Schools are holding virtual graduation ceremonies as students finish up a disrupted school year and prepare for a summer vacation largely devoid of day camps and sports due to the pandemic.
After summer ends, whatever schools decide to do next fall, education won’t be back to normal for a long time.
Experts will discuss such questions as: Will schools reopen in the fall? If schools remain closed, what will be the impact on students’ education, long-term? How has the pandemic already impacted students, from elementary through higher ed; how are schools at all levels adapting to teaching virtually, and how to safely return to teaching in person - June 4, 2020 from 2-3 PM EDT
- Dr. Vanessa Dennan - Professor of Instructional Systems & Learning Technologies in the Department of Educational Psychology & Learning Systems, Florida State University
- Natalie B. Milman, Ph.D - Professor of Educational Technology and Director of the Educational Technology Leadership Program at The George Washington University
- Gary Liguori, Ph.D., Dean, College of Health Sciences at the University of Rhode Island - ACSM Member
- Robert Schooley, M.D., infectious disease specialist at University of California, San Diego Health
When: June 4, 2020. 2PM - 3PM EDT
Where: Newswise Live event space on Zoom - https://newswiselive.zoom.us/j/7459578068
This live event will also be recorded and transcribed for use by media and communicators after it is concluded.
Thom: Welcome to this Newswise live expert panel. Today we have four panellists to discuss topics related to education. Schools are holding virtual graduation ceremonies as students are finishing up a disrupted school year and they prepare for summer vacation that’s largely going to be devoid of normal summer activities like camps and sports. The US senate is currently holding a hearing in a committee about how to reopen Americas colleges safely and they're discussing plans such as how they might require masks in classrooms, ending fall semester at Thanksgiving break and whether or not every single student on campus should be tested and how to accomplish that. So, these are some of the topics that we hope to address with our panellists today as well as the impact of the pandemic on education technology in the classroom, the comparison between in person and remote learning. These are some of the topics that we’ll get into and we hope to get questions from you and the media about those. If you do have any questions please chat them to us and we’ll invite you to ask the question yourself live in the call or if for whatever reason you can't do that, you can just chat us the question and I will ask it on your behalf.
I would like to introduce our panellists – we have with us Professor Vanessa Dennen from Florida State University. She's professor of instructional system and learning technologies in the department of educational psychology and learning systems there are FSU. We also have Natalie Milman, and I'm just looking for Natalie’s video to spotlight her. Natalie is a professor of educational technology and director of the educational technology leadership program at George Washington University. We also have with us Gary Liguori. And Gary Liguori is PhD, he’s the dean of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Rhode Island and his participation here was also made possible by the ACSM of which he's a member. We will also hopefully have joining with us one other panellist who had another deadline that he was working on up to the hour, that’s Robert Schooley, MD, he’s an infectious disease specialist from UC San Diego Health. So as soon as he's able to join, we will make sure to acknowledge him and give him some questions. I did know that he would be potentially a few minutes late. We’ll go ahead and start with a couple of questions and for Dr. Liguori – what are the factors that are going to determine whether or not a school can reopen in the fall with on campus versus relying more on remote learning.
Dr. Liguori: I think you had highlighted a few of the areas, certain things like masks etc., but the big macro picture is really just about safety in general. Safety in the resident’s halls, safety in the dining halls, safety in the classrooms, so I think many schools are really being thoughtful about how they can do that, but then there are the minutiae that come with that. So, what happens if a student shows up to the classroom without a mask? With no ill intentions, simply forgot their masks. How do they handle that, and how do we handle class space sizes? That’s a real issue we’re struggling with now because if we want to break up our larger classes, we simply run out of space at some point. So those are some of the big and little picture items that we have to deal with, but of course safety is the number one issue right now and then underlying that is peer concern and anxiety among faculty staff and students on whether it’s safe to be on campus. On any campus.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Liguori. Professor Milman, do you think education will suffer under the proposals for reopening that are going to continue to disrupt regular school life with things like limiting students to one room or restricting access to buildings, especially with K through 12 but also in higher ed, and all these logistics. Is that just going to be a minefield? What do you think about that?
Prof. Milman: It’s a really complicated thing that you're asking. So, there's really no easy answer. I would say that we’re all suffering to some degree as it is during this pandemic. So, to try to pinpoint now exactly what may or may not happen going forward, it’s a complex difficult thing. We know social emotional learning is extremely important. Student well-being, safety and then of course you factor in the fact that school are often thought of as sanctuaries. Safe spaces where students can come to learn. In many cases where they have food, shelter, it’s a complicated question to which I don’t think there's an easy answer.
Thom: Fair enough Professor Milman. To Professor Dennen, how do you think students generally feel about coming to school and having a combination of in person and remote learning?
Prof. Dennen: I think that that's another really complicated issue. The people I've been talking to, the students who I've been talking to are torn. They miss their friends, they miss their friends so terribly and it would do wonderful things for them socially, emotionally to be back with their friends again, doing all of the normal age appropriate things that they are normally doing, but when you probe deeper on that, you start to hear concern. Even if not immediate concern for themselves and their own health, you start to hear concern for their family member’s health and the potential spread of Covid-19 that could occur with that.
