Eduvation Blog

Insider Archive – July 2020

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This archive reproduces our email updates in reverse-chronological order for the month of July 2020.


Friday July 31, 2020

Winter, Waivers, Work/Life & Wellness

 Here in Canada, we’re heading into what will probably be the most relaxing long weekend of the summer. (Let’s not talk about Labour Day.) So what more appropriate theme than a focus on work-life balance and wellness?  

But first (sorry), some news that we can’t ignore for the next 4 days…

Breaking News

Some thought-provoking announcements at StFX and Queen’s, federal PHO guidance to parallel the May guidance from the CDC, and a bold and useful example of COVID19 transparency at uCalgary…

StFX Won’t Waive the Waiver

The St Francis Xavier U Board of Governors announced yesterday that “the new Student Community Protocols and the legal waiver remain the best way forward and a necessity in order for the University to welcome students to campus in the fall.” As currently worded, the waiver absolves StFX of responsibility for any “loss, damage, illness, sickness, expense or injury including death” of students or their kin, including due to negligence. 2 weeks ago, the NS Minister of Advanced Ed seemed to suggest that the waiver would be reworded, in response to a student backlash. Global

Blended Winter 2021 at Queen’s

Back in mid-May, Cambridge was perhaps the world’s first higher ed institution to announce it would deliver lectures online throughout the winter 2021 term. Most CdnPSEs have been silent on the issue, although several colleges have expressed the hope that things will return to normal in January (including Olds, George Brown and Holland College). Several have promised to make a decision in September or October. 2 have already announced a blended approach (Ontario Tech and NSCC), while Carleton has signalled as much. (You can see my realtime list here.) Yesterday, Queen’s U provost Mark Green announced that several faculties and schools have finalized plans for the Winter 2021 term, to deliver most first-year lectures remotely, with some academic activities (such as labs) on campus. Queen’s

Health Canada Reopening Guidance

Health Canada has published Guidance for Post-Secondary Institutions during the COVID19 Pandemic, including risk assessment, travel restrictions, outbreak response, and mitigation strategies for the classroom, residences, student services, food services, and student life. Canada

Live Dashboard of Campus Cases

uCalgary has launched a “live dashboard” mapping any known cases of COVID19 on its campus. (Currently there is a single case of exposure 8-14 days ago in Zone 4.) President Ed McCauley says, “This will allow community members to choose their on-campus activity based on the level of risk with which they personally feel comfortable.” (It looks like a streamlined approach to issue updates in real time, without issuing media releases for each one.) uCalgary

Work-Life Balance

So far I have noted 3 Ontario universities publicly urging their campuses to follow some email and meeting rules to support work-life balance for staff and faculty: Ryerson’s “Recharge” initiative (Jun 30), uGuelph’s “Meeting-Free Fridays” (Jul 8), and now York…

York Urges Work-Life Balance

York U president Rhonda Lenton wrote the campus community this week to announce that the senior leadership team has implemented new measures, effective immediately, to limit all meetings to 50 minutes or less, and schedule them within core business hours (8:30am-4:30pm and concluding no later than 6pm). Emails should not be sent after 7pm or on weekends unless urgent, and there should be no expectation that recipients will read them until the next business day. Lunch hours (12:30-1:30pm) shall be “meeting-free” for the remainder of the summer. And employees are encouraged to schedule “focused time” in their calendars for paperwork and major projects. “I am asking all senior administrators and managers to practice the measures outlined above while demonstrating flexibility and understanding.” York

Perhaps you remember this research piece from mid-May…

Give Yourself a (Micro)Break!

When you still worked in an office, you didn’t just take your scheduled lunch hour and coffee breaks: you took unconscious breaks to walk between meetings, grab coffee or a printout, or for a serendipitous conversation with co-workers. These “microbreaks” are important when you WFH too, says a uCalgary postdoc, to enhance productivity, accuracy, and mental health. Take more time for exercise, a breath of fresh air, and to practice mindfulness. uCalgary

The Power of Contemplation

This summer, most academics are overwhelmed with logistics as they redesign courses for an uncertain Fall term. James Lang observes, “We are facing wicked problems, mostly alone, and we need solutions in a hurry. Yet in the push to find them this summer, it’s easy to lose sight of something else we need: the passion that animates our teaching in normal circumstances and lights the fires of inspiration in our students.” As an English professor, Lang naturally recommends reading literature to help you shape and understand your life. “Try to make at least a little space this summer for the contemplative learning that drew us into the life of the mind. We will most certainly need that passion to sustain us in the coming months.” Chronicle

You Are What You Eat

Aside from financial anxiety and sleep deprivation, proper nutrition (oh yeah – and exercise) are essential to mental health. Pandemics wreak havoc on all of them…

Consumer Food Trends in Canada

During the pandemic lockdown, Canadians have turned to comfort foods (especially meat and snacks), pantry goods with a long shelf-life (including canned soups), home baking (causing a flour shortage at one point), and yes – alcohol. Beer and cider sales are up substantially, and studies have found alcohol use particularly high among parents with young children at home. But as things settle into a new normal, food marketing agency Nourish predicts a return to healthier eating, alcohol reduction, and a focus on immune boosters. Nestlé is opening a “plant-based meat factory” in China, and Nourish suspects that meat processing supply chain disruptions due to COVID19 might just accelerate adoption of substitutes like Beyond Meat. Strategy

The Dreaded “COVID 19”…

A new uAlberta consumer psychology study finds that “people under financial stress want to eat more of everything,” suggesting that high unemployment rates may drive a post-pandemic increase in the obesity rate. Like bears going into hibernation, “under stress, bodies send a signal to eat more and fuel up.” (Of course, it doesn’t help that we’re getting less exercise than ever.) On the other hand, those most concerned for their physical safety and most socially isolated will experience a decrease in appetite. uAlberta

(And no, you’re not imagining it – that item was a rerun from last week. Cut me some slack – it’s Friday and I need some life balance too!)


I haven’t spotted any really notable videos since Texas Tech’s “Masks” PSA and Swinburne’s “Swintopia.” But at the risk of some shameless self-promotion…

I Chat with GBC’s Work Shift

In this week’s episode of George Brown College’s Work Shift podcast, I talk to co-hosts Shawne McKeown and Ray Harripaul about the impact of COVID19 on higher education, how institutions are responding, labour market shifts and some positive long-term effects on pedagogy.  GBC  |  Soundcloud  |  Apple Podcasts  |  Spotify

I have another half-dozen campus updates I could share with you, but half of you are taking the day off, and in the interests of lightening your workday and mine, I’ll leave it at that!

If you’re in Canada, I hope you get to enjoy your long weekend, whether it’s “British Columbia Day,” “Saskatchewan Day,” “Terry Fox Day,” “Natal Day,” or just plain ole’ “Civic Holiday.” I’ll see you again on Tuesday morning!

Until then, stay safe and stay well!



Thursday July 30, 2020

Deep-Sea Microbes, Contagion, Anxiety & Escapism!

 2020 sure was a challenging year… wait, we’re only 7 months in?  Geez…

We’ve had to deal with the downing of flight PS752, Brexit, an impeachment trial, new PSE funding models, murder hornets, wildfires, bushfires, a plague of locusts, lyme disease, a gigantic dust cloud, Canada’s worst mass shooting… and then of course a global pandemic and a 5-month lockdown, the biggest economic recession since the Great Depression, massive unemployment, trillions in emergency government aid, and a toilet paper shortage!

But in case you thought you’d seen it all… now Hollywood has given up on US theatres, telecommuters are leaving the big city for cottage country, people are hiring virtual babysitters and homeschooling pros, and they’re hoarding $50 bills – even though many stores refuse cash. And now, apparently, some scientists thought it seemed like a good idea to revive 100-million-year-old microbes from beneath the South Pacific???

Compared to what we’ve all been through, today’s issue is downright lighthearted! Researchers at McMaster assure us that kids under 10 can safely go back to school. (PSE campuses are a bit different, of course, so brace yourself for plenty of Facebook petitions and little old ladies on the news in the weeks ahead.) There are challenges on the international recruitment front, but some institutions have been partnering to establish microcampuses overseas – a clever solution to a thorny problem!

But you know, you’re really not alone if you really just want to get away from it all. One Australian university has built a cute alternative to their usual campus open house: a gamified virtual campus that seems like a great form of escapism!

COVID19 Contagion

A little good news to start us off…

The Kids will be Alright

Research reviews at McMaster have concluded that children under 10 are “not a major source of transmission of COVID19,” and that the pandemic lockdown is causing considerable stress on families, particularly women with children. “To date, adults were much more likely to be the transmitter of infection.” Female caregivers are experiencing “increasing gender gaps in employment and household labour” and children are experiencing “poor mental health outcomes.” McMaster

The evidence would seem to support recent decisions to reopen K-12 schools this Fall, although PSE campuses present very different challenges…

More than 6,300 Cases Already

The New York Times reports that >6,300 COVID19 cases have been linked to about 270 US colleges, based on their survey of nearly 1,000 institutions. (It is “almost certainly an undercount” because many refused to respond.) “And the new academic year has not even begun at most schools.” The largest clusters are 449 at uTexas Austin, 438 at uCentral Florida, 390 at uGeorgia, and 217 at uFlorida. The schools who have already announced a primarily or fully online Fall term have many of the larger outbreaks, but not all. A separate survey found more than 630 cases among 68 Division I athletics departments. NYT

The issue is of course that while K-12 schools serve local students, PSE campuses attract thousands of people from across the country and around the world. I’ve mentioned before community concerns in Regina,Charlottesville, Amherst, and Antigonish. Now we can add Kingston…

Anxious Lady in Kingston

A woman in Kingston ON wrote 3 letters and achieved national media exposure for her concerns that the return of students to Queen’s U, and potential unsanctioned street parties, could lead to a community spike in COVID19. “It’s fair to say that a large house party is no longer just a nuisance… it’s a public health concern.” Almost all undergrad courses at Queen’s will be delivered remotely this Fall, so many students won’t be physically returning to town, and Queen’s has a new residence code of conduct. Global

International Redux

Picking up where I left off yesterday…

Online Students Stay Home

The Government of Canada has made numerous positive and supportive decisions to encourage international student enrolment despite the pandemic and border restrictions: online study from offshore will count towards a post-graduate work permit (provided a student visa is obtained), and students holding study permits issued prior to Mar 18 were told they could enter the country. That has now changed, however, and the new CBSA policy seems to align with the US policies of the Trump Administration: foreign nationals can only enter the country for “non-optional or non-discretionary” purposes. Only students whose program demands on-campus attendance will be permitted to enter Canada. Like the US policy, this means students abroad will struggle with time-zone issues, and uncertainty about blended delivery terms. BrainGain

30,000 Trade War Casualties

The Trump administration’s trade war with China could cost US colleges up to 30,000 Chinese students and $1.15 B in tuition revenue over the next 10 years, about 8% of the market now. UCSD researchers have found that 25% of the growth in Chinese enrolments (2004-14) can be attributed to trade liberalization, which fuelled the wealth of upper-income families. New 25% tariffs introduced in 2018 will significantly impact Chinese students’ capacity to pay, and India “just doesn’t have the kind of purchasing power that China has.” PIE

While every higher ed institution worldwide is wringing its hands, anxious about losing thousands of international students next month, a few entrepreneurial schools have truly managed to “pivot”…

Transnational Delivery in India

In collaboration with North American Business College (based in Mississauga ON), Loyalist College (in Belleville ON) has “established campuses in Chandigarh, Punjab and Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India” to allow students to start 3 diploma programs in September. The small classes will be taught by NAB instructors, using Loyalist curricula, and the students will transition “seamlessly” into in-person classes in Canada once it is possible. Loyalist

Turnkey Global Campuses

To establish overseas microcampuses quickly, 8 US institutions (including Tulane and Rutgers) have partnered with the Council of International Education Exchange (CIEE) since May on “turnkey global campuses.” More than 1,300 international students will be studying this Fall on those campuses, from Shanghai and Seoul to Beijing and Berlin. CIEE operates 32 campuses in 22 countries, with 50,000 students, and is making plans now for Spring 2021. Intead

Mask Updates

Dalhousie U provided a detailed update yesterday that face masks or coverings are required in all indoor common spaces, effective Jul 31, and that physical distancing must also be observed. Where physical distancing cannot be maintained, “appropriately certified PPE” is required. Dal

Masks Update: If you’re keeping score at home, of 92 institutions I’m tracking, 47 do not appear to have made a comment yet about a face mask policy (51%), while 37 have indicated that masks are mandatory in common areas (40%) and 8 have indicated masks are optional or encouraged (9%).

Residence Updates

Fanshawe College reports that it will house 739 students in residence this fall, operating at 45% capacity. Social gatherings will be “very rare or nonexistent” and masks will be required in all common areas. London Free Press

Lakehead U can accommodate up to 730 students in residence in Thunder Bay, and 229 in Orillia, while observing social distancing precautions. Any student interested in housing for Fall will be guaranteed the opportunity. Residence life activities will occur online and in-person. Lakehead

Laurentian U expects about 500 students to move into residence this Fall, most in mid-August for 2 weeks of self-isolation before classes start Sep 9. Double rooms will be converted to single occupancy, and masks are mandatory. Less than 1% of courses will be delivered on campus. CBC

St Lawrence College will welcome some “stranded students” back to campus Aug 4, and has posted new health and safety guidelines. Residences will reopen at about half capacity, with priority given to students with on-campus classes. Face masks will be mandatory. SLC

Western U plans to run its residences at 80% capacity, with about 4,000 students this Fall. Gatherings may occur more often outdoors than in the past. London Free Press

Creative Marketers

Memorial U has launched a new student tools and resources hub, “MUNUp,” to “support students in every way.” The microsite includes transition and orientation programs, services, virtual events and community engagement opportunities. MUN


Gamifying Campus Open House

Australia’s Swinburne U of Technology has a strong video game development program, so naturally it’s moving its campus Open Day to “Swintopia,” an “alternate campus reality where you’ll get a taste of student life, unrestricted.” Starting Aug 10, prospective students can enter the gamified virtual campus to “connect with staff, students and famous faces, explore state-of-the-art facilities, visit Hawthorn’s hottest hangouts and collect achievements to unlock your destiny.” Visitors can watch videos, download study guides, “complete missions, collect items in your virtual tote bag, talk to pigeons. There are no real rules to this thing.” “Technically you’ll still be visiting Swinburne, it’ll just be a bit more… computery.”  YouTube  |  Swinburne

Wednesday July 29, 2020

Geopolitics & International Education

Trust a global pandemic to spark geopolitical tensions, with implications for international student recruitment and research partnerships alike.

Huawei aside, the Trump administration has continued to nickname COVID19 the “China Virus,” and encouraged conspiracy theories about the Wuhan Institute of Virology as its origin. Now we hear that Russian intelligence has been actively spreading COVID19 disinformation too.

Varying pandemic curves are creating suspicion and xenophobia. North Americans of Chinese descent reported intense prejudice this spring. Hong Kong now looks to be on the brink of a large-scale outbreak. Europeans are banning American tourists, and even Canadians want our border to stay closed to them until year-end. But now Canada is itself seeing an “uptick” in COVID19 cases, particularly in Alberta.

Many borders remain closed to all but essential travellers. The IATA predicts that air travel will not recover until 2024. And some analysts believe that Australia and the US could credibly be at war with China within a year. Just wait until “vaccine nationalism” breaks out!

Today, let’s look at some international developments shaping the next year or two of foreign student mobility, and particularly some impacts in Australia and New Zealand. In cyberspace, there have been ransomware attacks on Blackbaud and fake Instagram accounts promoting ‘Coronavirus Parties.” And in CdnPSE, some impressive go-forward plans have been released, while institutions continue to make budget austerity announcements, and to recruit alumni to assist with students in quarantine…

Border Skirmishes

As airlines and educators alike wish Canada would loosen its border restrictions, we see tightening borders around the world…

More New US Border Restrictions

On Jul 14, when the Trump administration backed down on deporting international students studying online this Fall, many US colleges held their breath. As expected, yesterday the US Immigration department announced that new international students cannot enter the country to pursue purely online studies. Institutions had been lobbying for student visas to be granted regardless of delivery modality this Fall. IHE

Australia’s Borders Clamp Shut

Canberra’s universities had a “well-advanced pilot plan” to fly in 350 continuing international students this month, and place them in “a fortnight of police-supervised quarantine.” uSydney, uMelbourne and uAdelaide had plans to fly in “tens of thousands” of foreign students as well. But the resurgence of COVID19 in Melbourne triggered renewed lockdowns and border closures, and has led the institutions to postpone their plans. Meanwhile, diplomatic tensions with China are intensifying, after the new security law in Hong Kong prompted Australia to offer “safe haven visas” and suspend its extradition treaty. THE

New Zealand Stays Locked Tight

New Zealand has definitively ruled out a relaxation of border restrictions this year, and warns universities they should plan on “smaller cohorts than they may have previously expected” for 2021. Without the usual 117,000 international students, NZ’s 8 public universities expect to lose $200 M this year, and potentially $400 M next. The country remains attractive to foreign students, for its emergency financial supports and for “suppressing the pandemic more successfully than any other education destination.” Universities are proposing to establish quarantine centres with independent oversight. THE

International Responses

In many countries, higher ed faces an existential threat without international student revenues. While we wait in Canada, New Zealand gets a (very) little help, while Australian universities wish their government would take a little LESS interest in their operations. Pathway providers are responding with guarantees and flexible online or hybrid programs…

Some Financial Aid to NZ PSE…

New Zealand has committed $51.6 M to help the international education sector weather the pandemic: $20 M to support students already in-country, $6.6 M for their pastoral care, $10 M for private training schools, $3 M for marketing the country’s brand, a $500 K quality assurance process, and $1.5 M for ESL schools. $10 M is to fund “future-focused” initiatives in NZ and abroad to ensure “a more resilient sector.” A strong digital brand platform will be launched in November 2021. In the meantime, wage subsidies are intended to allow the private schools to “hibernate.” PIE

…but Merely a Drop in the Bucket

New Zealand has directed $51.6 M toward a $5 B industry that has been “gutted” by border restrictions. Many of the 45,000 jobs in ESL schools are at risk, and the 1% support is just “a band-aid solution.” The schools would prefer the borders reopen and quarantine facilities be created, so they can welcome students back. So far, universities are not included in any relief packages. NZ Herald

“Foreign Interference” in Australia

Australian universities were “blindsided” by the government’s announcement of a new Higher Education Integrity Unit, within the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). Its objectives include thwarting cyber attacks, improving admission standards, prohibiting academic cheating, and addressing “emerging threats” to academic and research integrity, such as “foreign interference” in Australia’s universities. (As in the US, Australia has been concerned about research ties to China’s defense establishment.) The unit may also take action against universities that enrol too many students in high-tuition programs (like the humanities). THE

Guaranteed, Flexible Pathway Programs

Pathway providers are responding to agent concerns by providing flexibility and reassurance to international students. Australia-based Study Group is offering students a new 21-day money-back guarantee on their online programs, which will benefit from their recent acquisition of tech company Insendi. UK-based Oxford International Education Group is offering  hybrid delivery and flexible start dates in Sept, Oct, Nov and Jan. PIE

Cyber Headaches

Dispersed campuses with WFH students and employees leave institutions open to a whole range of IT security risks. This week we learned that hackers extorted ransom from Blackbaud, unsettling some of their client institutions. And internet trolls (perhaps with too much time on their hands in lockdown) have been creating fake “coronavirus party” accounts…

Ransomware Cyberattack on Blackbaud

Blackbaud, a cloud-based CRM, was hacked in May, putting sensitive information about donors and alumni at a dozen institutions in Canada, the US and UK at risk. The company paid a ransom and “believes there is no evidence” that data was shared. Western U and uManitoba are among the CdnPSE institutions affected. Western has reached out to its contacts, suspended the use of Blackbaud, and established a dedicated email address and phone line for concerns. Blackbaud

Fake “Coronavirus Parties” Accounts

uAlberta has clarified that the Instagram account, “uAlberta_Coronavirus_parties,” is “a fake that may have been created to cause harm.” Similar party accounts appears for uArizona and uAuckland. UofA filed complaints with Instagram, and the account was deleted 5 days later. uAlberta

Fall Planning

As institutions continue to announce more detailed plans for reopening campus, I am impressed by the comprehensiveness of BCIT’s document, developed with engineer consultants…

BCIT released a 90-page COVID19 Go-Forward Plan yesterday, developed with consultants Pinchin Ltd – and a 6-page executive summary. The plan includes all stakeholders’ regulatory responsibilities, best practices, risk assessment, and return to campus protocols. The appendices include some impressive graphics and flowcharts. BCIT

Booth UC (Winnipeg) announced yesterday synchronous online delivery for all courses this fall, with “limited F2F interactions at the instructor’s discretion.” YouTube

uManitoba has developed a phased approach to campus reopening, and the summer is phase 2 (preparing for Fall, limited activity, 3,000 researchers on campus). The Active Living Centre reopened this week, at ~25% capacity. uManitoba

Mount St Vincent U released a 27-page Fall 2020 Operational Plan yesterday. Almost all classes will be delivered online, residences will operate at up to 54% capacity, athletic facilities will be available to students by appointment only, and convocation will be virtual. Masks will be mandatory as of Jul 31. MSVU

Campus Updates

Acadia U’s senior leadership (President, Provost, VPs, and members of the Executive Council and Strategic Leadership Council) will all take an unpaid 6-day furlough in the upcoming fiscal year. Last month, senior leadership salaries were frozen and COLA suspended for at least 6 months. Acadia is projecting a $6.8 M deficit. Acadia

uAlberta student ONEcards will be virtual for those attending classes remotely, and physical for those coming to campus. uAlberta

Mount Allison U is recruiting “AVATARS” (Alumni Volunteers Acting to Assist Residence Students in Self-Isolation) for virtual check-ins Aug 15-29. Check-ins (by video call, text message, or other means) are to support and welcome students, and a brief questionnaire will allow many alumni to be matched based on shared interests. MTA

Tuesday July 28, 2020

Great Upheavals to Come, Post-COVID

Happy Great Upheaval Day!

