Eduvation Blog

COVID’s Silver Lining?

Good morning, and TGIF!

Today I’m delighted to be presenting (virtually) to the Alberta Advising Committee conference, and since I’ve thinking about student services and advising, I thought I would share a few optimistic tidbits with you as we head into the weekend.

But first, of course, some daily updates I can’t ignore…


Another Vaccine

I pointed out yesterday that the sequence of vaccine announcements, every few days, each more impressive than the last, has been a bit incredible. And within hours of publishing that observation…

AstraZeneca Progress Too

Yesterday The Lancet published data from Phase II trials demonstrating that the Oxford U / AstraZeneca COVID19 vaccine produced “robust” immune responses within 28 days, even in those aged 70+. Phase III trials are still ongoing to determine efficacy against the disease, but results should “definitely be known by Christmas.”  Huffington Post

(So today I suppose we should hear from one of the other 7 vaccines in phase III trials…)


COVID on Campus

I spotted 9 cases of COVID19 in CdnPSE since yesterday…

Lakehead U has a case of COVID19 at its Northern Ontario School of Medicine.  CBC

Western U residence Saugeen-Maitland Hall reports an outbreak of 8 COVID19 cases that “have not been connected to an off-campus source or location.” All students in the residence will be tested. (That makes 90 cases officially reported this fall.)  London Free Press


COVID’s Silver Lining

No question, the pandemic has been challenging for students, faculty and staff – but it has inspired many improvements in policy and processes, and shifted mindsets towards compassion…

Streamlining Student Services

In a recent podcast, 2 EAB analysts suggest that the pandemic has inspired higher ed to modernize “antiquated” processes and streamline student services for registration, advising appointments, and other common tasks. They observe the benefits of virtual advising and more compassionate bursar policies, and hope some of these improvements might outlast the pandemic.  EAB

Replicating Services Online

As higher ed adapts to the pandemic, the pivot to remote instruction is just the beginning. Campus IT needs to support the student experience, by replicating online activities and services like advising, physical and mental health, career services, internships, emergency aid, and much more. This spring, 66% of institutions reported that students had difficulty accessing internships, and 37% mental health services. Just 16% reported challenges for students accessing advising services – perhaps in part because institutions have spent a decade implementing online early alert, degree planning, and advising services. Predictive models can overlook or reinforce equity gaps, so it is critical to examine behavioural data for specific student subsets.  Ed Tech

Curing the “Compassion Deficit”

Whether pivoting to remote teaching, or managing health and safety in pandemic times, higher ed institutions would be well served to prioritize humanity and decency. Instructors should consider how they handle issues over deadlines, and be “mindful of their overall manner in talking to their students.” As some surveys are finding record levels of depression and anxiety among PSE students, higher ed leaders are encouraging staff and faculty to exercise compassion and gratitude – habits with benefits that will outlast COVID19.  Times Higher Ed


Changed for Good?

At this week’s SEMM Forum Online, it was my pleasure to moderate a panel of 3 passionate and compassionate institutional presidents, who shared some memorable insights about how this challenging year has underscored inequities but also brought out the best in people, and offers a unique moment for us to permanently transform higher ed for the better.

The panelists were Benoit-Antoine Bacon (president at Carleton U), Gervan Fearon (president at Brock U), and Janet Morrison (president at Sheridan College). Hopefully they won’t mind if I share a few of their thoughts here, which nicely dovetail into the ideas above…


Community without Proximity

Community and relationships are fundamental to engagement, well-being, and learning, explained Janet Morrison, and “the challenge in feeling connected is very different when there isn’t physical proximity.” With the pivot to remote instruction and work, most members of the campus community struggle with significant challenges to stay engaged and feel connected, and we need to innovate in the supports we provide under these unusual circumstances. “What people are dealing with has changed… The supports need to pivot too to keep pace, such that our mission-critical focus on student success, well-being, and positioning learners to flourish remains integral to what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”

“The challenge in feeling connected is very different when there isn’t physical proximity.” – Janet Morrison, President & Vice-Chancellor, Sheridan College


The Old Normal was Not OK

The pandemic has spotlighted the marginalization and social exclusion in our society, emphasized Gervan Fearon, with very real consequences in terms of COVID19 infections and even deaths. After the pandemic, we need to ensure we don’t succumb to the “gravitational pull” of the old normal: “what we had was not OK for so many members of society… it’s not sufficient to do what we did before.” Higher ed leaders need to ask themselves, “What’s our role in ensuring we’re building institutions that support inclusive societies, not just inclusive institutions?”

Benoit-Antoine Bacon added that “universities have historically been places of exclusion,” admitting people selectively, supposedly on the basis of merit, but really “on the basis of socioeconomic status, deeply embedded with gender and race.” He envisions a different future, in which “contrary to the universities of the past that defined their greatness by who they excluded, universities of the future will define their greatness by who they include.”

“What’s our role in ensuring we’re building institutions that support inclusive societies, not just inclusive institutions?” – Gervan Fearon, President & Vice-Chancellor, Brock University


A Catalyst for Wellness

“Universities have been great at promoting reason, logic, and all the left-brain stuff,” observed Benoit-Antoine Bacon, but “I don’t think we’ve been as good in promoting the notion of well-being, purpose, what it is that makes us human, and leads to a fulfilling life.” Education should be more than a path to skills, but also lead towards an expansion of consciousness, “a better way of being, not just thinking.” Ultimately, he hopes the pandemic will be “a catalyst for wellness.” This is an ideal time to consider how we go beyond offering support services, to “transform core business – our curriculum and our research – to be more explicitly engaged in the very notion of wellness and a balanced and purposeful life.”

“Universities have been great at promoting reason, logic, and all the left-brain stuff, but I don’t think we’ve been as good in promoting the notion of well-being, purpose, what it is that makes us human, and leads to a fulfilling life.” – Benoit-Antoine Bacon, President & Vice-Chancellor, Carleton University


Certainly, as I observed on Tuesday, we’re seeing more dialogue about work-life balance, health and wellness than ever before on CdnPSE campuses. Here’s hoping it continues to gain momentum!


Since it’s Friday, I offer you this vid not because of its stellar production qualities, but because it’s timely and might make you smile…

Vaccine / Jolene

With the news that Dolly Parton contributed $1M towards Moderna’s COVID19 vaccine project, on Monday linguist Gretchen McCulloch rewrote the lyrics to Parton’s hit single, Jolene: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vacciiiiiiiiiiiiiine; I’m begging you, please go in my arm.” Northeastern U English prof Ryan Cordell recorded the ditty on his guitar, and it already has 80,000 views on Twitter and 4,000 on YouTube. “There have been a lot of medical professionals, doctors, and nurses who have said that it made them smile to see the video. And that’s really amazing because those folks are under so much pressure and stress…  If they watched the video, and it made them happy for a minute, that’s all I need.” Although he tweets, “Legit, though: If I’d thought 60,000+ people—& now folks on TV—were going to watch me sing a thing, I’d have put on a nicer shirt!”  Boston Globe


Have a great weekend – but be safe out there!


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