I think everybody is looking to somebody else to make the decision for them right now because it doesn't seem like there is a good decision to be made.
Thom: Definitely a lot of complication and uncertainty and on that note, to Dr. Liguori – a lot of this debate and the discussion is about a lot of things that are partly outside of the schools control, such as the course of the pandemic and what's happening with the local communities and things like child care and the public schools. So how can universities figure that out and when is kind of a deadline to make the call?
Dr. Liguori: Yeah there are a lot of things out of our control. Rhode Island is a bit of a unique state given that we’re so small, we work hand in hand with the state government so that is a bit of an advantage but nonetheless, day cares are just now opening and roughly at one –third capacity and that’s expected to stay until early September. So that presents a real challenge and creates anxiety amongst parents with young children. The public schools are unsure what they're going to do and one of the plans they're talking about is having students come on alternate days or just bringing in the young students or just bringing in the older students, but you can imagine the complications for individual families around that or for our campuses not just the staff and faculty, but many of our students are older siblings to these kids and potentially caretakers to these kids so, there are so many variables out of our control. I feel fortunate we’re in a small state that works closely with our government, I can only imagine in the larger states how complicated this must be.
Thom: Yeah absolutely. To talk a little bit more about those complications and real on the ground work in this – we have Dr. Schooley now who has joined us and Dr. Schooley there a US San Diego Health is working on the return to learn program which is a sweeping effort to figure out how exactly to test the student body and implement things like contact tracing and how to handle if there is an outbreak. Dr. Schooley, welcome and I hope you can fill us in on the progress with your program?
Dr. Schooley: Sure, let me emphasise to begin with although testing has been what's been talked about, it’s only a part of a much larger program that everybody is talking about. None of these pieces should be taken apart and put forward as the approach that will get us to where we need to go. Putting all these pieces together in a synergistic way is where we need to go. We see testing as an important component of it because our experience has been that if we rely on the student health service for people to show up, particularly college aged students many of whom will not be symptomatic or if they are symptomatic – maybe mistaken just for the what the students get when they get busy, we felt it was necessary to have a bit more proactive attention to viral circulation on the campus. So we’re trying to set up a program in which we would have, a relatively easy to acquire self-testing sites around the campus and residence halls, classrooms, places where commuters arrive to be able to capture our faculty and staff, because after all we’re one large community faculty, staff and students – designed to interact in a way that universities and schools interact. We interact with each other so we think it's important to look carefully for the virus before we are behind the eight –ball and have lots of sick people that put us in a New York like situation where it’s very hard to catch up once you’ve missed the boat. So, we have pilot tested this over the course of the last three weeks and tested about 1500 students with this format. The format’s pretty simple. They walk up to a box near residence hall where a stack of swabs with QR codes on them. They have an app that attaches the QR code to their medical record number when they activate the app and point it to the QR code. They then swab their front part of their nose, throw the swab into a plastic bag and throw the plastic bag into a box – next to the box they started with and go on to class. It takes several minutes and we think as we move to salivary testing in the fall, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes to get all this done. The samples are picked up and taken over to the hospital laboratory and put in the regular clinical run and the results coming back by the next morning, which lets us have a tab to contact them and employees and staff and try to begin to do the necessary medication.
We’re also going to look for the virus in waste water, coming from individual dormitories and other parts of the campus, basically just trying to get ahead of what we think will be virus shedding on campus and schools in the fall -
Thom: Yeah that's very interesting Dr. Schooley, I’d like to ask you to expand on that because I believe that it’s been covered pretty widely that viral shedding does seem to come out through the digestive tract. If you are able to detect viral shedding in waste water from a particular dorm or a particular part of campus, that could be a way that you could be tipped off to concentrate some testing in that area?
Dr. Schooley: That’s exactly right; I mean that's the ultimate pool to test. There's a lot of interesting pools – nasal swabs and looking at them one at a time, but yeah, a dormitory of 120 people, it’s a great way to begin to focus on your testing. You can imagine the same thing being done in elementary schools and other places to look for early evidence of the virus circulating within schools and again to be more vigilant. I think the whole key to education in the fall is not just starting out with a plan that you know is going to be the one you follow all semester, but to have in place as much ability to monitor what's going on and have thought about in advance what you will do and what steps you can take when you begin to see triggers.
Thom: Has anyone done that kind of waste water testing already or is this something that’s still kind of prospective?
Dr. Schooley: It’s been done in community levels. For many years people used it as a – that’s how polio was chased around the world. Looking at waste water. Polio virus is much hardier than coronavirus, but we know coronavirus RNA can be found in waste water. There was a very nice study done in Connecticut that looked at the appearance of coronavirus RNA in sludge in waste water treatment plants and that showed up before cases showed up actually in the community. So, I think it’s really very doable. We’re going to start by looking in the waste water from our hospital just to make sure our techniques are working out and then we’ll start looking at dormitories.
