The value of liberal arts in Asia and educational partnerships has been questioned in recent weeks in many articles, partly triggered by the closure of Yale-NUS College. I was interviewed for an article in Diverse, which explored US-Asia partnerships. In that interview I stressed the key importance of liberal arts as academic communities, which include deep networks of connection and shared values, are crucial for producing academic freedom and excellence in undergraduate education. Many who have weighed in on these ventures have missed this crucial factor and make the error of thinking of a liberal arts institution as a set of courses and FTE faculty lines that can be rearranged and reorganized, or “merged,” without damaging or shattering these relationships that together build an academic culture and community.
The academic community and its deep relationships provide the essential ingredients of excellence in liberal arts colleges around the world. From the faculty side, deep relationships enable the creation of an academic culture that prizes academic freedom and collaboration and places undergraduate education at the center of the enterprise. These deep relationships provide the underpinning of trust that is necessary for faculty to fully partake in the governance and in managing the curriculum. The collaboration between faculty and between faculty and students is the process by which the excellence of the liberal arts college is built, partly through the collaborative process of building a curriculum, and students are able through deep relationships to fully explore their identities and capacities as they fully develop their talents.
As I said in the article, the idea of Yale-NUS being closed solely based on NUS saving money or being motivated by limiting academic freedom is incorrect and oversimplifies the situation. My main quote pointed out that closing Yale-NUS, regardless of motivations, is “definitely a loss” since “any institution is ultimately more than a bunch of courses and faculty lines. It’s a set of shared values. It’s a set of relationships. All of that is being shattered.” In the case of Yale-NUS, I also pointed out the success of Yale-NUS that can be seen through all the major indicators used for gauging institutional effectiveness. The students they were attracting were the best in the world, and students were being accepted to the top PhD programs in the world, garnering Rhodes and Schwarzman Scholarships, and were eagerly sought after by Singapore’s employers.
As all of our institutions move forward and reflect on the value of the liberal arts, I hope that we can stay focused on the main component of value of such institutions. These institutions create value from deep connections between all of the members of the community, faculty, students and staff, and these connections build the shared values, trust and respect that make such institutions distinctive and effective. The excellence of liberal arts colleges comes from a process that liberates students to develop their full capacities as individuals. Such institutions are important as they can build a happier and more meaningful life for students, and (yes) make them more resourceful, creative, communicative and collaborative employees.
Our new article which is entitled “After Yale-NUS Closure, liberal arts in Asia will benefit from Peer Support” has just appeared in Times Higher Education. We provide a strong argument for liberal arts education in the piece, and note that closing Yale-NUS College has squandered the hard work of many top scholars from Yale University, National University of Singapore and the many Yale-NUS faculty who have worked over many years to create the vibrant intellectual cultures of Yale-NUS College and also the USP. The “merging” of these institutions is a huge loss. We are starting a new Pacific Alliance of Liberal Arts Colleges (PALAC) to foster greater awareness of the power of liberal arts education. This new PALAC group will bring top liberal arts programs from the US, Canada, China, and other Asia/Pacific countries to foster collaborative research, curriculum development and faculty and student dialogs on the most urgent issues facing our planet. The Alliance also can play a key role in advocating for liberal arts, and articulating a global vision of liberal arts that prepares students to help solve global grand challenges and to make progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
Our group will work together to help bring greater appreciation of the power for liberal arts education to build creativity, communication and cognitive agility in students. These skills are ever more vital as the exponential technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution accelerate change and bring entirely new industries together that can reshape our planet. Training students in liberal arts skills will allow them to contribute and to lead in these developments to help shape this development in ways that foster a greater sense of humanity and sustainability.