OK, I confess, I had to look it up: apparently for 15 years now, it has been a holiday in recognition of the expulsion of French-speaking Acadians in 1755. Although it sure feels like “Great Upheaval” could describe this whole year…

Today, the usual round of disappointing news to lower your expectations, but also some new labour tensions, web tools for students, and plans for quarantine trailers on campus tennis courts. But first, a look at some of the longer-term impacts of the pandemic on our world…

Post-COVID Society

From physical displays of affection to live performances, some Canadians think we will NEVER return to the old normal. Up to 85% of restaurants may close their doors shortly, and the others may become “ghost kitchens.” Kids from wealthy homes will get even more educational advantages in a “pandemic pod.” Automation will vastly accelerate work in the chem lab and tracking disease symptoms across campus and in our homes. Previous plagues have sparked worker revolts, class riots, and led to improved social safety nets and health care. And at a minimum, many of us seem open to addressing climate change and growing renewable energy sources…

Forget Handshakes, Hugs, or Concerts

Post-pandemic expectations vary widely across North America, according to a recent survey of 1,517 Canadians and 1,006 Americans (Jul 3-5). Two-thirds of Canadians believe it will be more than a year before they again attend a sporting event, concert or play, and 13% say they “never” will – but 17% of youth, 8% of Ontarians and 16% of Quebecers say they would do so within the next 6 months. As for handshakes or hugs between friends, 48% of Francophones and 34% of Anglophones expect to do so before the end of 202o. Across Canada, 31% believe life will “never” return to normal – fully 36% of Ontarians, and just 22% of Quebecers. National Post

Wave Goodbye to Dining Out

Canadian restaurants on average operate on a 4.2% profit margin. Social distancing means reducing capacity to 15-20%. Analysts project that 60-85% of restaurants won’t survive the lockdown, and federal emergency supports really don’t meet their needs. The $90 B sector employs 1.2 million Canadians, and failure on such a scale will impact suppliers, farmers, landlords and the value of adjacent real estate. The restaurants who survive will significantly raise their prices, perhaps even implement dynamic pricing models, and many will likely switch from dine-in service to “ghost kitchens” focused on delivery, catering and prepackaged meals. The Walrus

Greater Educational Disparities

Concerns are widespread that online delivery disadvantages students with older laptops or slower internet connectivity, living in crowded or unsupportive home environments. But the disparity based on socioeconomic background is becoming even more obvious as some wealthy parents are hiring private elementary school teachers for neighbourhood “pandemic pods.” Many parents found it a struggle to balance WFH and co-teaching their children; a “pandemic pods” Facebook group has more than 26,000 members. In Beverly Hills, they are even renting commercial space and paying teachers six-figure salaries. “Public schooling [is] a kind of equalizing force in society… parental resources are much more unequal than school resources.” Globe & Mail

Robots, Even in the Research Lab

Scientific researchers may think their jobs are secure from automation, but robots are coming to a lab near you! Chemists at uLiverpool have programmed a “robot scientist” who can conduct experiments 1,000 times faster than a human, for 21 hours each and every day, and even in complete darkness. (It just needs 3 hours to recharge.) So it can do several months of work in just a few days! Using AI, it can decide which experiments to conduct next, and has already discovered a new catalyst. “It’s a new superpowered team member, and it frees up time for the human researchers to think creatively.” THE

AIs Tracking Infectious Disease

Forget self-reported symptoms or contact tracing; more and more technologies are being considered to automate the process on campus. Fever detection technologies include thermometer guns and thermal cameras. An audio algorithm can distinguish between “20,000 cough sounds,” to determine whether a quarantined patient is getting better or worse. Contact tracing apps can automatically alert you if you’ve interacted with someone who later tests positive. Density mapping can ensure adequate social distancing across campus. Ultraviolet light fixtures or drones can sanitize surfaces, keyboards and doorknobs. EdTech

Rebellion, Riots and Social Services

Epidemics clearly magnify inequality, “making the poor poorer, the sick sicker, and the angry angrier.” They also trigger massive social change. In the 1300s, the Black Death wiped out about half of England’s population, creating labour shortages that led to higher wages and land ownership for the peasantry. In 1832, cholera outbreaks nurtured class resentment and riots. The 1918 Spanish Flu led to the establishment of a Canadian Department of Health, sparked Indigenous rights movements and worker revolts across the country, and arguably reinvigorated social democracy and helped set the stage for universal health care. Already, COVID19 has sparked protests in Lebanon, sit-ins in Wuhan, and riots from Mumbai to Paris. As a nation, we’re forced to reconsider conditions in our seniors’ homes, prisons, homeless shelters, in the inner city and on Indigenous reserves. The CERB may be the precursor to Universal Basic Income. The Walrus

Renewed Investments in Renewables

A new survey out of uOttawa finds that 45% of Canadians believe “now is the best time to be ambitious in addressing climate change,” often because climate change cannot wait, but also because the pandemic offers a good opportunity for change and highlights our impact on the environment. (These are more likely to be young, females, in Quebec and Atlantic Canada.) On the other hand, 29% say now is the worst time, because we should wait until the economy has recovered, or there are other more urgent priorities. (These are more likely to be older, males, living in the prairie provinces.) “The complexity of opinion is emerging due to the unique moment that is forcing Canadians to balance two competing urgent crises, environmental and economic.” Overall, 72% support growth in the renewable energy sector, and 93% at least somewhat support it. uOttawa

Lowering Expectations

With the pandemic surging across the US, and resurging in many regions of the world that had previously flattened their curve, there are multiple indicators that the time horizon for economic recovery needs to be pushed back. (You may recall, I warned back in April that even Sept 2021 won’t be back to normal.) Google, for instance, just announced that it will let employees WFH until July 2021, pushing its reopening back 6 more months…

The Prospect of a Vaccine

In a nutshell? Don’t get your hopes up. The media breathlessly describe the 100+ COVID19 vaccine research projects worldwide, and every small step and positive finding. More than one vaccine might work, but they will likely require boosters. Tens of thousands of volunteers will be required for testing. At least 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated before the pandemic can truly be brought under control. The “very best case scenario” for widespread public inoculation would be the end of 2021. uAlberta

College Football is the Canary in the Coal-Mine

Most students, faculty and staff are not back on campuses yet, but NCAA football teams have been back for “voluntary practice” since Jun 1 – and experiencing numerous COVID19 outbreaks. I mentioned before the outbreaks at Louisiana State, Clemson U, UT Austin, Kansas State, uHouston, uAlabama, uMississippi, uSouth Florida, Auburn, UNC Chapel Hill, Florida State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas State and Troy U. This weekend, Michigan State quarantined its football team after 2 staff and 1 student athlete tested positive, and Rutgers quarantined its football program after 6 more positive tests.

Pro Baseball Strikes Out

Major League Baseball isn’t faring much better. A mere 3 days after resuming their season, the Miami Marlins took the field despite rumours of 4 players testing positive for COVID19. By Monday, another 10 players and staff tested positive. Team owners are reportedly meeting to discuss a path forward as the season schedule is disrupted by at least one quarantine. Some blame MLB’s “relatively lax” approach, without the sort of safety bubble proposed by the NBA or NHL. National Post

Public Distrust of Higher Ed

Judging by a recent survey, American colleges and universities see the public as “people to fleece for resources but otherwise ignore,” says emeritus economist Richard Vedder. 52% think higher ed is “heading in the wrong direction,” and 67% think colleges are putting “their own institutional interests” first today. (Just 9% thought they put students first.) The problem, says Vedder, is that (despite much rhetoric to politicians, parents and the public) PSE leaders “have been obsessed with keeping their major internal constituencies reasonably happy at all costs,” at the expense of taxpayers and students. He suggests the solution is to “drastically cut costs,” fire the “expensive bureaucrats,” encourage more “free expression,” and “meet national economic needs instead of excessively promoting ideologically oriented dogma.” Forbes (of course)

Campus Tensions

uAlberta is merging its offices of University Relations and Advancement into an office of External Relations. The roles of University Secretary and General Counsel were merged in early July. The senior leadership team has been reduced in size by 22%, and compensation will decrease by 25%. uAlberta

uToronto’s 6 faculty and staff unions launched a petition last weekend to protest the plan for F2F classes this Fall, due to concerns about health and safety and insufficient consultation. Called “UofT’s Reopening Plan is NOT Safe Enough. We Need to Take Fall 2020 Online,” the petition has garnered 1,000+ signatures. Specific plans about delivery mode are being developed at the Faculty level. Globe & Mail

Web Tools

Fanshawe College has launched a “totally unique, free and easy-to-use… online learning readiness indicator,” to help students decide “if online learning is the right fit for your learning style.” Thousands of students have answered 10 minutes of questions about their self-direction, learning style, study habits, tech skills and computer equipment, and received the results via email. Fanshawe

Ryerson has launched a new student support hub, RU4U, to consolidate orientation, housing, athletics, admissions, wellbeing, and other student supports. Ryerson Ready is an enhanced summer transition program for incoming students. Ryerson

Returning to Campus

uLethbridge reports that 61% of its returning students say they will be back in Lethbridge in September, even though most classes will be online. 30% of their students are local. With social distancing measures in place, uLeth expects it can accommodate 400+ students in campus housing. uLeth

Saint Mary’s U (Halifax) announced Friday that the Sep 25 convocation ceremony will be virtual. SMU

Tufts U in Massachusetts is installing trailers (or “modular dorms”) on their tennis courts, for “hundreds” of students to self-isolate or quarantine. Nearly all of Tufts’ 6,000 undergrads are apparently expected to return to campus. Students will be tested twice weekly. MassLive

Monday July 27, 2020

Coping with Cutbacks and the Evolving Labour Market

The pandemic curve continues to vary from region to region. Australia is locking down again. BC, Alberta and Ontario are experiencing resurgences thanks to reopened bars and restaurants, and a few massively irresponsible parties. While lucky Nova Scotia has ZERO confirmed cases. (Then again, going from zero to 60 takes no time at all.)

As the lockdown continues (more or less) for a fifth month of WFH, you can already see some significant changes in our lives: sales of deodorant, shampoo and razors are way down, while 15 million people subscribed to Netflix, packaged ice cream sales are up 26% — and UFO sightings in Canada are up 50%!

As airlines lobby Ottawa to loosen restrictions, we learn there have been COVID19 exposures on almost 600 Canadian flights so far, 42 of them in the first half of July alone. (I hope our campuses can do a better job of putting health and safety before finances!) Personally, I think it will be a couple of years before I get back on a plane – demand for my virtual keynotes and workshops is growing, and planes look less and less comfortable every day…

I’m not the only one anticipating a permanent change in the world of work, of course. According to several recent reports, the COVID recession will accelerate the adoption of AI and robotics, automating half a million Canadians into different jobs. (If you’ve got a “swivel chair job” – look out!)

Governments are continuing to disinvest in higher ed, despite plummeting revenues from international students – and it’s being felt most acutely in the UK and Australia, although Alberta certainly has its share of challenge too. (And breaking news last night from Mohawk College, sadly, too.) Institutions are pursuing new markets and revenue streams – from microcredentials to microcampuses – and are “self-funding” new construction, like York U’s new Markham Centre Campus.

Almost 40% of Canadian institutions have now announced mandatory face mask policies, and I’ve got a few interesting examples of how campuses are preparing for the return of students and staff – including a 14-day “isolation accommodation” package at UofA for $975, all-inclusive…

Post-COVID Labour Market

No question, the pandemic lockdown has disrupted many industries, and millions of Canadians remain jobless despite the movement towards “reopening” provincial economies. To “pandemic-proof” their businesses, employers will likely adopt automation more aggressively and rapidly than before…

Permanent Shifts in the Labour Market

Economists anticipate a “second wave” of pandemic layoffs coming, far more persistent than the first. Across Canada, major layoffs have of course been announced by airlines, airports, theatre chains, retail giants, and energy companies. Even LinkedIn announced it would cut 6% of its global workforce (about 960 jobs) because “fewer companies… need to hire.” The past 3 recessions eliminated 1.2 million routine jobs, which were permanently automated out of existence. This recession could automate away another 586,000 jobs, thanks to shifts to ecommerce and market consolidation in the hands of multinationals. Across all industries, senior management positions are down 30% since February, and with the growth of WFH office admin, “swivel chair jobs,” and “meeting champions” are becoming dispensable. Opportunities in the post-COVID economy can already be found in ecommerce, robotics, warehousing and logistics. Globe & Mail

The Risk of Automation across Canada

The OECD has just published a report on threats and opportunities facing the Canadian labour market, inventorying the vulnerability of local labour markets by region across the country, and by city within Ontario. Canada lost 3 million jobs between Feb and Apr, and rebounded by just 290,000 by May. Efforts to “pandemic-proof” businesses by minimizing the number of employees required onsite will likely lead to accelerated automation. Canada has one of the largest gaps in training participation between high-skilled and low-skilled workers; many are caught in a “low-skills trap.” The OECD recommends that Canada strengthen sector-focused training and career pathway programs linked to emerging labour market opportunities, promote economic diversification, support workers at risk of being displaced, and improve training in SMEs. Among many other things, the report suggests more flexible funding to permit colleges and universities to offer more short credential programs, invest in student services and engage with employers. OECD

Coping with Cutbacks

“Decimation” is something of an understatement: to punish a Roman legion, every tenth soldier was executed, so decimation meant a 10% cut in personnel. What we’re seeing in higher ed worldwide is considerably more extreme – but we’re also seeing glimmers of innovative and entrepreneurial responses, too…

200 Layoffs at Mohawk College

Mohawk College is forecasting a 10% drop in first-year domestic students, and a 75% drop in international students – leading to a projected $50 M shortfall. In response, the College has reportedly eliminated 64 full-time positions, and temporarily laid off 120-150 part-time and contract employees, as well as cancelling or postponing a raft of new initiatives and capital investments. Hamilton Spectator

North Carolina Plans for the Worst

The U of North Carolina system is preparing for budget cuts of 25-50%. The state board has urgently directed its 17 chancellors to prepare detailed budget plans for up to 50% cuts, and to calculate the financial impact of cancelling athletics, or closing their campuses. Decisions about campus closures this Fall will be made by the state board, “when the human costs are too great for the experiment to continue.” NC Policy Watch

UK Universities to Lay Off Thousands

Around the world, institutions are coping with budget uncertainty by failing to renew contract staff and faculty – even further disadvantaging the contingent workforce, which is disproportionately young, female, and visible minorities. In the UK, universities have eliminated hundreds of hourly positions and will likely cut “thousands”of academic contracts. (Projections are that drops in international enrolment could mean the sector loses up to half its revenues for the next 4 years.) Obviously such deep cuts will mean the remaining staff are overloaded, and sadly many of the tech-savvy employees declared redundant were essential to migrate teaching online this spring. UWN

Up to 21,000 Layoffs in Australia

Australian universities are bracing for 8- and 9-figure drops in institutional income, thousands of layoffs, and damaged credit ratings, largely due to reductions in international student enrolment caused by border restrictions. Australia’s Rapid Research Information Forum projects up to 21,000 FTE jobs could be eliminated in the next 6 months, of which 7,000 might be contract researchers. Sydney Morning Herald

uAlberta for Tomorrow

uAlberta’s new president is consulting the campus community (virtually) on a major strategic restructuring, UofA for Tomorrow (UAT), to include both academic restructuring and Service Excellence Transformation (SET). In all, they anticipate more than 1,000 jobs will be eliminated. “The magnitude and pace of change required have not been experienced by any Canadian university in recent times…. The significant cuts to our budget through the Campus Alberta Grant means that there will inevitably be a reduction in jobs. Contractual obligations prevent cuts and layoffs in certain areas and for certain roles.” But UofA is also looking at new revenue streams, including increased enrolment, a land trust, course-based professional masters degrees, microcredentials, and online or international programs.  uAlberta 1  |  uAlberta 2

New “Self-Funded” York Campus in Markham

The Ontario government announced its approval Friday for a new $275 M York U “Markham Centre Campus,” with construction to get underway “within a few days.” The new 5-acre campus, for up to 4,200 students, is slated to open in Fall 2023, and will focus on “professionally relevant degree programs and micro-credentials with a strong focus on digital technologies, entrepreneurship and experiential education in high demand areas such as business and entrepreneurship, data analytics, new media and communications.” Unlike the $300M Y0rk-Seneca campus, which the Ford government cancelled abruptly in Oct 2018, this campus is “self-funded” under the province’s new “Major Capacity Expansion Policy Framework.” The premier said: “instead of the province writing multi-million-dollar cheques, we have developed a system that encourages the development of new campuses with a much smaller cost to the taxpayer.” Capital funding comes from York Region, the City of Markham, donor contributions and York U’s existing capital funds. The province will help support operating expenses after it opens. York

Innovation in Australia

Australian universities grew their international student revenues 260% between 2009 and 2018, to $8.8 billion – but after the “coronavirus cataclysm,” they are completely rethinking their business models. Major construction will likely be on hold for 5 years, but “we don’t expect to ever return to business as usual.” Monash U is using its network of international branch campuses to deliver hybrid programs to students overseas. U of New South Wales is expanding its international partnerships, and growing its short course and lifelong learning offerings. The federal government has committed $900 M to an Industry Linkages Fund, which will need to replace research funding with applied research partnerships. Some institutions are considering converting teaching buildings into industrial partnership spaces. The Guardian

Returning to Campus

As institutions prepare for the return to campus, most are adopting very similar measures. (As I’ve predicted before, I’m pretty sure face mask policies will be in place everywhere before September.) UofT published a short article that sheds some light on the work of facilities staff this summer. UofA has a quarantine package deal for international students attending any institution in Edmonton…

All-Inclusive Isolation at UofA

uAlberta has an isolation accommodation program for students, staff and faculty returning to Edmonton – and for international students coming to Edmonton to attend any PSE institution. The $975 package includes pickup from the airport, 14 days in a single residence room, room service for 3 meals a day and a snack, and medical supports. uAlberta

Mandatory Face Masks

Face masks are now mandatory on campus at uAlberta, Mount Royal, Nipissing U, and uWindsor, and “strongly recommended” at uRegina. Of the 90 institutions I am monitoring, 34 have announced mandatory mask policies (38%) and 7 have indicated masks are optional or encouraged.

Shuttered Rec Facilities at NAIT

NAIT will keep its recreation facilities closed this fall, and all student rec programs will be delivered virtually (such as “Fitness on Demand” and “Mind + Body Connect.”) The pool has been closed permanently, because it “required a significant investment to remain viable and had little connection to student programs, academic or athletics.” NAIT

Campus Prep at uToronto

uToronto facilities staff have installed sanitizer stations, signage about masks and traffic flow, and have shrink-wrapped desks and chairs in classrooms to ensure social distancing. Rooms that previously held 120 students will seat 20-30. Air dryers across 1,300 washrooms on campus have been replaced with paper towel dispensers. Faculty plan to deliver labs in person, but divided into multiple rooms, and simultaneously webcasting them for students who cannot attend. uToronto

Friday July 24, 2020

Global Risks, Populists, & PSE Mask PSAs!

Today I share some interesting reports from the World Economic Forum – ranging from a graphic representation of the risks ahead in the next 18 months, to the housing insecurity of a billion people, and a 30% jump in youth unemployment.

Also the results of a new survey of 17,000 CdnPSE students, reopening announcements, updates, and details – and the sad observation that 4 “populist” (ie willfully ignorant) world leaders are responsible for HALF of all COVID19 deaths in the world.

But it’s Friday, so on a lighter note I’ve also got 3 new microsites for the marketers out there, and 2 of my favourite PSE Mask PSAs…

Global Risks

The World Economic Forum surveyed 347 risk analysts about the likelihood of major economic, societal, geopolitical, technological and environmental risks in the next 18 months. (The results are charted in an elegant graph.) Naturally the most likely risks are a prolonged recession, bankruptcies, failures of entire sectors, and high unemployment, especially for youth. Other strong concerns include another disease outbreak, tighter border restrictions, prolonged disruption of supply chains, and the economic collapse of emerging markets. WEF

What are they Thinking?

A few studies have recently uncovered global concerns about housing insecurity, youth unemployment, and student acquiescence (well 75% of them, anyway) in the face of a largely online Fall term. But then there are those who disbelieve any “study” conducted by “experts”…

“Fact-Denying Populists” vs COVID19

The countries with the highest COVID19 death tolls are not the poorest or most densely populated, but those led by “populist, mold-breaking leaders” who tend to be anti-expert and seem to threaten liberal democracy itself. Half of the world’s 618,000 deaths so far are in 4 countries with such populist leaders: Donald Trump (US), Boris Johnson (UK), Jair Bolsonaro (Brazil), and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Mexico). India, led by Narendra Modi, is quickly joining this club with >1.2 million cases. “Populist politics makes it very difficult to implement rational policies that really resolve the issue — or at least manage the crisis more effectively.” The pandemic “hits every blind spot that the populists have,” and the virus “looks for any weakness in our system.” Global

A Billion Fear Homelessness

Worldwide, even prior to the pandemic, 19% of adults feared losing their home or land within the next 5 years, particularly in the Philippines and Burkina Faso (West Africa), where almost half have reason to be concerned. “Land and housing insecurity is a huge issue hiding in plain sight,” and impacts whether parents send their children to school. Worldwide, only half of renters felt their rights were secure, compared to 79% of property owners. The US faces “a massive eviction crisis” in the wake of COVID19. WEF

Young Workers Hit Hardest

Around the world, COVID19 has closed thousands of businesses and eliminated millions of service-sector, entry-level jobs. Young Americans (aged 16-24) experienced a 30% jump in unemployment between Dec 2019 and Apr 2020 – rivalling the Great Depression. Less educated, visible minority, and female workers lost jobs much faster than white males, and have generally had slower recovery. WEF

Trudging towards (Online) School

Canadian students are gradually resigning themselves to an online Fall, according to several surveys of almost 17,000 current and prospective PSE students conducted since April. The number saying they won’t return for online courses has declined, from 23% of current students in April to just 14% now, although 25% of prospective students still aren’t fully committed to attending. (10% say they will ask for a deferral.) As for a gap year, 19% of returning students and 17% of incoming ones think it “makes a lot of sense.” Financially, 72% of all students will need a job to afford school this Fall, and 81% do not believe tuition should be the same for online courses. SchoolFinder

Reopening Campus

Across the country, to varying degrees and at varying paces, institutions are bringing “stranded” students back to campus, reopening some fitness facilities (and not others), implementing self-screening apps and forms. Somehow it makes it all viscerally clear to me when SAIT insists that pedestrians on campus must take the most direct route, and refrain from holding doors for others…

Algonquin College is 3 weeks into their summer pilot for stranded students, and students in Massage Therapy and Welding have successfully completed their Winter term. Based on that success, and Ottawa’s move into Phase 3 of reopening, Algonquin can invite more students back to campus in August. Algonquin

MacEwan U sport and wellness is preparing to reopen, starting with free outdoor classes and virtual training as of Jul 27. Aug 24, renovations will be complete and fitness facilities will reopen with reduced capacity (35 people), by reservation only. The gym should reopen Aug 31 and the pool Sep 7. MacEwan

Mohawk College is proceeding with its plans for a hybrid Fall term. Masks are mandatory, classes are capped at 50 people, and all events are cancelled until Dec 31. Limited food service and some in-person student services may be offered in September, but athletics and recreation facilities will remain closed. Mohawk

UNB’s “campuses will be open this fall following the guidelines of NB Public Health,” and teams have been working to ensure campus safety and to adapt teaching to include virtual formats. “Students will have flexible learning choices.” More than 600 faculty took teaching and learning PD this summer. UNB

St Lawrence College is preparing to welcome their stranded students back shortly for the summer pilot. All staff and students are urged to download the SLC Safe app, which includes a daily self-assessment tool. SLC

SAIT will require staff and students to complete a daily campus access form on its website, to confirm the self-assessment and gather information for contact tracing. Masks are required and disposable PPE must be discarded upon arrival. Everyone is advised to “take the most direct route” possible, and avoid holding doors for others. Vending machines, water fountains and food services will likely not be available. SAIT

Tyndale U has published a 5-phase reopening plan, and is currently in phase B (limited services), preparing for phase C (expanded services), which it hopes may begin Sep 1.  Full reopening (phase E) is “anticipated” for Jan 1 2021. Tyndale


By coincidence, quite a few announcements in recent days focused on residence precautions, fees, and move-in plans for the Fall…

Acadia U will welcome students back into residence between Sep 2 and Sep 20. Rooms will be singles only, floors will be split into “bubbles,” and students may be assigned washroom stalls. Acadia

uAlberta, uCalgary, and uLethbridge will not offer dorm-style residences this fall, because of shared washrooms and bedrooms. Instead they will offer apartment-style residences, but at a $2,000-$3,000 higher pricetag. Mount Royal U is reducing capacity in their apartment-style units. CBC

Mount Allison U will begin a staggered move-in to residences on Aug 14, to permit 14 days isolation for any students coming from outside the “Atlantic bubble.” Atlantic students will arrive as late as Sep 7. MtA

St Lawrence College residences will be running at 50-75% capacity this Fall, with priority for students with on-campus classes (primarily in the health sciences or skilled trades). Rooms will be single-occupancy with private washrooms. Residence life activities “will start in a digital format.” Move-in will be spread out over 5 days. Global

New Microsites

You MarCom types might want to check out a few of the newest examples of microsites addressing pandemic issues, the return to campus, and plans for the fall term…

Acadia U recently launched a new, highly graphical COVID19 microsite with a mobile-optimized interface. It features a symptom checker, reopening status, a news feed of the latest updates, and 6 tiles for information about academics, student life, health and safety, services, travel, athletics and events. Acadia

Saskatchewan Polytechnic has launched a new Fall 2020 webpage that has updated information about campus access, program status, and support services. SaskPoly

uWindsor has launched 2 “sister” microsites to manage the return to campus and Fall term. Return to Campus summarizes the current status of planning, guidelines for health and safety, and news on the latest developments. uWindsor Together provides students, staff, and faculty with “everything they need to learn and work in an environment that ensures their health and safety remains the paramount concern,” including a news stream, links to COVID19 updates, instructional resources, advice for online learning, and more. uWindsor


Out of the 1,000 or so videos in my YouTube feed this week, from more than 800 higher ed institutions around the world, a couple really stood out for me…

Texas Tech U released a hilarious 15-sec PSA to remind students that, if they want to get out of their parents’ house and attend class on campus, they have to wear a mask. “Masks save Lives.” YouTube

Hofstra U has released several videos lately, from a series of Safe Start tours to a really reassuring, 90-sec demonstration of “Cleaning Procedures on Campus.” (65 new electrostatic disinfectant sprayers and 500 sanitizer stations!) But if you have to choose, I suggest the music video, “Wear Your Mask,” set to A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” Staff, students, and adorable kids share the people for whom they wear their masks. YouTube


I hope your Friday goes smoothly, and you enjoy a safe, healthy, and sunny weekend!


