Many distance education professionals in the California Community Colleges have spent literally decades working to improve DE, provide access to education, close the equity gap, increase student success, and degree completions. In a few short months, all that progress has been undermined by one single event—the COVID pandemic. Factors include predatory practices by ed tech companies, the massive influx of instructors into online teaching (with little or no experience), bias towards online as a deficit, not a positive principle, and the economic disaster for students and their support structures, mainly family and friends.
Good online learning is so much more than facilitation. "The role of the instructor as subject matter expert and pedagogical architect"1 has been compromised by reliance on web-conferencing (originally designed for corporate business), surveillance technology, and largely text-based digital environments instead of multiple modes of representing knowledge.
In Michelle Pacansky-Brock's Love Letter to Online Learning, she states "The nature of online classes varies dramatically, much like face-to-face classes. But, in both scenarios, the teacher matters and the teaching matters. When an online class is taught by an engaged and empathetic instructor who seeks to be aware of the needs of her students, the asynchronous nature of online learning may become a benefit to students, not a disadvantage. This is contingent upon the design of the course."
We already know that instructors who completed the DE Academy experience transformations in their face-to-face classes as a result of what they learned from teaching online. I guess my question at this point is to ask new online instructors, are you going to swim, or will you hang out in the shallows until classes resume on-campus again?
It's a harsh reality that community college enrollment is taking a big hit. And it mostly affects low income students and students of color. Some students are shopping for classes that don't require a webcam, or don't use online proctoring surveillance. Courses that have redesigned engagement are gaining wider acceptance. For example, redefining authorship, such as welcoming illustrated papers, student video projects, group presentations, or audio soundtrack assessments, instead of short quizzes. Even Harvard acknowledged, students liked the optional breakout Zoom rooms for smaller discussions, “Because the minute the Zoom meeting ends, the entire campus evaporates for everyone." If you learn to swim now, imagine yourself teaching a hybrid class in the future that provides highly engaging activities, flexible learning, and increased student success.
Let's keep swimming!
1 The Manifesto for Online Teaching, 2020, MIT Press
2 Community College Enrollment is Way Down, 10-16-20, New York Times
What pushed back the start of the semester one week? All of the above. I'm writing this post from my trailer in an evacuation center at Cabrillo College, aka Camp Cabrillo.
On Monday, August 31, we start the semester. A trifecta of life changing events has changed our community — a devastating pandemic, disruptions to every aspect of education, and now the fire—loss of homes, displaced residents, and our beautiful redwood forests burning.
May we have compassion for our students, faculty, and staff among us who are struggling. Some are in hotels, campers, or couch-surfing. We wait, we watch the news, we hope to see a better tomorrow. We'll get through this too, and find a way to pull together with support and instill a feeling of connection through our creative work called teaching.
For the faculty reading this, please see my All Faculty email from August 24. It outlines an expanded model of tech support for you and your students. The Computer Technology Center staff, along with the Teaching and Learning Center staff, have worked tirelessly to clear a backlog of tech requests from students who are confused about registration, accessing Canvas, and due dates appearing in their Canvas To-Do list this week.
It'll all be OK if we keep communicating with each other with kindness and compassion.
“Masks provide a hell of a lot of protection. And I’m more comfortable relaxing things if everybody is wearing masks than if they weren’t,” Dr. George Rutherford, a UC San Francisco epidemiologist and infectious diseases expert, said recently.
The conspiracy theories about low oxygen and high CO2 levels are bogus. Face masks reduce the daily growth rate of reported infections. It communicates, “I am considerate” (a quote from Brad Pitt.) And it’s the only way we will all get back to work and our kids get back to school.
On June 20, bars were allowed to reopen in L.A. County, about 500,000 people decided to go out for a drink, according to the Department of Public Health. Last week, Orange County reported 1,179 new coronavirus infections — a weekly record overall, and up 22% from the previous week.
According to Damian Carabello, MD, with this amazing mask technology, you magically reduce the chance of spreading Covid by 85%! Worried masks make you look like a wuss? Write your High School bench press max on your mask—everyone will be impressed. Missing sports? You have a zero chance of watching NFL, NBA, and MLB without wearing a mask.