The other facet of liberal arts education is that it is effective not only for building skills in thinking and communication but for building deep skills in traditional disciplines from the beginning of an undergraduate’s career. The intense mentoring and interactive classrooms within liberal arts campuses enable students to inquire and grow develop their talents fully. A liberal arts college focuses on undergraduate education as its primary mission, and students benefit from this simpler mission undiluted by the quest for national research rankings, NCAA football titles, and the many other aspects of the larger R1 universities that can dilute their abilities to develop a student to their full capacity. A quote from the THE article illustrates the ways that liberal arts colleges have been effective:
“Acceptance of the liberal arts model among Asian parents and prospective students has been driven by data showing how effective it is at preparing students for careers in business, science and other fields. In his 2011 book Liberal Arts at the Brink, Victor Ferrall notes that 12 of the 53 Nobel prizewinners between 1999 and 2008 who received their undergraduate education at a US college or university received it at a liberal arts college. This is all the more remarkable given that less than 2 per cent of US undergraduates study at a liberal arts college.“
The US News Rankings come out yesterday, and the Times Higher Education (THE) Rankings were released two weeks ago. These university rankings are not just for amusement but dictate the fortunes of institutions and key strategic planning decisions in many universities. As documented by the Chronicle of Higher Education, a survey of strategic plans from 100 public universities found that about 25% of the plans “explicitly affirm the importance of rising in the national rankings.” University and College rankings, along with selectivity, enrolment, 6-year graduation rates, and support levels from alumni and other funding sources are perhaps the primary information that provides feedback on the success for a particular college or university. These indicators are very sparse and provide only the most rudimentary information to students and their families in deciding which institution to choose.
Considering that the US higher education is an industry that includes over 4300 accredited public and private institutions, enrolling over 18 million students, employing 3.6 million people and garnering over $410 billion in revenues and donations, a more rational and richer quantitative and qualitative set of data is needed. Universities and Colleges often launch internal surveys, self-studies, and conduct extensive reviews of their curriculum and its effectiveness with an accreditation team. This information is indeed rich and qualitative, but aside from basic recommendations and a summary of accreditation results, the information is kept internally. To the outside world, including students and their families, there is very little information provided to select an institution on the basis of its curriculum and its teaching mission, aside from glossy brochures and institutional websites.
It is important to stress that College and University rankings not only measure higher education institutions but shape them too. By dividing institutions into categories, the US News rankings lumps institutions into a few basic groups, and then begins the process of comparison between institutions within groups, bringing institutions into greater similarity through these comparisons. These groups include National Universities, National Liberal Arts, Regional Universities and Colleges and several other categories that are primarily based on the institution size and region. The US News rankings at least separates liberal arts institutions from research universities, which helps identify a group of institutions whose mission is primarily for undergraduate education instead of research productivity. The other rankings, THE, and QS, bring simply rank universities on a mix of their research impact and place some weighting on teaching, primarily based on “reputational surveys.”
In all rankings the data that is used is quite sparse and provides very little detailed consideration of the teaching quality and student outcomes. In the Times Higher Education rankings, for example, the largest factor for assessing teaching is the “reputation survey” (15%), followed by statistics such as the academic staff to student ratio (4.5%), and measures of doctorates awarded and institutional income (8.25%). The remaining 72% of the ranking is based on research, citations, “international outlook,” and “industry income,” which are all mostly irrelevant to the quality of education for undergraduates. The US News rankings employ an algorithm that includes graduation and retention rates (22%), social mobility (5%), graduate rate performance (8%), and undergraduate academic reputation based on a peer assessment survey (20%), which provides a larger weighting for student outcomes than the THE or QS rankings. In response to criticism that the US News rankings simply locked in wealthy schools at the top, US News adjusted their algorithm in 2019 to include their “social mobility measures” that track graduation rates and performance from Pell-eligible students. These adjustments are most welcome, but ranking bodies and universities themselves can do better to publicly measure and rate their success in achieving their institutional missions and advancing undergraduate student learning within their campuses.
A top ranking is a powerful signal to students, who then compete for admissions to the top ranked institutions. This signal then triggers higher selectivity and higher donation rates to the university, which only increases the rankings and competitive pressure for admissions to the institution, creating what might be called a “prestige spiral.” These competitive pressures for universities and colleges is only intensifying, altering the planning of universities and colleges to rise in rankings, leaving many of the lower ranked schools out of the limelight, with reduced enrolments and donations. The US News rankings, which have such a crucial role in higher education, are paradoxically determined by a small group of writers and researchers from an organization named after a now defunct newspaper. These rankings shape the destinies of centuries-old institutions, and strongly influence the decisions of millions of students and their families, as they decide on where to invest what for many families is the largest expense they will ever make.