Thom: Very interesting, thank you Dr. Schooley. If any of the media attendees have questions for any of our panellists, please do chat those to us, we’ll invite you to ask the question yourself or if for whatever reason you don’t want to do that, I can ask the question on your behalf. I want to go back to professor Milman to talk a little bit about the educational environment and the preparation of technology. From what Dr. Liguori and Schooley have told us, we’re still not certain how it’s going to exactly play out. So, technology for learning, your wheelhouse is going to be invaluable and parents, students and educators all need to be prepared to adapt to that. What can you tell us – assuming that schools are going to use some combination of in person and remote learning at least, what needs to be done to raise those standards? I'm sure that a lot of parents are concerned that this emergency remote learning experiment that we’ve done in the spring semester this year wasn’t quite up to the standards that we would hope with some better planning. How are we going to make that really work to ease parents and students' minds that they're getting a quality education instilled that way?
Prof. Milman: That’s an excellent question and if you look at the calendar, most of us – no matter what level of educating you teach in who are educators, we have about three months and the clock is ticking and there are a lot of things that we can do now to prepare for the fall – whatever kind of – however we show up. Whether we show up in a blended environment, or fully in person or online, whatever it is and I'm glad you made that distinction about this past spring and the end of the academic year in that it really was emergency remote teaching and learning. People had to switch to teaching remotely and students all had to either go home if they were at residential colleges and students of course at the K12 level had to learn from home and learning at home is not always the most conducive place for learning. There's so many different configurations that you can think of, not only equipment but experience, the tools that the school already had – so this idea that the clock is ticking, schools have at all educational levels have about three months, now it’s probably less than three months for a lot of places that start in early august and they can be investing in some technology, not only hardware and software, but very, very important providing their staff, their teaching staff professional development so that they can design the best learning experiences that they possibly can for the fall.
Thom: Professor Dennen, how would you assess some of the challenges to this emergency remote learning experiment that we’ve undergone and what lessons have we learnt from that, that now that the clocks ticking like professor Milman said, a lot of K through 12 schools systems are needing to prepare for that by the first week of august. What have we learnt and what can we start doing better as we prepare for the fall?
Prof. Dennen: Well, as we start with the challenges, I think the biggest challenge in some ways was that there was so much change happening across all spheres of life, all at once. So, we have people moving around to be in the locations they need to be in, then figuring out how to stay put in those locations with different configurations of households, children who are home who need to be watched and that was a stressor for a lot of people. We also had to completely reconfigure the way that classes were going to work, that showed us some of the weaknesses that we have in our current system and we talk about all of the educational technologies that we have and that we use – but they tend to get used in a very different way in the face to face classrooms than they are used in the online classrooms. So even the teachers and faculty members who were well prepared and well versed in using this technology to support those students on a daily basis in the classroom, found themselves challenged to figure out how they were going to engage their students, connect with their students, do all of the communication things that they’re so dependent on the face to face setting for remotely. For many of them that meant online, but not in all cases because again the infrastructure wasn’t there for all students to access remote learning in an online learning form, which created even more challenges, because that meant that instructors were finding themselves not having to teach their classes just one unplanned way, but potentially in multiple unplanned ways, so that they could be meeting the needs of all of their students. Now, you ask me – so what have we learnt from this and what can we take away from it?
As professor Milman said, we have the gift of time right now, we’re not in emergency response critical condition. I hope we can use that time wisely. Some of the things that I see happening on my own campus are a lot of teaching preparation sessions where we’re getting the folks on campus who have the expertise to share not just how to push the buttons on the software, and there were some people who didn't know how to do that back in the spring, but now to really change how you're going to deliver your classes and figure out how you're going to engage your student, how to communicate with your students, how to make up for the lack of face to face social interactions that we may be facing when we return to campus in different configurations this fall or perhaps for some of us who don’t end up returning to campus at all.
Thom: Well the social interactions are certainly a valued part of all levels of education as all of the panellists have mentioned. I want to ask Dr. Liguori – how much do you think that college social life plays in the desire of students to come back to campus and how do you feel about some of that being obviously valuable and a crucial part of the experience but things like parties and certain other social activities that might be frivolous during the pandemic are not necessarily the basis of a university to make decisions about this. And in the senate committee hearing that I was listening to as we were about to get started with our panel, the senate chair mentioned for a lot of the universities he was talking about, who are definitely opening, that parties will be not allowed. I don’t know exactly how that’s going to be enforced but how do you feel the social life of college factors into the decision about whether or not to reopen.
Prof. Liguori: I'm looking forward to not allowing the parties; I’d like to see how that one works out. You know, social life is really important for a lot of people. Some of the other panellists mentioned social emotional health and wellbeing and for a lot of the students that’s why they choose to enrol in a residential campus, but for many of the students it’s a way to prepare them for whatever the next phase of their life is and we probably will see in the American workplace more remote jobs after this pandemic ceases, but there's still going to be many, many opportunities for young people to move into the workforce where working together is critical and they get part of that from living together and even if they're not a residential student they still have to interact on campus in ways that they may not be comfortable with. So many of the students really look forward to this, this is just such a monumental time in their life, to go off to college and experience all of that, and to not have that opportunity I think is creating its own negative stress. So, even if campuses open and the course work is something hybrid, I think that will bring a lot of sense of relief to students that they get to come back to campus in some way, shape or form and be part of that social scene. I'm not going to touch the party issue.
