least as important, and maybe as complex, as our efforts to ensure academic continuity during COVID.
We need to create the space to find the energy to plan for a new higher education.