Concerns About The Sudden Move To Online Teaching

As some schools are now responding to the spread of the coronavirus by cancelling in-person classes and replacing them with online teaching, faculty are beginning to voice concerns.

[Benjamin Rollins Caldwell, “Binary Chair 02”]

Take, for instance, these comments:

Re: the move to online teaching in response to the pandemic. This is yet another request for my smarter friends out there to tell me what I am missing here. It seems to me that the idea that teachers can just switch to online teaching is based on a belief in the general superfluousness of teaching, is it not? No one is talking about having SXSW online or playing NBA games online, or moving New Rochelle online. Because that would make no sense! To be clear, I have no problem with cancelling classes, giving students refunds, giving them their midterm grades, and making all kinds of accommodations given the circumstances. However, I think that the presumption of [immediately] moving to online classes is less an accommodation and more a giant insult to the profession—and one that I hope the profession collectively rejects: otherwise teachers become complicit in becoming mere information delivery devices that they are often generally thought to be.

That’s a Facebook post by John Muckelbauer, a colleague in English at the University of South Carolina (he granted me permission to repost it here, noting that it is not meant to be a general complaint about online teaching, but rather about the suddent switch to it).

Others have expressed concern that the coronavirus-prompted move to online courses will alter expectations about college education, accelerating and broadening the push towards online teaching even in non-emergency times, and further devaluing the multidimensional benefits of the classroom experience. (This concern is compatible with an appreciation of online teaching, which can be effective and which can bring educational opportunities to those who otherwise might not have them.)

Still others have noted that developing an effective online course is challenging and time-consuming. Universities sometimes recognize this by granting professors time and funding to put together such courses. Under the current circumstances, though, at best, universities are cancelling classes for a few days, which serves multiple purposes, including, presumably, giving professors some prep time.

On this last point, one has to appreciation the perfection of this tweet from Associate Deans:

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