Thom: Fair enough. For Dr. Schooley, what you’ve implemented of the program to test college students, I wonder if you can extrapolate what you’ve learnt from that and apply it to K through 12 education and as I understand that UCSD there is a 6 through 12th grade education program in a school that you’re working with to figure out how to implement some of these things for that environment. What can you tell about how that process is going?
Dr. Schooley: We have an experimental school called the Preuss school on campus that is 6 to 12 and focuses primarily on kids who come from South of [inaudible 22:28] heavily Hispanic community close to the border where we now have a raging outbreak of Covid and we’ve been working with the principal of that school to try to figure out the best approach to trying to provide the best education in the fall that we can and we’re looking into things such as safety on the buses that bring the kids to school, alternating days - some of the same discussions that you’ve been having. Providing some testing to be able to get an idea about activities in the school. Looking at some of the waste water and some of the same things we’re doing on campus cause they're basically part of our campus and we hope that some of the things we learn from the campus experience can be extended to the Preuss school.
Kids – the other thing that we also are taking into account is the children are at risk but some of them have particularly high-risk parents at home, parents and grandparents. so as you begin to think about having to densify classrooms, you might have to pay particular attention to students who would be particularly dangerous factors by bringing the virus back home and prioritising keeping those children at home and really reaching out to them for education as best as you can.
Thom: That’s an interesting point Dr. Schooley, and social distancing within classrooms sounds like it’s pretty difficult and I happen to ask my wife, who's an elementary school teacher about what questions she might have for today’s panel and one of the points that she made was that because this classroom model has really evolved over the years, they often don’t even have individual desks for every student, because the students work at group tables more often than having individual classrooms like I grew up with in the 80’s. So, how can we socially distance when we don't also have the equipment to do that? To professor Milman I’d love to ask a question about students with individualised learning needs, how can we fulfil those obligations and potentially using technology maybe as an alternative to putting them in restrictive classroom environments or I don’t know necessarily how else that might be addressed, but this was another suggestion from my elementary school teacher wife saying that policy is in place that they're under an obligation to provide students with special needs, certain conditions, to facilitate their education and having them stay in the classroom and not be allowed to leave that classroom all day for example, is something that’s untenable for students like that.
Dr. Milman: That has been one of the big challenges that many schools across probably the world have had to grapple with. My advice would be for the parent to work with the teacher and the special education teacher that’s assigned to work with that student for that individualised education plan. Now of course there are a variety of technologies that can help and actually – I mean one of the benefits that we haven’t talked about is that there are a lot of kids who thriving in these remote environments because they're in stable homes and perhaps they just aren’t as social or find other ways to be social with other children or young adults and adolescents. But again, I mean – I would say working as a unit together with the teacher, the special education specialist that’s assigned to the student as well as the parent together, coming together to figure out how to address the individualized education plan.
Thom: Thank you professor Milman. We have a question from Charlotte Libov, I would like to invite you to go ahead and ask that Charlotte.
Charlotte Libov: Thank you for doing this; this is such an enormous topic. One thing I wanted to ask is if all the articles which I've been seeing, including an interview of Dr. Fauci that I read last night, everything talks about returning to in person classrooms with the focus on the safety for the children, but teachers – there have been teachers that have died of Covid, including a 33 year old gym teacher in new jersey. So, my question is – what about the issues of safety that this raises for faculty and staff and what about teachers who might not feel comfortable returning to in person classes if that’s the decision that their school system makes?
Thom: Any of the panellists interested in responding to that, please feel free.
Prof. Liguori: I’d be happy to take the first stand- I'm in contact with my faculty every day, so it’s not the K through 12 group; I think the issues are similar. There seems to be growing concern over the ability to return to campus safely, like any other faculty we have some who are older, we have some who are high risk – who live with folks who are high risk and then we also have many younger faculty with young children who don’t know where their kids will be in the fall.
So, I think Charlotte you raised a really important point. To some degree it’s one of those points that are out of our control as Thom mentioned earlier, because if we want to come back to campus but or faculty don’t or can't and our staff don’t or can't, that becomes a real issue and if I could just throw another piece in there – earlier the discussion about public schools – many, many students arrive on school buses. So how do you social distance on school buses? You have to double or triple the capacity of school buses, not to mention a lot of school bus drivers tend to be older, so I feel like for every resolution we come up with, there are 3 – 4 – 5 or 6 more questions that make it even more complicated.
