Feb. 20, 2020

By Glenda Ballard
Dean of the School of Human Development and Education at St. Edward’s University

AUSTIN, Texas — Few items have sent the entire higher education population into panic like the outbreak of the coronavirus. Higher education administrators have had to make decisions that have wide-ranging social, financial and logistical implications for faculty, staff and students. As administrators, faculty and staff grapple with delivery of online coursework, at the heart of this conversation is the student — what does this mean to each individual student?

One would assume in 2020 that the lift to move an academic program to a fully online delivery should not be too difficult — after all, isn’t everyone connected to Wi-Fi, conversing with Alexa or Siri and checking social media? Realistically, however, that assumption may not hold true. At smaller universities that pride themselves in small class sizes and a rich student experience, emphasis on online instruction is often limited to having a website presence through Canvas, a learning management platform, that might include the syllabus, handouts and PowerPoint presentations. 

Many of these universities will rise to the challenge, but we still recognize that students who have not bought into an online education experience will find it challenging to transition to a completely online delivery modality for the remainder of the semester. Below are three considerations for all students:

1. Maximize usage of time online. If a student does not have the benefit of unlimited time online, one suggestion is to go directly to the course assignments for that day — if the directions include readings or responding to an assignment, capitalize that time to access the directions, write them down and complete the work offline. While printing off copies of the assignment might be an easy solution, one may be limited by access and paper costs. Another tip is to collaborate with classmates via telephone and work together to clarify what the assignments and expectations are. 

2. Try not to get behind. The most important advice to be given when working in an online environment is, DO NOT GET BEHIND. Missing even two days of class online creates an almost insurmountable hurdle for catching up and staying ahead of the work. Students sometime misunderstand that having online assignments means more free time; actually, just the opposite may be true. Because the professors feel compelled to cover all of the content that is required for the course — and because no face-to-face instruction provides for that delivery, the responsibility moves to the online format to provide that content, and that means MORE study time not less.

3. Remain calm and communicate with professors. Most of all, students need to remember: we are all in this together. For many professors, teaching online is as new —or newer — for them as it is for the students. As long as students make the good faith effort to complete the work, seek out alternative access whenever they do not have it at home, and stay in communication with their professors, university personnel will most likely work to a positive outcome for everyone. The important thing to remember: stay calm. Reach out to professors, academic advisors or other contacts from the university to find solutions. We are all in this together.