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USC, UCLA and other UC campuses announce transition to online learning to protect against coronavirus

USC and UCLA will cancel in-person classes through at least early April and move to online learning to guard against coronavirus.
(Los Angeles Times)

UCLA and USC announced Tuesday they would cancel most in-person classes, joining the rising number of colleges and universities to limit classes, campus gatherings and travel to fight the global spread of the novel coronavirus.

Four UC campuses in Irvine, Riverside, Santa Barbara and Davis also announced similar measures Tuesday, as eight of nine University of California undergraduate campuses have rapidly aligned plans to transition to online final exams and instruction into spring quarter. Berkeley, San Diego and Santa Cruz campuses announced earlier this week that they would suspend in-person classes.

UC Merced, the smallest UC campus of 8,800 students, has not yet canceled in-person classes. But faculty were “strongly” encouraged to move to remote learning, beginning with their largest classes, in a campus message Tuesday by Provost Gregg Camfield and Academic Senate Chair Tom Hansford.

The rapid succession of announcements by major California campuses Tuesday came as higher education faces one of its most pressing challenges in decades. Universities and colleges throughout the nation are launching sweeping changes throughout the core of their operations, including instruction, admissions and finances, to combat the fast-moving contagion.

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USC, which moved to online teaching and learning Wednesday in what was initially a test run of the technology, said the campus would continue remote instruction even after spring break concludes on March 29.

“We believe the risk to our students, faculty, and staff remains low, but it is our responsibility to you and our greater community to be proactive in our efforts to encourage social distancing as a means of preventing the spread of illness,” Provost Charles F. Zukoski wrote in a campus message Tuesday.

UCLA — the UC system’s largest campus, with 44,300 students — will continue remote instruction until April 10 and then reassess. No UC campus has reported any cases of coronavirus, and students tested for the virus at UC Davis, UCLA and UC Irvine had negative results. But officials said they wanted to take proactive measures to protect public health and safety.

“I believe that it is important for communities to look out for one another and to do what is best for our global and UCLA communities,” Chancellor Gene Block said in a message to the campus community Tuesday.

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UCLA, Riverside, Irvine and Santa Barbara campuses said they would aim to hold winter quarter final exams remotely and transition to online platforms for most classes after spring break. Instructors are being given flexibility about courses that may be difficult to hold remotely, such as science labs or performing arts.

Students at UCLA reacted with a mix of anxiety and relief after the Tuesday afternoon announcement.

Noor Bouzidi, a UCLA senior, said she had “no idea” what would happen with the three finals she is supposed to take in person — including one for her Arabic class Wednesday.

“None of my professors have talked to me or discussed in depth in case classes get canceled what the plan is,” Bouzidi, 21, said. “Most people are really confused.”

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Bouzidi said some professors may hold final exams over Zoom, but “it’s a very short amount of time to figure out a whole new system for taking finals.”

And next quarter, when she plans to take communications, anthopology and Arabic, could also be challenging since all the courses “seem to require a lot of in-class effort.”

Most campuses also are postponing or canceling gatherings of more than 100 people, holding closed athletic competitions and strongly recommending against international travel. But campus offices, housing and dining facilities will remain open.

UC Santa Barbara students who are traveling during spring break should be prepared to stay away from campus through the end of April, Chancellor Henry Yang said in a message to the campus community.

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“We know that many of these recommendations will be challenging to implement, but it is important that we take the necessary steps now to respond to the rapidly evolving situation, despite the fact that no cases have been reported on campus or in Santa Barbara County,” Yang wrote.

UC Riverside has told students they need not return to campus for the rest of winter quarter, which ends Thursday. Final exams will be held remotely and the campus will transition to online learning for spring quarter until April 3, said spokesman John Warren.

In the 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State, San Francisco State and Cal State East Bay announced similar measures, as has the private Santa Clara University. Dozens of other universities and colleges across the nation have announced since Monday that they, too, would shift to online classes, including Harvard, Princeton, Amherst and New York University.

The restrictions to campus life and turn to online learning disappointed some.

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UCLA student Raylene Factora, 19, wondered whether remote learning compared to classes rich with interaction with teachers and fellow students would be worth the price. “There is a big difference between that type of education compared to being actually present in class with the teacher right there,” she said.

She’s also saddened that she may miss out on the social aspects of college. She was looking forward to a dance showcase, Korean cultural night and Filipino cultural night during spring quarter, which may now be delayed or difficult to plan. And plans to take a class on contemporary Asian societies with friends are also up in the air.

But she’s also relieved to go to her family’s home in Santa Clarita, leaving her dorm building of 100 people and a room she shares with two others.

“I’m kind of glad they’re taking action now so it doesn’t turn into a huge problem,” Factora said. It would be hard to avoid coronavirus if it reached UCLA, she said — when one roommate gets sick, they all do.

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Zak Fisher, a third-year law student at UCLA and president of the Graduate Students Assn., supported the decision. But he worried about students who have limited internet access or those who are homeless.

“As a public university there are a lot of people from different income backgrounds,” he said. “If you’re expected to go to school online and you don’t have access to the internet, what do you do?”

He said that the switch to online learning will be a “rough road, at least at first.” Some graduate-student instructors feel unprepared to make the switch so suddenly. “People are worried that they simply won’t know how to operate the classes,” he said.

UCLA faculty members had questions about how to bring classes alive remotely. Education professor Tyrone Howard will teach a 200-person undergraduate class on race, class, gender and school inequality next quarter, which will be online at least for its first two meetings. He expects to learn techniques with online training, which UCLA already has set up.

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“It’s very different for me as someone who hasn’t done online courses,” he said. “Maybe this is a challenge for folks like me to adapt.”

Another UCLA faculty member, Pirouz Kavehpour, said he’ll have to figure out how to teach an engineering course next quarter for up to 150 people. He said the move online will be inconvenient and take away some of the interactive elements of his course, but “we’re going to make the best of it.”

“The situation calls for getting creative,” he said. “That’s our job.”


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