Thom: Any of the other panellists want to weigh in on this question? Thank you for your question Charlotte. I’d like to ask Dr. Schooley – in terms of the volume of testing that we’re able to achieve, you’ve referred to having tested about 1500 students in the last month in today’s senate committee hearing, the senate chairman was talking about potentially being able to perform 40 -50 million tests a month I think or maybe it was – 4 to 5 fold increase in how many tests we could achieve by September, compared to what's being able to be done today. Do you see that as a reasonable projection of tripling or quadrupling the amount of testing that you're able to do now over the next couple of months and by the time fall rolls around when it really matters to test as many people as possible?
Dr. Schooley: Yeah, we’re continuing to ramp up and our hospital laboratory will continue to do so. I think one thing that also needs to be acknowledged is that the testing costs are only and the testing prices are two different animals. At the time when there was a shortage of tests in the country a couple of the national diagnostic companies, essentially told the Trump administration that they’d walk away unless they double the return from CMS on costs and raised the prices to $100 a tests. It actually only costs about 40 or even less at scale to do these tests and we should look more carefully how we’re allocating our resources. I think with scale, with pooling, with some of the more modern technologies the cost of testing can be brought down to about $20 a test. We should be doing that as a public health priority. It's fine with me if the diagnostic companies want to continue providing the test at $100 for medical purposes and we’re willing to pay for it, but there's no reason for the large scale tests and to keep our institutions safer, the charge to be $100 a test because that’s what they’ve been able to negotiate.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Schooley. I want to ask a couple of the panellists this question because one of the concerns for universities is that if the learning experience isn’t what students expect, some of them may opt to take time off. So, I’d love to ask each of you what you think about that, starting with Professor Dennen. Any thoughts about how students might make that decision? The impact for them in finishing their education, their career path, or any advice that you might give to someone weighing that option?
Prof. Dennen: I can see where someone's initial inclination could be to say – clearly the right answer is to put a pause on my education right now. Take a gap year, do something fabulous with that year and wait it out so that I can come back to campus when campus will be normal.
The only problem is that then when you start to focus on what would you do during that gap year and find that the options that one would normally hope for during a gap year, travel, internships, volunteering, none of that is normal either. So that puts some added strain. I've heard people making recommendations that students save money, stay local, perhaps go to their community colleges when they were planning on going to a four-year college somewhere else. The challenge with that is that that’s going to put an added stress. More students into that community college system that is not currently funded, not currently staffed to handle extra students. And of course the economic ramifications of all of this is that we take money away from the institutions, they have to make some really difficult decisions about where to make cuts, and the campus that you hope to go back to a year later isn’t going to look quite the same way, isn’t going to have everything in place if it has suffered such severe financial consequences of everybody leaving and doing something else for a year. I was reading something just yesterday that suggested here in the Florida system that if something happened – what if we did something drastic like just close the system for a year, the state university system – that would be putting a 100,000 people plus, out of a job and on to the unemployment roads. So that creates an even bigger systemic problem outside of just education. It’s difficult to know what to do and people are going to have to make this decision on a case by case basis.
Thom: Professor Milman, your thoughts about students considering taking a year off, what are the ramifications to that and how likely are they to come back and graduate or what other concerns would you want to address?
Prof. Milman: I think that question of – if some do take time off, will they come back? And I think of students who aren’t as secure at home socioeconomically and they have to work. I mean there are a lot of students right now that are working to support their families because of the economic situation in their household. That is a concern that if they work that and they take time off and they don’t continue and finish their education – I have a nephew who is starting at a State college in another state and he plans to start and I have a daughter who is going to be a senior in college and she – that didn't even cross her mind about whether or not to return. I think what we all have to accept is no matter what educational level our children are in or we work in, that it’s not going to be what it was like last fall. Nothing is going to be the same or normal and I think just having that in mind and preparing for that I think will help us get through whatever the choices are, but I agree with all the points that Dr. Dennen made about all of the ramifications and it really boils down to what is best for the individual.
Thom: Dr. Liguori, what are your thoughts about gap years? Years off and what would your advice be to any student thinking about that?
Dr. Liguori: Well like professor Milman said – I think that there is always a risk when you step away from school that it’s much more difficult to come back. At the same time, I think when we talk about these gap years, we have to recognise, acknowledge that it tends to widen the socio-economic divide amongst America's college students. To people that come from comfortable homes can afford to do this in many ways and other folks might not be able to, they're already working multiple jobs or caretaking, so there are so many risks involved and I think like the other panellists said, there's not a whole lot to do out there during this gap year. There aren’t going to be jobs, there might be some volunteer opportunities and while I think maybe staying local for school might be helpful and a wise move for some people, I think regardless – the thing that I would really encourage students and parents and families to think about is – even though it might not be the ideal year, you're moving one year closer to completing your college degree and that we know is a transformational thing in the lives of many people and I think also – there's an opportunity here, I always want to see the silver lining, but there's an opportunity here to try and do something through this crisis that makes you that much more employable when we get to the end. I tell my own children – when this is all over – when are going to apply for college, what are you going to tell the college committees that you did during the pandemic that was worthwhile? Don’t just say you learnt a new video game, do something important. So, I think college students have that same opportunity. What can they do during this – and I know it won’t be easy for everyone, but there is an opportunity to do something important, even if it’s just something local in your community?
