COVID-19 & Higher Education

COVID-19

Note: This article was updated on March 24, 2020 to reflect current closure data. 

Nearly 300 colleges and universities across the United States have announced the decision to either shut their doors or transition their spring semester courses to an online format due to COVID-19 concerns. The number is rising, and quickly. It seems the most current list is being maintained by educator, researcher, and futurist Bryan Alexander, rather than official government agencies. Information is being crowd sourced and isn’t guaranteed to be accurate. 

Normally, higher education institutions must get formal approval from their regional accrediting body in order to make such drastic changes. Staff must file a substantive change application; it’s thoroughly reviewed by the accreditor; and then a final decision is made by accreditation council members. This process can take 6-12 months. However, great latitude is being granted to institutions given the uncertainty and a landscape that seems to be changing daily. 

Institutions Receive Unprecedented Approval

The US Department of Education released a letter “… providing broad approval to institutions to use online technologies to accommodate students on a temporary basis, without going through the regular approval process of the Department in the event that an institution is otherwise required to seek Departmental approval for the use or expansion of distance learning programs.” The Department has also permitted accreditors to “…waive their distance education review requirements for institutions working to accommodate students whose enrollment is otherwise interrupted as a result of COVID-19.” While this broad latitude has a shelf life and there are some limitations, this step is unprecedented. 

And there’s more. For those institutions that may not already be well-equipped to move their face-to-face courses to a distance learning format, the Department says they may also enter into temporary consortium agreements with other institutions so that students can complete courses at other institutions but be awarded credit by their home institution. 

It appears that even residency requirements that stipulate students must complete a certain number of credits at their home institution have been waived with the approval of the institution’s regional accreditor.  

But Are They Ready to Deal with COVID-19? 

Because of the COVID-19 crisis, the flexibility granted to colleges and universities by the USDOE and regional accreditors is huge. Without it, their hands would be tied and they’d be forced to close their doors leaving students in a lurch. However, that’s only the first step in what may seem like a marathon. 

Granted, many institutions have been utilizing distance learning tools for several years and so while it may be challenging to transition and scale up quickly, they will be able to do so fairly successfully. However, for those institutions that up to now have only offered a few courses or even a single program online, they’d better be prepared to paddle upstream, and at lightning speed. Those 300 institutions currently slated to make the transition have a combined enrollment of approximately 4 million students. 

Essential Factors for Higher Education Administrators to Consider

In order to make the best decision possible for students, university administrators should ask some essential questions before deciding whether to transition to a distance learning format, enter into a temporary consortium agreement with a sister institution, or close the doors completely until the Center for Disease Control gives the “all clear” sign for COVID-19. Examples include:  

COVID-19

If the answer is “yes” to each question above, then leaders can feel fairly confident they will be able to successful weather the COVID-19 storm. If no, then administrators need to find another option. And quickly. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

Top Graphic Credit: rawpixel.com

 

 

Zoom: A Useful Online Teaching Tool

Zoom for online teaching

It’s safe to say that these are challenging times for educators. Regardless of whether we teach at the P-12 level or in higher education, the COVID-19 crisis is impacting us all. Many states have shut down their schools for at least eight weeks, while some governors are announcing that face-to-face instruction will be halted for the rest of the academic year. As more and more schools move instruction online, faculty are scrambling for practical information. One suggestion is to use Zoom as an online teaching tool. 

What is Zoom? 

Educators and business owners use Zoom as a tool for online meetings, webinars, video conferencing. It brings people together quickly, either one-on-one or in groups. The groups can be both small and large. There are several pricing structures, but their basic plan is free. 

Normally, the company has a 40-minute time limit on its meetings under the free plan. However, they lifted that time limit during the COVID-19 crisis. As long as you sign up for a free account using your work email account, your meetings may be any length.

Getting Started: Zoom for Online Teaching

Zoom experts are offering free and interactive live training webinars each day. They say even faculty members who are new to distance learning can get up to speed and be able to use the tool in about an hour. 