Thursday July 23, 2020

Obesity, Capitalism, Cruise Ships, TikTok and Bingo!

Today I’ve got some truly eclectic stories to share, starting with a few new research findings into COVID19 itself. (Those of us already stress-eating have just been conducting research of our own!) Canada has been making headlines for warning international students not to book flights.

There’s an amazing new map showing how US colleges are planning the Fall term, and Time magazine warns that bringing students back to campus will be like dropping a cruise ship into the centre of town.

Sarcastic students are expressing their concern on TikTok, while politicians around the world worry about the social media platform as a security concern, and the company itself seems to be breaking into the “microlearning” business.

Finally, if you’ve got a Zoom meeting today, perhaps you’ll want to play Virtual Meeting Bingo…

COVID19 Research

Academic research into human reactions to the novel coronavirus are discovering ways that early symptoms can predict disease severity, exploring the lasting neurological impacts of infection, and the human tendency to overeat while under stress…

6 Distinct “Types” of COVID19

Researchers at King’s College London have developed an algorithm to categorize COVID19 patients into 6 “types” based on symptoms experienced in the first 5 days of illness, and predict their likelihood of requiring hospitalization or ventilation. The types range from “flu-like” (with or without fever) and “gastrointestinal” to the increasingly severe “fatigue,” “confusion,” and “abdominal/respiratory” type. Just 1-3% of patients in the first 3 clusters ever required ventilation, but 9-20% of those in the more severe clusters did, and half the patients in cluster 6 wound up in hospital. KCL

Lasting Neurological Consequences

COVID19’s respiratory and skeletal muscle impacts were apparent almost immediately, but case data is increasingly demonstrating long-term neurological and neurocognitive effects like attention, memory and learning deficits. Studies have found anywhere from 36% to 84% of COVID19 patients have neurological symptoms ranging from headaches and delirium through paresthesia (burning/prickling sensation in the limbs). Neuroscientists at McMaster are working towards more reliable neurocognitive assessments. The Conversation

The Dreaded “COVID 19”…

A new uAlberta consumer psychology study finds that “people under financial stress want to eat more of everything,” suggesting that high unemployment rates may drive a post-pandemic increase in the obesity rate. Like bears going into hibernation, “under stress, bodies send a signal to eat more and fuel up.” (Of course, it doesn’t help that we’re getting less exercise than ever.) On the other hand, those most concerned for their physical safety and most socially isolated will experience a decrease in appetite. uAlberta

International PSE

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has altered several policies to encourage international students to enrol online this fall, secure in the knowledge that their study time will count towards a post-graduate work permit. But they have also caught international attention for warning students not to book flights to Canada.

In Australia, COVID19’s impact on international enrolment is continuing to result in discussions of massive layoffs and reforms. And in the US, business groups are urging major reform to higher ed as well…

Canada Pulls in the Welcome Mat

Canada’s borders remain closed, even to our closest neighbours, until at least August. Foreign students with study permits or IRCC letters of introduction dated prior to Mar 18 can still travel to Canada, but only if it is essential. (CBSA agents at the border will make that decision on a case-by-case basis, but students who are established in Canada, or who are required to attend on-campus classes, should qualify.) IRCC’s guidance, issued Tuesday, says that students with permits dated after Mar 18 “should not make any plans to travel to Canada until the travel restrictions are lifted, as they will not be allowed to travel to or enter Canada.” Clearly the expectation is that most international students will study online for at least the fall term.  IRCC

Cutting Jobs in Australia

Australia’s uAdelaide is projecting a $220 M decline in revenues for 2020 and 2021, so the administration is proposing either cutting 400 FTE positions, or cutting just half that many while also reducing vacation pay, pay raises, and cutting pay 3.5% for 9 months. Five other Australian universities have already reached similar “job-protection” agreements with staff. Campus Morning Mail

Reform US Colleges to “Sustain Capitalism”

A new report from the Conference Board recommends grants, subsidies and one-time emergency federal funding for US colleges; revised legislation, regulatory flexibility and rigorous testing to promote innovative models; increased accountability, transparency and consumer protections for students; employer partnerships to ensure programs align with the labour market; and incentives for employer investments in education and training benefits. It cautions policymakers against aid to “institutions that were fundamentally weak prior to the pandemic,” and urges reforms to achieve “broader, more affordable access and improved individual career outcomes.”  Conference Board

Fall Reopenings

A remarkable new map shows the fall plans of US colleges at a glance. Time magazine is not convinced the plans are wise, and neither are some students, who have turned to satire on TikTok…

Fall Plans at US Colleges

The College Crisis Initiative (C2i) at NC’s Davidson College is tracking and mapping fall reopening plans by 2,963 US colleges, community colleges and universities, and the map on their dashboard is revealing: “Decision-making depends on size, location, peer networks, urbanicity, athletics, and other variables.” 2% plan to be fully F2F, 21% primarily F2F, 16% hybrid, and 27% fully or primarily online. The Northeast and California seem most likely to be planning an online Fall, while the Midwest and Southern states lean toward F2F instruction. C2i

The Next COVID19 Tinderboxes

Time magazine asks, “After cruise ships and nursing homes, will universities be the next COVID19 tinderboxes?” Already, at least 3 US college students in their 20s have died. Much about the disease remains unknown, and it is spreading rapidly in most states. Some studies suggest that aerosolized virus can be spread much farther than 6 feet, and remain airborne for hours. Sanitation, masks, and physical distancing “might be sufficient for a trip to the supermarket” but are likely to fail on campus – as they already have. Reopening campuses “will be like dropping a cruise ship into the centre of town – and giving passengers free rein.” Institutions should publish estimates of “infections, hospitalizations and deaths that re-opening will cause.” Time

Cynical Students aren’t Impressed

Sarcastic students have been posting “live reenactments” on TikTok, parodying well-meaning college correspondence. Rachel Dean’s version begins with “We don’t know if you guys have heard about this or not, but there’s a pandemic.” She bluntly summarizes the dilemma: “We want to bring you back to school, but at the same time you could all die. But at the same time, we would make no money if you didn’t come back.” As if that weren’t biting enough, she adds, “also – whoopsies! – we just found out we named a lot of our academic buildings after racists.” (That about sums up 2020 for higher ed.) Twitter


Although controversy swirls around the Chinese social media giant, TikTok has attracted billions of users in its first 3 years – including 63% of Canadian PSE applicants. It is simultaneously a platform for student engagement and student protest – and now the company intends to break into education itself…

TikTok as Chinese Spyware?

There are rising global concerns that TikTok could be sharing information (such as your smartphone’s geolocation data and clipboard contents) with the Chinese military and/or intelligence agencies, and potentially adding facial recognition. “Anything TikTok knows, assume China knows.” India banned TikTok(and 58 other Chinese apps) last month over privacy concerns. The Secretary of State says the US is “certainly looking at” banning TikTok, the Senate has proposed banning it for federal employees, and the US Navy has already done so. The Trump campaign has been running Facebook ads warning that “TikTok is spying on you.”

Microlearning on TikTok?

TikTok has been installed on some 2 billion smartphones since it launched in 2017, and although originally filled with 15-second user-generated dance videos, more and more marketers are seriously considering how to integrate it into their strategies. (Many PSE channels focus on entertaining videos by school mascots or cheerleaders.) And new CEO Kevin Mayer, formerly of Disney, signals a change in strategy. Last month, TikTok announced it plans to commission hundreds of experts and institutions to create professional educational content for its platform. #LearnOnTikTok has already attracted 7 billion views.  BBC

More Meetings Today?

Play Virtual Meeting Bingo!

University staff have, on average, attended 64.1% more meetings during the COVID19 lockdown – or so claims Emma Rees, a Gender Studies prof from the UK, without any supporting evidence whatsoever. Regardless of the topic, you can print out her handy “Virtual Meeting Bingo card” and play along: listen for the inevitable “you’re still on mute” or “that’s my dog barking,” watch for a “cat’s tail” or “pyjama bottoms,” or listen for pandemic buzzwords like “unprecedented,” “hybrid,” or “new normal.” If it’s been a really long day, the card “doubles as a drinking game.”  THE

Wednesday July 22, 2020

Student Scapegoats & Library Innovations

The challenge with tracking the COVID19 landscape is not just its sheer scope – I am spending 6 hours every day just scanning and reading news sources and data – but also the speed with which things evolve. Without fail, hours after this newsletter gets published, new items come along that really deserved to be included. (Thankfully they haven’t tended to contradict the trends that went before.)

So today, a couple of postscripts to yesterday’s “Invincible Youth” theme, and a particularly jarring suggestion that US colleges know full well they are setting up their students to be scapegoats when outbreaks occur on campus this Fall.

I’m nowhere near cynical enough to have thought of it that way myself… In some ways, the detailed reopening plans emphasizing “shared responsibility” and establishing safety monitors and enforcement are less reassuring in that light.

Also, analysts consider how higher ed in various countries will fare, some interesting innovations in service delivery from academic libraries and the registrar at Ryerson, and a few new campus updates – notably a plan to hold 5 semesters this academic year at Briercrest, to optimize for flexibility…

Invincible Youth, Redux

Yesterday I shared several stories about the rising rate of COVID19 infections among young people across North America. Even though they are quite unlikely to face fatal consequences, they can be superspreaders, or (as I outlined in prior issues) they can suffer more subtle neurological and cognitive consequences…

Canada’s Success is Fragile

Canada’s Deputy Chief PHO, Howard Njoo, is concerned about rising infection rates among youth across the country, and warns that “success is fragile and it only takes a few sparks and so on to backslide.” Many cases have been traced to bars, restaurants, and private parties, like 2 Canada Day parties in Kelowna. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has been imploring people to stay vigilant. Bonnie Henry warns that the upward curve in BC could lead to “explosive growth” of the pandemic this summer. CTV

Social Contracts & Codes of Conduct

Institutions are amending student codes of conduct or creating new social contracts or pledges for students to sign this Fall, to enforce social distancing guidelines and other COVID19 precautions. Most insist students refrain from large gatherings, stay 2m apart from others, consent to frequent temperature checks or nasal swab testing, and wear face masks – but 72% of campus leaders are very concerned about “motivating” students to comply, particularly off-campus. Viral outbreaks at frat parties and football training camps this summer have already demonstrated the challenge of changing social behaviour. (Drunk driving and anti-smoking campaigns took a decade to change attitudes.) IHE

The Students will be Scapegoats

An epidemiologist and a psychiatrist observe that US colleges are setting up for failure this Fall, and preparing to blame the students when the return to campus implodes. In most states, COVID19 cases are rising sharply, and experts believe it would be necessary to test all students every 2-3 days to manage outbreaks – a virtual impossibility without substantial new funding. Politicians and campus leaders are already scolding students for July 4 partying, and codes of conduct are being revised with harsh consequences. “Relying on the self-control of young adults, rather than deploying the public-health infrastructure needed to control a disease that spreads easily among people who live, eat, study, and socialize together, is not a safe reopening strategy.” Young people have an acute psychological need to socialize, and “an abstinence-only approach that orders students to lock themselves in their dorm rooms would likely fail.” The Atlantic

Detailed Reopening Plans

I have to admit, I won’t have the patience to read through all the campus reopening plans as we go forward, but I’ll try to capture the interesting new details from those I have the chance to review. As one of a handful of institutions aiming for most students to return to campus, StFX in particular is notable…

St Francis Xavier U is in a relatively fortunate position, located in Antigonish NS, with a community population of just over 4,000 people. It has published COVID19 Response Plans for students and employees, a Return to Research Framework, and a Campus Reopening Framework. (Some of these date back to mid-June, although the student plan was revised Jul 13.) They emphasize “shared responsibility,” the goal to “find new ways to preserve our unique, vibrant campus culture,” and the need to “proactively manage and respond swiftly” to symptoms or positive tests. Students must follow 7 protocols to be on campus, including symptoms checks, hygiene, contact tracing, physical distancing and masks. Although StFX plans to bring students back to campus, “face-to-face meetings should be avoided wherever possible.” The student code of conduct has been amended, and violations are a “major offence” that could result in residence or university suspension for up to 1 year. StFX is considering hiring 16 live-in Community Life Coordinators to monitor and enforce protocols in residence. Attendance must be taken at all F2F classes. StFX

uToronto has just published its Guide to a Safe Return to Work. The City of Toronto remains in Stage 2 of the provincial reopening, but once it reaches Stage 3 some dining and athletic facilities will reopen, and smaller classes may be able to resume. Those employees who can WFH will continue to do so. Managers will develop unit plans and provide PPE as required. Contact tracing will be done via the Occupational Health Nurse. uToronto

Pandemic Impacts

The COVID19 pandemic is a global phenomenon, but the timing and severity of waves of infection will vary, and higher ed systems have pre-existing strengths and weaknesses that will position them differently…

Higher Ed Winners & Losers

COVID19 is simultaneously impacting international mobility and revenue, government and research funding, family finances and endowment returns – but its impact on higher ed will vary around the world. Australia and the UK depend on international students for about 20% of total enrolments, whereas they comprise just 5% of US students. (China, South Korea and Japan may benefit from decreased student mobility out of the region.) Government funding appears to be stronger in Canada, while US funding was already low and is likely to drop further. R&D funding may help institutions weather the pandemic storm in Germany, the US, South Korea and Australia. THE

Aggressive Recruiting to Hong Kong

Hong Kong universities are increasing their efforts to retain local students who might otherwise have studied abroad this Fall, and to attract faculty who might be unable to travel to Western countries. The city has weathered the pandemic reasonably well, and institutions have funding for PhD and postgrad researchers. Hong Kong U is offering local students the opportunity to pay domestic rates and study as “visiting students,” with credits they can ultimately transfer abroad. HKU also has a new set of $70,000 PhD scholarships for grad students who cannot travel due to visa issues. THE

Library Innovations

Even before the pandemic, the majority of library subscriptions and new materials were increasingly digital. Particularly at research universities, though, print materials continue to be important – leading to some interesting innovations as research libraries cope with the “new normal”…

Collective Digital Versions

The HathiTrust Emergency Temporary Access Service (ETAS) is an international collaboration between 150 university research libraries that has assembled more than 17 million digitized print items. Students and faculty can access online digitized versions of any print book already in their university library’s holdings, to respect copyright law. Canadian members include UBC, uAlberta, uCalgary, McMaster, uToronto, Queen’s and McGill. McMaster

Video, eBooks, Curbside Materials

York U Libraries are responding to online delivery by permanently adding >22,000 ebooks to the collection, expanding access to streaming video, and offering curbside pickup of print materials for grad students and faculty. YUL are also partnering with the Copyright office to help faculty with digital versions of course readings where possible, including permalinks, acquisition, or scanning under Fair Dealing. York

Bookmobiles at Your Own Curb!

Wilfrid Laurier U Library is making print resources available through a Bookmobile service for contactless delivery and pickup starting tomorrow. “Books to Go” are available to undergrad and grad students in Waterloo, Kitchener and Brantford. Digitization and scanning services to support online and remote learning resumed Monday. WLU

Remote-Controlled Computers

McMaster Libraries are providing students, faculty and staff with free remote access to dozens of often costly computer applications they need, from Adobe Creative Cloud to MATLAB, SPSS and Maple. The software is running on 140 public computers in the Mac libraries, and users can access them remotely. McMaster

Registrar Innovations

Naturally it’s not just libraries that have had to adapt. Ryerson’s registrar, Charmaine Hack, provides plenty of detail in this article for Ryerson Today…

Ryerson’s registrar had to migrate online in just 48 hours this spring, as well as deliver $3M in emergency bursaries, and handle 28,000 requests for credit/no credit grade changes. Open houses went virtual in April, and guided virtual tours launched in May. Email volumes increased 5x, to about 11,000 that month. They issued 14,600 offers of admission remotely. The ServiceHub launched a state-of-the-art remote call centre on Jul 6, capable of monitoring call volumes and routing callers to the right service specialist. They plan to launch a live chat function shortly. Oh, and launched a secure, verifiable electronic transcript system while they were at it! Ryerson

(Let me know if you come across good articles or videos detailing other initiatives!)

Misc Updates

Briercrest Christian Academy & College, in Caronport SK, announced yesterday “a combination of face to face instruction while also accommodating online instruction” for the Fall semester. Courses will be adjusted to “a modified tutorial format” to reduce contact time. The academic year will be delivered as 5 modular, 2-month semesters, with alternate-day classes. Briercrest

uToronto’s academic divisions have now posted details about Fall courses. 90% of undergrad courses will feature online delivery (synchronous or asynchronous) and one-third will also offer “in-person opportunities for connection through instruction, tutorials, labs and experiential learning.” (UofT’s VP Academic, Vivek Goel, stepped down last month to lead the university’s pandemic response.) uToronto

Face masks have recently been made mandatory in indoor common areas at Fanshawe College (Jul 18) and uWaterloo (Jul 27).

Tuesday July 21, 2020

Pandemic Retreats, Last Stands & Shields

In general, CdnPSE was fairly quick to recognize the significant risk of a second pandemic wave this Fall, and most decided to deliver classes predominantly or exclusively online. (Admittedly, the decision was likely made easier by the knowledge that our governments are unlikely to allow large public institutions to fail.)

For a change, Canadian higher ed was the trendsetter, and our American counterparts are just starting to accept the inevitable now, backpedalling on F2F classes for Fall, and postponing NCAA athletics. (Perhaps it’s that Canadian deference to authority, or our relentless tendency to apologize for things that aren’t even our own fault.)

What is still astonishing to me, though, are the number of Canadian protestors and American politicians who persist in fighting for personal freedoms and choice, like anti-intellectual Cuchulains fighting the waves of a pandemic with mere swords…

Pandemic Momentum

Canadians may underestimate just how fortunate we have been so far, in bringing the pandemic curve under control. Daily case counts by region, province or state obscure the big picture, which should raise concerns as we plan campus reopenings…

The Pandemic is Still Accelerating

COVID19 has now infected almost 15 million people worldwide, killing more than 600,000 of them – and globally, the pandemic is continuing to accelerate. More than 3 million cases were added in the past 2 weeks alone, particularly in the US (884,625), Brazil (495,334), India (420,630), and South Africa (167,578). The US has in fact broken its own daily records 9 times in the past month, peaking at 77,255 new cases on Jul 16.

Short-lived Successes

The “second wave” was inevitable, but we didn’t see it coming so quickly. Melbourne, Australia, has had to implement fresh restrictions. States including Arizona, California and Texas have reversed course on their reopenings. After almost a month without local transmission, Hong Kong reports the pandemic is again spreading “out of control.” After 5 months without a case in Xinjiang China, scores of fresh cases have arisen and >3,000 people are in quarantine. Just as tourists start to arrive in Europe again, Spain has reported 200 outbreaks (since one of the world’s strictest lockdowns) and France currently has 500 active clusters. As soon as border restrictions ease and economies reopen, infections arrive and start fresh outbreaks.

Young & “Invincible”

As more asymptomatic youth aged 17-29 test positive for COVID19, concerns grow that they will fuel fresh outbreaks across the country – and particularly on PSE campuses…

Carefree Twentysomethings

While children and teens account for just 7.5% of COVID19 cases in Canada to date, those in their 20s now account for 14% – almost identical to the proportion in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. As provinces start reopening bars, restaurants, theatres and gyms, new cases among those aged 20-29 have surged in virtually every province. (They are also surging in the southern US.) Since many are asymptomatic, increased testing could be part of the explanation – but experts fear young people have a false sense of “invincibility” and are failing to take precautions as they socialize. They could become a major vector for the second wave.