Thom: Dr. Schooley, any thoughts about students opting to take time off instead of returning to campus? What would you say and what would your advice be?
Dr. Schooley: Okay I think what my colleagues have said is true; you have to think about doing something that makes that year worth spending away from your education. In the past there were a lot of options, this year there may be more limited options, there are some options that may be Covid epidemic specific, going into places that have been particularly hard and to help those communities come back. People – communities that are reeling from the George Floyd experience. So, there are places that I think people can meaningfully spend the time. With a gap year – although the – if they're staying out of school to avoid the Covid risk, there would be no less risk in those settings than in school and probably more. If they're doing it because they think the year of college is not what they signed up for, they prefer to get back to normal school – that’s something to consider but we don’t really know that we’re going to have a vaccine in 2021 or 2022 and I think we need to be a little bit sanguine about thinking if we just get through this fall it’s all going to be over. We are planning for the fall semester and we finish doing that and four days later we have to start thinking about winter term. The same considerations are still in play. Vaccines are being worked on, the early results that there is an immunogenicity but protection from infection with exposure won’t be demonstrable until we’ve actually deployed them in thousands of people and look to see whether those people – as opposed to those who got a placebo, were less likely to get infected or to get sick when the virus was circulating in the community. And that’s not going to happen even if you gave me 200,000 doses of a vaccine to test a day, we wouldn’t be able to have an answer from that result until next winter at the earliest and we don’t have that vaccine in hand right now, much less manufactured.
Thom: Good points Dr. Schooley thank you. I want to go to Charlotte Libov with another question. Charlotte please go ahead.
Charlotte Libov: Okay, let’s see – this is a question on behalf of many of my friends have students of college age. If colleges opt to return to in person classes – how will parents know that safety precautions are being taken and particularly in dormitories and then also will students be allowed to live off campus and a lot of colleges are sort of predicated on having students do that usually in their junior and senior years and if that’s the case, how will the colleges know that they're not bringing the virus back to the campus with them?
Thom: Any of our panellists like to take that question?
Dr. Schooley: Well about half of our students do live off campus, the senior, juniors and we’ve done some mathematical modelling, the same modelling that we used to look at how much testing we need to do. Natasha Martin took this one and we looked at the impact of going from single to triple to double rooms and different combinations thereof and one thing to keep in my is that, if you keep everybody in single rooms, you displace more people to the community, all you're really doing is putting more students in houses that have nine students that was built for two children 40 years ago and you really haven’t decreased the risk of Covid transmission in the overall community because we all come together every day for classes. So you have to think – look carefully at the housing scenario and start thinking within the housing – how to mitigate the risk as best you can by – we’re going down to no more than two person rooms and we’re going to pay particular attention to bathrooms and how they're used and the cohorting and so forth but there's not going to be a zero risk thing no matter what we do. As to communicating with parents, we had a webinar with parents of prospective students last week, which went very well. We’re going to continue to do that because we want to hear what their concerns are as well. I had an interaction with someone that I work with at NHU, who has a child at Brooklyn told her what we were doing and she was shocked. She said – I had no idea you were doing all that. I feel much better now. So, I think a lot of it has to do with the communication and try to make it clear that we take it seriously too. We value their children and we value ourselves and it would be reckless to bring people back when the university doesn't tell us its ready for us to come back.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Schooley. To Dr. Milman, part of the premise of my question about students taking a year off – partly informed by a survey that Inside Higher Ed published recently, showing that the highest preference among students they surveyed, 75% preferred an in person learning experience. It dropped down to the mid 50’s when you ask them if they would be okay with a combination of in person and remote. So, it seems like there's an assumption, a premise that in person learning is better. Is it better enough to risk these concerns of a pandemic and exposing staff, faculty and their family to a deadly virus?
Dr. Milman: Right, my first response to that is I believe students need to make a distinction between their perceptions and experiences of the residential college experience and a well-designed online class and you know, it’s hard to take those two apart because what many students have experienced is a residential college experience, but that’s not everyone’s experience. And I like to push people on making that distinction. Is it the online experience that you don’t want to have or is it that you don’t want to not have that college experience where you have all the things that we can talk about – go with it, including the parties?
Now, is virtual better or worse than online? Is it worth to risk our lives in order to meet together? That’s I think a question for the CDC to help us figure out. For doctors – we have a couple – to help us figure out how to answer that, but one of the things that our dean of the school of medicine spoke to our faculty last week and she mentioned that, this virus is pretty much endemic, so I think what we have to do is figure out how to live with it and how to mitigate, just as Dr. Schooley had mentioned. Even in dorm’s what can we do to minimise the spread of it and then of course whether or not it’s the in person- how that’s structured, how that works. Again, that’s going to be based on the community whether it’s a K12 classroom or higher education and large part it will be dictated by guidelines that are developed and some may even be developed at the state level that have to be considered.
Thom: Professor Dennen, how close do you think virtual and remote learning can get to the value of in person education?
