LUBBOCK, TX — I’m sure that we’ve heard the line before: The only thing that is certain is change.
Damn you, Heraclitus.
For our courses at National Chengchi University, we’re reaching our eighth week of instruction. In adjustment to COVID-19, we’ve made numerous adjustments already:
- Regular classes, in-person
- Regular classes, in-person but with increased health screening procedures.
- A one-week shift to asynchronous class, to handle my hasty departure from Taiwan.
- Online course, through JoinNet (a true disaster) and then through Skype (a patchwork solution) and finally Zoom (superior performance).
- Shuttering Zoom over privacy and security concerns, and a shift to WebEx (pretty good performance).
For Taiwanese university students, early April is also their Spring Break and … you can see where this is going.
In normal times, students in Taiwan would flock to the south and east of the island, seeking out mountains and beaches and music festivals and whatever the kids do these days. COVID-19 certainly put a crush on these plans, but travel is still possible in Taiwan, with some restrictions — face masks are mandatory, foreigners are not allowed to visit the island, and there are still restrictions in place for large gatherings.
Of course, this didn’t stop many students from taking a few days to travel, albeit in small crowds and to unofficial events. Which is fair, given that Taiwan is generally still “open for business.”
However, the post-Spring Break return to campus been anything but smooth. Government officials have asked that anyone traveling to one of 11 different surging hot-spots to complete a travel declaration form, and self-manage for 14 days: daily temperature checks and monitoring, and avoid crowds.
Including college classrooms.
As one might suspect, voluntary self-management took quite a toll on classroom attendance. Students emailed me asking for advice on attending class, and my immediate response? #StayTheF*ckHome. My NCCU colleagues report that parents have been calling the school demanding an immediate pause to on-campus activities. These fears all come while Taiwan is experiencing a relative surge in COVID-19 case: from about 40 when I left, to about 400 as of this writing.
Rightfully so, we’ve been asked to amend our teaching again — this time, to take all classes online and to (at least temporarily) close campus to face-to-face instruction.
Eight weeks, and we’re on our sixth class format.
Damn you, Heraclitus.
Shifting fully online requires a few additional considerations. After all, one of the many benefits of the on-campus college experience is that it gives students access to technologies that they might not have at home. Digital divide issues are real, and can be even more pronounced with a class roster from nearly a dozen different nations.
I asked the class to complete a short survey, and the results were pretty interesting. A few top-level notes:
- All students had stable internet access, and all but one had some sort of “unlimited data plan.” Two students suggested that they might have to relocate to a better internet connection.
- 95% of students had an unlimited data plan
- Students showed a fairly strong preference for synchronous over asynchronous classes. For “live” classes, they preferred an audio-only option.
- Only about half of the class had an opinion about office hours, and those left over were split — wanting office hours, but scattered across the day.
Without revealing too much, some of the open-ended data were also telling. Slightly re-written to protect students’ privacy, a few that stood out:
- I would appreciate a fully online class if we can really make it happen, because I have to spend two hours communting. [NOTE: Many students take public transit to campus]
- I’m good with taking online courses since I care a lot about my health.
- I live on campus (in a dorm), so let’s just hope that NCCU’s internet can handle this.
- I would prefer to meet in class, but online classes are safer for everybody.
- Actually, I’m very excited for an online session.
I’m proud of our students’ resilience to so much change, as I cannot imagine how frustrating and unsettling this might be. So long as they don’t give up on the class, I’m not giving up on them.
Let’s get it.