Eduvation Blog

Hindsight is 2020: Lessons from the Pandemic

Good morning!

This afternoon, I’ll be “sitting down” with my roundtable of university Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) to discuss the balance of centralized and decentralized marcom functions on campus.

But now that I’ve finally caught us up on all the pandemic developments from the past month, I can turn to my pile of “year in review” articles and compile some of the newer ideas you haven’t already heard me write about many times before.

But first, yes, a few updates from CdnPSE…


CdnPSE Updates

2 more announcements of universities remaining online, while another top-ranked institution announces major growth in applications for next fall…

U Canada West will be moving all classes online for the remainder of the Winter 2021 term.  Twitter

Laurentian U’s Senate has voted to continue delivering the Spring 2021 semester (May-Aug 2021) remotely, with “a limited number of classes” F2F, with strict protocols in place.  Education News Canada

Queen’s U reports “strong undergraduate interest” for Fall 2021, with Ontario high school applications for first year up +14% over last year, compared to an overall increase of +2.3% across Ontario universities. Notable increases include Indigenous (+26%), first-generation (+19%) and international (+11%) students. Queen’s has received >45,000 applications to date, for 4,700 spaces. Nursing has seen significantly increased interest across Ontario and at Queen’s. Queen’s recruiters have held >500 virtual events to date. “Virtual outreach has broadened the university’s reach – parents, families, counselors, and education agents can easily attend online events from anywhere in the world.”  Queen’s Gazette


Hindsight is 2020

A quick look back at some megatrends of our pandemic year…


Eating Got Pricier

Although global food prices fell >10% early in the pandemic, they skyrocketed >15% in the latter half of 2020 – thanks to drought, challenges to migrant worker mobility and supply chain disruptions. Vegetable oil rose 20% in the final 2 months of 2020, an avian flu outbreak in Europe drove poultry prices up, and dairy demand in Oceania and Western Europe pushed dairy prices up 3.2%.  World Economic Forum

The pandemic also revealed that retail and food service supply chains are distinctly separate, and when institutions closed, massive quantities of food were destroyed while thousands of newly unemployed people lined up for hours outside food banks. Huffington Post


Gaming was an Escape

Perhaps not surprisingly, many people escaped into video games last year. According to Steam, PC gamers increased their play-time +50%, and over half of Americans played video games. There was also a +71% increase in the sale of VR games, and play-time in virtual reality went up +30%.  The Verge


Crime Rates Fell

Despite rapidly escalating unemployment, the crime rate in 25 major cities dropped during COVID19 lockdowns, just as it did in Chicago during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. In 2020, property and violent crimes dropped -19%, and drug crimes by -65% – and the drops actually preceded stay-at-home orders by several weeks. However, non-residential burglaries at empty commercial properties rose +38%, and car thefts rose in many cities as they were left parked more of the time.  Wired


Temperatures Soared

If you believe NASA, 2020 narrowly beat out 2016 as the hottest year on record for the planet; if you believe the NOAA, it came in a close second, whereas the EU called it a tie. It doesn’t really matter: “the past 7 years have been the warmest 7 years on record.” Siberia endured a months-long heatwave, and the Arctic town of Verkhoyansk hit 38°C in June.  With the warming climate came heatwaves, wildfires that burned >3M acres of forest in California, and a whopping 30 named hurricanes (requiring the use of Greek letters). The US broke records with 22 billion-dollar natural disasters last year.  Buzzfeed


Jobs became Gigs

Thanks to the pandemic, jobs in Australian service sectors like retail, public administration, mining, education and insurance are booming, while manufacturing, tourism and food service have been decimated. Mining is surging to meet demands of Chinese manufacturing, while many who might otherwise have spent money on travel are instead spending it on retail purchases. IBISWorld forecasts that digital advertising, organic farming, online food delivery and performing arts will all provide significant jobs in the next 5 years. Gig economy website Fiverr observes, “as a large majority of the Australian workforce remains flexibly remote, we’ve seen a seismic shift towards a project-based workforce comprising skilled freelancers.”  Sydney Morning Herald


Species went Extinct

Last year, scientists and conservation groups declared a long list of species likely no longer exist, “because of humanity’s destructive effects on the planet.” They include 32 orchid species in Bangladesh, 65 North American plants, 22 frog species, 187,000 mite species, 17 freshwater fish from the Philippines, a Japanese bat, a French praying mantis, and many other plants, bats, fish and amphibians.  Scientific American


Lessons for Higher Ed

We’ve talked about trends in pedagogy, student supports, budgets, technology and much else over the past 10 months of this newsletter, but here are a few higher-level reflections on 2020 for PSE specifically…


