Higher Ed in the News: 6/1/2020

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week on Higher Ed in the News, an interview with the famous Dr. Anthony Fauci, and a discussion on active learning in socially-distanced classrooms. You can read previous editions of this series here and here.

Doctor Fauci on Coronavirus and the (Possible) Return to Campus

In a recent piece for The Chronicle, Nell Gluckman shared excerpts from an interview with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci. The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases offered advice for students, teachers, and administrators and outlined some of the strategies that colleges are implementing in preparation for the eventual re-opening of campuses. While Dr. Fauci was diplomatic in his answers and keen to not set false expectations, he did exude a cautiously-optimistic attitude about the health of college students returning to campus in the future.

One overarching theme of the interview was Dr. Fauci’s belief that the pandemic’s impact will be unique at every college and university. But that hasn’t stopped schools from borrowing ideas from each other. One popular idea is to test all students when they arrive on campus (baseline testing), followed by periodic testing of a “representative sampling” to monitor the virus’ infection rate (surveillance testing). Dr. Fauci believes executing this containment model will give institutions of higher education the ability to “identify, isolate, and contact trace (infections) to the point where those little blips you might see don’t turn into substantial outbreaks.”

Another approach that’s gaining traction involves students returning to school in August, taking classes until Thanksgiving, then enjoying an extended winter break through the start of 2021. The major benefit of this plan is that it “prevents the back and forth” which limits student exposure to those not in the campus community during a season typically wrought with respiratory ailments. 


Active-Learning Concerns Play a Role in College Campus Reopening Debate

In a piece for Inside Higher Ed, Doug Lederman  describes active learning as “any instructional strategy that engages all students meaningfully in the learning process,” and those advocating for a return to campus believe this can be better achieved through in-person instruction. They are of the opinion that learning in a physical setting is “superior to virtual learning” regardless of required safety protocols and are prepared to test out their theory in the fall. Of course, administrators at schools that are physically reopening will need to focus on “supporting faculty in transitioning back to on-campus teaching with protocols in place.” In addition to safety precautions that have become part of the new normal, like staying six feet apart and wearing masks, these institutions will likely incorporate “chairs in fixed locations” and “limited access to whiteboards” to limit student exposure to the virus. These crucial measures may, however, make it harder to engage in active learning in the face-to-face classroom.

Specifically,  new safety precautions may prohibit certain learning activities, especially a teacher’s ability to move around the room to ensure all students are benefiting from the material. The new social distance requirements alone are likely to force class-size reductions, limit student participation, and drastically disrupt classroom efficiency.