John Broome didn’t realize that the Facebook group he created had gone global until a professor in Australia noted that there, the current semester isn’t “Spring 2020” but “Fall 2020.”
“Literally, that is the first moment I realized, ‘Um, this has gone global. I had no idea,’” said Broome, an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Mary Washington.
Intuiting what was to come, on March 11, the day before the university announced that it was moving all courses online in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Broome created a Facebook group to share tips and tricks for remote teaching.
“I expected it to be a group mostly of friends and extensions of friends to help each other, knowing that some of us are trained in online instruction but some of us aren’t prepared for it,” Broome said. “I added maybe 75 or 100 of my friends.”
But by the end of the first day of its existence, 3,000 people had joined the group and now, the Higher Ed Learning Collective has 25,000 members in more than 100 countries and has accumulated 400,000 posts, comments and reactions.
The collective has been recommended through word-of-mouth among professors, university librarians, department newsletters and higher education listservs—as well as national publications and global organizations.
“The Chronicle of Higher Education recommends us and oddly, within the first few days, we were recommended by UNESCO [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization],” Broome said.
The bulk of the group’s membership comprises higher education professors, but there are also university librarians, registrars, deans and provosts, as well as K–12 teachers and doctoral students.
The collective shares high- and low-tech online teaching tips, as well as memes, photos of home offices and options for creating community and self-care, including daily meditation, coffee hours and happy hours and links to virtual yoga classes.
Members discuss not only ways to approach their immediate remote teaching situation—such as, should online classes be taught at the same time in a group meeting setting or through independent study—but also larger issues such as student access to internet and tech support, grading and equity, university budgets and what the future might look like.
“What’s hard for many [in this moment] is that they have access to software, but don’t know how to use it effectively or purposely to teach the way they want to,” Broome said. “So part of [the group] is just tips on how to teach [online], but a lot of it is a larger narrative on how make sense of quality instruction in higher ed.”
Broome has plans for the group to live beyond the pandemic.
“Part of the larger discussion is creating a not-for-profit educational organization that provides a platform to have discussion about higher education,” he said.
This will be accomplished through a website with a multimedia platform, titled “Collective Voice,” a podcast and a free open-access peer-reviewed journal, hosted at UMW.
Broome said he doesn’t expect higher education to go “back to normal” once the pandemic has subsided.
“I think to think we’re going back to normal is not creative,” he said. “If we didn’t know we’d be at home five weeks ago, we can’t predict the next five months.”
Broome doesn’t think online instruction will be the only answer for universities post-pandemic, because of the reliance on revenue from room and board, but he does think this moment provides those in higher education an opportunity to “bridge silos” across disciplines and departments and delve into the question of how provide quality instruction in the 21st century.
“[We can] expand the ways we think about what teaching is, what good quality education is, across teaching and learning,” he said. “This is a moment in time when we can actually talk and create space for conversations to help each other and also think much bigger.”