Rebels without a Mask

Young people are not the only concern. As regions across Canada announce mandatory face mask orders, a backlash is brewing. On Sunday, protesters gathered to “March to Unmask” in cities across the country, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Ottawa, London (ON) and Montreal. Many of them believe that “mixed messaging” about the effectiveness of masks is “propaganda” designed to play upon the fears of the public, and demand “freedom of choice.” Yet a recent national poll found 67% of Canadians support mandatory masks, and just 27% were opposed. (For that matter, a new US poll found just 20% of Americans opposed to mandatory masks.) Nonetheless, Republican governors in Florida and Georgiahave tried to override local mask bylaws.

Academic Retreats

Particularly in Georgia and Florida, where infection rates are skyrocketing and politicians are resisting precautions, institutions are reluctantly backtracking on their ambitious reopening plans for the Fall…

The First Wave of Campuses Fall Back

More and more institutional leaders are realizing the risks of a “mass migration” of students to “congregate living” on their campuses, and concluding it cannot be managed safely in an escalating pandemic. On Monday, half a dozen US institutions reversed previously-announced plans to start the Fall term with at least some students back on campus. Now UC Berkeley, Morehouse C, Grinnell C, Spelman C, Clark Atlanta U, and Miami Dade C will start September entirely online. They join Occidental C, Emory U, Dickinson C and others who announced more online plans last week. “An honest appraisal of the facts compelled us to change course.” Chronicle

More NCAA Conferences Cancel

On Friday, 6 more NCAA athletic conferences announced they were cancelling or postponing the Fall season, including the Colonial Athletic Association, America East, Atlantic 10, East Coast, Commonwealth Coast, and North Eastern Athletic Conferences. (Previously the Ivy League, Patriot League, and New England Small College Athletic Conference cancelled the fall term.) Some have reserved the option to play a truncated season if the pandemic risk has passed, while a few institutions are hoping to find “options” for competition. IHE

Last Stands

Though the general trend line seems inevitable, some institutions remain determined to hold in-person activities this summer, or classes this Fall, no matter what…

Defiant Convocation at Hillsdale

Hillsdale College, a Christian institution in Michigan, defied state law by holding an in-person graduation ceremony on Saturday, despite surging cases in the state and a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people. The college organized 3 days of dinners, cocktail parties, and music recitals. “This is not an act of defiance… this is a core First Amendment expressive activity,” says a college VP.  IHE

Primarily F2F in Winnipeg

My index of 90 CdnPSE institutions includes just 4 who are still hoping against hope that they can bring the majority of students to campus in September: Providence UC, Redeemer U, Bishop’s U and StFX. Winnipeg’s Canadian Mennonite U isn’t on my list, but is in the news, for the same reason. They intend to offer “a full slate of in-person instruction,” with just a few “virtual extensions to learning for those who request it.” Many of CMU’s classes have <25 students, and they are confident they can implement social distancing protocols. Choirs might have to sing “with their backs to one another… all in different directions.” CBC

To the Death in Texas

Even in Texas, stubbornness has to know some bounds, and there comes a point when institutions know they have to close their campuses. At UT Austin, they have developed a list of criteria to trigger such a decision, including government legislation, hospitals nearing capacity, testing shortages on campus, or (ahem) a student dying of COVID19. As the journalist observes, “no mention was made of what would happen if a staff or faculty member died” – but a custodian died of COVID19 a week after the university published its reopening plans. Texas Tribune

Liability Shields

Institutions are rightly concerned about their liability for COVID19 consequences. Hundreds are being sued in the US for partial tuition refunds from the spring exodus. Insurance companies are unwilling to assume potentially massive risks of reopening campuses this Fall. Some institutions (like StFX) are attempting to control risk by asking students to sign liability waivers. Others are turning to government for indemnification…

Preventing Spring Refunds

North Carolina passed a law on Jul 1 that will protect its colleges from lawsuits demanding tuition refunds and other damages related to COVID19 campus closures. 5 NC universities are currently being sued for reimbursements related to the spring shutdown. (In effect, this is a government defending institutions from the consequences of taking precautions.) IHE

5-Year Shield vs Lawsuits

On the flip-side, Republicans in the US Senate are considering a proposal that would make it significantly more difficult for students or employees to file COVID19 lawsuits against educational institutions, by temporarily raising the bar to “gross negligence or intentional misconduct,” and requiring plaintiffs to provide “clear and convincing evidence.” It would also allow colleges to violate federal labour laws so long as they comply with PHO guidelines, and would cap potential damages. Colleges are asking for protection because they “can’t count on clear, consistent guidance from their local, state and federal authorities,” and therefore cannot defend what decisions could be “reasonable.” Student groups say the Senate proposal is “pretty horrifying.” A law prof worries that broad immunity would say to students, “return to campus at your peril.” IHE


Cultural Shifts from COVID19

Juniper Park\TBWA says brands should display empathy and compassion in their pandemic marketing by emulating consumers’ new cultural behaviours. “Kooky Coping” is the use of satire, humour, and quirky social content to escape from depressing news. (They cite the Apple WFH video I shared Friday as a prime example.) “Open Source Generosity” means sharing open-source ideas and materials – which has been exemplified in higher ed. The “Frugal Futures” trend warns that “cautionary spenders will become the norm” and consumers will resent wasteful materialism – a caution for luxury brands, and perhaps some elite MBA advertising. Strategy

Monday July 20, 2020

Global Challenges & New Collaborations

Colleges and universities face common challenges in jurisdictions across North America and around the world: pandemic preparedness, border closures, fiscal and political pressures, and heightened competition for a shrinking student market.

But increasingly, the COVID19 crisis is encouraging institutions to respond collectively and collaboratively, a slow-moving trend that the pandemic has accelerated. Today I’ll share examples of some campus-sharing and course-sharing arrangements, and some examples of public-private partnerships too.

And a handful of new CdnPSE announcements includes some gradual reopening of campuses, plans for Fall, and a COVID19 student code of conduct (of sorts) at Conestoga College…

Global Challenges

Around the world, higher ed faces remarkably similar challenges from the pandemic, recession, and right-leaning governments. In the UK, a new “restructuring regime” aims to reshape universities to focus on economic utility and suppress political activism – and threatens to allow some institutions to fail. Half of US campus leaders expect their institutions to be “transformed” by COVID19, and are uneasy about their financial stability. And in Australia, desperation for enrolment has led to some institutions paying truly extortionate commissions to agents…

“Restructuring” UK Universities

The UK parliament has announced conditions for emergency (repayable) loans to English universities under a new “restructuring regime,” applying new pressure to institutional autonomy, administrative bloat, encouraging a “rebalancing” towards STEM programs, and emphasizing right-wing hot buttons like campus freedom of speech and defunding “niche activism” by student unions. The Dept of Ed warns “not all providers will be prevented from exiting the market,” but that it will be looking for “value for money,” and likely reducingthe number of students entering higher ed. It urges programs “which deliver strong graduate employment outcomes in areas of economic and societal importance, such as STEM, nursing and teaching,” and warns that “public funding for courses that do not deliver for students will be reassessed.” COVID19 emergency loans will only be considered where the institution has an otherwise sound financial model.  THE

Fiscal Anxiety in America

Half of US college business officers feel little confidence in their institution’s financial stability, particularly in the short-term, and the mood has dropped most sharply at community colleges and private nonprofit universities. Most incurred <$2 M in unanticipated COVID19 expenses, but have already invested “significantly” in infrastructure to support virtual learning. More than a third expect to eliminate administrative and adjunct faculty positions, and underperforming academic programs, by year-end, while slightly fewer anticipate employee furloughs. 47% of campus leaders expect their institutions to be “transformed” post-COVID19, while 26% hope to return to normal operations within 18 months. The majority expect to make their academic calendar more flexible, and increase employee WFH. A third of institutions in the Northeast were contemplating institutional mergers. IHE

Poaching Students in Australia

With Australia’s borders closed to international students, some institutions are reportedly paying “extortionate” commissions – as much as 40-50% of tuition – to unregulated “bottom-feeder agents” to poach students from their competitors. 20% of current foreign students are “marooned offshore,” particularly in China.  THE


For decades now, higher ed institutions have been collaborating more and more on purchasing, licensing, payroll and benefits – but more significant agreements on credit transfer or course sharing have been painfully slow to develop, because ultimately institutions remain competitors. The financial and enrolment shock of the pandemic this year, however, has encouraged administrators to rethink the possible…

An Arizona Option for Quest Students

Credit articulation and transfer agreements are so frequent that they hardly seem newsworthy, but this one is explicitly in response to COVID19 and border closures. American students enrolled at Quest U, in Squamish BC, will have the option to attend on-campus classes at Arizona’s Prescott College this fall. In response to COVID19, Prescott is adopting Quest’s 4×4 block plan for course delivery this fall, and both institutions offer interdisciplinary degrees. Quest students can transfer to Prescott and return to Quest on a reciprocal transfer. Prescott

Academic “Food Court” in Connecticut

3 colleges in Connecticut – Goodwin U, Sacred Heart U, and the Paier College of Art – announced earlier this month that they will acquire uBridgeport’s campus and convert it into a shared “University Park,” or what one of the presidents calls an “academic food court.” Students from all 3 institutions will reside in shared dorms, use the same library, recreation and dining facilities – and will have the option to take courses from the partner colleges and transfer back the credit. The acquisition of uBridgeport will take 12-18 months. IHE

Course-Sharing between Small Colleges

Acadeum is a course-sharing platform that permits “teaching institutions” to offer up unfilled seats in online courses at a discount to students attending “home institutions” elsewhere. The home institution pre-screens courses for credit transfer, charges the student tuition, and shares revenue with the teaching institution. The approach helps institutions offer a wider range of courses and timetables to their students, and streamlines the credit transfer process. It can also help at-risk students re-take courses or pick up credits during summer. It can even provide ready-made online courses to institutions without any of their own. Acadeum currently has 725,000 available seats in 15,000 course sections, at 200 institutions. Edu Dive

Course Sharing in Canada

There have been several small-scale examples of course sharing in Canada, from Ontario’s Northern Colleges Collaboration to the 4 Maple League universities. As of Jun 30, Acadeum has now entered the Canadian higher education space in a partnership with Christian Higher Education Canada, and its 35 member universities, seminaries and bible colleges. CHEC

Workforce Training across Quebec

Groupe Collegia is a consortium of continuing education departments at 3 Quebec CEGEPs (Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles, Cégep de Matane, and Cégep de Rivière-du-Loup), although they also access the provincewide system of 48 CEGEPs and 59 college centres for technology transfer. They collaboratively offer credit and non-credit full-time and part-time study, PLAR, and customized workforce training, online, in-person and in hybrid formats. Collegia

Shared Course Development in Ottawa

Carleton U and uOttawa are working together to develop and share accessible, bilingual online modules and courses for Fall 2020 through the Shared Online Projects Initiative (SOPI). “The initiative will increase institutional flexibility in online course and program delivery, allow instructors to engage in collaborative pedagogical innovations, and provide high quality learning experiences for students at the participating institutions.” SOPI provides instructors with grants of up to $8,000, and support from instructional designers, educational technologists and librarians from both institutions. Carleton

P3s Help Address the Crisis

In the wake of the pandemic, state and national consortia are working together on collective PPE supplies, health and safety procedures, legal issues and more – but the president of Northern Kentucky U believes that public-private partnerships (P3s) will be crucial to address the many challenges facing regional state universities. NKU partnered with a commercial Online Program Management (OPM) company, who helped grow their online enrolment from 170 students to almost 3,000 in just 2 years. Partnering with a grocery store chain helped address the food insecurity of 30% of their students. And there are many other examples of leveraging strengths of different types of organizations to tackle local urgencies and the greater good. The key, he says, is “finding the overlap in our respective institutional missions.” IHE

Campus Updates

Today we see a sort of COVID19 code of conduct for Conestoga students, cautious and limited returns to campus at McMaster, Nipissing, Ryerson and Seneca, and program-level details for Fall at Mohawk…

Conestoga has published Campus Access Guidelines for Students that establish student responsibilities including daily safety app screening, mandatory masks, no gatherings of more than 10 people, and 2m physical distancing. Faculty and staff are responsible for “compliance monitoring.” If students pose “an immediate safety threat” they will be immediately removed by security and “temporarily trespassed from campus” pending a conduct meeting with the Student Rights and Responsibilities Office. Conestoga

McMaster reports that its research reopening has gone well, and now faculty can request limited access “for occasional onsite work in extenuating circumstances.” McMaster

Mohawk College launched their Fall 2020 program delivery website on Friday, indicating whether specific programs will be delivered entirely online, or online with some “in-person requirements.” I count 80 programs with F2F components (particularly apprenticeships), or roughly half of the total. Mohawk

Nipissing U is still in phase 0 (restricted access) of its new Return to Campus Framework. Phase 1 (required access) will allow more employees to return under departmental staffing plans. Face masks have been made mandatory by the regional PHO starting Jul 24. Nipissing

Ryerson is circulating planning materials to managers for preparation of the campus for gradual reopening, but remote work will continue until at least September and likely “into the fall.” Face masks are now mandatory indoors, except in private offices, or during fitness activity. Ryerson

Seneca College is welcoming back about 80 “stranded” students, including those in Veterinary Assistant, and Pre-Service Firefighter programs. Seneca




Virtual Study Buddies

Generations Y and Z are among the most social learners ever, which is why learning commons and group-study rooms have become so popular on campus. If social distancing is crimping your social learning style, or stressing out a student you know, check out “The Strive to Fit,” a YouTube channel with hour-long ambient videos of a study partner working alongside you, with or without background music, in various settings. YouTube

Friday July 17, 2020

Bad News, Bad Ideas, & Bad Press – TGIF!

Good morning, TGIF, and apparently, happy World Emoji Day too!  ;-)

I started out planning a fun, feel-good Friday issue – but unfortunately wound up with too many pressing – and DEpressing – stories we all need to hear.

There’s bad news from Alaska to Alberta to Australia – and political, medical, and social hints of more bad news to come. There are people out there with incredibly bad ideas – setting us up for unprecedented town-gown tensions and potentially some major humanitarian disasters in small college towns. And then there are a couple of examples of bad news stories that just won’t go away…

At least, if you make it to the end of this issue, I’ve got a fun video about WFH, just #ICYMI!

Bad News

uAkron Lays off 1/4 of Faculty

Since the pandemic began, the University of Akron (OH) has laid off 23% of its unionized full-time faculty. This week the board voted to eliminate another 178 positions, including 96 unionized faculty. uAkron reports the staff reductions have saved $16.4 M in this fiscal year. The layoffs are still subject to a union vote and potentially arbitration. The union has proposed instead cuts to athletics, furloughs, and more incremental budget cuts. Chronicle

500 Job Losses at UNSW

The U of New South Wales, one of Australia’s largest universities (and one heavily dependent upon international enrolments), is planning to embrace WFH and lifelong online learners to radically reform its campus in response to the challenges of the COVID19 pandemic. An estimated $370 M shortfall next year will require UNSW to eliminate the equivalent of 493 full-time positions, or 7.5% of its workforce. It also plans to eliminate 4 senior admin positions, merge 8 faculties into 6, and streamline other units. THE

40 Programs Cut at uAlaska

The uAlaska system has decided to discontinue 39 academic programs and reduce 4 others to save an estimated $25 M across its 3 universities. (Alaska’s governor announced $70 M in state funding cuts prior to the pandemic.) The cuts affect some programs in environment, geography, geology, sociology, theatre, welding and nondestructive testing. More than 600 students currently taking the programs will be allowed to complete. The board is still deliberating the merger of uAlaska Fairbanks and uAlaska Southeast. AP

Demolishing Old Buildings at uAlberta

With about 1.8 million square metres of infrastructure and 11,000 hectares of land, uAlberta has a physical footprint 50% larger than its peer institutions – and its new president plans to eliminate some buildings to reduce the $150 M in annual maintenance and utility costs. (You may recall UofA already announced about 1,000 layoffs.) Likely on the chopping block: the 1957 Admin Bldg, the 1946 Nurses Residence, and perhaps the 1972 Humanities Centre or 1967 Human Ecology bldg. Edmonton Journal

Bad News to Come

Less Campus Life at uRegina

uRegina normally brings 20,000 people together in just a few city blocks – and that density is an unacceptable risk during a pandemic. Nearly all classes will be offered online this Fall, and residences will be operating at 56% capacity. The number of international students registered is up from last year, mainly due to returningstudents: applications from new international students are down nearly 75%. Campus life will be “extremely limited” but “students will still find ways to socialize off campus.” Regina Leader-Post

China Won’t Like This…

Canada may have little choice but to (further) offend the Chinese government by following Australia, the US, and likely soon the UK in declaring Huawei and ZTE “national security risks” and banning them from our 5G networks. The US FCC believes Huawei is tied to Chinese intelligence and racketeering, and may support Chinese espionage operations abroad. A new report from the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre is expected to trigger a complete ban of Huawei there. And Australia has already banned Huawei and ZTE – contributing to veiled threats of an international student boycott from China. “If Canada does something that China doesn’t like in regards to Huawei, it kidnaps citizens.” (This kind of geopolitical tension is bound to have implications for Canada’s recruitment of international students.) Global

COVID19 can be a Long Haul

Health authorities have long believed that patients will recover from mild COVID19 in about 2 weeks, and from severe cases in 3-6 weeks. But so-called “long-haulers,” those who have struggled with lingering symptoms of COVID19 for months, provide proof that in some cases, the virus takes a toll for 5 months or more. Some report persistent neurological and cognitive symptoms, ranging from brain fog, fatigue and headaches to skin rashes, shortness of breath, or “permanently fizzing” limbs. Some Toronto SARS patients experienced physical limitations as much as 5 years after release from hospital. National Post

Birthday Candles are Gone for Good

A Clemson U professor of Food Safety believes that one birthday tradition will soon be extinct thanks to COVID19: cakes with candles. He co-authored a 2017 study that found 1400% more bacteria on cakes after candles were blown out. “If someone blows on your food just before you eat it, then you’re likely going to get exposed.” He suggests “waving” the candles out, or using a blow dryer, as more “sanitary” alternatives. CTV

Bad Ideas

Too many college officials in rural towns believe that it will be safe to bring thousands of students back to campus this Fall, because their community has few cases of COVID19. But the bigger danger is that those students will bring a pandemic surge with them (just as students did after March Break across North America), infecting the staff and surrounding community and overwhelming small-town hospitals…

Football is Essential?

The head football coach at Louisiana State U told the US vice-president and others this week that the college football season “must” take place, despite the fact that Louisiana has one of the fastest-growing COVID19 infection rates in the country (and 30+ LSU football players were placed in quarantine earlier this summer). The virus, he said, “can be handled.” But, “we need football. Football is the lifeblood of our country… We need to play.” VP Mike Pence (who is chairman of the White House coronavirus task force) reportedly applauded. ESPN

Reopening “A Recipe for Disaster”

uVirginia plans to offer “as many in-person classes as we can” starting Aug 25, but the mayor of Charlottesville calls the plan “a recipe for disaster.” Already, officials are getting reports of house parties and large gatherings. “I, for one, do not understand why the students are coming back into the community from all over the globe, and why we would take that chance.” The condensed semester will end in November, and “when they leave… we’ll be left cleaning up the fallout from that decision.” Daily Progress

An Uphill Battle Off-Campus

uMass Amherst plans to deliver the majority of its classes online this Fall, but it still plans to open campus residences to students. The town manager of Amherst has publicly expressed concern about open dorms and enforcing codes of conduct at off-campus parties. “These two decisions will endanger the health and, perhaps, lives of those who live in and around the town of Amherst.” He is concerned that a massive spread of COVID19 could overwhelm the local hospital, EMTs and paramedics: “Your decisions mean that we all face a tremendous uphill battle.” He is hoping uMass will perform testing, daily screenings, and contact tracing for students both on- and off-campus. Daily Hampshire Gazette

Doubling the Population of Antigonish

St Francis Xavier remains one of a handful of CDNpse institutions determined to bring students back to campus in 6 weeks. (The others include Bishop’s U, Redeemer U, and Providence UC). StFX officials held a virtual town hall this week to describe their plans to bring 4,500 students back to campus in September, effectively doubling the population of Antigonish. 40% of those students will come from outside Atlantic Canada, so they will need to self-isolate for 14 days. StFX requires off-campus students to submit a self-isolation plan, will be subject to random checks, and will be issued a green wristband once their self-isolation is complete. Violation of pandemic protocols is subject to a $1,000 fine in NS, and is a major offence under StFX’s revised code of conduct. The Telegram

Bad Press

Bad news gets worse when it isn’t quickly resolved, but instead resurfaces day after day with controversy and confusion…

StFX Waiver to be Reworked

Nova Scotia’s Advanced Education minister says St Francis Xavier U will reword the student liability waiver circulated last weekend. StFX intends to offer 72% of undergrad courses in person this Fall, but wanted to students to waive any and all claims for illness, expense, injury or death to the student or their close relatives – whether due to negligence, breach of contract, or any other duty of care. Student leaders are reportedly negotiating to have the waiver revised or replaced with a code of conduct.  Global

International Students are US Pawns

In the past few months, a series of xenophobic and nationalist policy proposals from the Trump Administration has made the US far less attractive as a study destination for international students, from Muslim bans and annual renewals of student visas, to threats against post-graduate work permits and H1B visas, and then the threat to deport international students taking a purely online term this Fall. The number of new and enrolled foreign students in the US has been declining for several years, and a new study forecasts that many US colleges will lose 63% to 98% of new international students for the upcoming academic year. THE


Obviously I can’t leave you for the weekend without something a bit more fun…

Apple released a fun 7-min video this week about “the whole working-from-home thing,” and if you’re not already one of the 13 million viewers, you might want to check it out. It nicely contrasts the WFH experience of single managers and single parents, of attempts to collaborate via Facetime, and our collective inability to keep track of what day it is… I think I can guarantee it will make you smile a couple of times in the first few minutes. YouTube


Thursday July 16, 2020

Cautions, Precautions, & Backpedalling

Today we’ve got a flurry of campus safety plans, precautions and protocols being circulated, both for staff and students returning to campus this summer, and in preparation for the Fall.

But speaking of caution, this week we’ve seen plenty of “backpedalling” in the face of the pandemic. Several states have paused or rolled back their reopenings in the face of skyrocketing infections and overflowing ICUs. As athletic conferences have been cancelling competitions for the fall, campuses with summer training camps are fighting COVID19 outbreaks. Donald Trump backed down on his visa policy, intended to force campuses to reopen, and finally wore a face mask himself.