Zoom-Produced Video Tutorials

If you need a “crash course” in learning how to use Zoom quickly, consider these YouTube videos produced by the company:

User-Produced Video Tutorials

After viewing the videos that the Zoom company has produced, you may wish to consider these user-produced learning resources. Keep in mind that these may not necessarily be educators. However, they are general population users that offer some helpful tips:

Other Options

I have used Zoom many times for webinars and video conferencing and have found it to be user-friendly and seamless. However, there are other companies that offer similar tools such as GoToMeeting and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra, and I’ve used those with success as well, both in my work as an educational consultant and in my role as an online faculty member when conducting live online class discussions with my students. Regardless of what tool you decide to use, video conferencing can be a wonderful way to bring students together during challenging times. 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                        

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: tefl.net 

Online Class Discussions: Practical Tips

Online Class Discussions

As more and more schools move instruction online because of COVID-19 concerns, faculty are scrambling for practical information. For example, Sheri Popp offered some practical suggestions for P-12 teachers and higher education faculty who are new to the world of distance learning, including the value of online class discussions. These can be facilitated through a written discussion board format where students participate asynchronously, or faculty can provide synchronous instruction by conducting discussions in live class sessions using video conferencing tools. 

My Own Online Class Discussions

Since my online courses are set up in Blackboard, I use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (BCU) for my weekly live class sessions. This tool allows me to hear and see my students, and we are able to engage in meaningful, substantive conversations each week. BCU also lets me add files, share my desktop, and use a virtual whiteboard to interact with my students. What’s more is that when I grant moderator status to my students, they can share their own desktop and files. That’s important because I require them to come prepared each week to our sessions with some type of visual aid–it could be a PowerPoint or Prezi presentation; it could be a simple Word document, etc. This makes the experience much more participatory.

What’s more is that my students gain valuable practice in making virtual presentations. I’ve even started appointing a different student each week to lead the online class discussions; this helps them to build their confidence and develop their leadership skills. 

Online Class Discussions: Offer Students a Choice

While I hold them accountable for the same level of performance, I don’t require all my students to participate in live online class discussions; I offer it as an option. Why? There are two reasons: (1) Not all students will have access to high-speed Internet connections that are necessary for video conferencing; and (2) some students may just prefer to complete their class discussion requirements in the traditional written form. I like it when I’m given choices in life, and my students like it as well. Having the choice of either synchronous or asynchronous instruction empowers them to make important decisions about their own learning.  

How to Evaluate Student Work in Online Class Discussions

Regardless of whether they complete their requirements in a written discussion board forum or through a live class session, I hold my students accountable for the same level of performance. I do this through an analytic rubric that contains criteria categories that are applicable to both. This approach allows for all students to be evaluated fairly and equitably. In addition to their scores on the rubric, I always provide students with substantive feedback about their work designed to point out their strengths as well as specific areas they need to focus on for improvement. 

Teaching online may feel scary at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Just as it took time to develop your skills as an effective face-to-face educator, it will also require time to hone your skills (and your confidence) as an effective online educator. But you are not alone. We’re all in this together, and there are many people who can help. Don’t be afraid to ask. 

 

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About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, competency-based education, online teaching & learning, accreditation and quality assurance.  A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher                       

 

 

Top Graphic Credit: SlideShare

Supporting Learners in a Competency-Based Education Classroom

This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. Previous posts included: There IS a Better Way to Teach; What’s Under the Hood; and The Basics of CBE Curriculum Development.

How we teach is just as important as what we teach. In other words, instructional methods are just as vital to the learning process as the content being taught. Very few students learn by simply reading or absorbing material—if they did, we really wouldn’t need teachers.

Just as with traditional learning models, there are many ways P-12 and higher education faculty can instruct students within the competency-based education (CBE) model. However, the key here is to provide academic support in a way that helps learners attain essential content and ultimately demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Facilitation, as opposed to direct instruction, has been proven to be an effective way of providing this type of academic support primarily because by its very nature the CBE model creates a space for flexibility for instructors as well as for learners. Of course, face-to-face and online learning environments may require use of different facilitation models, but some good options to consider include:

 

Regardless of the facilitation model chosen, learning should be constant, and not time-dependent in a competency-based learning environment. In other words, learners should be actively engaged at all times but should not be forced to move in lockstep fashion with all other students. They should have the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace and in their own way—which is one reason why CBE is commonly referred to as personalized learning, although the two terms are not completely synonymous.

