Back to real school? Washington University pairs small in-person classes with online learning


University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce and student Sukhdeep Singh take part in a coding event in 2015 (UW Photo / Dennis Wise)

As the University of Washington prepares for the first virtual graduation ceremony in its 159-year history, President Ana Mari Cauce focuses on what happens a few months later.

Speaking at a virtual town hall with other university presidents on Wednesday, Cauce said she plans to welcome UW students to campus in the fall despite uncertainty surrounding the pandemic of COVID-19. Plus, the Class of 2024 is poised to be “our greatest freshman class ever,” Cauce said.

To make this possible, UW is considering a hybrid approach combining online learning with small-scale in-person training. Large conferences will likely be held online, but smaller classes, especially those that require labs, could be held in person with physical distance.

“We are actively planning the return of our students,” Cauce said. “We want them in the dorms. We know that a very important part of the learning experience takes place in the classroom with other students, but also outside the classroom in their interactions with the teachers, in the labs, with each other. We are eager to bring back this wealth.

UW switched to distance learning in early March as the COVID-19 outbreak closed schools around the world.

Cauce was joined by Arizona State University President Michael Crow and Purdue University President Mitchell Daniels to discuss an issue weighing heavily on their field: how the pandemic will it reshape higher education?

It’s a topic of much debate, with some like New York University’s Scott Galloway predicting dramatic changes. Colleges around the world will be forced to take the blended learning approach and reinvent themselves or struggle to survive, according to Galloway.

“There will be a lot of zombie universities,” Galloway told New York Magazine. “The elders will intervene to help. They’ll cut costs in figuring out how to stay alive, but they’ll be undead indeed. I don’t think you’re going to see massive closures, but there is going to be pressure on level two colleges. “

Universities are looking for creative solutions to intimidating budget cuts. UW Medicine – a lifeline for studying and responding to the COVID-19 crisis – is putting 5,500 employees on leave to deal with falling incomes.

“We have these absolute heroes who have been at the forefront and we are taking time off because we want to avoid layoffs,” Cauce said. “Because a number of places like our hospitals, like housing and food services, like our study abroad programs which are based primarily on user fees, have already experienced very serious budget deficits. important issues that we are managing. “

These challenges will only get worse as UW allows some students to enroll remotely. Cauce expects students who face higher risks of complications from COVID-19 will take all of their courses online, a change that would be a financial blow to the university.

Online bridging courses cost money, as UW did for 98% of their courses. And colleges lose money when students don’t pay for room and board. The University of Michigan estimates it could lose up to $ 1 billion by the end of the year and for the University of Kentucky that figure is $ 70 million, reports NPR.

In the New York Magazine interview, Galloway predicted that universities would partner with tech giants to offer students a mix of online and offline degrees.

“I just can’t imagine what the enrollment would be like if Apple partnered with a school to offer design and creativity programs,” Galloway said. “I can’t imagine what the enrollment would be if the University of Washington teamed up with Microsoft around technology or engineering. They would be huge inscriptions. The tech company would be responsible for the scale and part of the online group. The university would be responsible for accreditation.

Cauce said the budget cuts at UW “will have very lasting consequences” but “we will survive.”

“This crisis has created, essentially, thousands of labs across the country that are experimenting with different approaches to teaching, learning, assessment, assessment and we will be looking to see which experiences have been the most successful and those that weren’t, “says Cauce. “We will be ahead with this science. There is no doubt that we already are.

A potential problem with distance learning is inequitable access to broadband and technology, said Franck Catalano, an education technology consultant and longtime GeekWire contributor. The pandemic has pushed many post-secondary instructors “into the deep end of the distance learning pool,” Catalano said.

“Fall 2020 will not be the same as fall 2019, and the institutions will not be parallel,” he said. “We have entered a time of great and frightening experimentation with e-learning, and there will be instructors and institutions that barely walk on water, others that develop an Olympic back, and probably not just a few who will collapse – and take their students with them.

GeekWire spoke to former Washington Gov. Gary Locke last week, telling about a group he created in 1998 called the “2020 Commission” that aimed to set a vision for higher education in the future. It sparked an uproar among professors worried about teaching via the Internet – and the debate over teaching online continues to this day, albeit more than two decades later.

“I have always been a strong supporter of this personal interaction between faculty and students,” Locke said last week. “Obviously, the use of technology can make things easier for both faculty and students. But there is still no substitute for this human interaction.



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