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Purpose and Methods

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This review offers an overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teaching and learning practices at Stanford, including its effect on disparities across the university’s student population. Although more time is needed to provide a comprehensive picture of the consequences of the crisis, it is possible to identify common themes that have arisen and to begin to contextualize the individual experiences of faculty, staff, and students.

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The Stanford Digital Education Strategy Group, established by Provost Persis Drell, called in fall 2021 for this review. To carry out this task, the authors conducted interviews and collected materials to chronicle and evaluate the effectiveness of policies and practices put in place to support emergency remote pandemic teaching and learning at the institutional level. This review documents the effects of the switch to remote education on the Stanford community, with particular attention to students from lower-income households, who often are the first in their families to attend college, along with other students who may have lacked the resources for online learning.

Much work is already being done across campus, taking stock of what we can learn from remote teaching during the pandemic. A task force established by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne produced a report in November 2020 about incorporating lessons from the university’s experience in the first phase of the pandemic. At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the Teaching and Learning Hub developed a document outlining learnings and support activities during the pandemic in its Support for Online Teaching Innovations document. The Computer Science Department documented new trajectories in post-pandemic CS pedagogy in a paper submitted to a journal of the Association for Computing Machinery. Stanford scholars such as Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, Cheriton Family Professor and professor of physics and of education, have written about Stanford’s response to the crisis. A university-level resource from the Center for Teaching and Learning entitled Learning to Enrich Face-to-Face Instruction distills innovations and challenges from across Stanford, presenting pedagogical practices that can continue from remote instruction back to residential, largely face-to-face teaching. Our learnings from interviews across campus are presented in the following pages and are intended to supplement these other works, as well as to lay the basis for further study.


Work for this review occurred in two phases. The first was an analysis of internal Stanford policy papers and reports and secondary digital resources, such as recorded campus events and articles in higher education publications and on the Stanford University website produced by University Communications and available between the early weeks of the pandemic (March 2020) and the beginning of the 2021 fall quarter (September 2021). The second phase consisted of interviews with 59 people, averaging 60 minutes each, conducted from November 2021 to June 2022 by the Stanford Digital Education team with university leaders, faculty members, staff, and students representing more than 25 units across the institution. 

Background and context for the range of pedagogical approaches and innovations considered in this project originated with Stanford Digital Education’s 2021 Festival of Return presentation, The Future of Digital Education at Stanford: Building Capacity for Empathy and Equity, in October 2021. Insights generated from this workshop were shared with the Online Experience Team in November 2021 as participants described what they saw as drivers of teaching and learning innovations across campus during emergency remote instruction.

This review does not aim to synthesize the individual experiences of faculty, staff, and students from the first year and a half of the pandemic into a simple narrative. It is not intended to be representative of the shared Stanford University community experience. The authors recognize that individual experiences of emergency remote teaching may not be reflective of larger institutional trends. The purpose of this review is to collect, record, and catalog Stanford stories that will help to advance the continuing conversation about education at Stanford during the pandemic and what it means for education at Stanford in the future. 

Outline of the review

This review tells part of an ongoing story by offering a series of observations from emergency remote instruction, beginning in March 2020. Each set of observations, grouped thematically, is the subject of a chapter.

Chapter I: Innovative Pedagogical Practices. Pandemic emergency teaching presented substantial challenges to instructors, but it also generated opportunities for significant transformation of students’ remote learning experiences. Many curricular practices at Stanford were reshaped to promote active, interactive, and experiential education — including more flexible classroom assessments and opportunities for flipped learning. 

Chapter II: Support Structures. Many new programs to support student learning have emerged as a result of the shift to emergency remote pandemic teaching, including expanded roles for graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants. Relationships between faculty and technology support staff have been largely strengthened, and there is new awareness of teaching support structures at Stanford overall. 

Chapter III: Professional Communities. The pandemic fostered significant growth among professional and online learning communities both within and outside of Stanford. Stanford’s impact on these communities has been far-flung, informing pandemic teaching and learning practices at institutions both nationally and globally.

Chapter IV: Supporting the Whole Student. The impact of COVID-19, at Stanford and elsewhere, highlighted inequities among students in higher education. The digital divide, including lack of access to or understanding of technology resources, has made disparities more visible and contributed to socio-emotional distress among vulnerable student populations. A new focus on empathy, support, and student well-being lessened some aspects of these negative impacts. 

Chapter V: Pandemic Learnings.  Themes have emerged in what instructional innovations worked well during emergency remote instruction and in what challenges persist. In taking stock of those themes, the Stanford community may begin considering how best to move forward from the disruption caused by COVID-19. 

Participant interviews

Data and individual perspectives provided by members of the following Stanford departments, programs, and units (in alphabetical order) have contributed to the preparation of this review.