In the next blog installment, we will dive more deeply into the teacher’s role within a competency-based learning environment.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

I read yet another article about national teacher shortages; this one was entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional). As a result of their desperation to staff classrooms, school district officials are putting pressure on states to relax teacher licensure requirements. In some cases, this has led to the watering down of standards and expectations. Some are taking advantage of the current climate, smelling the sweet aroma of serious revenue by offering what is essentially a drive-thru teacher preparation program: The “customer” arrives at the window, attracted by the bright lights and yummy-looking food pics. Enrollment counselors take their order and send them on. Worker bees behind the scenes serve up a program that may be of questionable or untested quality and the customer is on their way in record time. They don’t know that their fries were cold or there was no straw until they are miles down the road. Programs know such a model is cheap to build and cheap to operate; it’s easy money and there are so many students rolling through the drive-thru lane that they can afford to have some unhappy customers and still turn a profit.

In the short term, school districts are happy because they have a less difficult time hiring teachers, and program completers are happy because they’ve gotten through their program at break-neck speed and haven’t had to “waste” their time on courses they perceive as useless. However, in the long term, a host of new cyclical problems are revealed, including:

  • Individuals are admitted to the programs who really shouldn’t be—they sometimes lack the academic preparation or the professional dispositions necessary for success in the classroom.
  • Program completers are often ill-prepared to enter the classroom; they require a great deal of on-site training by the school district.
  • Many new teachers quickly become disillusioned and leave the profession because they didn’t know how challenging teaching really can be. Some leave in the middle of a school year.
  • Students often suffer due to constant turnover and lack of consistency.
  • Test scores lag and fall behind state averages; impact outcomes tend to be dismal.

 

Not all for-profit alternative certification programs are of poor quality, but many are. While accrediting bodies have recently come under greater scrutiny for their standards and expectations, many of these programs fly under the radar and are not regionally accredited*, which is the foundational accreditation any legitimate institution of higher education should attain. Some are taking the easy path to accreditation through bodies that focus mostly on career schools** such as beauty schools, truck driving schools, at-home hypnosis training, etc. just to state on their program’s website that they are accredited. These programs use “sleight of hand” language with the lay public, saying they are “accreditation eligible” which in reality means nothing but it sounds very convincing to those who are not well versed in the lingo.  Make no mistake: The drive-thru teacher preparation model is very real, and it is having a very real impact on our P-12 schools. The question is: Are we going to accept it as the new normal, or are we finally going to draw a line in the sand and insist on academic excellence for our children?

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and virtual teaching & learning.  Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

*The regional accreditation bodies in the United States include: (1) Higher Learning Commission (HLC); (2) Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); (3) New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; (4) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); and (5) WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

**The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards accreditation to degree-granting, high school, military, and post-secondary schools. A search of accredited post-secondary schools, which would apply to alternative teacher certification programs, includes the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, At-Home Professions, and the Modern Gun School, to name a few.

Accelerating the Pathway to Initial Teacher Certification

In an attempt to ease the shortage of more than 33,000 mathematics teachers over the next decade, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has given four state universities $250,000 each to create new preparation programs that will cut the normal time to earn math credentials and a degree from five and a half years to four. Cal State Los Angeles, San Jose State, San Diego State and Fresno State were selected to create curriculum and design accelerated (compacted) programs to encourage individuals pursuing a bachelor’s degree to consider becoming middle school or high school math teachers.

While this may sound good on the surface, I just don’t think it’s enough to really address the shortage in the long run—these prospective teachers will still have to jump through a lot of hoops just to earn their teaching credential, including all the requirements to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree.

I haven’t seen any emphasis on truly innovative training, or on measuring the longitudinal impact of graduates on their students’ learning—nor did I read anything about intensive mentoring support from the employing school district or the home university in the first two or three years following program completion. All those things, plus many more, are necessary for a teacher to be truly ready for the classroom. Otherwise, the likelihood of them being successful or of them staying for more than a year or two is greatly reduced. And—this grant program only focuses on mathematics—what about the critical shortages in sciences, special education, English language learning, and the like? And—why was this initiative focused only on those earning their bachelor’s degree? We mustn’t forget those who have already demonstrated a propensity for success in the classroom as well as strong ties in the school—those paraprofessionals and substitute teachers—many of whom already have a bachelor’s degree but just need their teaching credential.

I have built a preparation framework designed for this latter group. It’s innovative. It’s unique. It’s research-based. And it’s 10 months long. Care to learn more, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

 

Source: California colleges address math teacher shortage by accelerating pathway to credentials | Education Dive