‘Long Way Up’ and Higher Ed During COVID-19

Pre-production electric vehicles and the rapid pivot to universal remote learning.

September 27, 2020

Having watched all of Netflix due to never leaving my house anymore, I've now turned to Apple TV+.

On my iPhone, I've been watching Long Way Up. (A year of free TV+ comes with any purchase of anything from Apple with a screen.)

Long Way Up is a mash-up between adventure travel and electric vehicle nerdism. In short, perfect for tech-curious and future-dreaming academics who never go anywhere.

The show documents the 13,000-mile ride on Harley Davidson electric motorcycles that Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman took from Argentina's southern tip to L.A. in 2019. The trip covered 13 countries and spanned over 100 days.

Accompanying McGregor and Boorman and the electric motorcycles are a pair of Rivian electric trucks.

Both the electric Harleys and the Rivian trucks were pre-production models. You can now buy a Harley Davidson LiveWire (starting at $27,799), but the bikes were not yet in the market at the time of filming. The Rivians shipped down to Argentina for the trip were at an even earlier stage of development, being at least two years away from production.

Long Way Up can be watched as a parable (or a metaphor?) for higher ed during COVID-19.

Last March, every college and university was forced to rapidly pivot from residential teaching to universal online learning. This shift has been unfolding as a giant natural experiment in academic agility, resiliency and flexibility.

We learn from Long Way Up that while electric vehicles may be the future, that future is not yet here. While it is possible to go from Ushuaia to L.A. using only electricity as fuel, the trip will be anything but smooth.

Electric vehicle technology is still at a relatively early stage. While advancing quickly, it is still the case that charging electric vehicles takes much longer than filling a gas tank -- and the range will be considerably less. Much of the drama of Long Way Up hinges on the quest to get enough juice for the vehicles.

With online learning, we know how to design and run courses. The technology that supports online learning is mature -- if we leave aside the bandwidth challenges that many students still face. What is new for higher ed is relying on online educational tools, practices and methods to support remote learning for all courses and programs.

We know how to do online courses if we have in place the learning design and student support resources. Figuring out how to do fully remote courses with an infrastructure and staffing level designed for residential learning has been a daunting (and invigorating) challenge.

Whenever we can look back on higher ed under COVID-19, I think the story we will tell is one of creativity and resilience. There will be many great stories to tell of how colleges and universities invented new practices and new organizational structures on the fly to serve students.

Our faculty's efforts during the pandemic will feel every bit as adventurous as those of two guys riding electric motorcycles from South to North America.

Long Way Up is a good reminder that the journey matters more than the destination.


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