The most challenging aspect of video conferencing, Reich said, was figuring out how to facilitate conversations between students, all of whom now appear as faces in boxes on his computer screen. “I usually do the philosophical thing of, ‘Here’s 15 minutes of an orientation to a question, a framework, a topic.’ And then I’m going to give students a prompt or a dilemma and I want them to talk to their neighbor and have those exchanges. We tried out a chat function yesterday [instead].” It worked fine enough, Reich said; he just wasn’t able to “take the temperature of the room.”
In addition to Stanford, University of Washington, UC Berkeley, USC, UCLA, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Texas at Austin, Indiana University Bloomington, University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Ohio State University, Iowa State University, Fordham University, Columbia University, St. John’s University, Rutgers University, and many others have either committed to moving classes online or have indicated that they are strongly considering it. Face-to-face class interactions are being banned entirely in some cases, and professors are being urged to use apps like Zoom, Google Docs, and Canvas.
It’s perhaps not surprising that some well-funded private universities with tech-minded staffers might be equipped to handle the transition to online classes. Jordan Harrod, a PhD student in medical engineering at Harvard-MIT, noted that less than half of the 400 students in one of her Machine Learning classes attend regularly in person, so the university already has some experience with remote learning.
But that’s not the case for every academic institution. Rebecca Slatkin, a software engineer who teaches iOS app development at Syracuse University, says Blackboard Collaborate is the default option being offered by the school, which is moving all of its classes online after spring break. But Slatkin says the app is limited because it only offers dedicated time slots for classes and doesn’t support office hours or staying beyond class for extra help.
Slatkin opted to update her personal Zoom account and pay $14.99 per month out of her own pocket instead. “An upgraded account gives me unlimited time,” Slatkin said. “I figure if it helps my students and makes the remainder of the semester slightly less painful, it’s 100 percent worth it.”
“We have to do this for everybody’s safety, but fundamentally what is being asked of all of these colleges and universities going online, from a faculty point of view, is double labor just to get the courses online,” says Antonova, of Queens College. “I will have to do it with small children at home if their schools close. Double labor with small children is frankly impossible. And my students are facing a similar double burden.”
Some Students Especially Hard Hit
Coronavirus precautions are also disrupting student life. More than a dozen students across the US who spoke to or messaged WIRED detailed a wide range of canceled events, changes in travel plans, and even scrambles for housing, some of which are compounding anxiety for an already stressed-out generation of students.
Amanda Mungcal, a student at Rutgers in New Jersey, says the school will host all classes remotely starting March 23, and has not yet given guidance on what this means for graduation in the spring. “I’m a fifth-year undergrad, paying for school with loans completely under my name, so graduation is literally all my parents have been waiting for,” she wrote to WIRED.
Others are trying to make the best of remote classes: At Columbia University in New York City, Barnard political science student Nicki Camberg observed that earlier this week students were enjoying a rare 70-degree day on the campus lawn. “It felt like the first day of summer. But then every so often you’d see people walking by with suitcases, wheeling their stuff around because they’re going home early.”