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Lessons to Learn From The Stanford Experience

As U.S. Health Officials, like Surgeon General VADM Jerome Adams on Sunday’s Face The Nation, advocate for mitigation strategies, slowing the COVID-19 infection rate rather than containment of COVID-19, and more university administrators, like those at Stanford University, are heeding their recommendations.

We, at Creative Marbles, know that educators, administrators, parents and students are reorienting their ideas and expectations about how we educate college students and what a college experience is supposed to be, given the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 health emergency. Yet, as history proves, within such unexpected upheaval, opportunities to innovate with questioning and reflection, arise. In analyzing the early experiences of the first universities to implement such a stark change in how the learning process unfolds, we can hope to learn from the experience, to improve how we educate our youngest generations.

We chose to analyze Stanford Provost Persis Drell’s letter to the community, where she announced the change to university operations, seeking to shed light on the complex issues other universities are facing, as more and more campuses suspend their own normal operations. In our post, we ask questions that university administrators should consider to both preserve a continuity of education as well as the long-term sustainability of their institutions.

On Friday evening, March 6, Provost Persis Drell at Stanford University, announced:

The public health guidance we are receiving continues to emphasize not only good personal hygiene practices, but also minimizing close contact among groups of people, as means of restraining the spread of COVID-19. We recently placed constraints on large public events at Stanford, and now, in order both to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to ease anxiety in our community as winter finals approach, we are taking new steps regarding course instruction.

Note: bolding is Creative Marbles emphasis

In her statement, Provost Drell acknowledges sentiment on campus, as “anxious”, which we reported last month is similar to students on other campuses around the country. Furthermore, one Stanford student, who’s also a former CMC client, wonders if the spread of COVID-19 may be greater than the current reports, since last Thursday evening he and the Stanford community were alerted about two Stanford students being tested, and quarantined, but had attended classes for the past several weeks, potentially spreading COVID-19, given the typical incubation of the coronavirus.

Provost Drell continued in her letter to announce the disruption to normal coursework:

To the extent feasible, we will be moving classes to online formats in place of in-person instruction. Any winter quarter final exams that were scheduled to be administered in person will need to be administered in take-home format, complying with university rules for such exams.

Note: bold is Provost Drell’s emphasis

“To the extent feasible…” can be translated as the curriculum and instruction in courses may be truncated or less in scope.

  • What is the effect on a student’s knowledge and understanding, if there’s a lack of instructional options?
  • In turn, what is the effect on the quality of education students, parents, and alumni expect, as well as begets the worldwide reputation of the university, if instruction is potentially compromised?

Provost Drell offered further guidance to faculty and students about grading, given the sudden shift in instructional format:

In some cases, when the nature of a class or exam is not suited to remote delivery, other options, including submitting grades based on work conducted to this point, may be used. However, instructors are encouraged to provide students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge at the end of the quarter, and CTL staff are available to help instructors develop these opportunities.

Note: bold is emphasis placed by Creative Marbles
  • Can students be graded fairly, if the university is not fulfilling its promise to educate them with the full extent of their resources until the end of the term, which given the changes in the last week is no longer true?
  • Therefore, will there be a process so students can debate and appeal for a fairer academic grade, than the one posted, if they will not be given the full term to demonstrate their knowledge?

While university administrators should ensure students abide by academic rigors, they should not penalize those students who will not have the opportunity to prove their understanding of the curriculum. Although their resources will be taxed, administrators must work tirelesslessly ensure fairness so as to maintain their reputation as an institution of higher learning.

Obviously, university administrators, like Provost Drell, must continue to decisively, reasonably act amidst the current health emergency. Though, reacting to the current crisis is not enough. Adminstrators must also be transparent and collaborative in their decision-making now, working with all stakeholders—current students, faculty, researchers, regional leaders who’s community members work at the university, and alumni who support the university—as their actions now will continue to reverberate beyond the 2019-20 school year. In seeking to collaborate to create consensue for collective action, university administrators will manifest the most salient points of their mission as educators—to live by their teachings—demonstrating that education is an on-going, dynamic process.

We implore Stanford University administrators at a world-renowned institution, to demonstrate their leadership during a very difficult time. We equally encourage university administrators, faculty, and students around the country to collaborate dilegently, to not only overcome the tragedy that is COVID-19, but also usher in a higher education renaisssance in the process.