  • Department of Bioengineering, Schools of Engineering and of Medicine: Paul Nuyujukian, assistant professor of bioengineering and of neurosurgery; Ross Venook, senior lecturer; and Markus Covert, professor of bioengineering
  • Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S): Russell Furr, associate vice provost
  • Graduate School of Business, Teaching and Learning Hub: Alison Brauneis, associate director of Teaching and Learning Programs, and Diane Lee, senior learning platform administrator and technologist
  • Graduate School of Education: Maxwell Bigman, doctoral student, and Josh Weiss, director of Digital Learning Solutions, Office of Innovation and Technology
  • Introductory Seminars: Course development assistants and undergraduates Ellie Bassow Fajer, Bowen Jiang, and Alex Popke
  • Language Center: Elizabeth Bernhardt-Kamil, John Roberts Hale Director of Stanford Language Center and professor of German studies
  • Law School: George Triantis, senior associate vice provost for research and Charles J. Meyers Professor of Law and Business
  • Libraries: Phyllis Kayten, outreach and instruction librarian; Anna Levia, reference and instruction librarian; and Josh Schneider, university archivist, special collections
  • Members of the Online Experience Team from units across campus under the direction of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs
  • Online High School: Meg Lamont, assistant head of school and English instructor
  • School of Engineering 
    • Computer Science: John Mitchell, Mary and Gordon Crary Family Professor in the School of Engineering, and Jenny Han, graduate teaching assistant
    • Electrical Engineering: Jim Plummer, John M. Fluke Professor of Electrical Engineering
    • Mechanical Engineering: Sheri Sheppard, Richard W. Weiland Professor Emeritus in the School of Engineering
      • Life Design Lab, Stanford Kathy Davies, managing director and lecturer of mechanical engineering
  • School of Humanities and Sciences: Judith Goldstein, Janet M. Peck Professor of International Communication and professor of political science; Mary Beth Mudgett, senior associate dean for the natural sciences and professor of biology; Debra Satz, Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences and The Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society; Laura Schlosberg, assistant dean of academic and curriculum support; and Susan (Suzi) Weersing, associate dean, Graduate and Undergraduate Studies
  • School of Medicine: Pauline Becker, strategy and operations director; Peter Nguyen, learning innovation specialist; Charles Prober, professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology; and Teggin Summers, assistant dean and director of educational technology
  • University Information Technology: Steve Gallagher, chief information officer, and Sean Keegan, director, Office of Digital Accessibility
  • Vaden Health Services: John Austin, senior advisor for mental health and well-being innovation
  • Vice Provost for Academic Affairs: Stephanie Kalfayan, vice provost for academic affairs
  • Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs: Stacey Bent, vice provost for graduate education and postdoctoral affairs and Jagdeep and Roshni Singh Professor in the School of Engineering
  • Vice Provost for Student Affairs: Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice provost for student affairs
    • Learning Technologies and Spaces: Andy Saltarelli, senior director, Evaluation and Research; Makoto Tsuchitani, senior director, Learning Systems and Services; Helen Chu, senior director, Learning Spaces; Kimberly Hayworth, director, Engagement and Outreach; Kailey Chen, Canvas user support specialist; Christine Doherty, lead user support specialist; Paige Coleman, Canvas faculty support; Keli Amann, user experience specialist
  • Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education: Sarah Church, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor of physics; Julie Remold, director of evaluation; and Beth Seltzer, academic technology specialist until 2021, when she joined the Graduate School of Business as senior instructional technologist and project manager 
    • Academic Advising Operations: Edith Wu, associate dean and director of New Student Programs
    • Center for Teaching and Learning: Andrei Baltakmens, communications project manager; Kenji Ikemoto, academic technology specialist; Rajan Kumar, lecturer in engineering; Michael Rouan, senior director, Academic Technology Innovation; Gloriana Trujillo, director, Faculty and Lecturer Programs; and Kritika Kanchana Yegnashankaran, associate director, Faculty and Lecturer Programs 
    • Former undergraduate student: Rohan Suri, co-founder of Nooks

The above list represents a small subset of Stanford and does not represent the whole of pandemic emergency teaching and learning activities and perspectives at Stanford. 


Observations in this review arise largely from the authors’ analyses of interviews with Stanford faculty and staff members, along with information from previous reviews, policy statements, articles, and other documents pertaining to teaching and learning during 2020–21 at Stanford. While these sources allowed the authors to identify some recurring themes, the information gathered in this review is not a representative sample of the university community. 

To advance the understanding of education at Stanford during the pandemic, continued inquiry is needed. More interviews, particularly of students, are needed. Many Stanford units have not yet engaged in formal “post-pandemic” surveys. We hope that this review will inspire more Stanford units to do the quantitative, as well as qualitative, assessments necessary to develop a clearer picture of the pandemic’s effect on education at Stanford in 2020 and 2021.