Now, after several days of indignant protest over a liability waiver for students, StFX is apparently reconsidering. The number of CDNpse campuses making face masks mandatory has doubled since Monday. Western has postponed its Fall convocation. And Bishop’s seems to be admitting that it might need to revert to online delivery at some point this Fall…

More Mandatory Masks

As I mentioned last week, mandatory face mask policies seem to be gaining steam on CDNpse campuses. New announcements have been made at Acadia, Bishops, Mohawk, Mount Allison, McGill, Queen’s, and SAIT. Masks are “encouraged” at UoGuelph. Of my list of 90 institutions, we’re now at 24 who have made masks mandatory indoors, when social distancing cannot be maintained – including most Ontario institutions, and all in Quebec (as of Jul 18).

Student Pushback

This year, students have been protesting everything from academic grading policies and residence evictions to racial injustice and police brutality. But as we approach Fall term, many are also expressing frustration with tuition fees, health and safety measures, and legal requirements like StFX’s liability waiver…

Waiving Student Waivers?

After several days of protests and international media attention, St Francis Xavier U has reportedly “relented,” “backing off its demand for students to sign a waiver.” The 3-page form, which waived any and all claims and imposed the terms on heirs and next-of-kin, was apparently imposed due to a lack of insurance coverage. President Andrew Hakin promised to “review this decision to ensure it presents the best way forward.” Although StFX is the first CDNpse example, Ohio State U required its football players to sign a statement acknowledging the COVID19 risk. Various US lobby groups have been urging Congress to indemnify colleges from liability if they resume classes this fall, without success. THE

Justifying Fall Tuition

Sheridan president Janet Morrison has written to students to address concerns raised at town hall forums, dispelling the myth that the College is “profiting” (in fact, it anticipates an $80 M loss), explaining why tuition fees cannot be reduced, describing services and supports for students, and emphasizing the quality of instruction they can expect this Fall. Sheridan

Clarity about Fall

As some hold-out institutions make their plans clearer for the Fall term, and others clarify previous announcements, the general drift is towards more online activity…

Acadia U has published a phased reopening plan, and delivery specifics for Fall 2020 courses, in 5 modes: Virtual Scheduled, Virtual Unscheduled, Hybrid Scheduled, Hybrid Unscheduled, and F2F on Campus. For the latter 3 modes, the timetable allows time for “structured entry and exit practices” and cleaning between classes. Acadia

Bishop’s U is qualifying its fall plan to return to campus. Some O-week activities will be online, large concerts and pub nights will be replaced with outdoor events throughout the term, face coverings will be required indoors, and “we must stand ready” to respond to PHO guidance and “modulate [our] work on short notice (as in Winter and Spring 2020).” Bishop’s

Briercrest College announced this week that they have submitted a revised Return to Campus Plan to the SK Ministry of Advanced Ed but are awaiting further guidance. “This plan would allow students back to campus to live in dorms and to study in a combination of face to face and online instruction.” However, “given the planning and travel required for students,” Briercrest Seminary will offer its courses online this Fall. Briercrest

uRegina has published a 3-page Teaching & Learning Plan Summary for students, including details about platforms, supports, health and safety protocols, limited low-density labs and studios, and student practicums and placements. uRegina

Western U has postponed its fall convocation (Oct 21-23). Degrees will be conferred in October and a virtual celebration will be planned. Currently, Western hopes to hold in-person ceremonies in May 2021. Western

Campus Safety Plans

Clearly BC institutions are all responding to PHO and Worksafe BC directives to prepare and publish written safety plans, but across the country many are detailing precautions and protocols for a safe return to campus…

uCalgary has shared “7 Ways Campus is Looking Different,” including: office kitchens, appliances and utensils are off limits; elevators will be limited to 1 or 2 occupants; furniture has been removed to discourage loitering; and one-way traffic signage. uCalgary

Capilano has published an 11-page COVID19 Safety Plan, outlining a 6-step process with checklists. Building and room occupancy limits have been revised based on 5 sq m per person. CapU hopes that BC will permit mixed-mode activities in September. Capilano

Durham College has released a 6-min video and 22-page “flipbook” outlining expectations of staff and students returning to campus. Durham

Emily Carr U has published a Community Health + Safety Plan which includes safety training, self-assessment, secure entry to campus, and room occupancy limits. Campus dining will be closed, and water fountains shut off. ECUAD

Kwantlen is approaching Stage 2 of its Academic/Operational Continuity Plan, which will allow “a gradual and tightly managed return to campus for a very limited number of students and employees.” This includes 3 activities: limited in-person labs, studios, or workshops; essential work; and short visits to access offices (for less than 2 hours). NO in-person meetings or events of any size are permitted on campus. Kwantlen

Mount Allison has published a health and safety preparedness checklist for students, including medical and health supplies for life in residence (like a thermometer, acetaminophen, masks, hand sanitizer, and flip-flops for the showers). MTA

Queen’s has published a 9-page return to campus guideline document, detailing engineering and administrative controls, cleaning protocols, HVAC enhancements, PPE approaches, and signage graphics. In general, 18.5 sq m will be required per person in labs and non-fixed seating areas; otherwise, hoteling, staggered shifts, or Plexiglas barriers will be employed. Employees will take staggered breaks and use of shared appliances will be discouraged. Many elevators and washrooms will be labelled for single occupancy. Virtual meetings and WFH will continue as much as possible. Queen’s

Returning to Campus

We’re steadily seeing on-campus research resume, “stranded” students back in labs, and in some lucky spots (like Manitoba) even more campus activity beginning…

Red River College entered phase 2 of its return to campus plan yesterday, welcoming more students back to campus for industry training. RRC

SFU has moved to the H2 phase of its impact scale, allowing “limited one-time, episodic in-person meetings, events, or ceremonies with approved safety plans and fewer than 20 participants… for faculty and staff only” in selected buildings. SFU

uWaterloo has commenced phase 2 of its research restart plan. Waterloo

Looking Ahead

Since environmental scanning and strategic planning are my day job, I find it encouraging to see some institutions proceeding with forward-looking plans, even in these challenging times…

York U has published its 2020-25 Academic Plan, emphasizing its “foundational commitment to the arts, humanities, and social sciences,” and to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. York’s plans include a new tech/entrepreneurship campus in Markham, and an integrated health precinct in Vaughan. York has deployed an AI “Student Virtual Advisor” and will use data analytics to enable proactive early interventions and supports. Selected strategies include a broader range of flexible credentials, experiential learning opportunities for every student, enhanced academic advising, cluster hiring to grow tenure-stream faculty, and more focused investments in large-scale collaborative, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research projects. Key research areas include “Indigenous Futurities,” “Integration of AI into Society,” and “Digital Cultures.” Moreover, York is “well placed over time to establish a medical school.” York

Wednesday July 15, 2020

Circus Tents & Football Bubbles: Social Distancing & Mental Health

Student surveys are variously demonstrating the remarkable resilience and optimism of Generations Y and Z in the face of the COVID19 pandemic, or their preoccupation with campus experience this Fall, and/or their rising rates of depression and anxiety and expectations for campus mental health services.

But as we see varsity athletes and frat boys partying, catching COVID19, and infecting campus staff (some fatally), senior administrators worry that student compliance will be impossible to enforce. They’re trying interesting tactics, from circus tent classrooms to contact tracing apps. Staff and faculty concerns about their own health and safety are starting to intensify as September grows near, and the pandemic charts wildly different and unpredictable curves around the world.   

Today, let’s take a deep dive into student mental health and the challenges of social distancing on campus. But first…

Breaking News

Either the whole business was a strategic distraction to outrage the academic elites, or the Donald just blinked… either way, what looked like a major obstacle for international student recruitment by US colleges has now faded into the background noise of xenophobia that will nonetheless help boost recruitment at Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand institutions…

Homeland Security Rescinds Visa Rule

On Tuesday, after widespread national outrage and multiple lawsuits from hundreds of US colleges and 20 states, the Trump administration rescinded its guidance that international students studying online would be deported. (It was widely regarded as an attempt to force institutions to reopen their campuses, despite the pandemic.) Rumour has it that a revised order might apply only to newly enrolling students, but might not be in place in time for this September. Edu Dive

The Student Mood

A number of surveys have recently explored the mindset of young people in the face of the pandemic. Globally, Gen Y and Z seem to be coping well and even finding reason for optimism. While US youth are worried about health and safety, they are more concerned with their campus experience this fall – and 30% admit they are a bit lax when it comes to following social distancing guidelines…

The COVID Kids are Alright?

A global survey of about 18,500 youth found that the pandemic threw >25% of Gen Z out of work by May, and another 23% were working fewer hours – but surprisingly, millennials were no more uneasy or pessimistic than they were in late November, and 17% of Canadian Gen Z were actually less stressed. (About two-thirds say WFH relieves stress and allows better work-life balance.) Even before COVID19, young people were quite concerned about their career prospects and long-term financial futures. In general, they are now moreoptimistic about our ability to reverse climate change, and positive about government and business responses to the pandemic. About 75% believe the pandemic has increased their sympathy for others, highlighted new issues, and inspired them to take positive action to improve their own life. More than 60% agree that everyone around the world is “in this together.” Deloitte

Eavesdropping on 15,000 Students

Year-to-date comparison of 68 million social media posts in Feb-May 2019 and 2020 found a 40% decrease in searches about higher ed, an 18% decline in conversations about study abroad, and 8 times the discussion about health and safety. 42% of posts about next Fall indicate students are reconsidering their plans, and an “80% reduction in conversation about the admissions process indicates that this could be a concern not only for this fall, but also for next year.” Most posts about higher ed are “neutral,” but 19% are positive and 24% negative – particularly about slow communication, inflexible deadlines, or insufficient refunds. Students are more concerned about their experience this fall than about finances, education, or safety. Almost half of posts about sports are about safety protocols. Accenture

Rising Mental Health Challenges

A survey of almost 19,000 US college students (March-May) found that 66% were experiencing more financial stress due to the pandemic, 36% had to change their living situation, and rates of depression had escalated. In Fall 2019, 22% of students reported that their mental health negatively affected their academic performance, but that rose to 31% this year. While just 26% are very concerned about contracting COVID19 themselves, 64% worry about loved ones. 42% of students sought out mental health care during the pandemic, and 60% of those found it more difficult to access. (20% of institutions reported unexpected health care staff reductions this summer.) 70% of students say they have been “very closely” following social distancing rules – which suggests that 30% have not.  IHE

Mental Health as Recruitment Factor?

In light of the COVID19 pandemic, 94% of prospective international students claim that mental health services are an important factor in their search for a university, according to a recent survey of 1,400+ current and prospective international students. In fact, 60% say mental health services are “very important” – compared to just 32% who thought so last year. “The pandemic seems to have moved this criteria earlier in the international student journey.” Educations

Risky Behaviours

Concerns about student compliance with social distancing are continuing to grow, particularly when socializing outside of business hours – and concerns from faculty and staff will likely also grow as September draws near and the pandemic continues…

Concerns about Student Compliance

A June survey of almost 70 student affairs leaders found widespread concern that students, particularly undergraduates, might not comply with social distancing precautions in residence. Top concerns were about social distancing in campus dorms (72%), common areas (57%), and off-campus (52%). Less than a third (31%) had high confidence they could promote social distancing among undergrads. So far there is little consensus on punishment for non-compliance, ranging from no sanctions at all, to mandatory training, and even 2-week bans from campus. EAB

COVID Tackles College Football

On Jun 1, NCAA football teams returned to campuses for “voluntary practices.” Within weeks, athletes were testing positive for COVID19 across the US: 30+ Louisiana State players were in quarantine, and positive tests came back for 28 athletes at Clemson U, 13 at UT Austin, 14 at Kansas State, and 6 at uHouston. Athletes also tested positive at uAlabama, uMississippi and uSouth Florida as well as Auburn, Florida State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas State and Troy U. In some cases, the infections came from bars or parties. Players at UCLA are petitioning for enhanced protections. Dr Anthony Fauci has said, “unless players are essentially in a bubble… it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall.” The multi-billion-dollar business that is NCAA won’t go down without a fight. IHE

UNC Chapel Hill Outbreaks

Varsity athletes, coaches and staff returned to campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a week ago 37 people tested positive. The football program halted voluntary workouts as a precaution. Now, 4 housekeeping staff have tested positive, even before the campus reopens. Many faculty and staff argue that online instruction should continue this fall. UNC plans a return to campus, and does not plan mass testing of students. WRAL

UT Austin Custodian dies of COVID19

Back in May, the University of Texas reported a cluster of COVID19 cases in 11 custodial workers. Now, they report that 1 custodian has died from the disease. Over the Jul 4 weekend, UT reported 13 students contracted COVID19. Statesman

Berkeley Frat Parties cause 47 Cases

UC Berkeley reported an outbreak of 47 new cases last week – double the total cases reported there since the start of the pandemic in March. Many of these new cases could be traced to a single July 4 party at the Kappa Alpha fraternity house. Although Berkeley had hoped its primarily remote fall term could include some small F2F classes, a spokesperson said, “if we continue at this rate of spread, it is hard to imagine going through with our fall plans to return faculty, staff and students to campus in the way we had in mind.” UWN

Social Distancing

Institutions are exploring a variety of unusual tactics to reduce student density on campus and help encourage appropriate health precautions, from outdoor classrooms and social media campaigns to contact tracing apps and food bank schedules. (Perhaps we can even learn from a rural English pub owner!) Students are contributing some of their own ideas, but faculty voices are increasingly skeptical that any form of return to campus can be managed safely this Fall…

Teaching in the Great Outdoors

Rice U in Houston is building 9 large outdoor classroom spaces for the Fall: 5 open-sided circus tents, and 4 “semi-permanent structures.” In Denmark this spring, schools reportedly held classes on playgrounds, in a soccer stadium, and in local parks. NY Times

Treat Drunk Bar Patrons as Cattle

A hotel pub in Cornwall, England has installed electric fencing around its bar to enforce social distancing, “to prevent customers from meandering up to the bar for a drink.” The innkeeper reports, “when you serve people a drink they change.” (Apparently the current is not on, but patrons don’t know that.)  National Post

Student Suggestions for Distancing

The School of Engineering at uMichigan Ann Arbor invited students from across campus to propose social distancing solutions, and they got 89 submissions ranging from student-led social media campaigns and lunch series to a QR-code-driven transit contact tracing tool. Some suggested a subscription service for face masks, allowing students to pick up a mask each morning as they leave their dorms, and drop it in a bin for cleaning that evening. Others asked for a scheduling system for the campus food bank, mental health supports for students of colour, and virtual interactions like pen pals, scavenger hunts, and an art showcase. Chronicle

Social Distancing Do’s and Don’ts

On Monday, Colorado College released an entertaining “PSA” video by recent grad and comedian Ben Singer. “If you like when college students give public health advice, then you’ve come to the right place!” He warns against panic and overly assertive social distancing, but also against using a mask to ignore all the rules. “Be careful but maintain sanity.” YouTube

The Faculty Perspective

Promises of normalcy for the Fall term are “institutional gaslighting” driven by “politics, profits and arrogance,” says Sociology prof Deborah Cohan. Ultimately, “it can’t happen.” Students can’t be expected to police themselves or their peers for social distancing. All the “messy spontaneity” required for a transformative undergraduate experience will be gone in the “hyper-engineered college environment” necessary to manage viral transmission. To provide students with a choice of modality, faculty will need to be subject to even greater risk: “faculty and staff members, and their health and well-being, are being used as pawns in a game played by the administration to secure housing and dining money while purporting to be student centered.”  IHE


Tuesday July 14, 2020

Summer Camps & Student Waivers

In this pandemic, it seems every day brings mixed news. Most of Ontario is moving towards stage 3 of reopening later this week (meaning indoor crowds of 50 and outdoor crowds of 100 are permitted, with social distancing). If shopping or dining out isn’t enough of a gamble for you, casinos, gyms, theatres, arcades and bingo halls will also be allowed to reopen…

Meanwhile, the global COVID19 case count has surpassed 13 million and is still accelerating. South of the border the US is continuing to break its own records, with almost 1 out of every 100 Americans infected, numbers rising in 35 states, and setting records in 19 of them. As Walt Disney World reopened, Florida hit almost 270,000 cases, and reported 514 deaths in a single week. California, Oregon and New Mexico are rolling back their reopenings. Those COVID19 parties we heard about, then heard were fake news, now seem to be real again, as a young Texan has died because he attended one. Most authorities ascribe the latest spread to young people crowding bars, night clubs, and even Canada Day parties.

Meanwhile President Trump is seeking to discredit his nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, while celebrating his administration’s handling of the pandemic and the economy. More than 200 US colleges and 17 states are suing to overturn his new student visa rules, but at least Trump finally wore a face mask in public.

Speaking of which, today 3 more institutions across Canada (ECUAD, uManitoba, and Mount Allison) joined the 13 Ontario schools I named yesterday, in announcing mandatory mask policies. Quebec will be making masks mandatory on Saturday, joining more than 20 US states. With growing concerns about legal liability, I think we can expect to see mandatory masks on campuses across the country before September…

Liability Waivers

I’ve written before about the legal minefield facing higher ed over the pandemic. Institutions are challenged every which way. If they open the campus, they may be accused of taking inadequate precautions or discriminating against immunocompromised students or older faculty members. If the campus stays closed, students will complain about tuition or ancillary fees, lost experiential learning opportunities, or discrimination on the basis of broadband internet at home.

Many US colleges have bowed to political pressure and announced that their campuses will reopen this fall, although many have also been seeking government protection from liability as a result of their choice. Here in Canada, StFX is the most confident institution that it will reopen campus in September, but they too are making concessions to their risk managers or insurance company. (I expect other institutions to follow suit)…

St Francis Xavier U is reportedly insisting that all students sign a liability waiver by Aug 1, indemnifying the university for any “loss, damage, illness, sickness, expense or injury including death … as a result of COVID-19 risks.” Students who do not sign the waiver will have their student account suspended, and will be unable to return to campus in September. Students are complaining that there are insufficient online courses to permit distance learning. Legal experts observe that a waiver is no defence against negligence. CBC

Returning to Campus

No matter how much their provinces reopen, most CdnPSEs are still directing employees to work from home if possible, to preserve campus capacity for essential research and teaching activity. Plans for students returning to campus this Fall include quarantine periods, face masks and plenty of disinfecting wipes…

McGill is “cautiously” moving forward with the resumption of select campus research, construction and instruction activity. All activities that can be “efficiently completed at home” must continue to be WFH. The EOC is asking all units to submit resumption plans for other necessary activities by Jul 16. McGill

Mount Allison will be reconfiguring residences for single occupancy, with increased custodial cleaning. House meetings will be virtual, and facemasks will be required when you cannot social distance. Students coming from outside Atlantic Canada need to arrive on Aug 14 or 15, in order to allow for 2 weeks of self-isolation before orientation. Parents will not be permitted on campus. YouTube

uManitoba has published a page on “preventing the spread of COVID19” that outlines precautions and guidelines for returning to campus. Everyone is to maintain a density of 1 person per 16 sq meters or lower in workplaces, and to wear a mask if that distancing cannot be maintained. Employees are responsible for disinfecting their own immediate workspace, keyboard, phone, vehicle, and shared equipment between users. “Our workplace is still a safe environment… without reasonable grounds, a work refusal may be considered an unjustified absence.” uManitoba

Summer Camps

While my tracking may not be perfect, out of the list of 90 CdnPSE institutions, I have noted 12 who have cancelled on-campus summer camps, and 6 who have announced they are continuing this summer…

In BC, camps were cancelled at UNBC and VIU (although CampVIU promises an online option.) In SK and MB, camps were cancelled at Briercrest, Brandon and uManitoba, and in ON, camps have been cancelled at Brock, Centennial, Durham, Guelph and Ottawa.

There is more diversity in AB, where SAIT cancelled campus but uAlberta, uCalgary and uLethbridge are proceeding. In QC, there is an urban/rural split between Concordia U in Montreal (which cancelled summer camps) and Bishop’s U in Lennoxville (whose camp is proceeding). Likewise Yukon U and UPEI are proceeding with summer camps, perhaps benefiting from sparser populations and certainly lower infection rates in their regions.

Events & Athletics

uCalgary has announced that on- and off-campus events with 15-100 people may be permitted to resume as of Jul 1, provided that they are entered into the Risk Assessment tool, and receive approval from Risk Management and Insurance. Events require pre-registration and attendance records, physical distancing (masks recommended), and the number of simultaneous events will be managed. Parking fees will be reinstated Aug 1. uCalgary

uRegina is allowing varsity athletes to return to campus starting this week, to train mostly outdoors with a coach. This will allow high-performance athletes to maintain their training and prepare for the resumption of Canada West competitions, possibly as soon as November for some teams. Facilities remain closed to the public, staff, and other students, except those in the Saskatchewan Police College. uRegina

Fall Delivery Plans

Some colleges and smaller universities have resisted the inevitable, but are finally announcing specifics for a largely online Fall term…

Brandon U has announced details of its Fall term, which will see classes and labs almost entirely delivered synchronously online. A small number will be delivered asynchronously online, and a “very small number” will require F2F work on campus (such as in Music, Fine Arts, and Health Studies). Course-level details are provided in the registration guide, published last week. Brandon

Conestoga College shared its academic delivery plan for Fall yesterday. As many courses as possible will be delivered remotely, but some will be offered in hybrid format, and others entirely on-campus. Remote courses will include some form of synchronous activity. Conestoga

Emily Carr U has provided more details for the Fall term, in which the majority of courses will be delivered entirely online. Shops and labs will be open, at reduced capacity and with physical distancing. The library has added thousands of digital resources including streaming video, digital magazines and ebooks. All students will be provided with face masks, and are asked to wear them when physical distancing is not possible. ECUAD

Red River College has published a listing of Fall courses and their delivery models. Whenever possible, courses will use “flexible online delivery,” and a mix of synchronous and asynchronous delivery. Some on-campus activities are indicated for 36 first-year programs (including some trades, aerospace, culinary, and healthcare programs). Intake has been suspended for some cabinetry, aircraft maintenance, library-IT, paramedicine, property insurance and railway conductor programs. RRC

Selkirk College has begun publishing program specifics for online and blended delivery this Fall. Programs like Business, Human Services, Web Development, Music & Technology will be delivered entirely online. Programs like Nursing, Studio Arts, Trades, Environment & Geomatics will require students to live in the region in order to attend some on-campus studios/labs. Other programs will be delivered online for the first term or first year. Selkirk

Wellness Policies

A number of CdnPSEs have begun encouraging “Wellness Wednesdays,” “meeting-free lunch hours” or “meeting-free Fridays” to encourage employee wellness and life balance. (Plenty of anecdotal reports suggest that staff are working longer days than ever, and having difficulty establishing boundaries on weekends too.)