Prof. Dennen: I think that's an unfair question to ask actually because I think that both in person and online education have tremendous value and are very high quality when they are appropriately designed and delivered by professionals who are prepared to do exactly that, and each – under normal conditions – under what normal meant in the past, conditions- we have a large number of students who do complete the entirety of their studies online and are very pleased with it and some of them say that they don’t want to go back to classroom learning. We do need to take that into consideration. I think that the challenge that we had – everybody complaining about classes this past spring, was that there was no time to plan. People, who are going to start out this fall in a face to face context, need to plan to pivot because at any moment they could be told your class is moving online. So if they plan to pivot, if they design their course flow, if they design their course activities and assessments so that there is a back-up plan and everything can smoothly move to being facilitated and delivered using some sort of technology, then they're going to be in a good position for that. If they don’t plan, we’re going to see repetition of what happened in the spring, and that’s what I think people really struggled with. There was a lot of Zoom fatigue – because the easiest thing for let’s say a faculty member at a university who has a class of a 100 – 150 people, the easiest thing for them to do in a crisis is to just shift online and lecture on zoom. But then I challenge any of you – to think about how much you want to sit there and listen to one person talk, for three hours a week on Zoom. Non-stop. Because remember that – that person doesn't know how to Zoom with breakout rooms yet. And doesn't know how to Zoom with poles and to build in interactions. We have an opportunity to be ready for all of that this fall, whether we’re remote at the start or potentially remote at some point in between, and I hope that we take that opportunity – and it’s not all Zoom either because there are wonderful things we can do asynchronously, we can use collaborative learning, I have had students tell me in my online classes – and I have been teaching online for 20 years now, that they have had more interaction and engagement and got to know their fellow classmates and me better in the online class than they have in a face to face setting. So, I hope we have the opportunity to show people that if that is what it comes to this fall.
Thom: Thank you Dr. Dennen – Dr. Schooley what would you like to add to that.
Dr. Schooley: We’ve been talking primarily about [inaudible 47:59] but universities also are heavily engaged in research and a lot of the things that we do for society and that will help us get out of this epidemic will come from universities. All that we’ve been talking about today are innovations that can be generalised for society and the university is a great place to work that out, including things like less expensive testing, mass approach of the testing, IT approaches to contact tracing, but also engaging our students in our research efforts is one thing that we do at U San Diego quite a bit and that’s one of the things that has been lost in the spring term. I think we did a pretty good job – I think the faculty did a fantastic job being able to just drop everything and be ready for a Zoom class that I agree are not elegant Zoom classes and will be better in the fall, but engaging students and research lives have been things that we’ve lost and will have to be rethought if we are forced to stay apart in the fall.
Thom: Dr. Liguori, the question of possibly pivoting back to an emergency 100% remote learning environment again, that's been raised – we’re seeing a lot of states reopen and a lot of people out and mixing about in public. There have been predictions of a possible wave and a second spike of the pandemic. What signs are you looking for and are universities looking for to detect whether things get bad enough that that drastic measure would need to be taken again and how detrimental might that be and if we’re prepared for it can it be done with relative ease?
Dr. Liguori: Well, so I think there's two questions. Are we prepared for and what are we looking for? I think we are preparing, as was mentioned we still have time and will continue to prepare for as long as we can – we’re a little fortunate here, we don’t start school till after labour day which is late this year, so we have an extra few weeks on some of you, but there's a lot of preparation that goes into it and we have to be able to move back and forth between the modalities depending on the situation. We’re looking probably at the same data most people are, we’re looking at positive cases, our percent in Rhode Island is down hovering around 3-4-5% which is really good and we’re looking I think also – and this is a little bit more subjective, but we’re looking for behaviours. We’re seeing what's happening with crowds, what are people doing? Are beaches just opened or what are those behaviours like because that may be reflective of what we see if we open our campus and students come back. Again, the uniqueness of our small state, our governor actually says – I’ll drive around and see what's happening and in fact she does, because you could circle our whole state in one day.
So, we’re looking for both the objective measures that CDC is encouraging and the department of health’s are following, but we’re also looking at those more anecdotal things. Like, what are the crowds doing? Are people doing things in public that we expect them to do as a reflection of what we might expect in our campus.
Thom: For professors Milman and Dennen, you mentioned some of the strategies and techniques that have kind of come out of doing remote learning in an emergency situation and preparing for the fall semester. Could you name a couple of things, maybe three things each if you could think of them to recommend the educators do to really up their game in combining remote learning into their routine a little better?
Prof. Milman: I’ll go ahead – a couple of things that I would recommend. One is to be looking at teaching in a blended manner that would be setting up ones materials so that if a student is absent, he or she can easily access those materials and if you have to pivot overnight, day to day – I've been trying to tell – so like my colleagues are like – what if you're teaching your class at 7 pm, they have to sanitise it because someone – they found had the virus and they had to sanitise the room and now your class is cancelled. What are you going to do?
