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Universities from New York to Washington State Are Moving Courses Online Because of the Coronavirus

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Photo of Columbia University President Lee Bollinger from January 2018 by Robert Scoble used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 9, 2020 – As the United States deals with spreading cases of the novel coronavirus, some major universities are turning to online courses in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.

Still, university-wide adoptions of online classes are still in the preliminary stages.

Columbia University suspended classes on Monday and Tuesday in the wake of a quarantined individual in the area with the COVID-19 disease.

So far, “no Columbia student, faculty, or staff has been diagnosed with COVID-19,” Columbia said in a statement.

University President Lee Bollinger announced that classes will be online from Wednesday until Friday, when the university’s spring break begins.

“Please understand that the decision to suspend classes does not mean that the university is shutting down,” said Bollinger.

“All non-classroom activities, including research, will continue,” Bollinger stated.

However, according to the university, “the events policy has been updated to strongly discourage nonessential events of more than 25 people on all of [the] campuses.”

Each respective school will decide which online programs to use, said Caroline Adelman, media relations director for the university. The video communications program Zoom is one option.

Because some classes are difficult to teach online, Adelman said the “schools will let students know about alternative arrangements for these classes.”

On the other side of the county, Washington State was the first place in the country with a significant outbreak of coronavirus infections. The state government declared a state of emergency.

There, the University of Washington Seattle campus postponed in-person classes. A staff member tested positive for COVID-19. Classes will be held online for the rest of the quarter, or until March 20.

Adapting the semester’s schedule to the growing reality of life in a pandemic

While some classes may not be able to accommodate an online platform, the university has said that other options like submitting work completed on an assignment thus far may be necessary.

In a video interview with the university’s vice president of student life, University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce said, “everyone will have a notation that their grades this quarter were done under special circumstances” in order to offset any unfair conditions.

Speaking in response to a question from the vice president, Denzil Suite, about next quarter, Cauce said, “we have a three-week period to both have a better understanding of the situation,” and to do a “thorough cleaning” of the campuses.

A smaller campus impacted by COVID-19, Washington State University at Everett, is teaching courses online until March 13.

The campus only hosts a couple hundred students and none of the faculty or student body have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Washington State had been the heart of coronavirus infections in the United States until a significant spike in cases over the weekend: Cases spiked from the low hundreds to more than 500 over the weekend, and currently stand at 607 as of 3:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

California, New York and at least five others have also declared a state of emergency.

Online tools being deployed to allow all university academics to take place online

The university will use online resources like Blackboard Learning Management System, recorded lectures, and Zoom to reach students remotely. These are programs with which many students are already familiar, said WSU Everett Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Mark Beattie.

According to the WSU website, the office of Academic Outreach and Innovation will hold training several times a day to assist faculty with adjusting their courses for an online format. “This training will discuss Panopto recording, enabling of Zoom and Blackboard, uploading files, embedding of YouTube videos, and the creation of quizzes.”

Beattie said if students do not have internet access at home, the programs have mobile applications that students could access from their phones.

The lab courses are difficult to adapt to an online environment, but “we’re working with the instructors and the lab assistants for rescheduling or doing some alternative methods,” said Beattie.

Ultimately, to transfer in-person classes to an online space, universities have to assume that students have remote access to broadband and recognize that some classes will not be conducive to an online platform.

Adrienne Patton was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. She studied English rhetoric and writing at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She grew up in a household of journalists in South Florida. Her father, the late Robes Patton, was a sports writer for the Sun-Sentinel who covered the Miami Heat, and is for whom the press lounge in the American Airlines Arena is named.

Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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