Virus Brings Online Classes Into Focus

Apr 4, 2020

In an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, colleges across the country including Bradley University and Illinois Central College have moved to online classes allowing students to continue their education from home.

That required some drastic changes at BU, according to one professor.

"At one point I saw an estimate that only 25 percent of the Bradley faculty made regular use of our Sakai learning management system," said Ed Lamoureux, a communications and interactive media professor.

"Online education is quite different than face-to-face. Administrations, teachers and students alike are going to have to adjust their expectations," said Lamoureux, who was already teaching three online classes before the outbreak.

The situation involves more than an educational change, he said.

"If we were to say tomorrow, 'let's move our education online' and that was all we were doing, it would be very challenging. But in addition to doing that we have sent all our students away from campus and we all face a health emergency/pandemic as well as 'stay in place' orders that change the nature of the places that we have sent students," said Lamoureux, a professor at Bradley since 1985.

At Illinois Central College, online classes mushroomed from 194 prior to the Covic 19 outbreak to 1,317 by March 30, said ICC president Sheila Quirk-Bailey.

"Faculty transitioned to online courses with the assistance of the Teaching and Learning staff," she said.

Rita Ali, VP of workforce, diversity and career development, said ICC was also addressing the issue of students without computers.

"We are providing various forms of technology--laptops,desktops, tablets--to students who need them. The greater challenge has been internet connectivity during a time of a public health crisis when libraries are closed and the doors to schools and businesses with online access are closed," she said.

"This challenge is real in both urban and rural communities. Sometimes we are working around this issue by allowing students to use their cellphones to access instruction," said Ali.

Using mobile technology as a learning tool is Chad Udell's business. As managing partner of Float, a Morton-based company that builds apps for businesses around the country, Udell heads a 30-person firm--half working in Morton, the other half scattered across the country.

"Some of our business clients don't even have a desk. We try to devise bite-sized lessons that can be consumed quickly that can be consumed quickly," he said.

"There's still a strong need for teacher/student interaction," said Udell, who also believes there's a "new normal" developing with blended learning using a number of online tools.

"(The pandemic) has forced people to re-evaluate things. Instead of asking, 'why is this online,' people will be asking, 'why can't this be online?" said Udell, whose most recent book is "Shock of the New: The Challenge and Promise of Emerging Technologies," co-authored by Gary Woodill.

Back at Bradley, Peggy Flannigan, a nursing professor and the associate dean of distance education, said while the school's graduate nursing department converted to online classes in 2015, she faced another problem.

"We had over 150 Bradley graduate nursing students shut out of clinical settings such as hospitals and clinics where they been completing practicum experiences. We had to scramble to find them alternative assignments," she said.

Flannigan anticipates more online learning in the future.

"Around the country, some faculty may have been dragging their feet in the past," she said, adding that another benefit is that online classes provide an opportunity to rural residents and people unable to attend regular classes due to work or family obligations.

Before starting a registered nursing program at Spoon River College in Canton 24 years ago, Flannigan noted that the nearest RN program in west-central Illinois was in Peoria.

"There's a lot of space out there all across the country where--without online programs--people would have to travel a distance to go to school," she said.  

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