Above, the interior of an empty, decaying shopping mall. Will campuses go the way of shopping malls? I doubt it. 95 b-body ss / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Many teachers feel anxious about online classes not only because they don’t feel qualified or eager to teach them but because they perceive these classes to be a threat to traditional F2F courses. I understand that fear. Universities have earned bad reputations for austerity measures that promote cost savings over student learning. For every high-profile story of waste, corruption, or profligate spending, there are 1000 faculty meetings where the first order of business is how to handle the coming spending cuts. Will universities hire faculty to design thoughtful courses, then bring in adjuncts to teach them at much lower wages? If the last 30 years tells us anything, the answer is yes. What is most likely is that those of us already on the margins–adjuncts and lecturers–will be downsized as enrollment drops. And those who teach in precarious positions online will be replaced by tenured and tenure track faculty who don’t have the skill set to teach online yet (and may have resisted learning it for the last 20 years) because they have to teach something.
This means more students who would otherwise be in F2F courses will be in online courses. Even if we make this as good of an experience as possible, I doubt that many of them will fall in love with online learning. Some may graduate before getting to return to campus, but future first year students will still want to leave home, live on campus, meet and date people who aren’t from their hometowns, and learn in classrooms. We don’t have to try sabotage online learning to ensure that they’ll return to campus–they already want to be there. Besides this, many have already tried online classes and realized that they aren’t for them. Just as we have digital books but most students prefer paper-based, when we offer them in-person classes as well as online ones, most people choose in-person.
Should high ed take this as an opportunity to reassess? Yes. Schools are having to figure out how to tell students they both have to leave campus and can’t get their room and board fees back. Many are sputtering to explain how they don’t have enough in savings to finish out the school year without going belly up if such refunds are given (or else they’re just going to have to admit that they are overpaying a lot of folks who aren’t central to their core mission). And likely the reviews and audits that will follow will reveal some corruption, mismanagement, and other bad behavior that, if cleaned up, will make universities better off in the long run.