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During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Online Classes to Continue Your Education During Coronavirus Outbreak

In early March 2020, people in the US learned that life was about to change drastically. Rather than being able to move freely about, citizens in several states found themselves under shelter-in-place orders. This included students in private and public elementary, middle and high schools, as well as community colleges and universities.

As many students were departing school to enjoy their spring breaks, they received emails from their schools that they shouldn’t return to campus at the end of break. Instead, they should begin accessing their classes online, either indefinitely or for a defined period.

As the pandemic spread within the US, colleges, universities and other schools changed this directive, updating students that they would not be returning to their campuses before the end of the spring semester. This left only online connections with their schools to be able to work on assignments and turn them in.

Resources for Before and After College


College Campus Shutting Down?


Colleges and universities closed down, first in the states with the highest percentage of spread of COVID-19. Washington State, New York, and California have shut their university’s campuses down statewide, locking doors and only allowing a skeleton crew of employees to work, often requiring the entire faculty and staff to work remotely. In some states, dormitories have also closed, which made it necessary for students to either move back home or into off-campus housing. All of these actions were taken to try and slow the spread of COVID-19, which had just been classified as a pandemic.

Campus closings were different from university to university. At Stanford University, the campus cancelled all face-to-face classes for two weeks after a medical faculty member received a positive result for their coronavirus test. Students would take scheduled in-person exams as take-home tests. However, if it wasn’t possible for a professor to submit grades, they were encouraged to allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter at quarter’s end.

Most schools were proactive; they acted to protect their students while the numbers of cases were still small rather than waiting until the epidemic in the US became uncontrollable.

The Digital Access Gap


Not every middle school, high school, or even college student’s family can afford to connect to the internet. This means that buying devices such as tablets or laptops is even more difficult.

This is being referred to as the “digital divide”. Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced school districts across the country to move their classes online, 58% of students whose parents could afford internet accounts and electronic devices were able to get to their assignments online. About 6% of students admitted they “never” used the internet at home for homework.

This divide is the most obvious for both black and Hispanic households with low incomes. Teenagers who don’t have a reliable connection to the internet may rely on public Wi-Fi; others complete homework on their cellphones.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, this puts lower-income students, and those who are already in danger of dropping out, at a higher risk of falling behind. Students whose families earned less than $30,000 annually are less likely to have a computer at home.

Devices


Families with more than one student may find that their children have to compete for time online to complete homework. Even families who have internet often only have one home computer or one desktop and a laptop. Students with smartphones may be able to watch lectures on their own devices, such as a smartphone, and then use the computer to submit papers, but it’s not ideal.

Some school districts are providing students with mobile hotspots so they can get access to the internet and complete their assignments. Their teachers were also instructed to prepare learning packets they could use while schools are closed. Two school districts in El Paso, Texas have arranged for students to get tablets so they can easily do homework online. Other school districts have made arrangements for students to have access to businesses or spaces with internet access so that they can complete assignments.

Regardless of the challenges that students and schools face, districts are figuring out which students fall into the homework gap. Administrators and teachers then make arrangements for these students so that they don’t fall behind. The length and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t known, so districts and universities are doing as much as they can to serve students remotely. However, it’s important that everyone understand the impact this may have on those who don’t have easy internet access; perhaps even some of your classmates are experiencing this issue.

Accessing the Internet


COVID-19 has thrown life into turmoil. Few sectors of life have been left untouched, including education and how students access their assignments. Now that universities, colleges, community colleges, and public and private elementary, middle, and high schools have shuttered their doors, students don’t have to leave home to go to school. Instead, they use the internet.

Students are now required to log into their school’s online portal to access classes and schoolwork, but what if they can’t? Again, some students suffer more from the homework gap than others do. Some students have begun to go to closed libraries to see if they can get a signal on their cellphones. While libraries would normally be a point of access, many of these have also been closed.

Students from underserved communities are traditionally those who find it harder to gain access to online assignments; often, these communities have the lowest percentage of homes with internet access. Also, because libraries have been closed, Wi-Fi signals have also been shut down.

Because not all school districts have a contingency plan in place to help every student connect to the internet, those disadvantaged students will be at an even higher risk of falling behind. What about restaurants offering free Wi-Fi signals? Dining areas have been closed in many states, again blocking students from gaining needed access, but those which are still operating as a drive-through may also be maintaining their Wi-Fi.

If you are a student looking for internet access, don’t give up. Consider calling restaurants that are acting as drive-throughs and asking if you can use their Wi-Fi from outside or the parking lot. Call your local chamber of commerce to see if there are any businesses that are willing to leave their Wi-Fi on so that you can use it, assuming it will reach outside the building. Use your phone as a hotspot or ask a friend if you can park in their driveway and use their internet for a few hours.

Looking for New Courses?


Now that so many students, and would-be-students, can’t go to a college campus to enroll, this is the perfect time to check out online classes. If you’re planning to return to school at some point, an online learning platform may help you get started now, rather than waiting. Or, if you want to learn a new skill, look at Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

COVID-19 is going to keep people at home for a while if the course of the disease in China and Italy is any indicator. Several states have put stay-at-home orders in place. This means that, except for medical emergencies and essential errands, you aren’t going anywhere. And, if you aren’t an essential employee in an essential occupation, you may be home without something to occupy your time.

