The Shift from Quad to Cloud

Published by Brett Christie, PhD
on Feb 18, 2022

Two years ago, our day-to-day functioned on an entirely different scale. We were in person, constantly in community, and those expectations had existed for the better part of a century. Sure, technology swept in in the last two decades, swiftly shifting paradigms, but technology did not change how we gathered as a community. In fact, technology has enhanced community. It increased interconnectivity. However, since the pandemic, technology has indelibly altered routines and lives. It has changed how we function on a day to day, and that change may be permanent. Some say this shift was inevitable, and quarantine only sped it up. Nevertheless, our brains and bodies are continuing to adjust to new routines. Routines that may not always serve human needs for interpersonal and physical connection.

Today, I’ll highlight how the switch from Quad to Cloud came to be by walking readers through the minutiae of these shifts so we can see, together, how different the elements of our day-to-day and our community have become. But in order to depict the magnitude of these changes, we must look at the routines of students and faculty then and now.

In 2017, the average day of a college student looked like this:

Wakes up in their dorm room, immediately checks their phone for messages, emails, and scrolling social media. Perhaps they double-check their schedule, text a friend or use group chat to coordinate meetings for coffee, breakfast, or lunch. Alternatively, they agree to meet in the quad before class. The student gets ready, packs their bag with their computer, maybe some books or files they need, and walks out of their dorm. They pass roommates, suitemates, hallmates and work their way through a bustling campus. Maybe they pick up coffee and bump into friends, or wave to people, on their way to their first class.

In class, they sit next to students in the round or in rows. They raise their hands to ask questions. Teachers call on them. Communication flows: people speak over one another or have interesting conversations together. Between classes, students grab a bite with friends, go to the library, or the gym. They are walking. A lot! At the end of the day, they head back to their dorms, get some work done, spend time with friends, and go to sleep. Of course, many students are working or may be in care-giving roles that have certainly been impacted and play a significant part of their routine.

Now, in 2022, this is the average day in a student’s life:

They wake up, check devices, emails, social media, texts, schedule, and Canvas, or other e-learning modules, to see how their day will unfold. Maybe they make coffee or breakfast or have some free time to meet a friend before logging on. Next, they log on in the library, in a meeting room in their dorm, house, or bedroom.

They attend a series of live online classes throughout the day. Instead of walking through a quad towards a classroom to gather in a row of chairs, they greet fellow students on a screen. Peer-to-peer learning is occuring on devices. Their new row of chairs is one of pixelated faces. Instead of bumping into friends or waving hello while they walk, they’re having side conversations with students via chat, in breakout rooms, or on text. Teachers call on them when they press a button to raise their hand. When class ends, they log off. Some students access the library’s online system to gather resources. All of their materials are now in the cloud. There’s less demand for the quad and other in-person gathering spaces for collaboration to occur.

The shift for instructors was equally extreme. In 2017, an instructor woke up, tended to family, dealt with personal realities of their morning, and made their way to campus. They worked on campus nine to five, or some range of full-time hours, and then headed home to grade papers and turn down for the evening. In 2017, an instructor put together a course to be taught in person. The materials they created were meant to be handed out in class or sent as PDFs for students to reference. Previously, teachers coordinated in-person office hours with students. They had committee meetings, department meetings, university research or scholarship work. Regardless of their role or tenure as faculty, they committed countless hours on campus.

In 2022, faculty are not just teachers. They’re content curators (Gonzalez, 2018), who create online courses that stimulate tired eyes from hours staring at technology. They are turning to instructional designer education to help them lead online learning communities. The quad used to be the hub. Now, the cloud is. A strong understanding of Purposeful Learning and online course development is vital, as new types of delivery, facilitation, collaboration, and connection emerges in education. For instructors and students alike, there are two paradoxical questions at hand. What have we given up? And what have we gained? In analyzing this shift, we can see how to make it more effective.

If we’re walking the quad much less due to our new blended in-person and online realities, what’s the path to making the most out of the cloud?

Institutions play an enormous role in enabling a more robust online ecosystem that supports teaching and learning success. They are the key to bolstering connection – rather than disconnection – between students and faculty. This trifecta must work in tandem to succeed.

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