The COVID-19 virus may change our lives in ways we can only begin to imagine. Believe it or not, some of them might even be positive. Consider the impact of today’s stories upon Virginia’s higher-ed and transportation systems.
A boost to distance learning. The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and James Madison University may follow the lead of Harvard and other Ivy League institutions in moving classes online.
Virginia Tech sent a letter to faculty members Monday urging them to prepare options for delivering coursework outside the classroom, reports Virginia Business. “We must accelerate planning necessary to sustain our academic mission, including the use of online platforms to deliver instruction,” said Provost Cyril Clark. “Please use this spring break when most classes are not in session to become familiar with strategies to continue teaching through disruptions and to plan for the possibility that students and faculty may not be able to meet for course sessions in person.”
“We are looking at how do we move our courses online,” said JMU spokeperson Caitlyn Read. “Our libraries and our online learning centers have ratcheted up support services for faculty who are looking … to get classes online.
Update: UVa has made the decision to move all classes online. So has Virginia Tech.
Schools out for summer. Schools out forever! OK, that quote from rocker Alice Cooper might be a slight exaggeration. But Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves 188,000 students, will close all of its nearly 200 schools for “staff development day/student holiday” next Monday, the Washington Post reports. The purpose: “to provide an opportunity for staff to prepare for the possibility of distance learning in the event of a school(s) closure.”
Teachers will still be required to come to work, where they will undergo training on how to conduct classes online.
Working remotely. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is developing contingency plans that would allow hundreds of thousands of federal employees to work remotely full time, reports the Washington Post. Agency heads are reviewing their telework policies, issuing laptops, and granting access to computer networks. The Securities and Exchange Commission became the first federal agency Monday to clear 2,400 employees from its headquarters. Also, according to the WaPo, the State Department has told its staff to set up emergency teleconference drills.
Both telework and distance learning are old ideas. They’ve been around so long, they seem almost musty. But large organizations such as universities, governments, and large corporations have been slow to utilize them. Why? The supporting technology and access to broadband have gotten better with each passing year. The problem is that large organizations have entrenched managerial cultures that are slow to change. People are rooted to established ways of doing things.
But the panic and desperation induced by the coronavirus is forcing these big institutions to think and act differently.
Several years ago, the University of Virginia endured a power struggle precipitated by online earning when Rector Helen Dragas and allies on the Board of Trustees secured the resignation of President Teresa Sullivan. Sullivan won that battle, and the shift to distance learning, urged by Dragas, was put on the back burner. While the university continued to experiment timidly, the forces of conservativism and reaction won the day, and the university’s business model never changed.
Likewise, the federal government has been experimenting with telework for a couple of decades, going so far as to set up remote, community-based satellite offices. The goal was to take commuters off the Washington area’s overloaded roads. For the most part, however, the lumbering federal behemoth kept lumbering unaffected.
Now comes COVID-19. Everyone is in a blind panic. The concern may be overwrought, whipped up by the media. Or maybe things could get worse than anyone could imagine. Nobody knows. Uncertainty reigns.
The hysteria serves one useful purpose: It is compelling large, change-resistant institutions to take actions they would not otherwise. The end result could be tremendous gains in acceptance of distance learning and telework. The adoption of distance learning by Virginia’s most prestigious universities could have a tremendous impact on the access and affordability of higher education. The adoption of telework by employers could ease transportation congestion across Virginia’s major metros.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we one day looked back upon the COVID-19 virus as the catalyst for positive institutional change?There are currently no comments highlighted.