Instant thoughts on moving instruction online for the fall

I was very happy to read that McGill is taking instruction online in the fall. There are still some ambiguous words in the provost’s email about the student experience, on-campus seminars and learning experiences, etc.* But this is so much better than pretending everything will be the same when we know it can’t be. And it’s something approaching a science-based response to a public health crisis (an approach sorely lacking in Quebec right now).

I am very motivated to do the best I can for my students under the circumstances. Taking courses online will be a ton of work and require special consideration given that they will still be dealing the pandemic in the fall. Cathy Davidson has a great piece on the student experience that’s now a blog post, and which I highly recommend. But there are still a lot of problems to be solved. McGill has a lot of rules and regulations about what we can require of students, and those will need to change to fit the situation. This will affect how we can teach and evaluate. Students also have privacy rights in Quebec that they don’t have elsewhere, which raises questions about Zoom and other courseware taking a more prominent role in instruction.

And let’s not forget that profs will have all sorts of new access needs; not just the students. For once, profs with mobility issues won’t have to struggle to get to or around campus several times a week (McGill is the most inaccessible space I have ever worked). But now people with disabilities that affect their experience of online communication will have a host of new problems to deal with. And then there are all the profs who can’t simply set up to teach in their homes because of care work, or living arrangements, or other life circumstances.

This is absolutely the right move, but it is just the beginning.

Postscript: I forgot to mention that our department did a cool thing a couple weeks ago that others might want to do. Rather than making the fall transition an individual problem for profs, we met and made subcommittees and will try and produce templates (or at least options) so we are not all reinventing the wheel on our own. This probably only works in departments that are functional units, but I am fortunate to have that.

Post-postscript: Our dean followed up with a note suggesting that “we intend for instructors to be available when and where possible on campus, subject to public health directives.” Um, probably not while Montreal is a global hotspot in a pandemic. Unless you count “sneaking in under the cover of night to retrieve something from my office.”