Just do it and get over yourself.
A fundamental aspect of instruction is the assessment of student learning. The rapid response to move classes online in a pandemic has exposed concerns surrounding the practice of online proctoring. There are many online proctoring features offered by companies such as Proctorio, Examity, Honorlock, and Respondus. The methods that do not require a webcam include locking down the students’ browser so they cannot perform functions such as open another application or tab, use the toolbar, copy/paste, or print screen while taking an exam. The intrusive methods include: requesting a photo ID, facial recognition, and a live proctor monitoring for sounds and motions. Sessions are typically recorded from the exam start to finish and a live proctor can monitor potential testing infractions as they occur. Proctoring services say exam videos and other data are securely stored. Some store videos in a certified data center server, and then archive them after a defined period of time in line with Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) guidelines.
According to a 2017 study, it is suggested instructors familiarize themselves with how the services work so they can anticipate students’ concerns. Instructors should identify students’ technical difficulties and try to address them by spending time familiarizing students with how to get ready for and ultimately take their exams. In this pandemic, we know many students lack access to computers and wifi, and the newly issued Chromebooks challenge students to operate another new device and establish wifi access.
Online testing may seem to make things easier but it’s possible the transition to new technology, or the lack of access using current technology that doesn’t include a webcam, may complicate matters and lead to a significant level of discomfort with online proctoring. A survey of 748 students about technology and achievement gaps found about one in five struggled to use the technology at their disposal because of issues such as broken hardware and connectivity problems. Students of color or lower socioeconomic status encountered these difficulties more often.
My colleague, Aloha Sargent, Technology Services Librarian, shared with me an article from Hybrid Pedagogy that asserts "algorithmic test proctoring’s settings have discriminatory consequences across multiple identities and serious privacy implications." When Texas Tech rolled out online proctoring, they recognized students often take exams in their dorm or bedrooms, and students noted in a campus survey “They thought it was big brother invading their computers.” Some test takers were asked by live proctors to remove pictures from their surroundings and some students of color were told to shine more light on themselves. That’s a disturbing request in my opinion. Many of our community college students occupy multi-family or multi-person residences that include children. These proctoring settings will "disproportionately impact women who typically take on the majority of childcare, breast feeding, lactation, and care-taking roles for their family. Students who are parents may not be able to afford childcare, be able to leave the house, or set aside quiet, uninterrupted blocks of time to take a test."
At the University of California, Davis, they are discouraging faculty members from using online proctoring this semester unless they have previous experience with such services. “It suggests faculty consider alternatives that will lower students' anxiety levels during an already stressful time, such as requiring them to reflect on what they learned in the course.” The following article highlights a University of Washington story about adopting Proctorio because of the COVID-19 rapid transition to online. Read the experience of one University of Washington student, Paranoia about cheating is making online education terrible for everyone. The students’ experiences “are another sign that, amid the pandemic, the hurried move to re-create in-person classes online has been far from smooth, especially when it comes to testing.” Live online proctoring is a way to preemptively communicate to students, we don't trust you. It is a pedagogy of punishment and exclusion.
In higher education, traditional exams represent the most appropriate assessment tool. There are ways to cheat on exams no matter what method is used to deploy them. Even a major “NSA-style” proctoring software is not “cheat-proof.” Their sales representative was very candid in showing me how it’s done. There are alternatives to typical exam questions—often referred to as authentic assessment. According to Oxford Research Encyclopedia, “authentic assessment is an effective measure of intellectual achievement or ability because it requires students to demonstrate their deep understanding, higher-order thinking, and complex problem solving through the performance of exemplary tasks.”
Given the limited timeframe, there will be limits to what you can use now. That’s OK. Consider using Canvas question pools and randomizing questions, or even different versions of the final. For example, replacing six multiple-choice or true-and-false questions with two short-answer items may better indicate how well a question differentiates between students who know the subject matter and those who do not. Or ask students to record a brief spoken-word explanation for the question using the Canvas media tool. Just keep in mind, there are a dozen or more ways to assess learning without “biometric-lockdown-retenal scan-saliva-sample-genetic-mapping-fingerprint-analysis.”