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With the Coronavirus Reaching Pandemic Proportions, Teachers Across the U.S. Are Frantically Converting to Online Courses

Adrienne Patton

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Photo of Charles Severance by Andy Smith used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2020 – Although countless universities and school districts are shutting their doors to students and turning to online schooling during the outbreak of the coronavirus, education experts say the move to online classes is a reactionary, not a robust adoption of online resources.

Boston University Professor Jay Halfond, who has experience developing online learning programs for distance learning, said “this is not really online learning; this is simply using technology.”

As teachers frantically transition to Zoom and other online teaching platforms to cope with COVID-19, they are skirting the laborious process of building an online learning course – in an rushed effort, of course, to maintain public health.

For example, Halfond said it will be a challenge to teach his course on conflict resolution and negotiation. The course depends upon group discussion and exercises. Some courses are adaptable to an online format, but others are not easily accommodated, he said.

Conor Hilton, a Ph.D. student studying English at the University of Iowa, is not against online courses, but does anticipate drawbacks to the hasty conversion from an in-class arrangement.

“The biggest drawback will be that since my courses are all heavily discussion-based, we’ll lose the ease and fluidity of in-person discussion,” said Hilton.

“Embedded in the drawback is the fact that the courses weren’t designed this way, and are being converted on the fly.” But Hilton also recognizes that is by no fault of the professors.

“We can recreate some of the discussion with digital video and textual elements, but there will be a loss without our in-person conversations,” said Hilton.

But the online format might force some courses to simplify, “which should result in thematic clarity, and potentially increase flexibility for us to work on our own interests,” added Hilton.

“A really engaging experience online takes a lot of work,” said University of Michigan Professor Charles Severance, who researches educational technology and has extensive experience in online course teaching and development.

Broadband Breakfast Live Online will feature Charles Severance in a discussion on Friday, March 13, at 12 Noon ET: "Broadband, Education and the Coronavirus."

To truly create a beneficial online experience for students requires “far more effort than we are investing right now,” said Severance.

He said the University of Michigan is actively assisting teachers in preparations for online courses. Severance said he is helping his colleagues throughout the transition and the university is holding meetings and actively engaging with professors who need additional support.

As college students are encouraged across the nation to return home while classes are conducted remotely, Halfond, of Boston University, worries that international students are becoming a forgotten demographic.

“They are here to have an American experience, and all of a sudden they’re part of a pandemic,” said Halfond. But at some universities, many students who cannot return home will still be able to stay in university housing.

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