Since the top-ranked universities are primarily ranked for their research “impact”‘ and funding levels, most families are making their decisions on information that is not primarily shaped by how the institution advances student learning and achievement. To gain in the rankings as a university, an institution can only move forward by advancing its research impact, which favors a competitive race for better laboratories, more publications from faculty, and more research grants. Naturally undergraduate students, curriculum design and other aspects of undergraduate education are left behind. The rankings game also pressures universities into conformity – creating what is sometimes termed as “isomorphism” – as they all try to replicate the department structures, curricula and practices of the top-ranked universities to help them gain in rankings and gather more institutional prestige.
Perhaps one method to improve rankings and remove the conformity pressures of isomorphism is to rank institutions how well they succeed in defining and achieving a unique and differentiated mission that shapes their approach to educating students. This process would also make the mission of an institution less a pro forma exercise, and more of a vital force in shaping academic programs and in providing a transparent vision of the kind of education the institution aspires for its students. John Sexton, the former President of NYU, in his book Standing for Reason, has suggested we consider giving institutions something like a LEED rating on their educational program. As many buildings are LEED Gold for their energy and sustainability, we could rank universities and colleges as Platinum or Gold based on their ability to articulate and accomplish their academic teaching missions. The rating would require institutions to articulate their unique mission and their unique “value proposition” to the world, and then be assessed on the basis of this mission. Sexton also suggests this process would be linked to accreditation so that “each school would have to state its essential philosophy and purpose—its ratio studiorum—and how it aligns its various programs in service of that goal.” By requiring the university and college mission to have assessable and measurable components, it would place the educational program on the same footing as the research program of a university, with clear, transparent and measurable outputs. This could help universities evolve in directions that are true to their own missions, just as they hope to help students grow and learn in their own unique and differentiated ways.
The demise of Yale-NUS College is a great loss for higher education and for educators everywhere. As one of the authors of the Yale-NUS Curriculum Report, which was written at Yale in 2012 to help guide the development of the Yale-NUS common curriculum, and as one of the founding faculty of Yale-NUS, I feel a deep sense of loss in the decision by NUS to merge Yale-NUS College with its other liberal arts program known as the University Scholars Program.
I have written about the founding of Yale-NUS College and the longer history in Singapore and at NUS of innovation and experimentation in undergraduate education throughout the period from 2001 to 2011, before Yale signed their agreement with NUS. Two book chapters in the recent book Envisioning the Asian New Flagship University, tell the tale of how NUS was seeking to adopt liberal arts, experiential education and other cutting-edge undergraduate programs throughout the decade before approaching Yale. While I was at Pomona College in 2007, NUS was discussing with the Claremont Colleges the possibility of a Claremont-NUS College. The concept of a new liberal arts college in Asia was so exciting to me that I left my endowed professorship at Pomona College to help launch the new venture, and lived in Singapore for three years with my family working at Yale-NUS College.
At Yale-NUS College we built one of the most exciting learning communities ever, that blended the best practices of undergraduate education with a far-reaching and ambitious common curriculum. The curriculum included powerful courses in Literature and Humanities, Philosophy and Political Thought, Quantitative Reasoning, Modern Social Thought that inquired deeply with our international students about the human condition. Our brilliant students came from over 40 countries, creating the Yale-NUS College “community of learning” which was a cross-section of global perspectives. Yale-NUS offered an unmatched richness for developing deeper insights to the world our graduates would enter, which at the time was blossoming with possibilities for greater global connection and a more peaceful and enlightened era.
