Higher Ed in the News: 2/1

Photo by Max Böttinger on Unsplash.

This week, a look at how schools are approaching as the spring semester starts, and a study that notes increasing comfort for instructors since the start of the pandemic. You can read last week’s edition of this series here.

U.S. Colleges Implementing Varying Spring Semester Strategies

With the spring semester underway, college campuses are once again coming to grips with coronavirus-related uncertainty. College towns are bracing for campus reopenings after CDC findings indicated in-person instruction increased infection rates in surrounding communities. 

An insightful piece in the Washington Post examines the strategies institutions are implementing to try to maintain safety while transitioning back to in-person instruction. At Georgetown, almost all classes that were in the hybrid format have been moved to virtual until at least February 15.

Some schools have delayed the start of in-person instruction anywhere between one to three weeks. Some are bringing students back to campus on the first day of class, while others are staggering their move-in dates to avoid one massive welcome weekend. A number of schools have taken a more drastic approach and scrapped plans to bring certain groups of students back to campus indefinitely, citing the pandemic’s worsening conditions. Those schools are looking to resume in-person classes in the fall—a timeline based on the prediction that herd immunity is not likely to exist on campuses any time soon.

Generally, colleges and universities are implementing mask-wearing policies and social distancing protocols while shrinking class sizes and expanding viral testing capabilities to fight back against on-campus outbreaks. Installing tents, firepits, and ventilated areas where students can safely congregate were also mentioned as ways to restore some semblance of the college experience.


Recent study focuses on needs of students in introductory “gateway” classes

A survey effort which reviewed faculty sentiments in April and August of last year has released some new data on the fall semester, this time using a survey sample of instructors who teach introductory courses at two- or four-year colleges. Doug Lederman of Inside Higher Ed reviewed the findings and also explained why the researchers profiled this segment:

“These instructors are on what [passes] for the front lines in higher education,” Lederman wrote, “teaching the courses students take at the start of their academic careers that can help make or break their future success, being ‘gateways to degree paths’ (ideally) or ‘gatekeepers’ that lead to significant dropouts, the report notes.”

According to the survey, nearly 50% of those instructors agreed with the statement “online learning is an effective method for teaching,” 20% disagreed with the statement, and one-third were neutral. These numbers are slightly improved from pre-COVID surveys, where 43% agreed and 25% disagreed.

In terms of course alterations, 72% of respondents have integrated new digital tools, 70% updated learning objectives, assessments, and activities, and 60% have “embedded active learning components” between the spring and fall semesters.

The instructors also credited their institutions for stepping up and improving their support for faculty at this time, with 54% saying they received sufficient training and professional development, up from 42% in April. The amount who felt they did not receive sufficient support decreased from 28% to 20% since April. Georgetown faculty are encouraged to contact CNDLS for any support on instruction, learning technology, and improving assessment or student outcomes in a virtual environment.