Page 18 - Campus Technology, May/June 2020
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FEATURE > Online Learning
Many colleges and univer- sities are beginning to announce plans for deliv- ery of courses during the summer — mostly, word is, those classes will be offered online. But few have broached the topic of what they’re intend- ing to do in the fall. One of the earliest excep- tions was Saddleback College, a community col- lege in Southern California. In a letter sent to students in mid-April, President Elliot Stern announced that “most lecture-based classes” would be scheduled for online delivery. The pri- ority for any on-campus courses would be “lab, studio and other hands-learning.”
We recently interviewed Stern to understand how his institution was making those decisions. The basic answer: by looking at the data. Stern also shared his expectations regarding student enrollment numbers (they’re looking high), explained his philosophy about “incremental negativity” (people can only handle so much bad news) and told us what he’s scared of.
The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Campus Technology: Recently, you told your campus that the college would be taking class- es online for summer and probably for fall too. How have you been making those decisions about the campus response to COVID-19?
Elliot Stern: We’re committing to probably 90 percent online for fall. \[To make those decisions, we’re using\] a combination of things. We’re looking at the modeling that public health pro- fessionals are looking at, and we watch that modeling pretty closely both nationally and locally. We have an emergency operating com- mand group that has a meeting every day, and we share that data and talk about those num- bers and where we’re going in the county and
region. We try to make sure we’re being data- informed in the decision-making. We consult with public health officials, particularly through the \[Orange County\] Health Care Agency and the state health care agency.
And then, ultimately, we’re reading the newspa- per just like you are and everybody else is, and we watch what Governor \[Gavin\] Newsom is doing and what he’s saying. For instance, he recently laid out a six-step list of criteria that indicated what we would need in order to lift the state-wide order \[of sheltering in place\]. And we’re far away from being able to achieve those things.
As we’ve looked at these things, we’ve made decisions based on the data, trying to look at a certain level of probability — say, 90 percent — and ask, is there any chance we’re going to be able to bring students back to a lecture-size classroom in fall? And no. There’s almost no chance of that. If you look at the modeling, if you look where flattening of the curve finally gets us down to a level of disease that could be con- tained, it’s going to take another couple of months in the summer.
And then we’re seeing examples in Singapore and South Korea and Hong Kong that as soon as we start easing those restrictions, we now have modeling available to show us how the disease starts to uptick again.
That being the case, we know there’s a high likelihood of having a second or even third wave this fall or winter. And I just don’t want to take the chance of having students packed into a classroom when a second wave of community- acquired disease comes through.
There was some analysis done in a paper I read a few days ago that used mathematics to show if you take all the contacts that a student has in his or her lifetime and now bring him or her into the classroom with other students with an equal number of contacts, how quickly disease would spread. It’s almost a logarithmic spread through campus. And this is why we’ve seen campus out-

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