The sciences at Yale-NUS College were also well represented with a dynamic faculty regularly publishing in top journals such as Nature and Science, and who developed three amazing and innovative interdisciplinary courses known as Scientific Inquiry, Foundations of Science and Integrated Science. My role was to help develop and launch the year-long course known as Foundations of Science with my co-Coordinator Brian McAddoo. We built an amazing course which focused on the theme of the Anthropocene, with mini-courses that did “deep dives” in multiple disciplines and a Grand Challenge exercise where students studied and responded to the impacts of the Anthropocene. All of the Common Curriculum courses are described in a booklet on the Common Curriculum we produced at our Yale-NUS Center for Teaching and Learning, and all three of these science courses are described in my recent book, STEM Education for the 21st Century. Our Yale-NUS Center for Teaching and Learning also published a wonderful booklet on Diversity and Inclusion in Curriculum and Classroom after I left, and the combination of the curriculum, the community, and the emergent creativity of Yale-NUS is a wonder and something to celebrate.
Sadly, the achievements of the students and the faculty, who tirelessly pushed the boundaries of what could be possible in undergraduate education, was not supported by NUS and the Singaporean government after just 10 years since the agreement between Yale and NUS was signed. With this closure, Singapore and the world loses a great chapter in higher education and a brilliant achievement in creating a vibrant intercultural community from scratch. The reasons for this decision are not fully known, but was one made by NUS and Singapore. There were a few controversies about academic freedom with Yale-NUS College and in Singapore, which we have documented in our new book Neo-Nationalism and Universities, which is being released by JHU Press on September 7.
Yale insisted on academic freedom as a condition of its involvement. Whether this closure by NUS was one made for financial or curricular reasons, or with an eye toward increasing control over Yale-NUS is unknown. Yale-NUS College had a much more liberal approach to LBGTQ issues and a very free-spirited academic culture that was largely independent from NUS, and now faces the prospect of being merged into NUS. We all mourn the loss of this wonderful institution and will hope that what emerges as the NUS New College will the brilliance, freedom, and the creativity of Yale-NUS College.
Our new book, Neo-Nationalism and Universities – Populists, Autocrats and the Future of Higher Education, is being published by JHU Press. John Douglass is the lead author, and I have contributed a chapter that is co-authored with him on Higher Education in Singapore and Hong Kong. My chapter is entitled “Balancing Nationalism and Globalism – Higher Education in Singapore and Hong Kong.” The book launch event will feature John Douglass providing a review of the book which should be very interesting. I hope you can join! The event is September 14 from 10-11AM PDT and is online via zoom. The event is available at the link: https://cshe.berkeley.edu/meet-author-neo-nationalism-and-universities
From the work of Spring 2021, my students and I have produced some really amazing images. This has reduced some of my worries about the remote instruction, and thankfully our SUA Nieves Observatory, which can be operated from anywhere in the planet, came through. You can see more of these images on our Nieves Observatory website.
With my students based in Vietnam, India, Nepal, Japan, and New Jersey, I conducted “lab” sessions in my house where a group of students would appear on Zoom and we would virtually sit around the telescope while they took images. This continued throughout the Spring 2021 semester, and as the students became more capable I found myself able to step away and could watch them as they worked in groups to take images. It was interesting to see how their capabilites grew and the social environment that observing had created for them. Even in the virtual space, the process of peering into the vast blackness of space with the telescope was exciting and brought out a new dimension for the class.
To help them gain more experience, I also trained batches of students in a more advanced image processing program known as PixInsight. This program can do a more sophisticated analysis of the images, correcting for backgrounds, adding multiple exposures and enabling adjustment of the colors. Several of the students became experts and produced some marvelous and beautiful images which are below, with the names of our wonderful SUA students. All of these images were taken with our SUA Nieves Observatory, except for those that are labelled “LCRO” which were taken by the students using a remotely operated telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.
The new modality of the online class, brought to us by COVID-19 and the necessity of teaching students in person and online simultaneously, is known as the “hybrid” class. Formerly a “hybrid” course would be considered as one that mixed online asynchronous resources with an in-person class session. In the early days of online learning, a variety of experiments in “flipped” classrooms made use of this format and some promising new technologies and pedagogies were developed.
