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The CARES Act and Instruction

Please indulge a question that might seem obvious in its answer.  I hope to persuade you that the answer is not quite so obvious and that the nuances surrounding it are vitally important.

What is instruction?

To many, instruction is simply the delivery of information or direction in the classroom.  Done and done.  Or is it?

In reality, instruction is far more complex than the transactional statement you just read.  And in this covid-19 context, understanding the true depth and breadth of instruction can be a matter of financial safety as well as one of future success for both students and an institution.

The CARES Act

To combat the coronavirus pandemic, Congress put forth the CARES Act, which assists many different types of organizations in recouping losses, while also helping some organizations prepare for a future that will likely stay impacted by the societal results of dealing with the virus.  That includes monies allocated to institutions of higher learning so as to build infrastructure which will allow them to maintain business continuity, even if they have to operate entirely at a distance.  From the CARES Act:

CARESAct"...allow institutions of higher education to use up to 50 percent of the funds they receive to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus..."

Perhaps you now see that understanding what instruction means, in its fullest scope and sequence matters greatly.  In fact, the CARES Act goes on to state that institutions must be able to defend their choices as each pertains to delivery and instruction:

"...a reasoned basis for concluding such costs have a clear nexus to significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.” (p. 2)

Understanding Instruction

If an institution were to use the simple, transactional definition of "instruction" seen above, not only would it limit their ability to build meaningful infrastructure, but it would hurt students.  After all, an LMS handles 95% of what a school needs to replicate from the face-to-face experience to the distance experience.  Even relying solely on video conferencing software, while of profoundly less academic quality, still provides a platform for "instruction."  

But perhaps now you see why that limited definition is problematic.  Is a student's classroom experience the only thing that helps them complete their degree?  Is the homework assigned by a professor or a lecture the only thing that matters in the college process?  Of course not.  

HolisticInstructionThis is why we hear terms like, "holistic instruction", "non-cognitive instruction", and "support-based instruction", in addition to classroom based "differentiated instruction" or "programmed instruction."  In fact, we have 7-10 decades of research proving that students struggle in higher ed for non-academic (non-instructional) reasons far more than academic ones.  

For example, students need support to find resources, from financial assistance to tutoring to work study to affiliation to disability services and many, many more.  We all know those things are not a part of classroom instruction.  

Students need support in other ways too.  Researchers tell us that if students do not find peers, make friends, feel cared for, and feel connected, they will dropout.  From neuroscience explaining the need for oxytocin in order to promote a learning capacity in humans to the learning science of Growth Mindset, even Maslow described the need for connection as a requirement for human growth.  

So, if an institution were to leverage the classroom-only definition of instruction, their students would likely struggle.  If an institution tried to use CARES Act money solely to stand up a remote / online learning system, while supporting every office, department, financial, social, and non-classroom need through email and phone...it just would not work.  

Luckily we have a few hundred schools who learned these lessons back in the early 2000's, when online learning was really taking off.  In order to create the "college experience" for students who are studying at a distance, some kind of infrastructure needs to be in place which surrounds digital classrooms.  Students need to find support quickly and easily using the same communication channels and types found in those digital classroom contexts.  That means push notifications, text options, mobile experiences, and more. 

It also means that students (not to mention faculty and staff who are also at a distance) need to feel tethered to the institution and to one another.  Online communities, groups, and both formal as well as informal support options need to be plentiful and they need to be easy to use.  

So What?

Your institution is dealing with an unprecedented level of need right now.  The government has given some help through the CARES Act, but now it's up to you to be opportunistic in the use of those funds.  But what matters is that those funds can be used to help students do more than "get through."  You can create an infrastructure that actually helps students, faculty, staff, and administrators thrive.  

Imagine not having to worry that the remote experience and the face-to-face experience are all that different!  Imagine faculty being able to meet and work together both asynchronously and synchronously depending on what is happening.  Imagine students connecting with friends just as easily online as they do on-campus.  (Maybe even more so.)  Imagine offices never having to "close" but being available for both support and operation.  

That is what Campus brings to the mix.  That is how Campus supports instruction, in almost every sense of the word.  This is why our partners say that Campus is a "top three" technology at their institutions.  The SIS, the LMS, and Campus are the lifeblood of connection at our partner schools.

ClosedOpenThis Fall, and likely through the Spring, we will continue to see physical closures and openings.  Some have predicted an accordion-like experience, as swells of health and sickness create times of normalcy peppered with times of sheltering-in-place.  Some schools have already determined that the Fall will be shortened, while others are still making up their minds.

But wouldn't it be nice to know that no matter which context your institution found itself in that students, faculty, staff, and administration could still get to every tool, every department, every person...everything.  Nobody would have to miss a beat.

And as for instruction?  Well, instruction under every aspect of its definition would continue.  

Dr. Jeff D. Borden
Posted by  Dr. Jeff D. Borden  on May 22, 2020 12:32:18 PM

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