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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

Federal Communications Commission Says $5 Billion Requested for Emergency Connectivity Fund — in Just Round One!

The program is designed to help schools, libraries and students.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 25, 2021—Two months after launching the first round of applications, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that the Emergency Connectivity Fund has received more than $5 billion in funding requests.

The requests, which came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, are for 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.

The $7-billion program, whose first round closed August 13, provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and general connectivity is expected to help students stay connected at school and off school premises, addressing the “homework gap” made paramount during the pandemic.

The money is to be used for said services and devices purchased between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. The program will open a second round for applications due to a spike in new coronavirus cases, which will run from September 28 to October 13.

“The Emergency Connectivity Fund is the single largest effort to bring connectivity and devices to students who lack them – and this robust response from applicants shows the tremendous need in our communities,” FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a Wednesday press release.

“This funding is an important down payment in closing the Homework Gap so that all children, regardless of their circumstances or where they live, have access to the tools they need to succeed,” she added.

Congress authorized the program as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The FCC has previously noted that the Emergency Broadband Benefit had proved out that there is demand for such a program and that the ECF would help fill the gap.

Breakdown by state

The FCC included a breakdown of the first-round requests by state. California was the top requester at roughly $812 million, followed by New York with $559 million, Texas with $496 million, Florida with $264 million, New Jersey with $225 million, Arizona with $200 million, Illinois at $197 million, Georgia $183 million, North Carolina with $149 million, Michigan with $108 million, Ohio with $103 million, and Puerto Rico with $102 million, and Washington rounding out the 9-digit requesters with $101 million.

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Education

NTIA Releases Details on Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Project

The $285-million program will help connect minority educational institutions.

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Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo

August 4, 2021–The agency managing telecommunications policy for the commerce department has released details Tuesday on eligibility for its $285-million grant program for broadband access for minority educational institutions.

The Connecting Minority Communities pilot program, announced in June, will address the lack of broadband access, connectivity and equity at historically Black colleges or universities, Tribal colleges or universities, and minority-serving institutions.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a notice of funding opportunity for the program, established via the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which will grant funds to eligible recipients to purchase broadband service or equipment, hire IT personnel, operate a minority business enterprise or a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, and facilitate educational instruction, including remote instruction.

Eligible institutions include 501 Hispanic-serving institutions, 336 Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, 104 predominantly Black institutions, 102 historically Black colleges and universities, 66 Alaska native-serving institutions and native Hawaiian-serving institutions, 37 Tribal colleges and universities, and 32 native American-serving non-Tribal institutions.

The deadline to submit applications is December 1, 2021.

“Communities of color have faced systemic barriers to affordable broadband access since the beginning of the digital age,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a press release.

“The investments we make as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program will help communities that are struggling with access, adoption and connectivity, and will inform our path forward as we seek to finally close the digital divide across the country,” she added.

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Education

Broadband Breakfast CEO Drew Clark and BroadbandNow’s John Busby Speak on Libraries and Broadband

Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark of Broadband Breakfast and John Busby of BroadbandNow.

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July 16, 2021—Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, joined by John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow. The event will take place on July 16, 2021, at 11 a.m. ET.

Registration for the event is available on Eventbrite. The session will also be available on Zoom.

Beginning in March of 2020, the Gigabit Libraries Network has hosted a series of conversations called the “Libraries in Recovery.”

The series is ambitious in its scope, and poses the question “What is a library if the building is closed?” Over the course of its more than 50 episodes, the the series has tackled myriad topics, ranging from equity, access, and inclusion to smart cities, social infrastructure, and the future of libraries.

The series recorded its first episode on March 26, 2020—only 15 days after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The episode discussed the importance of internet access during a time when many questions about the pandemic were still swirling, and many of the ramifications had yet to be felt—only a week prior had the first states begun issuing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Broadband Breakfast also launched its webcast series, Broadband Breakfast Live Online, around the same time. The first session of the Broadband Breakfast series was on “Coronavirus and Education – Getting Ready for Online Education.”

Broadband Breakfast Live Online Archives provides links to all events in the Broadband Breakfast series.

Many of the Gigabit Libraries conversations and initiatives surrounding digital inclusion and the digital divide have only drifted into mainstream conversation in the wake of the pandemic.

During a time when many Americans had no idea how long they would have to remain indoors, “Libraries in Recovery” was discussing methods of boosting Wi-Fi signals to make internet available in library parking lots and the importance of remote access in anticipation of a surge in demand.

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