By Ernest Cole

COVID-19 has disrupted a good part of our daily routines or what was considered normal living: life as we knew it. From waking up in the morning to going to bed at night, Americans are confronted with the challenges of a different mode of living. For us in the teaching profession, COVID-19 has had a considerable impact on methods of delivery of instructional materials. From our usual PowerPoint presentations and Google docs to Zoom and Google Hangouts, professors at Hope College, and indeed across the nation, have been tasked with transforming content from in-person to online structure and format. This transformation has significantly affected not only course content but also approaches and methods of teaching. Pedagogy is being transformed and the changes are clearly discernible.

Last week, as I listened to my colleagues in English grappling with the structural and pedagogical changes to instruction, something became clear to me: we are in the process of a digital revolution and teaching will never be the same again. I suspect we will come out of COVID-19 very differently and our instructional structures and modes of delivery, assessment, and evaluation will change. We will come out of COVID-19; that is beyond question. The question is not whether we will come out of this situation, but rather how we come out of it and how we are prepared to handle the pedagogical shifts and assessment changes that the digitization of our courses would present.

In such moments, my grandmother’s words came clearly to me – “the early bird catches the worm.” If the above premise is true, then institutions that begin to put in place the necessary academic, administrative, and technological structures to accommodate these digital changes relating to the choice, delivery, and assessment of instructional materials now will be better served in the future. If we are to stay ahead of the “digital revolution” and its implications for our students, programs, and institution, we must begin to put these structures in place now.

As I see it, the first of these structures relate to faculty capacity building. There is a need for expanded programs relating to online teaching and coaching, and support from technological units and centers on campus. Faculty must be trained in the dynamics of online teaching and receive instruction on online delivery and assessment of courses. I foresee a situation where faculty would develop courses that meet the requirements for in-person, online, and hybrid instruction, and perhaps offer students these choices for enrollment in courses.

From an assessment perspective, I suggest we begin conversations on processes and procedures for online assessment that will maintain standards, integrity, and rigor. We must begin to ponder and reflect on the implications of online teaching for various disciplines on campus and what it would mean to shift courses to this mode of instructional delivery. We must begin to engage in conversations on the impact of COVID-19 on how we conceptualize education and methods of implementation.

Next, I would like us as an institution to reflect on lessons that COVID-19 has taught us in terms of global education. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, the pandemic has taught us that we are more connected than we imagined and that the “big questions” of life cannot be solved by either a single discipline or single country. To that end, I would like faculty across campus to begin rethinking global education. If my assumptions are true, then it seems to me that we need to identify and restructure courses that address these “big questions” and approach them from an interdisciplinary perspective.

I am talking of creating a “hub” or “consortium” of courses with global content (such as immigration, public health, international trade, public finance, nursing, social work, medicine, etc.) and finding a place for such courses in the revised general education curriculum at Hope. This would truly equip our students with the knowledge and skills to function effectively in a global society. I suggest we begin a rethinking of our collaborative efforts with regional and international partners (GLCA & GLAA); our conception of study abroad; other experiential courses; and the ways in which these are assessed. Can we, for instance, begin to think about a “virtual study abroad” program and what that would look like? Can we begin to think of how we collaborate virtually with our partners beyond flagging courses and doing the usual conjoined courses? Can we transform these conjoined courses to virtual study abroad courses that will count for study abroad requirements for our students?

I would like to end with a bold suggestion, and this has to do with the current conversations regarding 3-credit and 4-credit courses. Part of the problem, as I understand it, with our current 4-credit system, at least in the Humanities, was the absence of faculty-led activities and instruction for the 4th hour. Again, this difficulty was also due to lack of creative ways to engage students in the 4th hour. I think what COVID-19 preparations have done for us is to equip us with online content and digital platforms to engage students in faculty-led projects that will count for the 4th hour. It seems to me that this is a valuable way to reconsider our conversations on 3-4 credit courses and to utilize the range of activities that Associate Provost Gerald Griffin has come up with that qualify for 4th-hour instruction. I encourage him to continue working with departments on online pedagogical instruction, but also to incorporate the 3-4 credit hour possibility that remote teaching has afforded us into the conversation.

I again commend the tireless efforts of President Scogin, Provost Short-Thompson, the Deans’ Council, faculty, staff, and students in addressing the current challenges we are facing. I reiterate the point that the workplace has considerably changed and will never be the same again. How we think of place and space, and how these constructs impact instruction, has also changed. Our conception of education, nationally and globally, and methods of implementation have changed; and with such changes, we must begin to create academic and administrative structures that will meet and accommodate the pedagogical shifts. Building and expanding technological capacities and training faculty to rethinking courses and curriculum are good ways for the early bird to catch the worm.

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