So, thinking about different scenarios, planning for them, the other is – and this gets back to the social emotional learning. One very different thing about this past spring was that everyone started together in a normal kind of normal beginning of the academic year or semester for that matter. If we start in the fall let’s say remotely, there is a lot of orientation and reach out that needs to take place in order to help the students get acclimated to that learning environment but I'm also thinking of – even if students meet in person – we have to build community, we have to work with students to think about how we can engage them in the learning process, no matter what happens and also to unpack what we’ve been living through. This is hard. It’s hard on all of us. And for some extremely difficult – some of us have experienced a great deal of loss. If there's anything that I have seen really come to the fore – it’s that idea of caring and the need for social and emotional wellbeing.
Thom: Professor Dennen what would you say to this and I’ll throw also into the mix, what are certain kinds of disciplines and fields of study that really require hands on learning such as nursing or kinds of technology - What kind of preparation would you recommend for professors teaching in those environments as well as others to improve how they do it?
Prof. Dennen: Well I have to start out by pointing out that all of these disciplines have been teaching online for years. There is a wealth of experience out there and there is a wealth of research out there to support this. So, it’s a matter of going and finding it now, when we have the time and the opportunity to read and learn, because we’re not trying to pivot to remote overnight.
Reaching out – even if it’s not at your own institution, but to people who know how to do this elsewhere is probably the best way to figure out how to deal with discipline specific needs, whether it’s that your area feels that it is dependent on some sort of unique face to face interaction or interacting with clients or a lab based or performance based component that feels like it’s really difficult to do online. There are probably people who have already struggled with that and figured out how to do it quite well.
Beyond that, in many ways when you ask the initial questions about what would be my advice, I was thinking the same things as professor Milman, its critical to figure out how you're going to build your relationships and then maintain your relationships with your students. One of the things that I have been saying to people throughout our educational response to this pandemic is that their approach needs to be people first, content second and technology third. When they all be relying heavily on the technology to provide that backbone of communication – the content is what we’re already planned for and we’re the experts on that, but it’s that communication element with people, it’s the social, emotional component – hi, I see you. How are you doing? Are you okay? Are you ready to learn? Do you know how to use the tools? All of that is the stuff that we need to work out and learners who feel like they are seen and heard and acknowledged and valued, are learners who are going to take the extra time to persevere when the technology doesn't work quite right, or when they don’t immediately understand the content and they don’t have somebody right there in the instant to answer the question for them. So as much as we can do, however we start out, if it’s in a face to face classroom, you build those relationships even in ways we might not have in the past so that if we have to shift to online, that we’re prepared to do that and have good connections, or for anybody who is started out remote, at the beginning of fall – who is used to only teaching at a face to face setting, they need to think about how are you going to spend some extra time upfront to get to know those students, because you're not going to recognise them as the young woman in the pink sweater who always sits in the front row or the guy who shows up two minutes late with the latte every class.
Thom: Thank you professor Dennen. I’d like to ask Dr. Liguori – and this may be our last question so if any of the media attendees have additional questions please do chat them to us and we’ll try to fit them in, but for Dr. Liguori – we talked a lot about what might an initial plan be or a list of plans and order of preference, a sudden pivot if the pandemic worsens –tell us a little bit about what some of those priorities are of what would be the ideal scenario and what kind of red flags we really need to watch out for nationwide to determine whether or not that emergency remote learning needs to be kicked in again. If there's anything else that you can point out that would be really critical for us to be aware of.
Dr. Liguori: Well I think the ideal scenario is going back to what we all considered normal, but that’s not realistic for the near future. So, we’re looking out for situations where we see anything that might be dire, any immediate spread, anything we can't quarantine. Dr. Schooley mentioned how we can – how many students we can fit in the resident’s halls and we’re looking at that, but also that we need some empty resident hall space if need for quarantining. We’re contacting local hotels who might be able to contract to do the same thing. So capacity is going to be a big issue. This is all assuming we can do the testing and tracing on the front end but the minute there is an outbreak, how well can we contain it? So that is a bit of an unknown. I think I really admire the work that UC San Diego that they're piloting already. What will be really interesting is what do they or anyone else do once there is an outbreak and how well can it be contained. So, I think that's probably the big unknown still that we go into and how do we manage that? If we can manage it then we can continue on with whatever plan we set. If we can't manage it, then we’re going to have to go back to where we were late in the spring with remote learning.
Thom: Thank you very much Dr. Liguori. Thank you to all of our panellists, I feel like a lot of your responses would reassure a lot of the parents, the students and educators that I know. I hope that this has been useful for our media participants. We’re going to have a recording and a transcript available for you and we’ll send that to you. If you registered for today’s event you're already on the list to get that, if you didn’t register please send us an email to [email protected] and we’ll make sure to get you those materials. I want to thank Dr. Vanessa Dennen, Dr. Natalie Milman, Dr. Gary Liguori and Dr. Robert Schooley, thank you very much for joining and thank you to the communicators at GW for the State university Rhode Island and ACSM and also UC San Diego and UCSC Health for helping bring the panellists to our call today. Thank you all very much. stay safe. Stay healthy and good luck.