UoGuelph is now also encouraging “meeting-free Fridays” (and weekends) throughout the summer, on which staff should avoid scheduling meetings or sending non-critical emails. Some staff are taking vacation days on Fridays, while some units are closed Fridays as part of a 4-day work week. UoGuelph

I mentioned last week that ECUAD is encouraging faculty to find alternatives to traditional high-stakes, synchronous mid-term and final exams…

uWaterloo has published principles for scheduling Fall mid-term and final exams. Online/remote exams will generally be scheduled with a duration determined by the instructor, but a 24-hour window for students – or 2 or 3 start times and versions of the exam to accommodate time zones. Synchronous high-stakes exams are “strongly discouraged” and instructors are urged to consider alternatives like summative assignments, open-book exams, or no final assessment at all. uWaterloo

Monday July 13, 2020

Masks, Badges & Microcredentials

 n the past few days we’ve seen institutions from UNB to UNBC announce tuition increases to help address budget challenges. Colleges are welcoming “stranded” students back to campus, and in Ontario institutions are increasingly making face masks mandatory.

As usual, we provide a roundup of those announcements, but today I also want to take a deeper dive into recent trends in microcredentials and new approaches to credentialing. It’s just one more example of a pre-pandemic trend that seems to have been kicked into overdrive…

The Rise of Microcredentials

Short, modular and stackable microcredentials were an intriguing development before the pandemic, but COVID19 seems to have accelerated market demand, government initiatives, and institutional offerings. In Australia, the government has incentivized the creation of hundreds of new microcredentials, and plans to create a national marketplace. Here are a few recent stories…

Growing Adult Interest in Online Certificates

A June survey of 2,500 prospective adult learners suggests that fewer are seriously committed to pursuing PSE (16%), while almost half are now “skeptical.” 25% say that COVID19 has made them reluctant to return to public gatherings, and 15% seem affected by financial pressure. The recession is boosting interest among people with lower levels of education, in vulnerable occupations, and in the short term, 37% are interested in non-degree, non-credit courses and certificates (up from 29% a year ago). For the next few months, they show twice the interest in purely online courses. Encoura

Cut-Rate Bite-Sized Courses in Australia

The Australian government has responded to the pandemic in part by encouraging the creation of 6-month online accredited “undergraduate certificate” and “graduate certificate” courses, to reskill workers for labour market needs. (Course credit can also be applied towards diploma and degree programs.) 54 institutions launched 344 such courses, with tuition discounted 90% (although universities did so at a loss). The minister wants these short courses “to be a permanent fixture.” THE

Jobless Americans want Microcredentials

The economic recession and surging unemployment has led 37% of youth and 23% of older Americans to say they plan to enroll in further education or training within 6 months. 35% said they would change fields if they lost their job, but 61% say more education “would not be worth the price,” and 62% would rather pursue nondegree skills training than a degree (and 71% of those with no prior PSE.) “The societal backlash to the college degree has gone too far.” IHE

A National Microcredential Marketplace

The Australian government is committing $4.3 M to establish a “one-stop-shop for microcredentials,” building on the success of its relief package this spring. The marketplace will allow comparison of course duration, delivery mode, outcomes, and credit value – and will give students “the assurance they need to invest in this new mode of education.” (Critics have pointed out that the service would needlessly duplicate the CourseSeeker website the government launched in 2018.) The Guardian

Credentialing Innovations

Badges and microcredits are being stacked or accepted as credit towards traditional degrees, consulting companies are creating their own MBAs, TRU is accepting microcredits from OERu, and ARUCC is creating a national “credential wallet” for the storage and exchange of digital transcripts…

Digital Badges from Griffith U

Australia’s Griffith U is promoting a digital badging system (based on Credly’s Acclaim platform) to showcase student qualifications and capabilities as “Griffith Credentials.” Griffith badges can be earned for selected courses, MOOCs, awards, WIL, and co-curricular activities, and for prior learning, professionally or personally. Some are for transferable “employability skills” like communication or leadership. Students can add badges to their profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, share them with employers via email, embed them in a digital résumé, or store them on other OBI badging sites like Veriskills. The Acclaim platform allows students to search for active job postings based on their skill set. Griffith

EY Creates an MBA from Badges

Big 4 accounting firm EY has partnered with Hult International Business School on a new part-time, online MBA that will be offered free to EY’s 280,000 employees worldwide. The 300-hour program focuses on technology, data science and cybersecurity. Unlike traditional MBA programs, it omits classroom case studies, networking, travel abroad and career fairs. It utilizes EY’s badge system, established in 2017. WSJ

TRU accepts OERu Microcredits

In a “giant leap forward” and “an act of trust,” Thompson Rivers U is the first in North America to offer OERumicro-credit transfer towards a university-level credential. Students can study free bite-sized OERu courses or micro-courses through its partner institutions, and pay for assessment only if they want academic credit or Edubits. (Canadian partners include BCcampus, Ryerson, TRU, Kwantlen, and Athabasca U.) At this stage, TRU will transfer credit towards its Certificate of General Studies, but it intends to expand to diplomas and bachelor degrees. TRU

National “Credential Wallet” for Canada

Canada’s university registrars have partnered with Digitary to create a new ARUCC National Network, a platform for secure, digitized, and portable official transcripts and credentials. Digitary’s technology is already used by 100+ institutions around the world, and national systems in Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. The system will provide “self-sovereignty for learners,” will be password protected, available 24/7, bilingual, and housed in Canada. It will be piloted with World Education Services, 19 PSEs, as well as OUAC, OCAS, NSCAT, and EduPlannerBC – 4 provincial systems that support 90+ institutions. ARUCC

Ontario Colleges want Degree Autonomy

Ontario colleges are urging the province to give them more autonomy to replace diploma programs with new 3-year degrees, expand the range of 4-year degrees without provincial maximums, and to create master’s degrees for college and university graduates in specialized fields like robotics, cybersecurity and animation. They also recommend more government funding for short-term microcredential programs, to provide retraining opportunities for workers displaced by the pandemic. Colleges Ontario

Tuition Increases

From UNB to UNBC, institutions across Canada have been announcing tuition increases to help cope with budgetary challenges. Some of those increases were planned well before COVID19, and UNBC hasn’t yet accounted for the budgetary impact of the pandemic. Politicians in PEI are trying to head off PSE budget challenges there…

Mount Allison has delayed its full budget until October, but approved a 4.5% increase in domestic student tuition fees for 2020-21, and 2.0% for international students. Returning NB students will see an increase of only 2%. MTA is eliminating the Fall reading week, ending the term a week earlier, to allow more time for students to self-isolate if necessary when they return from the holiday break. MTA  As you might expect, the student union has launched a petition and is protesting to the media. CBC

UNB is increasing tuition 2% this year, in the final year of a 4-year agreement with the province, and continuing to charge all student fees. President Paul Mazerolle cites “increased costs” and “additional infrastructure” required for alternate delivery. (The “facilities access fee” will be determined closer to September.) He also offers a lengthy defence that “alternative delivery method courses are not inferior.” UNB

UNBC has addressed a potential $3.4 M deficit in part by eliminating 21 CUPE, faculty, and exempt positions (12 were vacant), and reducing other operating expenses and allocations to reserves. Tuition will also increase 2%, or $109 on average. The budget was developed prior to COVID19, however, and does not fully account for its impact. MyPGnow

PEI opposition (Liberal) MLAs are calling on the provincial government to tap into an $8 M education contingency fund to ensure UPEI and Holland College do not need to increase tuition or cut programs. The Education Minister reports that enrolment of first-year students is down about 15%, mainly international students, and mainly those at Holland. Holland has already suspended 5 programs and laid off 4 employees. CBC

Returning to Campus

Colleges across the country (particularly in Ontario) are welcoming “stranded” students back to complete lab work so they can graduate – but they will face some stringent precautions and protocols. Conestoga details them, and advises people to arrive on campus an hour early to cope with the lineups…

Cambrian College “stranded” students will resume labs this week in some pre-trades, powerline technician, and pre-service firefighter programs. Dental assisting students will resume labs Aug 4. Cambrian

Conestoga College is reopening select facilities this week to “stranded” Winter term students, and preparing for expanded F2F activity in September. Anyone permitted to access campus will need to complete pre-screening on the Conestoga mobile safety app, line up single-file “at least 1 hour in advance of your scheduled activity,” get a temperature check, and wear face masks at all times. They are also advised to bring their own food and water, as on-campus services will remain closed. Conestoga

Fleming College is preparing to welcome back “stranded” students in a series of “bootcamps” starting Jul 13, for Welding, HVAC, PSW and RPN programs. The FlemingSafe app includes a pre-screening tool. YouTube

Red River College has released a 1-page return-to-campus “Quick Guide” with 4 colour-coded phases of reopening, basic precautions and examples of social distancing signage. 1.5 M sq ft have been mapped out for safe occupancy assessments. Phase 2 begins Jul 15. RRC

St Lawrence College is preparing to welcome “stranded” students back to campus in August. SLC

Face Masks

As Ontario municipalities and PHOs start to make face coverings mandatory in public buildings where physical distancing cannot be maintained, more and more Ontario colleges and universities announce parallel policies…

York U, for example, has made facemasks mandatory in all indoor common areas on campus effective Jul 10, and provides detailed information about the rationale and exemptions. Like many institutions, York will provide everyone who has to be on campus with 2 branded masks. York

Mandatory face mask policies have been recently announced at 13 Ontario institutions, including: Algonquin, Brock, Cambrian, Carleton, Centennial, Conestoga, Durham, McMaster, Ontario Tech, Seneca, uToronto, and Western. Across the country, 6 other institutions have mentioned face masks and indicated they are optional (in BC, AB, ON and NL).


Friday July 10, 2020

Chats, Tours, Boycotts & Ads – Focus on MarComm

Particularly if you’re a registrar trying to schedule students into socially-distanced labs and flexible multi-access blended hybrid course sections, you may have adopted the Japanese roller coaster warning as a motto for 2020: “scream inside your heart!”

As heat waves and thunderstorms roll across the country, and polarized political posturing fills the newscasts and our social media feeds, I thought I would try to share somewhat lighter fare today.

This one’s for the marketing folks, and those who appreciate good advertising, or who care about social media. If it doesn’t make you “laugh inside your heart,” perhaps it will at least give you a smile here and there… 

(And if you read to the end, you could save $274!)

Online Chat

I’ve heard from many institutions that they are adding AI chatbots or real-time chat functionality to their websites, or at least their recruitment pages, to increase personal attention to students and help reduce “summer melt.” Here are a couple of examples I’ve interacted with this week…

Vera the Conversational AI

As soon as you start exploring admissions or registrarial pages on the uAlberta website, like here, you’ll be greeted by a pop-up (on tablet or desktop) or a chat icon (on mobile) that cheerfully announces “Hi, I’m Vera! A virtual assistant here to answer questions you may have about undergraduate admissions, scholarships, student loans, transcripts and more.” You can enter a freeform question, or choose from 8 categories of FAQs. If you ask a question Vera can’t answer, she will forward it via email to human staff. The conversational AI was implemented last Fall, and its name derives from UofA’s motto, Quaecumque Vera. uAlberta

The Personal Touch at TWU

Land on any page at Trinity Western U’s site, and a pop-up chat box will appear saying something like “Hello, thanks for visiting TWU. How can I help you today?” (I chatted with “Victoria1” last night, who assured me she was a real person.) The chat service, powered by LiveAdmins, offers instantaneous personal multilingual response 24/7, integrated into your CRM with a live reporting dashboard, visitor behaviour tracking and re-engagement when they return to your site. (They also apparently are offering a discount during the pandemic.) LiveAdmins

Campus Tours

Back in the Ides of March, within days of the “great migration” to emergency remote delivery, PSE marketers started scrambling to ensure their virtual campus tours were the best they could possibly be…

Virtual Tours Booming

In March and April, institutions across the US ramped up campus tour videos, previously recorded and live online events. Some report more than triple the number of “visitors” taking tours virtually this spring. Tour providers like YouVisit have seen a 228% surge in use, in their case delivering 1.4 million virtual tours of 539 campuses in a one-month period. YouVisit recommends “layering interactive multimedia elements” and embedding calls to action throughout your tour. PlatformQ suggests using on-demand content, simulated live transitions and live chat to engage students. IHE

Take the “Magic” Online

The campus visit is often when “the magic happens,” the deciding moment for a prospective student trying to determine institutional “fit.” (And while many incoming students may know they will be studying largely online this Fall, most hope to be back on campus again sometime in 2021.) Moving the experience online demands patience: introducing prospects to the campus, your people and programs will require a series of live events over 2-3 weeks, instead of a single exciting day. Be sure to practice your presentations, be authentic, and record the sessions so an even larger audience can attend asynchronously, on various platforms. 3E

Bishop’s, for example, is giving prospective students and families several options for online tours: pre-recorded tours in English, French or Spanish; private live tours with a student ambassador narrating video; or a virtual interactive campus map with 360° photos and captions. Bishop’s

Of course, if you’re fortunate enough that local health restrictions permit it, you can return to the tried and true…

Trent U announced this week that campus tours have resumed in Peterborough, with some modifications for health and safety. Mondays through Saturdays, at 10am and 1pm, pre-booked groups of 8 will be guided around “spectacular outdoor areas” of campus and select indoor spaces like the Student Centre, a lecture hall, classroom, science lab and residence room. Guests must bring their own facemasks and water bottles for the 90-min tour. Trent

Social / Media

In this online summer, social media is second only to your institutional website as a critical channel to applicants and students.

Canadian InstaSnapSpotTikTubers

A January survey of 1,397 Canadian high school students (largely in BC, AB and ON) found that PSE social media ads, school posters, and web ads resulted in the best recall. The students were daily users of Instagram (94%), Snapchat (87%), Spotify (82%), TikTok (72%), and YouTube (61%). Just 28% used Facebook that often, although 47% of Grade 12 students used it sometimes. (FWIW, 48% prefer print viewbooks, while just 23% prefer digital ones.) The survey found that email was overwhelmingly a preferred channel for communication – but that could reflect the survey’s methodology. Academica

Growing Respect for Journalism?

Although Canadian media outlets are struggling with declining ad spends during the pandemic, subscription revenue may be increasing (modestly). An Oxford survey conducted pre-COVID found that 13% of Canadian internet users had accessed paid news content online in the past year – up from about 9% in previous years, but still well below European countries like Norway, Poland, and Sweden. In the UK and Canada, the BBC and CBC provide reliable free news online, and a uLaval study last year found that a news subscription “comes far behind Netflix or Spotify in the list of priorities.” Although most media are providing access to COVID19 stories for free, “the value of journalistic work is heightened in the context of a crisis.” Conversation

Boycotting Facebook & Instagram

Although Twitter started to fact-check president Trump’s tweets in late May, Facebook is stirring a groundswell of protest for its comparative inaction on racism, hate speech and misinformation (and we haven’t forgotten the Cambridge Analytica scandal). The NAACP and other organizations launched #StopHateForProfit on July 1 as a movement to urge corporate advertisers to boycott Facebook and Instagram – and hundreds of advertisers are already onboard. Some of the biggest names include Best Buy, Sony, Microsoft, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, Unilever, Starbucks, Verizon, Lululemon, Moosehead Breweries, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and Target, many of whom will suspend both paid and unpaid content until the end of July.

So far, few PSE advertisers have publicly joined the boycott. A Google doc list includes uCalifornia Press, uToronto Press, uNottingham, Emory College, a couple of schools at Boston U, and a number of smaller US colleges. By far the largest is the University of Phoenix, with an ad budget in the millions. UBC Okanagan is reportedly suspending paid Facebook campaigns on their main campus channels for the month of July.

The decision to suspend Facebook advertising could be difficult, since many institutions find it a cost-effective channel and are anxious to minimize “summer melt” this year. It might be hard to resist even lower rates if major advertisers suspend their campaigns.

The boycott may have cost Facebook up to $1.5 billion so far. (Its stock dipped 8% last week.) Nonetheless, 9 of Facebook’s 10 biggest advertisers have not joined the boycott, and most of the site’s revenues come from small businesses. Mark Zuckerberg has reportedly declared, “we’re not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue.” Yet there are some signs that behind the scenes, he is concerned and meeting frantically with advertisers. Forbes

Notable Vids

Here’s a handful of higher ed videos I think stood out from the crowd of hundreds I saw this week…

Strayer U, an American online for-profit, launched a series of nasty attack ads last week which mock “” for non-existent online support, coursework errors, and cancelled office hours. Strayer, in contrast, is “Built to Support” students, with a virtual assistant to give you personalized attention 24/7. YouTube



Royal Roads U has nicely adapted its “Up” campaign for pandemic times with messages of support and empathy that speak to prospective students who are recalibrating their lives. “Together, wherever, we can always get back up. All it takes is never giving up.” In July and August, watch for social ads promoting particularly timely program clusters like workplace innovation, global communication, and sustainability. RRU has muted its previous campaign colours with more natural tones. YouTube


Trinity Western U has a 60-sec spot that acknowledges, “the world has changed, but your future hasn’t.” It describes the new “multi-access learning environment,” but promises “we are actively planning for your safe and secure return to our formative community. We’re ready for you. We’re ready for the journey forward.” TWU


uLeeds has a new 90-sec spot that caught my attention. Maybe it’s the British accent, or perhaps the use of Toronto’s skyline for “study abroad.” It took me 30 or 40 seconds to realize that the entire script is written in rhyming couplets – and it’s probably best that it remains subtle. It’s a slick spot that largely ignores COVID19’s impact, but is upbeat and peppy. YouTube


From the other side of the anglosphere, Australia’s Macquarie U has a new spot promoting postgraduate degrees. “Career moving a little slow? Turn it around.” “Feeling unchallenged? Inject life into a stale career.” “You [to the power of] us.” (The only thing that would make the spot better would be a lovely Aussie accent!)  YouTube


SEMM Forum

And hey, marketers, recruiters, or enrolment managers – if you’re thinking about attending the Virtual SEMM Forum August 11-13, you can join me, Jim Black, and so many other talented presenters at a $200 discount if you register before Jul 16th. And as one of my loyal readers, since Eduvation is a lead sponsor of the event, you can take an additional 25% off if you use our special discount code EDUV25. SEMM Forum

Stay cool this weekend, stay safe, and stay well!

Thursday July 9, 2020

Batten Down the Hatches!

Good morning and Happy Nunavut Day (ᓄᓇᕗᑦ ᐅᓪᓗᖓ) – although few of us actually get the statutory holiday.

There’s never a slow news day in a pandemic, it would seem. Canada has released bleak projections of its federal deficit and economic recovery. Research continues to suggest neurological damage can occur, even in mild cases of COVID19. Trump and his allies insist they will force campuses open this Fall, or withhold funding. The Ivy League has joined several other NCAA conferences in announcing there will be no varsity athletics until 2021.

Unlike Canada, where the COVID19 curve is flattening and most institutions have found safe harbour in hybrid or online delivery for the Fall, US institutions are struggling with gale-force political, financial and pandemic winds. Most are still bravely pretending they can ride out the storm, instead of battening down the hatches. The result, says a higher ed analyst, may be 50 shipwrecked institutions by August. And the outlook for a dozen UK universities is equally alarming.

Also today: summing up the current state of face mask policies in Canada, announcements about January 2021, and several institutions who seem to have extended compassionate academic policies into the Fall term…

Pandemic Effects

Sobering Economic Forecasts

The federal government provided a “fiscal snapshot” yesterday, projecting a deficit of $343 B this year, and no clear end to the emergency spending. Moreover, it forecasts that rebuilding Canada’s economy will be uneven, and could take years. Sectors including retail, restaurant and travel/tourism will struggle under travel restrictions and reduced capacity for some time. National Post

More Neurological Damage

A new study out of UC London yesterday warns that COVID19 may lead to serious neurological complications (like delirium, nerve damage, brain inflammation and stroke) more often than previously thought, and even in mild cases of the coronavirus. In particular, an otherwise rare disorder (Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis or ADEM) was “not related to the severity of the respiratory COVID19 disease.” CTV

After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, there was an encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the 1920s and 1930s. Whether we see an echo pandemic of brain damage “remains to be seen,” says a study co-lead. Global

More US Developments

It’s always challenging to provide a complete picture when breaking news is still developing. Building on yesterday’s coverage…

The Ivy League decided yesterday to cancel all Fall sports (including football) until Jan 1 at the earliest. An update on Winter sports (like basketball) will be provided in mid-July. Several other conferences have made similar announcements. Sports Illustrated

Brown U plans to bring undergrads to campus for 2 out of 3 terms this year, although many will take their courses online. Brown

MIT announced Tuesday that it will bring only fourth-year students to campus this Fall, as well as some others who must live on campus because of visa conditions or safety issues. (They hope most students will be able to attend F2F classes in the Spring semester.) “COVID19 is simply not yet under control.” MIT

In Texas, as COVID19 cases soar and hospitals start to approach ICU capacity, the state’s major public universities are moving a third to a half of their Fall schedules online. Texas Tribune

MIT and Harvard are suing the Trump administration to stop the deportation policy announced Monday. Many organizations have denounced it as xenophobic, economically destructive, and a partisan move primarily focused on the November election. “The effect — and perhaps even the goal — is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.” Cal State’s Chancellor called the policy “tone deaf to the reality of the biology of the disease.” Chronicle

Perfect Storm?

Up to 50 US Colleges May Close

Administrators are juggling rapidly rising infection rates and republican policies designed to force them to reopen campus. Faculty, students and parents are expressing concern about their health, and also about the quality of online classes. Particularly if it becomes obvious that football will be cancelled, “expect the dam… to break” and many more institutions to announce hybrid or online Fall terms this month. Robert Kelchen lists 320 private nonprofit colleges who depend on ancillary revenues for 20% or more of their budgets, and predicts that many will join the 3 universities that have already declared states of financial exigency. He anticipates up to 50 small institutions may close in the next 5 weeks. “It is time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the storm instead of hoping that it miraculously blows over.” Chronicle

13 UK Universities Could Flounder

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies projects that, in its central scenario, 13 UK universities could face insolvency because of the COVID19 crisis, if they don’t receive a government bailout. International tuition declines, ancillary revenues, investment losses and pension liabilities are the biggest threats. In the worst-case scenario, the sector stands to lose up to $32 B, or half its annual income – and minor efficiencies or cuts to temporary staff would save only about $1 B. “Significant” redundancies of full-time staff would be required. Mid-ranked institutions without substantial financial reserves, but with high exposure to international enrolment, face the greatest risk – and the IFS recommends a targeted government bailout of about $240 M. Critics say the projections should be “taken with a lorry-load of salt.” THE

Academic Compassion

Most institutions have indicated that the temporary adjustments to academic policies made for the Winter 2020 term will not be repeated for Summer or Fall 2020 – but there have been some exceptions:

Emily Carr U intends to replace timed exams in the Fall term with other methods of evaluation, where applicable. ECUAD

Kwantlen Polytechnic has extended the add/drop deadline until Sep 21, fee payment deadline until Sep 24, and the voluntary withdrawal date until Dec 7, to “allow students more time to decide whether the course format and delivery is right for them.” KPU

uManitoba’s Senate Executive has suspended its “Repeated Course” policy indefinitely, meaning that students who perform poorly or withdraw will not need to wait 3 terms before re-attempting the course. uManitoba

More Fall Plans

BCIT has updated its program delivery for Fall: now 54% will be online only, 39% blended, 6% will not be offered, and 1% remain under review. BCIT

Canadian Mennonite U plans a hybrid Fall term. CMU “will be present on campus for anyone who wants to, and is able to come,” but there will be “virtual ways into classes” should a second wave come about. Classes at the Winnipeg institution are small, and buildings will be secured with RFID card locks. Residences will be assigned as private rooms, with washroom schedules. YouTube

Concordia U of Edmonton plans a “predominantly online” Fall, but some classes will be held on campus. If instructors find they “enjoy” online delivery and wish to continue into the Winter term, president Tim Loreman encourages them to “get a head start” on preparing courses for January. YouTube

Emily Carr U is one of the last institutions on my list to announce plans for the Fall term. All lectures will be conducted online, 70% of courses will be online-only, and the remainder will be hybrid with a maximum of 30% in-person activities. Shops and studios will be operational, but with reduced capacities – therefore ECU is waiving studio and lab fees. ECUAD

January Term Plans

At this point, only 8 of the 90 institutions on my list seem to have mentioned plans for the Winter term, starting Jan 2021.

