Coronavirus: Are US universities ready to move all classes online?

Just how prepared are universities to transition to online learning? Source: Shutterstock

Universities around the world are bracing for changes in the way they deliver programmes as the coronavirus, or COVID-19, outbreak continues to spread.

In efforts to curb and contain the virus, schools and universities in countries with a high number of cases such as China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran are closed.

China has made great strides in rapidly moving programmes online, even those that were only delivered face-to-face prior to the outbreak.

According to Inside Higher Ed, some universities such as Duke Kunshan University and New York University Shanghai did not plan to transition from face-to-face classes to fully online, a process that can usually take several months.

Jace Hargis, director of the NYU Shanghai Teaching and Learning Center told Inside Higher Ed that initial student feedback has been good since they transitioned to online classes, and faculty members have reported feeling “increasingly confident in their ability to teach online” despite 88 percent of faculty members not having any significant prior experience teaching online.

However, some universities were able to do it in just three weeks despite uncertainty surrounding the outbreak that spread rapidly in a short time in China.

Contingency plans in place as universities look ahead

Now, countries like Australia, US and UK are preparing to follow suit as the number of infected cases increase.

Universities in these popular study abroad destinations rely heavily on international students, and many of their students now find themselves unable to leave their home countries.

Many universities are thus preparing in advance to take their programmes online to prevent disruption in degree programmes and graduation timelines.

In the US, California has declared a state of emergency with 53 confirmed cases and one death at time of writing.

According to CalMatters, community colleges in the state are reviewing their emergency plans, and the California State University system is planning to repurpose its online learning system which was originally set up for students taking classes at sister campuses.

Paul Feist, a spokesman for California Community Colleges, told CALMatters, “They’re taking precautions and staying vigilant—no one’s panicking or anything like that. The threat, as it is right now, is low, but we need to prepare in the event that that changes.”

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Syracuse University has released a statement by Chancellor Kent Syverud on their website outlining their preventative measures and contingency plans to prepare for the possible spread of the coronavirus.

According to Syverud, the university has initiated preparations to ensure “academic and operational continuity in the event the institution is required to suspend residential operations for some period of time prior to the end of the spring semester”.

The statement reads, “For that reason, Interim Provost John Liu and I have asked the Syracuse University Center for Online and Digital Learning—in collaboration with the schools, colleges and Information Technology Services—to develop an actionable plan that will allow our faculty to engage students in distance learning to meet course contact hour requirements and learning objectives that have not been completed if it becomes necessary to suspend residential learning.”

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