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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

Coalition Says FCC E-rate Portal Proposal Could Create More Problems

Industry officials say the commission’s approach to E-rate competition would burden applicants.

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John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2021 – The executive director of a broadband coalition for anchor institutions said the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to force providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal will burden those applicants.

The agency proposed Thursday to force service providers to submit applications through a bidding portal overseen by the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the E-rate program that provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries. The current approach is that libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers would apply directly to those institutions.

By giving USAC the ability to see service provider applications before they go to the institutions, the agency said this would eliminate at least some forms of abuse or fraud, including participants who may misrepresent their certification or circumvent competitive-bidding rules.

But John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said that while he applauds the effort to listen to consumer needs, the portal’s one-size-fits-all approach would ultimately burden E-rate applicants and service providers.

He also claimed that there is not enough evidence to show that a new portal is needed and that it “would add a lot more federal bureaucracy on a program that is running pretty well right now.

“You would have federal employees at USAC trying to make determinations about what’s…in the best interests of the schools or libraries,” said Windhausen, “And we don’t think they’re really qualified to do that.”

Windhausen also sees potential conflict between the new bidding portal and some state laws already governing E-rate bidding. In a scenario in which state law and FCC policy conflict, it is not clear which policy would take precedence.

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Education

FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money

The agency has now committed $3.8 billion from the $7.17-billion program.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s latest round of Emergency Connectivity Fund money will disburse $603 million to connect over 1.4 million students in all 50 states, the agency said Monday.

The FCC said it has now committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17-billion program, which provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers and connectivity to help students stay connected off school premises. The money comes as a new Covid-19 variant sweeps the nation again, putting face-to-face interactions at risk once again.

The agency also said Monday that it has allocated an additional $367 million in its first commitment and nearly $236 million in the second commitment.

The agency in October said that previous rounds had committed $2.63 billion from the fund since its launch in June.

The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said in a Monday release.

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Education

Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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