by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ October 21, 2020
The complexity and chaos triggered by the climate crisis and the planetary pandemic have consolidated the online transformation. Despite the shock of the change, none of this is new.
We are twenty-five years into the internet paradigm shift. The economic, social, and political structure of human society has changed. While different aspects of culture, industries, or organizational structures, have changed drastically, others have hung on to older forms. Those holdouts are now in full disruption. Education is one of the hardest hit, and general adult education, community college education, in particular, is at ground zero.
In this new age, all administrative services must be online. All information services and knowledge work must also be online. Because this was happening and can happen technically for the first time in history, the demand is universal. The long timelines of major pandemics with the certainty of more disease vectors tied to population, climate disasters, and population movements create a powerful motivation for everyone to reduce and manage public crowd contacts.
The dynamic of this as a change mechanism is already becoming apparent. Where possible, people will avoid lines and crowding to accomplish tasks, specifically administrative obligations, by doing these all online. If you can’t do them online, these tasks’ value and necessity come into question.
While we are social animals and want to be with others, the new dynamic gives us more choice about where and with whom we risk gathering. Contagious disease risk management is now part of our lives. A traditional college education, particularly a community college education, is a tough choice.
For Career and Technical Education, the value is higher, justifying the greater risk in physical groups. In general education, i.e., liberal arts, the value is less clear if physical presence is required. The importance of general education is understood but seen increasingly as a luxury while living in hard times. The younger generations have only known difficult times and have few illusions about the future.
Those people without technical resources due to financial or family obligations have no choice, but they are aware that they are at risk. Correcting this shortfall is now a major political issue. But providing them the means of operating online to achieve their goals is a way to win hearts and minds.
The US’s financial shortfalls for adult education over the next years will mean the disappearance of many schools and campuses as efficiency and effective online delivery of education is now critical for survival. In periods of significant change, entrepreneurial skills are effective. Move fast and break things. Don’t hesitate. Learning this is essential for teaching colleges and community colleges that wish to survive.
To be successful in this age requires new strategic thinking. The future has not changed, but it has arrived all at once. None of this is unknown, but it has reached critical mass, and there is no turning back.
With the combination of a planetary pandemic, the internet paradigm shift, the climate crisis, and a full political meltdown nationally, community colleges and teaching colleges in the US are on the ropes. While primary research universities operate at national and international levels, small colleges do not have resources or research programs to whether major educational and social disruptions.
These colleges must make significant structural changes, but the nature of those changes is not a surprise. The certainty of online education, long recognized, is driven by efficiency and technical convergence with information and entertainment media. Endless discussions on teaching standards and outcomes are moot in the face of unsustainable cost and a planetwide pandemic projected to be the first of many to come.
The challenge is managing the transition in stages from the past to a rapidly evolving future. To do this requires anticipating many economic, political, and social variables that are changing while locked in feedback loops. This feedback complexity defines chaos and produces a fractalized reality operating at scale from local to regional to national to planetary. But we need to keep our eyes on the educational ball in the US.
A significant danger is treating these fundamental changes as a temporary problem. They are not. That the world has changed is now a cliché, but many people still hope to return to the past. That prevents the needed focus on achieving success in a world of online education with a decline in the value of all but degrees from major research universities in an economically tricky world.
The student audience may not cooperate. That audience, increasingly diverse over the decades, no longer sees itself as an audience that desires a baccalaureate, or any degree, but as individuals with no choice but to seek their own best interests. Two generations battered by economic decline and recurring disasters with broader disasters that seem beyond previous generations’ understanding are suspicious of those generations’ advice.
These problems are not temporary and cannot be solved piecemeal. Repainting the deckchairs will only make things worse by losing precious time to implement complex change.
Cost savings will come from lecturers, student help, staff and faculty reduction, “Furlow Fridays”, early retirements, etc. but short-term changes do not address the structural issues. Those just listed are known and are the easy answers.
Appropriate structural changes will set the landscape for further detail changes and logical cost reduction. These are also known in broad outline but are sensitive and subject to corporate restructuring problems mistakenly cutting muscle and damaging institutional viability.
As in the history of those mergers and restructurings, cost savings replaced institutional redefinition with disastrous results. I suggest that US community colleges require redefinition. Here are some suggestions:
1. Liberal Arts education is in decline even though it is needed most. Still, growing climate disasters, political and economic disruption, and the failure to break from 19th-century teaching techniques make it unsustainable. The move to fully online courses is easiest for Liberal Arts as they are about analysis, collaboration, and critical thought. The best instructors need to be used to lead course construction online with redundant instructors refocused as mentors. This change will allow the slow return of in-person meetings on an individual or small group basis while primary content delivery and group interaction (active learning) happen online.
2. Retraining other redundant faculty would allow web content, curriculum, and lesson development without new hires. The contractual issues and traditional job definitions are no longer relevant. I’m happy to say that in campus meetings, that faculty and staff understand this, but the details will be challenging. These changes can start immediately. Although retraining will take time, it can begin and will only get better.
3. Liberal Arts courses need to merge into a new online metacampus for college alliance. Faculty and staff also see the waste in duplication of courses that never achieve similar, let alone identical, learning outcomes. This consolidation would take the best and most able instructors supported by a team of media specialists (at least in training as such) and the new faculty mentors to facilitate students’ individual learning needs and desires. Physical campus locations could be essential, or a more comprehensive selection of mentors for a specific course may be preferable to each student. Achieving a higher standard of teaching and a reduced number of ‘identical’ courses achieves efficiency without sacrificing academic freedom and diversity.
4. While CTE courses are often difficult to do as discussions and presentations, the rapid development of immersive VR will make ‘hands-on’ equivalency possible. These are the foundations for a CTE Virtual Campus as it will evolve over the next three years.
5. The point would not be to eliminate the individual community colleges but the creation of meta college alliance for online education, certificates, and degrees or a more comprehensive range of micro-credentials.
6. At the staff level, this would move personnel to provide technical operations and support for the new virtual meta campuses reducing campus positions as needs there decrease. This changing style would also apply to other staff positions that would achieve consolidation and improved efficiency with virtual moves.
By working to shape a new definition of community colleges statewide and nationwide, cost savings would happen by redefinition with already anticipated changes to adult education. This transformation would also maintain faculty and staff in new roles rather than losing that resource to perceived, short term cost-cutting.
Initial Implementation Policies
Achieving new thinking requires policy change. People need to seek new goals, or many will exhaust themselves, attempting to return to the past. Here are some suggestions for change policies to facilitate the implementation of the new virtual MetaCampuses for college alliances:
1. Move all student and administrative services online by the end of this academic year. Moving all services online should not be difficult as much is already online, and the general policy is in place. But this needs to be stated clearly for the campus and the system.
2. All faculty, staff, and administrators can work from whatever location they choose that allows them to achieve their campus goals and tasks. The telework option already produces greater flexibility in meeting campus and student needs.
3. All courses taught will be available online, whatever the mode of instruction.
4. Consolidate all duplicate courses on the alliance MetaCampus.
5. All Community College courses will be online or accessible online from the virtual MetaCampus site.
6. Consolidate all campus divisions, departments, and programs online in the Metacampus.
7. Create a Metacampus curriculum development division, including graphic arts, course design, video production, and animation from existing faculty and staff who become redundant.