As we all have been forced to teach students in a mix of locations – both in person and remote – we all are needing to learn new techniques for providing an engaging classroom environment for both the in-person students, and one that also includes the remote students fully. This requires a mix of classroom hardware to facilitated video and audio linkages to remote students, and an admirable concentration on the part of the instructor who now has to juggle the various technologies in the classroom, and monitor the engagement of both audiences simultaneously, deploying a mix of techniques that will be effective for both audiences.
A variety of articles have been written on this topic, which are included with short summaries below. I hope these resources will be useful for instructors beginning their journey into hybrid teaching.
Josh Blackman, a law professor from Houston, has written an article in the online publication reason, on “The Difficulties of Teaching a ‘Hybrid’ Class.” This article is available here:
In the article, Dr. Blackman points out that the hybrid instruction is “the most difficult method, by far” among the options of in person, remote or mixed. The tension between the needs and pedagogy that would be best for both groups os students is succinctly summarized by Dr. Blackman:
“Pedagogy aimed at facilitating online discussion (like checking the chat feature and waiting for a student’s video feed to buffer) will annoy students in class. And pedagogy aimed at the warm bodies in the room (writing on the white board or calling on a student out of the microphone’s range) will annoy the students at home. Pedagogy aimed at satisfying both groups will fail to satisfy either.”
The importance of having the right technology in the classroom is noted, and in larger classes the difficulty of providing proper microphones and video for all students is especially difficult. Dr. Blackman enumerates the daunting list of things a professor will need to do to make things work well:
“Professors will have to monitor the Zoom queue to check for blue hands.
Professors will have to read sometimes lengthy questions on the chat, and decide if they merit attention. Doing so distracts from classroom flow. I find that ignoring a time-sucking comment saves time, but frustrates students who feels ignored. You can’t win.
Professors will have to keep an eye on the Zoom grid to see if people are actually on camera or not. Professors should be careful to look at the grid on the podium computer (perhaps several feet away). Professors should not turn their back on the students in the class to watch the Zoom grid on the projector.
Professors will still have to run their powerpoint presentation, or other visual materials.
Professors will have to keep track of the screen share feature so that the students at home can follow the presentation.
Professors will have to use polling features to asses the performance of students in class and at home.”
Dr. Blackman recommends the use of three monitors to make this juggling process easier. One monitor can be used to see all the students in a “Zoom grid” while a second monitor can work with the chat feature and the queue of questions. A third monitor for use with a powerpoint presentation is also needed. Careful placement of microphones and staging of the video monitors behind the instructor is also vital. It is noted that behind the instructor one should NEVER project the video of the instructor, as the time delay and mirroring effect can be very disruptive.
From reading the article I came away thinking a good setup would be a pair of displays behind the instructor – one showing the Zoom grid of students and one showing the powerpoint presentation – would be optimal. Then a set of 2-3 monitors facing the instructor would also be needed. One display would be used for the presentation powerpoint (and mirroring the display facing the students) and one to include the Zoom grid (also mirrored by the display facing the students). I also recognized that it would be helpful to have a camera to show the instructor – and allow the instructor to interact with the monitor showing the classroom presentation, as well as a camera facing the class. This could break up the potential dynamic of a group of students in class all hunched over their laptops and not able to talk with each other.
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a raft of articles on hybrid teaching. I include links to those articles below, with short commentary.
Beth McMurtrie wrote an article in the Chronicle entitled, “Colleges Say Hybrid Courses Will Make the Fall a Success. But Will Students Get the Worst of Both Worlds?” This article is available here:
This article focuses on the awkward dynamics of teaching online and in person simultaneously with examples from specific instructors around the country. The article notes that the “hybrid” model we are discussing was originally developed at San Francisco State University in 2006 to help working adults attend class. The model in that context was known as the Hybrid-Flexible Course Design or “HyFlex” teaching model, and this has been described in more detail in an article by Brian J. Beatty. The article discusses how various campuses, including UC Irvine, had discussed using HyFlex teaching for Fall 2020 but met with strong objections from faculty, who instead prefer either all online or all in person instruction in their classes. The article discusses some of the concerns that Rob Elliot, a computer technology professor in Indiana has developed with the Hyflex technique, some of the innovations that various universities have brought to the technique, such as the Northern Arizona University NAUFlex teaching mode, and the Shenandoah University ShenFlex teaching mode. Northeastern University has its own flavor of Hyflex as well, known as NUFlex, and all three of these campuses have been working to outfit classrooms with advanced technology and also to work with clever scheduling tools to reduce the number of students in the classroom to enable 6-foot social distancing.
