Even young adults who have grown up with computers and smartphones worry that a transition to online college classes will hit glitches, walls and, yes, computer viruses.
The global outbreak of the new coronavirus has prompted many schools to move to online classes to decrease the risk of transmitting the disease from person to person.
Classes such as theater, dance, music and art, which generally require tutelage in person, might be especially challenging in a system of online courses.
Chris Brady, a University of Nebraska at Omaha junior majoring in music and political science, said the music ensembles he and other students play in have had performances and rehearsals canceled because of the outbreak.
Brady said he gets a total of two credits to play in a UNO jazz band and a jazz combo, and he doesn’t know what will happen to those credits.
Online rehearsals “can’t happen for those large group ensembles,” said Brady, of Omaha. It shouldn’t be a major problem for his political science major. “But with the School of Music, it makes things 10 times harder.”
Cody Hartshorn, a UNL junior majoring in dance, said he can take classes such as dance history online with ease. But sharpening and maintaining modern dance skills requires work in the studio.
“We take these classes to hold our technique and to help build our technique as well,” said Hartshorn, of Omaha.
Spring performances have been canceled, he said, and it’s his understanding that he won’t be able to use the UNL dance studio.
Hartshorn, who called UNL’s dance program “fantastic,” said it’s uncertain how the rest of the semester will shake out. “We have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Richard Moberly, UNL’s interim executive vice chancellor, said administrators and professors are doing readiness testing for the semester’s resumption on March 30.
“We wanted to get this right,” he said. “The faculty have been incredible and engaging with this.”
The university remains open to students who need resources including residence halls, dining rooms, libraries and computer rooms. But UNL, like UNO, would prefer that students go back home.
Moberly said all UNL classes that have met in person will go online. “And we’ll all learn as we go,” he said.
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Labs are another challenge. Some instructors at UNL have created “shadow” labs so students can virtually experience the lab work they would have done in person, said John Carroll, director of the School of Natural Resources.
But there are some things that can’t be replicated virtually. Among those, Carroll said, is learning how to use a chainsaw for a forestry class. This won’t be the semester for chainsaw training, Carroll said.
At UNO, students conveyed a sense of disorientation. Mars Nevada, a UNO senior, said Friday that students are “scrambling to reorganize our lives.”
“Life is pretty much turned upside down,” Nevada said. “It’s going to be hard for us all.”
Although schools like UNO conduct many classes online, most haven’t had to place every course, professor and student into a system that is utterly reliant on technology.
In a meeting with about 45 student leaders Thursday night, two UNO administrators said the university is committed to making the transition smooth. They promised that UNO administrators and staffers will help students and professors.
Cathy Pettid, dean of undergraduates, said the students would be pleased to witness the effort UNO leaders are putting into preparing for college to resume on March 30.
“With all due respect, I think this is going to be our finest hour,” she said. Pettid gave the students her office and cellphone numbers.
Pettid and Jaci Lindburg, assistant vice president of information technology services, answered dozens of questions from students for more than 90 minutes. “And I can read the stress on your face,” Pettid said. She demonstrated deep breaths and shoulder loosening exercises.
“All will be well,” she said.
UNO, UNL, Creighton University and many others announced this week that they would take a week or two to transition, then move to primarily or completely online coursework. Metropolitan Community College announced Friday that it will move credit classes to e-learning and alternate delivery methods through the end of the spring quarter on May 22.
Colleges have various solutions to their online challenges. The Nebraska State College System announced Friday that it understands that some courses aren’t appropriate for online delivery. Over the next week, the three colleges will determine how many times some classes will need to meet face to face, said spokeswoman Judi Yorges.
UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed said Friday that arrangements are still being considered for providing music, theater and dance students access to practice facilities.
Kevin Hanrahan, a UNL associate professor of voice, said the quality of sound can be compromised online. For music students, a public performance or an exhibition can be required.
“So how do we go about doing that?” asked Hanrahan, president of UNL’s Faculty Senate. It won’t be a perfect conclusion to the semester, he said, “but I think it will be OK.”
“We’re going to keep calm and wash our hands and do our best,” he said.
World-Herald staff writer Jessica Wade contributed to this report.