BY DANYANG YUAN
Because of COVID-19, Fort Hays State University announced all face-to-face courses are transitioning to online courses.
FHSU is not the only university making this decision. Numerous universities are making similar online transitions, including the University of Washington, Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Rice University, Stanford University and Hofstra University.
For high school and college students at FHSU, online lessons keep professors and students in touch. Through professors’ feedback, students can know their deficiencies and areas for improvement. On the other hand, online courses can control the spread of the virus effectively.
FHSU has a history of online courses and, according to Dr. Dennis King, started doing distance education in 1911. That came in the form of the school offering professional development courses for teachers working in remote locations of western Kansas, according to Scott Cason, FHSU’s chief communications officer.
However, the name changed from Continuing Education and Instructional Technology to the Virtual College in the 1999-2000 academic year. Nursing was one of the first to move from Interactive Television to online courses.
“At that time, we were using a system called Tegrity to record and send lectures,” said King, who led the Virtual College prior to assuming the role of associate vice president for enrollment management.
“The Virtual College has grown from 906 students in 1999 to 7,005 in the fall of 2018. Online delivery has helped provide solutions for partners both domestically and internationally. Students take FHSU courses from every state and over 20 countries internationally.”
In the Virtual College, females make up more than 65% of FHSU’s online students. Undergraduates outnumber graduate students, but the graduate population is growing fast. The largest programs include Graduate Education (AEP) and nursing. The fastest-growing program is computer science. History was made in 2012 as it became the first year online students outnumbered on-campus.
King mentioned five reasons as to why online education is so important for FHSU. The first one is that innovation and using technology as an effective tool has long been a culture of FHSU.
Next is changing demographics in the workforce. Today, a person will have to retool for five to eight careers during their lifetime. Changing demographics in western Kansas are also an element. The fourth one is that the types of jobs available (technology-related) in the U.S. are different than they used to be (manufacturing). The last reason is online instructions assist students who are offered a job during internships.
King said it will still be a challenge for FHSU to address everyone’s needs. However, with a long history of overcoming challenges, FHSU is in a great position to succeed in the new normal. The past work on alternative methods developed for instruction, admissions, training, student finances and online resources have set up FHSU in the best possible position to weather this situation. It might be years before the impact of COVID-19 is overcome. FHSU is doing all it can to address today’s needs and plan for the future.
There are also some courses on campus that have been divided into online and physical courses. However, with all classes transitioning online after Spring Break concludes and resuming March 30, students are preparing for the new normal of taking their physical classes online.
“Like physical class, I need to preview the textbook, do assignments and exams,” said Zhihui Chen, who had two online courses during summer vacation last year. “Compared with physical lessons, online lessons are easier (in my opinion) since there is not any teamwork and presentation. For the exam, there is a lock in Blackboard. It does not allow you to open another website. It is a better method to make sure of justice.”
For different courses, professors have different standards for their students.
“Our exams are stricter. The camera needs to be turned on. There must be nothing on the table and no one else in the room. So when I take an exam, my roommate can’t be in the room,” said Kexin Li, an exchange student from Sias.
This is indeed a challenge for those physical lessons that once had no online structure.
“COMM318 already has online courses, so it is not difficult for students,” said Dr. Du Yuxiang, a professor of communication studies. “For these 600-level courses I teach, this is the first time for online courses. I have prepared a schedule for students, and there is the whole plan of the rest of the semester in detail, which includes the deadline of their assignments and exams, when they need to preview which chapter in the textbook, and when they need to submit their answer about discussion boards.”
For whether there will be video lectures, such as Zoom, he said it is not necessary for graduate students. He believes graduate students spend most of their time studying on their own. As a professor, he can respond to their questions in a timely manner.
“For teachers, online teaching may be easier. But for students, online teaching will reduce the atmosphere of class,” Yuxiang said.
There can be issues that need to be considered for those courses which require video lectures.
“There were some students who attended the online class, but they did not click the ‘attendance’ button, which will cause the system to determine that they did not attend,” said Shuna Wen, who is a graduate teaching assistant of communication studies. “Students may not be able to fully adapt to this system. As a GTA, I am also familiar with the operating mode of this system.”
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, more than 130 countries have closed schools and universities nationwide, affecting more than 80% of students worldwide. Several other countries have implemented localized school closures.
The number of students in 138 countries affected by the school and university closures has almost quadrupled to 1.37 billion in the past 10 days, accounting for more than three-quarters of children and young people worldwide. School suspensions can have high social and economic costs. These include unequal access to digital learning portals, gaps in child care and high economic costs.
Therefore, the advantages of online teaching are crucial. Online courses provide a platform for students to continue their studies and complete their degrees, especially at FHSU. Regular discussion boards and assignments can also let professors know the student’s current progress.
“More than ever, learners need to be accompanied as much academically as emotionally,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for education in a March Unesco article.