1 Fully Online: No #CdnPSE institutions have announced that they will be fully online (aside from Athabasca, presumably), but Concordia U (Montreal) has indicated that its residences will be closed for the entire 2020-21 academic year.

4 Largely Online: Half of the institutions have intimated that the blended/hybrid approach to Fall term will likely continue into 2021. NSCC indicated the term would be fully online or blended. Ontario Tech indicated it would likely be blended and largely online. Carleton’s president (as I mentioned yesterday) indicated that courses for the Winter term will need to be designed for flexible delivery, since many students may want to be remote. And SFU indicated they will share a decision about the Spring term by September – but “we anticipate that some instruction will remain remote into 2021.”

3 Hopefully F2F: Olds College, Holland College, and Trent U have thus far indicated that they hope students will be back on campus in January. Trent posted its Fall timetable yesterday, with many Winter term courses marked as “mandatory in-person,” because the U hopes more students will be able to study on campus by January. (If PHO does not permit a full return to campus, programs will use a multi-access approach as much as possible.)

Face Mask Policies

So far I have noted 8 institutions who have announced face mask policies, too:

3 Recommended: Memorial U, UoGuelph, and Royal Roads seem to be encouraging masks in campus buildings. (RRU indicated they were “optional” – but I’ll categorize the mention of optional masks here for now.)

5 Mandatory: Algonquin College, Brock U, Cambrian, Seneca, and uToronto have all indicated that face coverings must be worn inside campus buildings in common areas. (Most say private offices are excepted.)


Please let me know if I’ve missed any!  Has your institution announced expectations for January 2021 delivery, or a policy on face masks?  Let me know!

Tomorrow, I’m going to focus on some marketing stories that have been piling up, and as always I’ll share some videos you might want to see…


Wednesday July 8, 2020

Politics & Internationalization

Melbourne Australia is heading into a 6-week lockdown to head off a second wave. Major cities across Canada are making facemasks mandatory. Ontario’s premier is laying the groundwork for up to 2 more years of COVID19 emergency orders.

Not all politicians have as much respect for medical science, of course. South of us, the Trump administration has formally withdrawn from the World Health Organization, and is attempting to force colleges to reopen this Fall or risk losing their international revenues. Nonetheless, some leading US institutions are finally admitting that Fall will be delivered largely online, even if they try to keep their dorms open.

#CdnPSE will pay a price for being cautious this year, but will reap the rewards once the pandemic ends and we see a substantial rebound in international student enrolment – perhaps as early as Fall 2021.

Today, let’s take a deep dive into international developments…

Evolving US Situation

The Trump administration seems to have been in a state of denial about public health since way before COVID19: famously the White House’s Global Health Security and Biodefense unit was disbanded in May 2018. Trump persists in claiming that the coronavirus will simply go away. He refuses to wear a face maskin public, and has planned dangerously large political rallies in Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Hampshire in just the past two weeks, while American cases have skyrocketed to more than 3 million, and deaths have exceeded 130,000. Republican governors and senators seem to echo the president’s tweeted insistence that “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” And now…

US Formally Withdraws from WHO

As COVID19 cases surge in more than 30 states, hitting record daily highs and a national case count of about 3 million, the Trump administration has apparently formally submitted its withdrawal from the World Health Organization, effective one year from now. In the words of democratic senator Bob Menendez, “To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic and incoherent doesn’t do it justice…. It leaves Americans sick and America alone.” Global

Although 60% of US colleges still say they will deliver classes in-person this Fall, and another 25% plan a hybrid model, a growing number of clear-sighted administrators are joining the California State University system in being much more cautious…

Ivy League Starts Backpedalling

In the past few days, the University of Southern California, Harvard, Rutgers, Princeton and Georgetown have all announced plans for a largely online Fall. Harvard will bring students back to campus, but deliver all instruction online throughout the entire 2020-21 academic year. Rutgers is promising a blended approach, with a limited number of F2F classes. Princeton will bring first and third year students to campus in the Fall term, and second and fourth year students in the Spring – although most instruction will be online, and at a 10% discount. The Ivy League will release a “final decision” on intercollegiate athletics today. IHE

Face Mask About-Face in Georgia

Georgia governor Brian Kemp supports the Trump administration’s position that face masks should be optional, and apparently prevented the state’s 26 public colleges and universities from making them mandatory. At least, until petitions and protests by faculty and students, and (perhaps) revised guidance from the CDC. Late Monday, the University System of Georgia announced it was reversing its decision, making face coverings mandatory. Chronicle

International in the US

International students contribute some $41 billion to the US economy every year, yet xenophobic and anti-intellectual politics seem to be undermining higher ed at every turn…

Xenophobia & Harassment

A UC Berkeley survey of >30,000 US university students found that 25% of international students report concerns about “intimidating, hostile or offensive behaviour” during the pandemic, and almost 3o% of Asian students have personally experienced it. Xenophobia and harassment have an impact on students’ sense of personal safety, mental health and their peer relationships. 13-18% reported they were less likely to complete their degree as a result.  UWN

Embassies & Consulates Closed

International students constitute 3% of undergrad and 13% of grad enrolments in the US, and without a doubt the COVID19 crisis will significantly impact enrolments this fall. In early June, US embassies and consulates remained closed to routine visa services, and NAFSA was projecting a loss of at least $3 billion in tuition this Fall. THE

Online Students to be Deported

On Monday afternoon, the US Dept of Homeland Security announced that international students would not be permitted to remain in the US if their colleges adopt online-only instruction at any point in the upcoming academic year. In the Spring, 90% of international students could remain in the US because of temporary exemptions (like those in Canada); now, they might be forced to leave the country unless their institutions adopt in-person or hybrid delivery models. As a result, many institutions are feeling pressured to take risks with public health in order to protect crucial revenue flows. Critics say this is “just the latest reflection of this administration’s xenophobic and misguided response to the Covid19 pandemic.” IHE

International in Canada

All signs are that Canada’s international enrolments will dip this year (which will significantly impact STEM, medicine and natural resource programs), but if we continue to manage the pandemic successfully, we can expect a major rebound and increased global market share at the expense of the US. Assuming, of course, that we can manage diplomatic relations with China…

Reliance on China, India and STEM

By 2017-18, international students represented 13.2% of Canadian college enrolments (largely from India), and 14.7% at university (largely from China). International students comprised more than 30% in math and comp sci, 24% in architecture and engineering, 21% of some medical residency subspecialties, 19% in agriculture and natural resources, and 18% in business and public admin. StatsCan

International Applicant Concerns

A survey of 16,000 international applicants to 25 Canadian institutions (in April-May) found that 78% still planned to enrol this Fall, although top concerns were air travel restrictions and visa delays. About a third were concerned about finances, the mode of delivery, and health and safety in Canada. Almost half said they were not receiving adequate information from their institution, and particularly wanted more clarity about Fall delivery. Just over half would prefer to defer enrolment until in-person classes are offered. 94% have a computer and 82% a webcam, but 25% do not have a quiet place to study, and 34% lack a reliable internet connection. Academica

Perceptions of Safety

67,000 international students arrived in Canada between January and April, still eager to study here despite the pandemic. Over the past decade, Canada has tripled its international enrolment to 640,000, particularly from India, China, and South Korea. Students who hold a valid study permit, or were approved for one on or before March 18, are exempt from travel restrictions, although they will face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Canada. SI News

Canada to Rebound in 2021

EY estimates that study abroad in 5 English-speaking destination countries has dropped from 1.09 million in 2019 to just 330,000 this year, but they forecast a rebound in 2021 with up to 1.85 million starting their degrees, and those who deferred this year continuing. (This aligns with my prediction of a “double cohort effect.”) EY predicts Canada will be the big winner, capturing an additional 6% of global market share at the expense of the US. EY predicts that New Zealand and Australia will increase their share by 1% and 2% respectively, thanks to their successful management of the COVID19 pandemic. They will be particularly attractive to Chinese students, who are more cautious than Indian students about study abroad during a pandemic. THE

Political Tensions with China

A former Canadian ambassador to Beijing observes that our defeated bid for a UN Security Council seat, the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, and China’s decision to charge “the two Michaels” with espionage, signals serious trouble with Ottawa’s foreign policy. Global

ESL Falling Between the Cracks

Of the 216 language education programs belonging to Languages Canada, 68% will have to close permanently in the next 6 months if IRCC does not start providing conditional visas and declare international students essential travelers. (2 Vancouver schools have already announced closures due to COVID19.) “The sector is not just falling through the cracks, this is the Grand Canyon.” If international enrolments in Canadian language schools decline, it may have repercussions on Canadian PSE programs too. PIE

Campus Updates

On #CdnPSE campuses, we see mandatory face masks, program suspensions and layoffs, and an acknowledgement that we need to assume the Winter term will be online too, at least for some students…

Algonquin College is making face masks mandatory on campus, effective immediately, in all interior spaces other than personal offices. A detailed policy is being developed in response to a City of Ottawa bylaw expected to take effect Jul 15. Security employees will remind incoming students and staff of the policy and provide disposal masks as required. Algonquin  

uAlberta has identified approximately 300 in-person learning experiences for this Fall, largely labs. uAlberta

Carleton U president Benoit-Antoine Bacon wrote yesterday that “we remain hopeful that it will be possible to welcome some students back to campus in January; however, it seems very unlikely that the pandemic will have fully resolved by then.” Since many students may not be able or comfortable to return to campus in January, Winter term courses will need to be developed so that they can be taken remotely. Carleton

Holland College is suspending 5 programs and laying off 29 employees, to cope with COVID19 financial pressures. The suspended programs include Dance, Theatre, Cabinetmaking and Aircraft Turbine Technician. Holland

NAIT will offer student recreation programs virtually this Fall, such as “Fitness on Demand,” and an online version of “Mind + Body Connect.” Campus facilities will not be available for general staff or student use. The mandatory non-instructional recreation and athletics fee will be reduced by 50%. NAIT


Tuesday July 7, 2020

Airborne Pathogens & Outdoor Classes: Campus Logistics

The news continues to reinforce the health concerns and contagion risks I summarized yesterday: there is growing concern about lingering aerosol transmission of COVID19, and in the face of the pandemic explosion in the US, several American institutions have already begun reversing their plans for an in-person Fall term.

Today let’s look at some logistical implications of a return to campus, from health precautions, cohorts, and classroom capacity (13-24% at most) to enforcement tactics like codes of conduct, student snitches, and 24/7 AI surveillance. Some #cdnPSE campus reopening guidelines reflect these approaches – and uSherbrooke is planning for classes in churches and the great outdoors! Plus, I round up some recent coverage of virtual convocation ceremonies…    

Campus Contagion

Airborne Microdroplet Threat

There is increasing suspicion that COVID19 may be much more contagious in the air than previously thought, regardless of social distancing. 239 scientists in 32 countries have warned the WHO that smaller aerosol microdroplets, exhaled in the breath or speech (not just in a sneeze or cough) can hang suspended in the air and even glide the length of a room over time. The implication is that N95 face masks, improved ventilation, and perhaps even UV irradiation in air ducts will be required to contain COVID19. (Investigators suspect ventilation helped spread COVID19 in a Quebec seniors residence and a restaurant in China.) The WHO (and PHO) emphasis on social distancing and hand hygiene may be insufficient, but the scientific community has not had time to fully debate the issue: “There is no incontrovertible proof that SARS-CoV-2 travels or is transmitted significantly by aerosols, but there is absolutely no evidence that it’s not.” Globe & Mail

Campus Logistics

So far, institutions are following PHO guidance in implementing social distancing, encouraging hand hygiene, and implementing physical barriers or procedural changes to reduce the risk of infection on campus…

Complexities of De-Densification

Reducing population density on campus requires changes to academics, residence, administration, and student affairs – through decentralized, overlapping, often contradictory decision-making. Considerations include social distanced room capacity, classes for which F2F is essential, faculty willing to teach on campus, students willing to return to campus, and more. (EAB illustrates the issues in the graphic above.) EAB

Operating at 13% Capacity

VR modelers at Cal Tech have simulated the impact of 8-foot social distancing on campus capacity: the largest dining hall would hold 24 instead of 192, and a lecture theatre would hold just 16 students, instead of 149 (11-12.5% of pre-COVID capacity). A separate study at Cornell found that 6-foot distancing would reduce classroom capacity to between 13-24%. One prof who attempted teaching a hybrid, distanced class details his “cognitively overwhelming” experience and frustrations with eye contact, hearing, and technology. IHE

Outdoor Classes, Churches etc

uSherbrooke has requisitioned a convent, 3 churches and a performance hall to allow classes to be delivered in-person with social distancing – and is planning a dozen outdoor classes to accommodate 500 students. (The idea of heated tents was abandoned due to costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.) The hope is to deliver 40% or more of many programs F2F, and in some cases more than 90%. Le Devoir

Simulating the Stress

Cait Kirby, a Biology doctoral student at Vanderbilt, has created interactive text-based simulations of a day in the life of a marginalized campus student and faculty member this Fall, assuming strict social distancing protocols are in place. The student faces overwhelming choices about personal safety, while the faculty member has very little choice – but in both cases “bad things just keep happening.” Says the creator, “the only way to win this game is not to play… Being on campus in the fall is probably not going to be good for anyone.” Chronicle

Cohort “Bubbles”

A cohort approach to class scheduling, in which a group of 25-30 students take courses in common throughout a semester or an entire program, has proven pedagogical benefits. It may also be the best way to address the network effect that will spread a pandemic across campus, particularly if it includes dining and residence accommodation. “We want to maximize the number of classes students take in common… to minimize the number of distinct physical social interactions.” IHE

Safety Kits but not Thermometers

A survey of 70 institutions in early June found that 67% will provide students with COVID19 Safety Kits this Fall, including face masks, social distancing info, and hand sanitizer. (While many will require symptom monitoring, just 27% plan to provide a thermometer.) Almost all plan to use floor signage and social norming campaigns for physical distancing, but less than half plan to make training mandatory or to require a pledge. Few have decided yet how to punish those who violate social distancing policies. EAB

COVID19 Enforcement

Many academics, administrators, and health authorities have expressed concern about the likelihood of stringent student compliance with social distancing rules this Fall. Those attempting to address the issue are planning enforcement officers, mandatory testing, and AI-driven 24/7 surveillance…

Student Compliance

Colleges have long struggled to enforce codes of conduct regarding plagiarism, cheating, underage drinking or sexual misconduct; COVID19 precautions will be even more stringent and difficult to enforce. “Compliance is the true wild card.” Some institutions are adding language to their student codes of conduct, or crafting behavioural pledges. Vanderbilt U launched a “public health ambassador” program in May to enforce mask wearing and manage the size of gatherings. The efforts may look a lot like bystander intervention programs regarding sexual misconduct. Many faculty and staff worry that students will put them at risk: “these plans are so unrealistically optimistic that they border on delusional.” Chronicle

Enforced Testing is Critical

Cornell U researchers have concluded that holding the Fall semester online could result in more infections and hospitalizations among staff and students than an in-person on-campus term would. They calculate an in-person term would infect 3.6% of the campus population, while an online term would infect almost 6 times as many (21%) – assuming that half of students returned to Ithaca anyway, but that asymptomatic testing could not be enforced. On-campus students could be subject to mandatory testing and masks, or lose access to residence halls or email accounts. IHE

100% Real-Time Surveillance

Minimizing campus populations while enforcing social distancing and tracing contacts may lead to more widespread adoption of AI-driven campus surveillance systems. Australian company iCetana uses a machine-learning approach to monitor hundreds or thousands of 360° video feeds, and identify unusual activity in real time. In the control room, video screens are black until an anomaly is detected and displayed. The system has thermal imaging to detect fire hazards, but does not (as yet) use facial recognition. iCetana is already being used by Curtin, Deakin and Swinburne Universities in Australia, and Mount Royal U in Calgary. iCetana

Reopening Updates

In the reopening plans and updates issued this week, we see #CdnPSE implementing some of the logistical and enforcement trends outlined above…

uAlberta has released its Campus 2020-21 Framework for a phased and controlled return to campus. Precautions will include a mandatory daily self-assessment, facemasks in indoor common areas, physical distancing and traffic flow signage, hand hygiene and workspace sanitization. 400+ research groups are already back on campus, and activity should return almost to normal levels by September. 900+ students remained in campus residence throughout the summer. This Fall, “there will be access to sports and recreation facilities, student groups and intercollegiate sports” on campus. uAlberta

Cambrian College has published a 16-page Campus Reopen Guide for staff and students. It distils COVID19 health and safety information from 6 other plans and protocols, and outlines expectations for quarantine, pre-screening, masks, and cleaning. Cambrian

U Canada West has published a 27-page Recovery Plan that parallels those of many institutions, with blended delivery, social distancing measures, sanitization, mandatory facemasks, Plexiglas barriers and continuing WFH for staff. Paid Student Health Ambassadors will oversee physical distancing and coordinate traffic in classrooms, hallways and washrooms. UCW

Centennial College president Craig Stephenson released a brief video yesterday to welcome back “stranded” students, and to emphasize the importance of health and safety compliance. Their first day on campus, students must produce the certificate proving that they completed mandatory campus re-entry training, and every day they return to campus, students and staff must show that they have passed a COVID19 pre-screening assessment. YouTube

NAIT started resuming limited on-campus activity last Thursday, including some stranded students, corporate training, and applied research. (On average, there will be about 200 people on main campus in July.) Facilities staff and technicians are preparing the campus, installing barriers and signage, removing furniture, and increasing the frequency of cleaning. Masks are “expected” where social distancing cannot be maintained. NAIT

Royal Roads U is beginning “a slow and careful return to campus by some [staff and faculty], starting with senior executive July 6.” Safety protocols include self-screening, hygiene, physical distancing and new room occupancy limits. RRU


Virtual Convocations

Almost every institution has somehow recognized its grads with a virtual celebration or online convocation. Some take the form of short congratulatory videos, others a permanent microsite. I’ve summarized a range of approaches to virtual or socially distanced convocations. Here are some recent additions:

BCIT launched a 34-min graduating student celebration video hosted by alumna and Global BC Newshour anchor Sophie Lui, with messages from the Governor-General, Premier, and BCIT leaders, alumni, faculty and staff. BCIT

Bishop’s has reluctantly announced that the postponed June convocation planned for Aug 29 will need to be virtual rather than in-person. (The provincial limit on gatherings is currently 50 people, and while it might increase to 250 later this summer, convocation typically brings 1,000 people together in a gymnasium.) Part 2 of the ceremony will be held in-person on Jun 4 2021. Bishop’s

Centennial College held its first virtual convocation last week, complete with formal convocation and congratulation videos, and personalized grad slides. Custom #CentennialGrad Instagram stickers and Zoom backgrounds were circulating, along with a Spotify playlist, and a live social media wall. Centennial

College of New Caledonia shared an 80-min “virtual convocation” video, complete with the national anthem, Indigenous land acknowledgements and greetings, and plenty of remarks from community dignitaries, student valedictorians – followed by slides of award winners and graduates. CNC

UFV shipped out parchments, graduation caps, “Class of 2020” banners, and a “specially-branded package of sustainable, seed-based confetti to match the ‘celebrate and grow’ theme in the box.” UFV

McGill’s virtual convocation attracted thousands of viewers for 10 ceremonies. First Peoples’ House hosted a ceremony for Indigenous students. One-third of the graduands were international students, whose families and friends tuned in from around the world. McGill

SaskPolytech recognized its graduates in a week-long online celebration including video messages, Facebook frames, Instagram GIFs and stickers, and even downloadable lawn signs and posters grads and their families could print. SKPoly

Sheridan held 6 simultaneous “virtual convo” ceremonies on Tuesday morning, and videos of each are available with graduate slides. On social, #SheridanConvo Instagram filters and games, Facebook frames, animated Giphy stickers and Zoom backgrounds were provided. Sheridan

Monday July 6, 2020

The Risks of Campus Contagion this Fall

In Friday’s issue we took a long look at the challenges and possibilities of online learning. Today, let’s turn to the public health implications of a return to campus this Fall. The reality is, COVID19 poses serious health risks to far more of our staff and students than we might like to admit – and in a campus environment, a virus can quickly spread like wildfire.

In other updates, we’ve got new layoffs at Camosun and SaskPoly, requests for wage cuts at Dal and uManitoba, BYOD plans at CNA and virtual drama plans at MtA, plus a range of recreation facilities reopening at uAlberta…

Health Impacts of COVID19

Research is just beginning to discover the full impact of COVID19 on those who are asymptomatic carriers, or may be counted as “recovered cases.” The worldwide loss of life – more than 500,000 deaths so far (about 1% of cases) – is just the tip of the iceberg; the risk to our students is very real.

