This is the third of four posts in a series that argues that the binary between in-person and online is problematic. See the first and second. In this post, I share some thoughts on some broader teaching and learning models that Canadian institutions (and others of course) are considering for Fall 2020.

In answering the question “what does teaching and learning look like in the Fall in the context of COVID-19?” I am interested in three models that exist between fully in-person and fully online. Though I’m focusing on Canadian institutions, some of this may apply to other contexts.

To make my assumptions explicit, I am assuming that some amount of physical distancing will be necessary in the Summer and Fall. I am also assuming that Canadian institutions will rely on guidance from Health experts, and as such will be guided by both federal and provincial recommendations. I’m also drawing from the findings of this paper, investigating the enrolment networks at Cornell, which suggest that eliminating large courses (or offering them online) may not be a viable long-term solution. Based on these assumptions, below are some options.

  • Offer all courses online, with the exception of “special circumstance” courses. These may be courses that involve student learning activities that require them to be on-campus (e.g., certain lab courses that cannot be replicated in online settings; certain courses that require in-person activities for professional reasons). The implication here is that there will be less students on campus and that campus will therefore be able to accommodate physical distancing guidelines.
  • Use a multi-access course design. A simple version of a multi-access course is one that allows students to participate in a course either in-person or online. For instance, a course may be taught and streamed live, and all participants may engage in both synchronous and asynchronous activities with each other. This design was originally created to enable students to have choice between in-person and online participation based on emerging needs or preferences over the duration of the semester. In today’s context, some students may not have the ability to choose between in-person and online (e.g., the physical classroom can only accommodate X students, but X+Y sign up for it; some students may face travel restrictions).
  • Use a blended cohort-residency model with X start dates. Let’s assume X=3. The first cohort (1/3 of the campus) travels to campus and begins their in-person courses. Four weeks later they leave campus and transition to online courses. The second cohort then travels to campus, and so on. This divides the student population in 3 and uses the in-person gathering to foster a sense of community among students. This is the model that most Royal Roads University programs have followed for many years.

There are challenges with these three models. All of them introduce organizational, technological, social, and pedagogical complications. The models are also silent about staff and faculty: when students are on-campus, they not only interact with peers in common courses, but they also interact with others in cafeterias, gyms, dorms, pubs, and participate in the community in the same ways that we all do. There’s also questions of equity, sustainability, and resilience here.

It is important to note that these options are not exclusionary. In other words, institutions could pursue more than one option. They do not necessarily need to adopt a single modality for the Fall – and importantly, they do not need to choose a singly modality ONLY for the Fall with the hope to return back to how things were. Returning to a question I asked in my first post: Is in-person education the best we can do for everyone? In other words, it is possible for an institution to offer its Fall (and its future) programming in a variety of ways, in the same way that many institutions offered some courses/programs in face-to-face ways and others in online formats.

In your opinion, are these three options more or less feasible in your context when compared to (well-designed) online learning? Why or Why not?