Predicting is hard, and we can get it wrong

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

HEPI published a blog post on Five common predictions about COVID and education that now appear to be wrong.

No one would dispute that COVID-19 has severely disrupted the education of millions of people. Our polling with Advance HE, for example, shows an unprecedented proportion of undergraduate students think they have received ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ value for money and twice as many as usual feel their experiences have been worse than their prior expectations.

This is not surprising, given full-time students on three-year courses graduating this summer will have had every one of their years at university disrupted. Those leaving school / college this summer have seen both their GCSEs and their school-leaving qualifications (A-Level / BTECs) affected. But it is also true that most of the really big predictions about how COVID would affect education have (fortunately) turned out to be wrong.

It makes for interesting reading. Predictions about fewer students, or higher drop-outs were wrong as it turned out.

Why does this matter, well the article summarises with this comment.

It is worth flagging how poor the predictions about education in a pandemic have turned out to be because it acts as a reminder about how hard it is to predict the future, because it could serve as a useful guide in future crises and because it shows the importance that hard counter-intuitive evidence should play in policymaking.

This is something that we can reflect upon.

One prediction made at the start of the pandemic by many involved in education technology was that the forced working from home would (post-pandemic) be a catalyst for more blended and online learning in higher education. The prediction was that following people being forced to use tools such as the VLE, Teams, Zoom, lecture capture, that this would embed such technologies into future teaching and learning. Well we know from the press this week that this may not be the case, with  Nadhim Zahawi talking in the Daily Mail that “Students made to pay tuition fees for Zoom lectures should revolt”. This kind of rhetoric makes any (current and future) use of online technologies challenging for universities. Benefits of online will be missed, as students will “revolt” regardless.

Later a more reasoned open letter was published on the Education Department website.

Many of our universities and colleges have been working hard to ensure Covid-secure face-to-face teaching is offered and I know that, for many of you, this face-to-face teaching is a vital part of getting a high-quality student experience. As you know, whilst the country was implementing wide-spread restrictions, the majority of teaching had to be moved online. There are some great examples of effective and innovative online teaching, and universities and colleges have been delivering a high-quality blended approach since before the pandemic. Maintaining the option of online teaching for those who are vulnerable or isolating is to be encouraged. However, face-to-face teaching should remain the norm and the pandemic and must not be used as an opportunity for cost saving or for convenience. I know that students expect and deserve face-to-face teaching and support, and you have my full backing.

But if universities were in any doubt about what they could do and what they should be doing, we had this from the Universities Minister.

The reality is that universities are now under pressure from Government and students to focus on and prioritise in-person face to face teaching.

So, the prediction that the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns would have a positive impact on the use of online and digital learning technologies across the board, may have been slightly off the mark.

I might predict that the job of embedding digital into higher education is now more difficult than it was before the pandemic.

What do you think?

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