As the novel coronavirus disrupts the higher education sector, college administrators continue to have students take courses remotely to help stem the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness the virus causes.
The institutions that are turning to online instruction are primarily on the West Coast and in the New York City metro area, where the virus has hit the country the hardest.
With the cancellations, colleges will need to consider if their online infrastructure is prepared to handle increased use and whether instructors have the tools to teach a digital course properly.
While colleges — especially in Washington state and California — were monitoring coronavirus outbreaks in their regions, the disease hadn’t interrupted classroom instruction until recently. Officials in the U.S. have confirmed more than 600 COVID-19 cases, and 22 deaths related to the disease, as of Monday afternoon, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.
On Friday, the University of Washington became the first major institution to announce it would cease in-person instruction, doing so at all three of its campuses until the end of the winter quarter. Several other universities followed suit.
These institutions have largely taken the position that all classes can be taught online. But if professors are unable to do so, they could give students a grade based on the work they’ve done up to a point.
The U.S. Department of Education has temporarily relaxed rules around distance education that would allow colleges more flexibility to move classes online.
Several other institutions in the Pacific Northwest have closed in response to a local outbreak of the virus. Seattle University canceled all in-person classes and final exams through the end of its winter term later this month, while the campus — such as residence halls and dining services — remains open.
Several two-year and technical institutions in Washington are making courses available remotely. Those include Lake Washington Institute of Technology, Everett Community College, Shoreline Community College and Bellingham Technical College.
Hofstra and Columbia universities are among the institutions in New York City to change class schedules in response to the coronavirus. Columbia said it would suspend classes for two days to give officials and instructors time to flip instruction online. Princeton University, in neighboring New Jersey, said it would conduct all of its classes virtually, beginning March 23 through at least April 5, and it encouraged students to remain home after spring break.
In announcing the cancelation of in-person courses, Stanford publicized its Teach Anywhere webpage, which is devoted to resources for faculty members who need to shift their classes online. Stanford recommended contacting students regularly and reminding them where instructors would be posting course documents, such as on Google Drive. The website also notes that students, especially in a pinch, may only be viewing mobile versions of materials.
The Online Learning Consortium has advised colleges to evaluate their learning management system and make sure it is equipped to handle an influx of users.