To enable wider access to the wonderful book written by Brian J. Beatty from San Francisco State University, I include a link to a free copy of his Hyflex book below. The book is licensed with a Creative Commons license which allows us “to do with it as you please as long as you properly attribute it” and so I am thankful for pioneers like Dr. Beatty who have made materials like this available to us for helping with our online teaching. The book is available online at the site https://edtechbooks.org/pdfs/print/hyflex/_hyflex.pdf.
The Chronicle of Higher Education also has a series of newsletter memos on online teaching and the HyFlex model, also written by Beth McMurtrie. These are summarized below:
A July 9, 2020 memo shares expert advice from Jenae Cohn, an academic-technology specialist for the program in writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, about the HyFlex model. Her advice is to “Design a fully online class and think of the in-person part of it as an enhancement to the core of your coursework.” This way the in-person part is not given too much weight. In this mode the class time is a place to “connect and regroup” and to review content. This prevents an unfair dynamic where remote students are forced to watch as you have a lively and engaging time with the in-person students. A clever tip is to pair up remote and in-class students with zoom chat rooms to work on problems together. Another expert, Derek Bruff, director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, notes that active learning is difficult with students wearing masks and staying 6 feet apart. The solution is to “lean into technology” and make extensive use of live polling, and make use of chat and other technology to knit together students in conversation. Another way to build community is to use collaborative note taking – where students together work on an online shared document during a discussion. These notes can be used both to summarize the discussion and also to bring collaborations together among the students. A technique known as the “fishbowl” is also recommended, where a group discusses a topic and remote students observe and then provide comments. Then the roles can be reversed, with the online students discussing and the in-class students observing and providing comments.
A July 30, 2020 memo provides follow-up answers to questions that faculty have raised about hybrid teaching. These include answers to questions such as “how do I learn my students’ names while everyone is wearing masks?” (answer: discussion forum in a learning management system for introductions; can also include student videos). Another question is related to managing the difficult audio challenges in the hybrid class and having discussion. The memo suggests using text chat for discussion – which can include one of the students who can take on the role of “voice of the chat” (which allows the student to read out questions, highlight points that are coming up frequently in chat and help all the students to be heard), and also recommends using Zoom’s Live Polling feature.
An August 8, 2020 memo provides more discussion about how to manage sound issues in a hybrid class, tips for using chat and online documents to help students interact in class, and a very useful compendium of articles for more detailed and comprehensive guides to Hybrid teaching. The memo recommends a few articles which are listed here – Oregon State University has a “searchable Online Learning Efficacy Research Database, which includes academic studies on learning outcomes of hybrid and online education compared with face-to-face education. The database houses more than 100 peer-reviewed studies about blended and hybrid learning.” The memo also recommended The Blended Course Design Workbook by Kathryn E. Linder, the former research director of eCampus and now executive director for program development at Kansas State University Global Campus, which is described as “a comprehensive guide to evidence-based hybrid pedagogy, technology, and design.” Two additional articles were recommended by Jenae Cohn: Challenges of Student Equity and Engagement in a HyFlex Course, by Sebastian Binnewies and Zhe Wang (2019) and Learning style, sense of community and learning effectiveness in hybrid learning environment, by Bryan Chen and Hua-Huei Chiou (2014).