Lasting Organ Damage

Many patients infected by COVID19 suffer catastrophic organ damage and permanent lung scarring. “It goes after the pancreas. It goes after the heart. It goes after the liver, the brain, the kidney and other organs.” Patients can experience blood clotting disorders and strokes, and even asymptomatic children are suddenly suffering multi-organ inflammation. Neurological complications include loss of taste or smell, seizures and confusion. 10% of patients who didn’t require hospitalization nonetheless have experienced months of fatigue and shortness of breath. Global

Cognitive Impairment

Neuroscientists at Western are recruiting 50,000 subjects who tested positive for COVID19, to measure its direct and indirect effects on the brain. Patients who leave ICUs can experience “a spectrum of physical, functional and neuropsychological issues.” Nearly all have cognitive impairments, and half remain impaired years later. “A year from now, we will have more than 8 million people worldwide recovering from COVID19. So, we may also have 8 million people with short- and long-term cognitive problems.” UWO

Delayed Reaction in Teens

Pediatricians worldwide are reporting a surge in Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children and teens (MIS-C), apparently 2-6 weeks following COVID19 exposure. (So far, 300 cases in the US and 4 in Alberta). Most were perfectly healthy and asymptomatic, but started exhibiting stomach pain, vomiting, fever and rash. A delayed immune response to COVID19 may be the cause of heart and coronary artery abnormalities that require immediate hospitalization. CTV

Campus Contagion

Despite the ongoing pandemic, >60% of US colleges and 97% of UK universities still plan F2F teaching on campus this Fall. Unfortunately, higher ed campuses provide an ideal environment for the virus…

2 Degrees of Separation

Network analysis research has found that the average first-year Cornell student shares classes with more than 500 students each week. Although students may “reach” only 4% directly, 87% of students can reach each other in 2 steps via a shared classmate, and 98% in 3 steps. Most strikingly: moving the largest classes online “would not appreciably reduce the interconnectedness of students.” Moreover, “course enrolment networks do not capture the many ways that students are connected outside of the classroom through advisors, friends, parties, athletics and other extracurricular activities, or living situations.” IHE

The Challenge of Containment

New research from Swarthmore and uPenn has modelled the spread of COVID19 on campus. Without interventions, in a hypothetical large university with 20,000 students, 2,500 instructors, and an average class size of 24, “all susceptible community members would acquire COVID19 by the end of the semester, with peak infection rates between 20 and 40 days into the semester, even if the semester begins with no infections.” Moving classes of more than 30 online, enforcing universal face masks, daily testing of 3% of the campus population and contact tracing would significantly improve the outcome. One concern, though, is that even 0.8% false positives would send up to 108 people into unnecessary quarantine each day. Another, is that dining halls or social gatherings could spark an outbreak regardless of the other measures taken. IHE

An “Epidemiological Nightmare”

A uMichigan economist argues in the NY Times that bringing millions of students back to campuses this Fall poses enormous risk in a pandemic, and simply isn’t worth it. Around the world, outbreaks have been linked to young people socializing. Student housing, social and athletic life will inevitably spread COVID19 rapidly, even if many students remain asymptomatic. Faculty, staff, and vulnerable members of the community will wind up swamping local hospitals. Social distancing will mean a significantly diminished campus life and many online classes anyway. “Gathering students on campus is a gamble that could generate outsize risks for society and only modest benefits for students.” NYT

Returning to Campus is “Magical Thinking”

Across the US, COVID19 will be even more prevalent when school restarts in August than it was when they shut down in March. College students are already sparking COVID19 outbreaks in Michigan bars, on Florida beaches, and on varsity football teams. With “miles of Plexiglas, thousands of coronavirus tests, hundreds of thousands of masks and bottles of hand sanitizer,” we may be able to manage social distance in labs and classrooms, but after-hours and off-campus, students will be super-spreaders. Writing instructor and journalist John Warner understands that institutions are desperate for the income from campus dorms and ancillaries, but argues against the “downright magical” thinking that a return to campus is feasible. The experience will be alienating, stressful, and “really freaking weird.” It will disadvantage those with disabilities or pre-existing risk factors, and will undermine the sense of safety and security that are an essential precondition for effective learning. To avoid the academic and emotional toll of another disrupted semester, he urges an early commitment to online courses (much like the majority of Canadian institutions have done). IHE

Layoffs & Pay Cuts

Announcements continue to emerge about job cuts, temporary layoffs, and pay cuts, furloughs or  voluntary “vacation purchase” programs…

Camosun College is cutting about 50 jobs in ancillary services “currently not required,” and temporarily shutting down its Continuing Education department (affecting 8 employees plus contract instructors). Administrators explain that without F2F classes, CE would not be financially viable. uVic and Royal Roads, also in Victoria BC, plan to continue offering online CE.  Times-Colonist

Dalhousie has asked unionized staff to take a 5% wage cut, as it anticipates a $30.5 M shortfall for the upcoming academic year. The DFA, CUPE and the NSGEU oppose the idea, and warn that collective bargaining will likely last into the Fall. CBC

uManitoba is expanding its “Vacation Purchase Plan” so full-time staff can take up to 15 days without pay, and spread the cost over the remainder of the fiscal year. The days have no impact on seniority, vacation accrual, pension or other benefits. The executive team is taking 5 days each, as have many others – but it remains optional. uManitoba

SaskPolytech has reportedly issued 45 permanent and 48 temporary layoff notices, as a result of campus closures and anticipated declines in enrolment and revenue. 29 positions were academic employees. Global


Across the country, many institutions are reopening some research labs, and in some cases planning for summer camps and outdoor recreation on campus…

uAlberta is reopening some outdoor soccer fields and volleyball courts, and select indoor recreation facilities for members or registered programs only (tennis, gymnastics, pool, and climbing wall). Children’s aquatics and climbing camps have reopened. Plans for other facilities to reopen in August and early September are also outlined. uAlberta

UoGuelph has begun the next step in its “Research Phase-In,” increasing research activity and eventually, supporting instructors who must prepare on-campus for remote delivery this Fall. UoGuelph

Virtual Fall

A range of details are continuing to emerge about the Fall. Laurier and SAIT have shared details about many of their programs, CNA has joined Cambrian in publishing BYOD details, and Mount A is planning virtual drama productions…

College of the North Atlantic has published its BYOD program model for Fall, detailing 4 levels of computer requirements for students by academic program. CNA recommends Windows 10 laptops, webcams and internet access for all students, and estimates costs between $900 and $3800. CNA

Mount Allison U’s Drama Studies program is planning 2 shows this Fall with entirely online rehearsals and performances, and bilingual theatre troupe Tintamarre will mount an original script for delivery online. “We are going to need adventurous actors, designers, and crew to help us prove that no matter what happens in the world, art will get us through.” MTA

SAIT posted details of its Fall programs on Friday, as promised in early June. The majority of courses will be “delivered remotely, supported by virtual meeting technology and simulations.” About half appear to be “blended.” (Start dates for on-campus labs are still TBD.) Some first-year programs have been deferred. SAIT

Wilfrid Laurier U has shared more details about their “primarily remote” Fall term. Some courses have been identified as priorities for F2F instruction, PHO permitting, including off-site experiential learning, lab classes, practical study courses and those that fulfil licensing/accreditation requirements. WLU

Tomorrow, let’s move from the health risks of a F2F Fall term, to some of the implications for campus logistics and precautions, and how they might be enforced!


Friday July 3, 2020

Focus on Online Learning

With the US reporting 50,000 new cases of COVID19 a day, and healthcare systems in the sunbelt states already at capacity, our thoughts are with our neighbours to the south as they prepare to celebrate Independence Day. Hopefully, most will also celebrate “Interdependence” by wearing a mask and respecting each other enough to social distance…

Today, let’s do a deep dive into the emergency remote learning this spring, and the predominantly online learning expected this fall, from student frustrations and faculty challenges, to advice from several experienced online instructors on delivering effective education virtually.

Ultimately, the biggest challenge will be creating a sense of social cohesion and community in a purely online semester. To round out the week, I share a few particularly good higher ed videos I’ve seen this week, that in some ways attempt to do just that!

Student Attitudes

When online learning offers a deep discount, students are increasingly open to the idea – but very few seem to be successful. As we’ve noted before, the emergency online pivot this spring exacerbated inequalities, and disrupted students’ sense of connection. As the summer wears on, students may be growing less satisfied with online delivery – although international students seem more comfortable with it than domestic students…

Cost, Flexibility make Online Attractive

Pre-COVID19, online undergrad and graduate programs were largely aimed at either university drop-outs or working adults – but interest in online learning was also growing among traditional-aged US students. In early 2019, Gen Z (aged 18-22) was the fastest-growing demographic at online universities like Western Governors U and Southern New Hampshire U, likely because of significantly lower costs and schedules flexible enough to accommodate work. (89% of Gen Z planned to work while studying.) Employer-paid tuition benefits, like Starbucks deal with Arizona State, were also contributing to the trend. However, just 2% of students taking ASU’s Global Freshman Academy through EdX managed to complete a single course. Edu Dive

Emergency Remote Challenges

Students’ greatest challenges during emergency remote instruction this spring were pre-existing issues like balancing school, work and home responsibilities or time management – although they were amplified online. A survey of 15,667 students at 21 US colleges and universities this spring found that many struggled with the unexpected pivot online, and struggled to find quiet space in which to study. Collaborative group projects and research lab assignments were particularly difficult online. Students felt somewhat connected to their instructor, but disconnected from their peers. The challenges were greatest for non-binary students, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but disruption was also greater for students formerly living on-campus. Ithaka S+R

UK Students Growing Less Satisfied

Already, UK undergraduates are becoming less satisfied with online courses, and expect limitations on their interaction with classmates next year. In March, 49% were either “very” or “quite” satisfied, but by June this had declined to 42% – and the number “quite” or “very” unsatisfied had increased from 23% to 33%. Although 63% were satisfied with their assessment, only 43% reported that messaging about next year had been clear. Only 18% of respondents expect all learning to be online this Fall, although 71% expect some online learning. THE

Foreign Students in US are More Satisfied

At US research universities, 60% of foreign students feel they have adapted well to remote instruction this year, while another study found that fewer than half of domestic students felt the same. International students remain anxious about health, immigration status, and discrimination, but about 20% had previous experience with online learning, and many had better access to technical resources. (I wonder whether some are also more comfortable writing in English than participating orally in class?)  THE

Faculty Attitudes

Faculty have proven themselves remarkably dedicated and resilient in adapting to emergency remote delivery this spring. They overcame plenty of obstacles, and are pretty confident about the Fall – but remain divided about the long-term benefits of online classes…

Technical Obstacles, Lack of Engagement

A survey of 935 faculty and 595 academic administrators (May 11-17) found that about 60% felt the emergency remote courses offered this spring were “moderately” or “much” worse than F2F offerings. In particular, almost 80% of instructors said “creating a sense of engagement” with students was somewhat or very challenging, and about 80% of administrators reported technical obstacles for faculty, and student lack of access as challenges. Surprisingly, 66% of profs said their experience teaching remotely this spring was mostly or somewhat positive, and 74% are somewhat or very confident about teaching entirely or mostly online this Fall. 39% say they need PD in online pedagogy. Chronicle

Digital Tools are Here to Stay

“The virtual train has left the station,” says assistant dean of online and innovative pedagogies Flower Darby, so faculty should spend time this summer polishing their digital skills. Whether pandemic, natural disaster, or personal challenge, online delivery offers students flexibility for academic continuity. Making better use of the LMS can improve pre-work and foster more dynamic teaching in the physical classroom too. Chronicle

Online Learning is NOT the Future

“Tech utopians” and politicians want to leverage the COVID19 crisis to shift education permanently online, but English prof Peter Herman says his students “universally agreed” that they “hated” their online course experiences this spring. One felt she “wasn’t getting 10%” of the usual class. Students missed the structure of schedules and were often distracted by others at home, the internet, and of course the pandemic itself. Students preferred synchronous Zoom classes; asynchronously, “the student takes the class alone,” which is “like paying tuition to watch YouTube videos.” Socratic dialogue is necessary for genuine education to happen; “students and faculty want to get back to the traditional classroom as quickly as possible.” IHE

Is F2F Superior to Online Learning?

In a series of 4 blog posts, George Veletsianos argues that “physical co-presence” in a F2F classroom is not inherently superior to online learning. He suggests 4 E’s as criteria to evaluate learning: effectiveness, efficiency, engagement, and equity. (And he notes that while many students lack equal access to online learning, others are put at risk by a return to campus this Fall.) He explores 3 options for Fall 2020: all courses online except selected labs, multi-access courses (offering students the choice), and a low-residency model in which only one-third of the students are on campus at a time, for just one month. Institutions should probably consider offering such flexibility to students, even after the COVID19 pandemic is resolved. Veletsianos

Keys to Online Teaching

The internet is awash in online pedagogical tips for faculty, from every campus Teaching & Learning Centre, plenty of online platforms, OPM companies and MOOC providers, and instructional experts and bloggers. Here are some simple summaries for those in a hurry…

6 Keys to Emergency Remote Teaching

Based on faculty and student feedback, Regan Gurung prescribes 6 key factors that defined successful online classes this spring, and they parallel evidence-based practices for good F2F and online teaching in general. He proposes the acronym CCOMFE, for Compassion, Clarity, Organization, Multifacetedness, Flexibility and Engagement. In the midst of a pandemic, faculty needed to be sensitive and caring, clear about expectations, and use detailed and well-structured LMS content. Choices for interaction (synchronous, asynchronous, breakout rooms, discussion boards, etc) keep student attention better. Successful instructors were flexible on due dates, attendance and demonstrations of learning, and carefully built their presence through weekly videos, frequent emails, Zoom polls and more. IHE

7 Elements of a Good Online Course

Students can identify good online courses by looking for 7 key elements, says George Veletsianos, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology at Royal Roads U. It should be informed by equity and cultural diversity, and prioritize OERs over expensive textbooks. It should foster interactions between students, and with the professor, who should be visible, approachable and empathetic. It should be engaging, motivating, and challenging. It should deliver on learning outcomes by incorporating practice or activity, and encourage student agency and some autonomy. These are “qualities of good courses, period.” Conversation

Building Classroom Community Online

Classes that begin online have to create a sense of community from scratch, particularly when students need a level of trust to share their creative work. Rachel Toor, a creative writing prof, found that personal essays posted in the course “sandbox” for feedback were the most effective. She recommends using Zoom breakout rooms, no matter how small your class, and encouraging informal use of text-based chat during classes. During the pandemic she recommends shorter reading assignments, and more flexible due dates for assignments. Students who did not choose to learn online are most likely to appreciate synchronous Zoom discussions. Chronicle

5 Ways to Build Connection with Students

Online classes can be isolating for students and discouraging for faculty, says an experienced instructional designer, but the solution is to connect more frequently with students as people. Flower Darby recommends following a weekly schedule to post encouraging announcements in the LMS, participating frequently in the discussion forum, and posting short, authentic videos. “They need your presence more than anything else.” Try to exercise compassion and offer flexibility whenever possible. (She hands out “oops tokens” to excuse late work in extenuating circumstances.) “They have lives outside the LMS.” Above all, be vulnerable and let students see that you’re not perfect. Chronicle


Speaking of building community online, I came across several videos this week that I think are worth sharing, just #ICYMI:

Royal Roads U president Philip Steenkamp and his partner Brad Chatwin climb to the top of Hatley Castle to fly the Pride flag for the first time ever. YouTube


NSCC celebrated the class of 2020 with hand-delivered diplomas, bubble wands, chalk drawings, sparklers and cake in this quick tear-jerker. YouTube


The uIllinois System shared a polished, moving video to reassure students that “unprecedented doesn’t mean impossible, and uncertainty just calls for chasing the truth harder.” YouTube


That was a long issue to round out a short week – I hope you found something there of use!  Have a great weekend, stay safe and be well!

Thursday July 2, 2020

Mandatory Wellness, Masks, and BYOD

I hope you enjoyed a lovely Canada Day yesterday – and perhaps even an extended weekend!

The price I pay for taking a few days off is a significant backlog of COVID19 announcements. Particularly notable: a new BYOD policy at Cambrian and a 4-part “Fanshawe Experience Guarantee”; face masks required or encouraged at Brock, UFV, and Queen’s; fundraising for 500 student laptops at Trent; personal advisors and mentors at MSVU; and intercollegiate eSports at uWindsor.

And finally, if (like me) you’re feeling a bit guilty for taking some personal time this week, Ryerson’s Mohamed Lachemi and Sheridan’s Janet Morrison clearly want to reassure you that life balance is important. Ryerson’s new university-wide “Recharge” policies are particularly intriguing, as a model others could emulate…

Student Promises

2 Ontario colleges have put some marketing muscle into new announcements for the Fall term…

Fanshawe Experience Guarantee

Fanshawe College has unveiled a 4-part “Experience Guarantee” for this Fall. If full-time students are not satisfied with “exceptional online learning,” they can defer their tuition fees and deposit to the next semester. (Not ancillary fees.) Fanshawe is extending all customer service hours to 10am-7pm (and Library Services 6am-12midnight), and commits to responding to all email/phone inquiries within 24 hours. Each student will be assigned a “personal career coach” from the career and co-op team. Fanshawe

BYOD enshrined in Cambrian Policy

Cambrian College has implemented a new BYOD Policy “to enrich the student learning experience” by making them “anytime, anywhere learners” – and not incidentally, to “prepare students to quickly move to a remote delivery should a critical situation occur where the College must shut its doors for a period of time.” Students are responsible for a laptop with webcam, headset, software and other components, and a reliable internet connection. Cambrian

On the other hand…

Trent’s Remote Learning Initiative has raised $96,000 to provide 192 Chromebooks to students in need. (The target is 500.) Trent

Return to Campus

Across Canada, the planning process for returning to campus looks surprisingly different, depending on regional PHOs and institutional cultures…

UBC is introducing a safety planning process for the 4-phase restart plan, with 5 categories to prioritize campus activity: resumption of academics and research, then services that directly support it, then revenue-generating units, then ancillaries, and finally administrative units. Departmental safety plans will need to be approved before any changes to employee WFH. UBC

Cambrian College is preparing to bring “stranded” Winter 2020 students back to campus: in mid-July, those eligible to graduate; and in August, those with incomplete course grades. Cambrian

Laurentian has published its Return to Campus phased re-opening plan. Phase 1A began Jun 8, with the return of some campus research, and Phase 1B will permit the return of some students to campus this Fall for essential labs, and to residences. (Less than 1% of courses will be on campus.) Library curbside service may begin later in July. Later phases depend upon PHO directives. Laurentian

Red River College leaders summarize the 4 phases of campus re-entry and health precautions in a 6-min video released Tuesday. YouTube

uSask is now transitioning to stage 3 of its recovery and reopening plan. The Pandemic Response and Recovery Team has been reviewing >300 requests to resume campus activities. The Library now offers “contactless pickup.”  uSask

Trent is proceeding with its back to campus plan. 137 researchers have returned to 36 labs, 4 pilot teaching projects begin in July, and the library has begun curbside service. Trent


As the scientific consensus swings towards face coverings as a critical tool to contain COVID19, more and more institutions are announcing that they will provide masks – and sometimes even make them mandatory! And despite frantic lobbying by major airlines, institutional travel bans are being extended…

Brock U is requiring face coverings for anyone entering campus buildings, effective Jul 1, particularly in hallways, elevators, classrooms and restrooms. Branded masks are on order, and will be provided free to those who need to be on campus. Brock

UFV has detailed 8 ways it will keep students safe this Fall: nearly all classes will be online, everyone is encouraged to screen for symptoms, there will be less furniture for social distancing and one-way doors to buildings, masks will be provided for certain classes, touchless hand sanitizer stations will be across campus, high-touch surfaces will be disinfected multiple times a day, physical barriers and signage are being installed. UFV

McMaster has extended its ban on all discretionary events until “at least” the end of August. McMaster

Queen’s is “strongly encouraging” employees and students to wear face coverings in all common areas on campus, in response to recent COVID19 outbreaks in the Kingston region. Queen’s will be distributing 2 masks to each employee as they are permitted to return to campus. Queen’s

York U has decided to cancel or postpone all university-sanctioned international mobility programs, inbound and outbound, for the Fall term. “As travel advisories begin to lift,” faculty and grad students should follow federal travel advisories. York

Fall Delivery

Brock is committed to virtual WIL this Fall, Holland plans 2 online weeks to allow for students in quarantine, and uRegina makes a detailed case for reopening with caution…

Acadia has elaborated on their plans for Fall delivery, itemizing 5 course formats: On-Campus, Scheduled Hybrid, Unscheduled Hybrid, Scheduled Virtual, or Unscheduled Virtual. (Specific courses will be identified by Jul 10). Acadia

Brock U has affirmed its commitment to experiential and WIL in 100% of its programs this Fall, albeit with some adjustments due to the pandemic. Some workplaces are beginning to welcome students back in person, while many others offer remote work opportunities. Brock Co-op Director Cara Krezek (who is also president of CEWIL Canada) has a quick video too. Brock

Holland College will deliver course content by distance, for blended programs, for the first 2 weeks of classes (Sept 1-14) to accommodate students who must self-isolate for 14 days upon entering Atlantic Canada. Holland

UPEI has shared more details regarding Fall delivery by Faculty. Programs and courses will be “primarily online,” with exceptions for accredited health and clinical programs (Nursing, Vet Med, Psychology, Sustainable Design Engineering) and for some lab-based Science courses and Arts performance programs (Music, Theatre etc). UPEI

uRegina interim president Thomas Chase has written the campus community to explain that universities are taking a cautious approach to reopening because they have dense campus populations with hundreds of vectors and “pinch points,” drawn from across the country and around the world. As housing providers, universities cannot abruptly close their doors like a K-12 school. And the prospect of a second wave, particularly impacting younger people, is already evident in the US. uRegina

uWinnipeg has clarified that campus access will be limited to essential work in Jul/Aug. In Sept, the majority of courses will be taught via alternate modes, primarily online, with some limited classes and labs on campus. Library, computing labs and study spaces will likely be reopened, but with reduced service levels and hours. uWinnipeg is planning for increased campus activity in Jan 2021, subject to PHO guidance. uWinnipeg

Student Services

MSVU details new advising, mentoring and orientation programs to ensure their students “flourish,” while uWindsor prepares for intercollegiate eSports…

MSVU plans to deliver all programs online this Fall, but nonetheless will operate its residences at 54% capacity. (No guests permitted, and students must bring their own PPE.) MSVU has also launched a new “Flourish” website hub featuring student supports. All students will be assigned a Personal Advisor this summer, a senior student “Mount Mentor,” and access to orientation, which begins with the free “Mount 101” online program in July. MSVU

uWindsor plans to form an intercollegiate eSports team this Fall, “Lancer Gaming.” Since last Sept, >250 students from all faculties have signed on. eSports is a billion-dollar industry with 443 million online fans. There are more than 200 collegiate eSports teams in North America, and the Ontario PSE eSports league will launch this Fall. Windsor Star


Ryerson forbids emails and meetings evenings and weekends – and even makes Fridays meeting-free – to help employees recharge and stay well. While Janet Morrison takes inspiration from a New Zealand recipe for wellbeing…

Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi announced new university-wide practices to support employee wellbeing and encourage WFH work/life balance. All meetings are to be booked in increments of 50 min or less, are to conclude by 6pm, and only urgent meetings are to be scheduled on Fridays for the remainder of the summer. Emails are not to be sent after 7pm or on weekends unless urgent. All employees have an extra “Ryerson Recharge” vacation day to be taken before Sept 4. Ryerson

Sheridan president Janet Morrison shared New Zealand’s “5 Ways to Wellbeing” model with students, which is her “personal recipe” to keep striving to flourish during the pandemic: Connect, Be Active, Keep Learning, Give (or volunteer, be kind, express gratitude), and Take Notice.  Sheridan


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