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Remote Learning Does Not Belong at Williams

What is the biggest mistake which Williams is making right now? The insistence that every course support “remote learning.” From this excellent Record article:

Faculty members have been asked to inform the College by yesterday, June 20, whether they would teach in person or remotely if the campus were to reopen in the fall. The academic subcommittee of the working group tasked with determining what an on-campus fall would look like sent an all-faculty email on June 10 to address curricular planning in the case that campus reopens in the fall. The College has not yet decided whether or not to open campus in the fall, with the decision deadline still set for July 1.

If faculty choose to teach in person, the subcommittee has advised them to design “hybrid” courses to accommodate those students who must continue learning remotely even if campus is open. In addition to anticipating that some students may opt to remain off campus for personal reasons or travel restrictions, the email raised the possibility that “the entire campus may need to switch to remote learning at some point as we did this spring,” or that some students or faculty who begin the semester in-person may need to switch to remote learning during the term. Depending on the development of the public health situation, “we may still need these hybrid models next spring or even the following year,” the subcommittee wrote.

As we have discussed several times, this is a bad idea. First, any student who can’t be on campus should take a semester off. Williams is a residential college. If you can’t be in Williamstown, you can’t get a Williams education. Second, faculty are hired to teach Williams students in classrooms on the Williams campus, not via Zoom. Of course, temporary emergency situations can allow for flexibility on a handful of occasions each year. But anything more than that is nonsense.

This nonsense might not be so bad if it were optional, if students were allowed to come to a classroom and faculty were allowed to teach them. Almost all students/faculty want to be on the log together! But it sure looks like the College is doing its best to make this impossible.

Some faculty members have raised the concern that requiring hybrid courses might discourage faculty from choosing to teach in person. “My strong preference all along has been to teach in-person,” Associate Professor of Political Science Justin Crowe ’03 said. “But the insistence on hybridity for all courses has me resigned to teaching remotely.” He explained, “To have the College compound the extra health risk of in-person teaching with extra workload — and the hybridity requirements are a substantial amount of extra work for anyone who chooses to teach in person — is disappointing.”

Though Crowe acknowledged that some students would need to continue remote learning regardless, he said the presence of other faculty who were already planning to teach remotely would provide “a decent number of courses for remote students to take.” Crowe added, “On an institutional level, I know there are lots of moving parts and conflicting interests, but it seems odd, given the dissatisfaction most students experienced with remote instruction, that we’d bring students back to campus and yet disincentivize faculty from teaching them in person.”

Exactly right. If the College insists on demanding that all courses allow for (simultaneous) remote participation, then faculty have no choice but to Zoom everything. Is that really what Maud wants? Perhaps!