Dr. Bowen gives a point by point guide to using the “Hyflex” model effectively. He makes the point of stressing to use asynchronous materials extensively in a hybrid class. According to Bowen, “With hyflex, there is less need for large synchronous gatherings and even your on-campus students will appreciate the flexibility of asynchronous video content.” By reducing reliance on synchronous class time, it frees up more time for small group work with both remote and on campus students. Bowen recommends liberally using already existing videos that cover similar content online where appropriate, instead of relying completely on your own abilities to produce a vast number of online programs. By clever scheduling, and making use of evening and weekends, it will be possible to reach all of the students. The time saved from creating and repeating lecture materials can be deployed toward these small group and individual meetings. Bowen also recommends using the jigsaw pedagogy, whereby students can be asked to research topics in groups of 5 and teach each other and then teach the class about what they have learned. To make the experience more personal, Bowen also recommends using “personalized support videos” that give tips on the readings or short videos helping students through difficult concepts. Bowen recommends the “fishbowl discussion” and gives some details about this technique:
“If you really have to hold synchronous hyflex sections, note that a fishbowl discussion can work. One group actively discusses and the other group observes, awards points, scores using a rubric, or makes written commentary. Then you switch. If you switch between F2F and online then both groups get a crack at being center stage and you solve some of the microphone and other issues.”
The article he cites, written by Jeremy Knoll, gives a very detailed account of how to structure a fishbowl discussion and make it work effectively with both in person and online students. This article is available here:
The final article I have studied comes from Williams College and is a booklet for “Strategies and Tips for teaching Hybrid and Remote Courses” which came from the “Teach Summer 2020 program” and is available at:
The guide is very effective and concise and gives 10 different sections that include
Different models of teaching a hybrid course – Some different models of teaching a hybrid course, with the relative advantages and disadvantages of each. Thoughts on teaching in a socially distanced classroom – Challenges of teaching in a socially distanced classroom, with some potential solutions. Strategies to help students manage an online course – The particular challenges that students face in an online classroom, with some potential solutions. Strategies for keeping students engaged in an online course – Some simple tactics for maintaining student engagement during a synchronous, online course. Tips for building community in a hybrid or remote course – Some simple and tangible ways to build classroom community in hybrid and remote courses. Considerations for designing and grading assessments – Special considerations for designing and evaluating assessments in hybrid or remote courses. Designing an accessible and inclusive course – Simple ways to ensure that a hybrid or remote course is accessible and inclusive to all students. Helpful information to share on or before the first day of class – The most important details to provide students at the very beginning of the semester. Some simple technology that may be useful – Some simple devices and technologies that might be helpful for achieving goals in hybrid and remote courses. Glossary of remote and hybrid teaching terms – Definitions of terms commonly used to describe hybrid and remote courses.
The booklet is too detailed to summarize here, and includes many of the tips and ideas included in the articles above. Some of the uniquely useful parts of this booklet include the ideas for building community, making a course accessible and inclusive and how to share information with students as the course starts. These ideas are essential for preserving the sense of interdependence and building a positive social learning environment, and are well worth studying.
As all of us in higher education know, March 2020 was a very difficult month. Perhaps the “ides of March” is a good way to describe the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rapid “pivot” that all of our universities and colleges had to make as we transitioned from in-person to online instruction and rapidly moved all of our students back to their homes in the middle of the Spring 2020 semester. During that semester, as Dean of Faculty at Soka University, I was charged with helping our IT group and our Soka University faculty adjust to this difficult new reality, and to help our campus develop strategies and skills to completely overhaul our instruction within a few days to enable this shift to online instruction. Thankfully, our campus stepped up to the challenge, and the excellent work of our IT group enabled us to add in many new components to our Learning Management System to enable Zoom to be seamlessly integrated, and to also incorporate new programs for helping faculty provide more active online learning environments. Working with the IT group, we planned a series of workshops for faculty in the days before Spring Break to train them in using Zoom, as well as other online technologies and to introduce some of the new capabilities of our LMS. Within a week we set up a series of 4 workshops which were offered both in-person and online, expanded our LMS capabilities, set up blogs and websites for faculty to share ideas about online teaching, and also informed our students of these new developments.
