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  • Writer's pictureTheresa Capra

Why Covid-19 Can Make Professors Better

Updated: Aug 22, 2020

The involuntary shift to remote instruction will be painful for higher education in the short term, but it has some potential to improve things in the long run. #remotelearning #onlinelearning #distancelearning #technology #theresacapra #teachingtips #Covid19

Covid-19 has been a horrendous experience shaking us all to our cores. However, there are some potentially positive sides --it has exposed societal issues ranging from elder care to overcrowding, which, if treated, can lead to improvements.

The same is true for higher education. Universities and colleges have a lot to think about for years to come from poor uses of physical space, to proper disinfecting. The time may finally be right to address the issues.

Time to innovate!

Probably the most important reality that higher education must confront is its lack of pedagogical innovation and investment in technology. Distance education is far from new, yet institutions were woefully unprepared for the emergency transition to remote learning, which simply means using technology to facilitate teaching and learning.

For K-12 the lack of preparation is understandable because schools function as childcare. That is not the case with higher education yet institutions have relied heavily on physical classroom presence to deliver instruction. Consequently, pedagogical innovations have lagged despite rapid advances in educational technology.

Why has this been the case? Well, culture and tradition is one reason why. When it comes to teaching and learning, culture and tradition means students pack into lecture halls while the sage on the stage spouts out facts from their siloed discipline. This isn’t as effective as it was 40 years ago because information is so available and students have become accustomed to using technology to acquire knowledge and communicate.

Another change from years ago is that students need more critical-thinking and synthesis skills for the workforce. This requires an understanding of how disciplines are related, not distinct. Students need to be more engaged beyond listening and answering questions. This can be facilitated with technology. In this age of fast-moving information, being able to evaluate and verify sources should be an objective beyond content acquisition.

Remote learning is forcing professors to become comfortable with technology and the lasting impact may pay dividends. When Covid-19 is behind us, many instructors may not go back to the way things were. Technology will become a more acceptable means to supplement face-to-face instruction and this may lead to more independent learners.

Time to ask, what's a good assessment?

It’s not just teaching, it’s assessment that may also change for the better. Culture and tradition dictate that students demonstrate knowledge on multiple-choice exams. Culture and tradition also dictate that students cheat. Percentages of confessed cheaters vary, but some estimates go as high as 90%.

A common argument is that high-stakes testing is necessary because, after all, if a college student plans to continue on to graduate school, or enter a profession such as law, teaching, or nursing, a high-stake exam awaits. While this may be true, it is not the case for all students.

In the culture of high-stakes testing, it's usually the least resourced who suffer. Recent scandals show how entrenched cheating is with celebrities paying to have their children fraudulently accepted to competitive schools, and even the President of the United States being accused of paying someone to take his SATs.

In college classrooms, demonstrating proficiency can be achieved in other ways and if students are faced with a particular high-stakes exam for professional reasons, they will have to prepare --but practicing multiple-choice along the way in college classrooms won't necessarily help.

Furthermore, colleges are not as equipped as commercial testing centers to patrol cheating. College students find ways to cheat in front of human proctors and evade campus testing center policies. Remote learning has made testing even more of a challenge because proctoring software is expensive, and there are different opportunities for students to cheat such as devices that cannot be seen.

Although remote learning has made testing more challenging, it may also expose professors to different assessments such as problem-based learning, capstone projects, and shorter, written exams over the course of the semester instead of the looming final exam. If an assessment requires engagement throughout an entire semester, it will be much harder to pay someone to do it for you.

Normally, there is not enough time for deeper assessments because lecture time is limited and classrooms crowded. What instructor has time to evaluate individual projects when he or she is lecturing all day and night and has scores of students to grade? It’s not feasible. Supplementing classroom time with remote learning will allow more time and flexibility for both professors and students alike. And that's a good thing.

Overall, it's time to think about these overdue issues. There are lessons to be learned.

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