This spring COVID-19 forced hundreds of thousands of college instructors and millions of students to take their teaching and learning into a virtual realm most of them had not chosen and with which many of them were unfamiliar.

So how’d it go?

First, it’s important to say, it went. In other words, most faculty members made the switch adequately enough that most students were able to continue their educations rather than wash out. Given how consistently people love to say that higher education is stuck in its ways and can’t adapt, that alone might be considered a minor miracle. Professors adapted; colleges adapted. Most educations were not derailed.

Second, students and parents, as well as college leaders and professors, overwhelmingly believe that the learning experience was subpar. That would hardly be surprising, given the aforementioned lack of faculty and student experience and the fact that the pivot of in-person to remote teaching occurred with instructors having as little as a weekend and at most a week or 10 days to make the move.

It also recognizes that all parties involved have struggled through the last three months with varying degrees of personal and professional precariousness. Some have had trauma from coronavirus-related physical or mental health concerns or recession-driven economic woes.

But what do we really know about how it went?

Did less learning happen than it would have if students had remained in the physical classroom, as is widely asserted? Were students less engaged in their learning, and if so, was that because of more distractions in their lives or because the experience was less, well, engaging? Does the spring’s experience give us meaningful insight into whether virtual forms of education can be effective?

And perhaps more importantly: What should we seek to learn about how it went, through surveys, data analysis or other means? And how should what we glean inform how colleges and universities educate their students this fall and beyond, given the likelihood that technology-enabled learning will remain central to the higher ed landscape in the COVID-19 era, and probably beyond?

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