By Lee Skallerup Bessette, Nancy Chick, and Jennifer C. Friberg MAY 01, 2020
We knew this would happen. Just six short weeks ago (although they’ve felt long), we worried that academe’s emergency shift to remote instruction would result in lots of folks trying to use this crisis to reach conclusions about the value of online teaching.
The framing and conclusions of such critiques are uninformed and reinforce pernicious myths about online education. They also misrepresent what’s happened in college teaching generally in the wake of Covid-19. What gets lost in the rush to judgment is nuance.
Like everyone else, academics have been overwhelmed by the transitions we’re all making at work and at home. Some faculty members have handled the emergency “online pivot” better than others. Most have given it their all. Our point in what follows is not to dismiss the concerns and criticisms but to put them in context and counter what we see as the five most damaging and unfair myths about this move to remote teaching.
Myth No. 1: Face-to-face classes suddenly became online courses. In fact, they didn’t. What happened to teaching this spring was a temporary, emergency shift. It wasn’t at all typical of online education.
Myth No. 2: Campuses were unprepared for this unprecedented transition. The scale and speed of it? Absolutely. No one could have predicted a nationwide emptying of campus classrooms.
But the real revelation here is the remarkable ways in which many institutions mobilized the expertise in campus teaching centers, libraries, IT departments, and instructional-design offices to help faculty members become familiar with virtual teaching tools and environments very, very quickly.
Myth No. 3: The quality of instruction has suffered in our online pivot. Such statements — presented without context — certainly make it seem as if the quality of instruction has suffered this semester. But in fact, faculty members’ adjustments in this crisis are evidence of good teaching, not bad.
Myth No. 4: Faculty members didn’t know what to do. When it comes to remote teaching, faculty members feel a “pervasive … sense of ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’” according to the lead researcher of the Bay View Analytics poll. That’s an alarming statement taken out of context. Of course faculty members feel a level of anxiety and uncertainty about how well this semester has gone. Of course some didn’t know how to use this technology or that tool. But that’s very different from not knowing what they’re doing in teaching students.
Myth No. 5: This is the end of higher education as we know it. This experience will be a game changer, and we don’t yet know what all of those changes will be. The easy way forward would be to overrely on technological solutions. But the easy way isn’t always the right way.
The wise way forward is to have nuanced, thoughtful conversations about how we’re going to teach in the coming months. Faculty members have begun to re-examine their teaching practices and reconsider students’ academic and emotional needs in new and different ways.