If you aren’t going anywhere for a while, you should consider signing up for a course online. You don’t have to commit to an entire 18-week semester; depending on your interests or career goals, you should be able to find courses on almost any skill you need; and MOOCs are usually self-monitored. You may have heard of some MOOCs, such as Coursera, Udemy, or Skillshare. With some research, you’ll find there are even more.

What Does Social Distance Online Learning & Teaching Look Like?


What Does Teaching Remotely Look Like?


When you teach remotely, you are in one location in front of your computer, while your students are at home in front of their computers. It doesn’t matter how far apart you are, your signal reaches everywhere.

When you teach, it can be synchronous. That is, you and your students are all online at the same time. Or it can be asynchronous. Here, your students can be online, watching and listening to your lesson at different times. However, you may set a rule that during a specific time, everyone is required to be online simultaneously so everyone can communicate in real time.

In a time when social distancing is mandated across the country, remote teaching enables you to prepare and give lessons without putting yourself at risk of illness if one of your students does come down with COVID-19. It also ensures the health of all of your students if you’re the one who becomes ill.

What Does Learning Remotely Look Like?


Your professors will upload all of your class modules online and you’ll access all assignments and exams online. When your college decides to transition to an online format, your instructors should communicate with every student about how classes will be taught. Keep checking your email for a communication from your college or university.

Expect your professors to use more than one online learning method, such as WebEx, Google applications, WebCampus, Zoom and more. If you realize something isn’t working well, speak up to your professors. What about office hours? These will likely happen virtually or via phone conversations.

Social distancing shouldn’t make learning too difficult. If you have a young child who is now confined to your home with you, include them in your learning. Create a working space for them next to your computer and give them short assignments.

What Does Working Remotely Look Like?


When it became evident that working in an office with many co-workers would become too dangerous for everyone’s health - businesses, governments, and government agencies made the decision to have their employees work from home.

For those businesses that have required everyone to work from home to the extent possible, they have likely provided guidelines for you to follow.

This allows you to build in social distancing while you continue to earn your pay. As examples of professions that transition easily to remote work - think developers, online marketing, writers and editors, designers, teachers, social media managers, virtual assistants, customer support, data entry, and even accountants. And if your job doesn’t allow you to transition, or you find yourself laid off, make sure to check the remote work market while you apply for unemployment. There are plenty of websites devoted to the trend and you never know what you might find.

Why Might This be a Perfect Time to Go Back to School?


High school seniors, college students, parents, and have had to made significant changes as they made plans to begin college or continue university classes. In the case of educational institutions, hundreds, if not more, have found that they have to rethink college instruction through a new lens.

Teaching remotely means that tens of thousands of courses and degree programs are now being uploaded to the internet. This means that you may now be able to take achievable steps to realize your career goals. If you haven’t yet enrolled in a degree program, you may find you now have the time, especially if you’re not included in those who could move to working remotely. You could choose to use this time to move on your college plans rather than feeling stuck.

However, college is expensive. This may have held you back. Even with financial aid, obtaining an advanced education can put you into significant debt. Enrolling in a MOOC course, or a few if you’re looking to earn a specific certification, allows you to achieve your goals at a much lower price.

Additional Free Educational Courses, Called MOOCs


What are MOOCs? This acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses. These are massive because of the numbers of students who sign up, sometimes more than 10,000 for a single course.

Courses offered in MOOC format are available for free and always online. Anyone can enroll in these courses, though there is a fee if you want to earn a certificate that states that you completed, and passed, the course. If you have been thinking of starting school or earning a certificate for advancement in your career, a MOOC is an excellent substitution for going to college on campus.

Whether you want to earn an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s, you’ll be able to find them hosted on one of several MOOC providers.

You may have seen names such as Skillshare, edX or Udemy. These are MOOC providers. They host professors’ courses and provide an inexpensive way for the instructors to reach out to students. You’ll find that online programs may be offered within the most in-demand fields; you’ll also see that famous educational institutions are partnering with MOOC providers. Some of the most well-known providers that you might want to check out are listed below.

  • Coursera
  • Udacity
  • edX
  • NovoED
  • FutureLearn
  • Canvas
  • Iversity
  • Open Learning
  • Open2Study
  • Udemy Faculty Project
  • Swayam
  • Independent
  • Open Education by Blackboard
  • Stanford OpenEdx
  • OpenClassrooms
  • World Science U
  • EdCast
  • Complexity Explorer
  • First Business MOOC
  • Datacamp
  • MOOC-ED

Free and Easy MOOC Access


Once COVID-19 began infecting people around the world, it became clear that education as usual wouldn’t be happening for some time. Some MOOC providers have responded by opening up easy and free access to some of their class offerings.

Some of these providers, like Coursera, have made all classes in the course catalog free to universities all over the world. edX has started a Remote Access Program, enabling students of its partner institutions to have access to programs and courses at no charge. FutureLearn has established and rolled out FutureLearn Campus. This makes it easier for universities to give access to online courses for their staff and students. This is on top of courses offered to the general public.

Educational institutions have turned to MOOC providers such as edX and Coursera, asking them to help expand students’ access to each university’s course catalog as instructors adapt to the new way of offering instruction. Not very many universities around the world have the expertise available to switch from on-campus instruction to 100% online instruction, which is why these universities have asked for assistance.

Because the length of this pandemic is not known, Coursera is considering giving month-to-month extensions to universities so that they have continued access to the platform beyond July 2020. This assistance and collaboration extends to universities such as Duke University, which partners with Duke Kunshan University, near Shanghai in China. Students at Duke Kunshan University are now able to access more than 500 classes, free of charge.