Unprecedented Transformation

Person typing on laptop

This week we will attempt to teach more than 48,000 students online – lectures, discussion sessions, labs, studios, creative arts. We are a global university, and our students have now dispersed across that globe, so our classes must be taught in an asynchronous manner. This is new. There will be many successes. There will be hiccups. Faculty, students, and staff need to be flexible. Never in human history has this been attempted.  Never has such a global transformation been required.

USC faculty build their curricula to meet the needs of our students.  Our syllabi are created by brilliant scholars who are determined to prepare our students for success.  Much of what we do as faculty involves transferring knowledge and ways of thinking and certifying that the students have learned the material in the course. We are accustomed to 16 week semesters and courses that meet three or four hours a week.  For the second half of the 2020 spring semester, we are forced to reimagine how we teach, how we enable students to learn, and how we certify that they have learned.

The speed of the transition means that we will do our best to relay material as prepared to online formats.  At the same time, we are offered the opportunity to observe and rethink how we teach and what we might alter in what we teach, what is necessary to transfer knowledge, and what knowledge we wish to transfer.

While we are focused on the effort required to get our students through to the end of the semester, I encourage some reflection of what we might change as we emerge from this crisis.  What are we learning about ways we teach that better meet the needs of students?  What are we learning about how to communicate, how to converse, how to teach hands-on materials – on the stage, in the lab, in groups?  What are we observing about stress levels of students and how to mitigate these?

I find it hard to believe that with a shutdown of the U.S. economy for two to three months, we can return to where we were in December. We will be called upon to adjust how we train, how we educate and maybe who we educate.  As we rush to the end of the semester, I encourage, in what little time we might have, to put some thought into how we might alter the way we educate the next generation to be successful – at all levels – undergraduate, graduate and professional.  What could we change and what should we change?

While we are facing an altered life experience, this is a grand experiment.  There will be successes and some not so successful endeavors.  We will learn and we will emerge altered.

Colleagues, thank you for your creativity, your dedication, your willingness to enter into this experiment, and your flexibility as we make it work.  The pandemic was not planned, but it is in our lifetime.  We must respond.  Stay healthy and be well.

–Charles F. Zukoski, March 26, 2020