One other interesting challenge was to try to adapt our teaching strategies for the online environment. Working closely with our Curriculum Committee, and its wonderful chair, Phat Vu, we set up a series of meetings to discuss the needs of faculty for online teaching and some of the lessons we were learning as we began our online instruction. These discussions went on throughout the Spring semester, and we used what we learned to identify some key technologies and ideas for teaching online. I worked in the Dean’s office to help set up a faculty blog for sharing ideas for online teaching, and also designed and maintained a new website for online teaching for SUA faculty to share resources, technologies and guides for effective online teaching. One really useful new technology was the program known as Perusall, which enables faculty to assign readings to students and then allows students to read, annotate and comment on the readings in a social media type online environment. We managed to get our IT group to integrate Persusall with our LMS, and various teaching groups offering some of our required GE courses like our Core II class shared lots of good ideas for arranging good online discussions and readings in this new environment. I had heard about this program while in Singapore, when we invited Eric Mazur to our campus at Yale-NUS, and it was wonderful to see it used to great effect in our SUA courses.
As we rounded off the second half of the Spring 2020 semester, discussions among faculty and students indicated a number of successes, and some challenges. Teaching music was very difficult as the Zoom sessions introduced small latencies which made it difficult for students to sing or perform together. Our very resourceful music faculty were able to instead work one on one with students also have students submit recordings for use in group music making. We also noticed that the student time zones, distributed around the clock, made our “synchronous” teaching very difficult. This was something our faculty were able to adapt to but only with heroic efforts. One faculty member made two presentations for each of his classes – one at the regularly scheduled class time in PST and the other at 10PM-midnight, to allow for our students in Asia and across the world to participate. Many of our faculty arranged for tutorials or individual sessions for students who were distributed around the world. Since Soka University uniquely has nearly half of its students from outside the US, distributed across 40 different countries, we had a unique challenge on our hands.
In the planning for Fall 2020, we tried to learn from our experiences in that Spring. We set up a series of workshops during the summer to help faculty learn effective online teaching strategies. One event which was very effective was a workshop with author Flower Darby, whose book Small Teaching Online, was a great resource for effectively teaching online. I offered all the faculty a free copy of this book, and then we had a wonderful 90 minute workshop from Flower Darby where she presented a number of really great strategies for preserving the intimacy of an in-person classroom in the online setting. Our IT group set up literally dozens of sessions during the summer to train faculty in specific technologies. Since all of these sessions were recorded, faculty could view them online at their convenience.
Most amazing was the way in which we were able to reconfigure our class schedule. Since students were located in many time zones, we made a chart of the number of students in each time zone and then overlaid their waking hours on times within PST from 6AM to midnight. We realised that since we had a large number of students in Asia, we could reach a majority of our students in a synchronous format by opening up a number of classes in the 4PM-midnight range of times. Here too our faculty stepped up, and each of our concentrations and programs met to reconfigure their class schedules to fan out across all of the waking hours in California. We also preserved two times each day without classes – one around noon and another time around 7PM – to allow for meetings for both faculty groups and student organisations. Amazingly all of this came together in late May in advance of our registration period for Fall 2020. Even better, we were able to decide that we would be going online before class registration so students could sign up for their classes knowing that they would be online for Fall 2020. Somehow the class rescheduling, decision for Fall 2020, and registration all came together during the summer, followed by a period of training during the summer, where faculty had the time to think about online teaching and plan for the upcoming semester.
Because of the training, the rescheduling and the care and effort of our faculty, we were able to have a very smooth Fall 2020 semester. We all miss our students on campus – and Soka University has become something of a wild animal park with deer, racoons, hawks and other creatures cavorting on our campus in the absence of our wonderful students. We are very excited about bringing students back for Spring 2021 however, when we should have almost half of our students back on campus and the rest of the students studying remotely. This will require us to learn (or “pivot”) to yet another modality of teaching – the “hybrid” class, which mixes in-person and remote students in a way that engages all of them. I will be teaching again in Spring 2021 with a mix of in-person and remote students, and will be sure to post about that experience as we get closer to the new semester.