Lessons from 2020

Debra Bateman, Dean of Education at Flinders U, observes that 2020 forced higher ed to become more “adaptive, resilient, and open to change,” taking a “digital leap” and rethinking large lecture classes and semester-long courses. Curtin U plans to phase out all lectures, replacing them with 15-min “CurtinTalks” videos. Victoria U is adopting 20-min blocks instead of long-form lectures.  In response to the recession, the Australian government has promoted microcredential graduate certificate courses, and displaced workers will place “multi-generational demands” on education systems.  Campus Review

“The notion that [traditional lectures] are the key to education is gone – all of us understand that. They are going to happen less frequently and they are going to be more considered for what they’re offering that you can’t get some other way.”Margaret Gardner, Vice-Chancellor, Monash University


Seeing Our Faults Clearly

The pandemic exposed weaknesses in healthcare systems and the vulnerability of essential workers and supply chains. It underscored that modern cities “have been designed for cars instead of pedestrians,” and “laid bare the pervasive and violent inequality facing people of color, compounding existing inequities faced by communities burdened with environmental racism, police brutality, and economic inequality.” Systemic inequalities led to failures in pandemic response just as they have led to gaps in disaster relief, and the pandemic serves as an analogy for the climate crisis: swift, aggressive measures are essential to manage both disasters. A pandemic has also demonstrated just how much social safety nets and collective supports matter. Huffington Post

“In the most painful way, pandemics show us what we need to fix in our world. The stress they cause reveals all those parts that most need repair… Festering economic, health and social disparities… are the fissures through which pandemics, climate change and other threats to our health course through.”Aaron Bernstein, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health


Historical Turning Point

UT Austin historian Steven Mintz argues that 2020 will be viewed in retrospect as “a year of profound transition in higher ed.” The pandemic exposed deep inequities in society, and unmet needs for food and housing among some of our students. High-stakes admission testing was suspended, and >1,600 US colleges went test-blind. Some small colleges closed and larger ones eliminated programs (usually in the humanities). US higher ed lost 14% of its jobs, and varsity athletics were “upended.” He suggests that most strikingly, society has become more skeptical of “degree-based meritocracy” and the stratification of US higher ed. We should take away from 2020 the lesson that effective remote learning requires serious investment in training, instructional design, student support and technology.  Inside Higher Ed

“Gaps in college attainment contribute significantly to our partisan and economic divides, and our colleges and universities have a responsibility to take steps to dramatically increase attainment of a marketable credentials. This strikes me as the most promising way to address the biggest challenges facing this country: wage stagnation, income inequality and profound political polarization that inhibits much-needed reforms.”Steven Mintz, Historian, uTexas at Austin


COVID on Campus

Since yesterday’s newsletter, there were reports of 8 more COVID19 cases associated with CdnPSE campuses. (Many cases go unreported, but see my master spreadsheet for a running tally.)

Brock U reported another case on campus yesterday.  Brock

Durham College reported 2 new cases at its Oshawa campus yesterday. Since 1 case is related to a previous case, the PHO considers it an outbreak “where at least one case could have reasonably acquired their infection on campus.”  DC

uGuelph reported 5 more cases in campus housing, associated with the unsanctioned social gatherings Jan 15-16. (Total now 49 from this outbreak.)  Global



Mea Culpa – yesterday I reported that 840,000 Canadians have received their first dose of vaccine, and equated it to 1.1% of the population. While it is true that 839,949 doses have been administered, Global’s vaccine tracker (my source) indicated that would be 1.13% of the population getting two doses. Thanks to eagle-eyed reader Lynda Torneck at Crescent School for checking my math homework, and suggesting a more detailed source. reports that 742,272 Canadians have received at least one dose (1.96%), and 97,677 are fully vaccinated (0.26%). (At least, using Google’s population stat as the denominator, 37,894,799.)

It’s nice to know some of you are reading each issue with such care!  Thanks Lynda!



Expertise to Drive Economic Renewal

Colleges Ontario has released (what I think is) a new 90-sec commercial featuring fast-paced shots of students in a wide range of programs, set to the upbeat rhythm of The Phantoms’ “Take the World (Let’s Go)”. At about the :40 sec mark there’s a lingering shot of Premier Doug Ford shaking hands, and the message is clearly directed at government funders: “Ontario’s Colleges: Equipping students with the expertise to drive economic renewal,” and “Active in Team Ontario’s response to the pandemic.” Pretty jazzy music for the political demographic! (FWIW the video doesn’t seem to include a single sign of facemasks or social distancing; perhaps it was shot pre-COVID19, or perhaps it’s intended to be used for quite some time.)  YouTube


As always, thanks for reading. Stay safe and be well, everybody!


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