ATHENS — Precautions against the coronavirus have closed traditional classrooms at local colleges and universities, but education is continuing with the help of online classes.

Universities and colleges started preparing for more online learning as school systems closed and the region’s residents were told to stay at home as much as possible. 

“Serving our students is Concord University’s priority during these uncertain times. In addition to offering courses online, our staff in the Center for Academic & Career Development & GEAR UP offices have created informational YouTube videos to guide those who may not be used to online instruction,” President Kendra S. Boggess of Concord University said.

“We have provided students with options for accessing free, public Wi-Fi, provided technical support through our website, and even continued to offer counseling and telemedicine services remotely,” Boggess stated. “On our website, students have access to the support they need to successfully finish this semester. Additionally, our faculty and staff are reaching out to students individually to offer them support and assistance in any ways that we are able. Most of our offices continue to be available through email, text, or remote telephone calls.” 

Measures have been taken at Bluefield State College,too, to keep offering classes while the students are off campus. All the department heads were required to create remote work plans for all the college’s staff, faculty, the administrators and the student workers. All buildings have been closed to the general public, Bluefield State President Robin Capehart said.

All remaining on-campus class activity has been suspended and moved to the online delivery of instruction, and lab classes that required a student presence were suspended, he stated.

“While we believe that the actions we initiated last week are consistent with the governor’s most recent “stay at home” order, we also believe that the seriousness of this threat to our health and safety requires additional actions,” Capehart said.

Across the state line in Virginia, Bluefield College has moved its classes to the online format. 

“We’re in a remote classroom setting ourselves right now,” said Joshua Cline, vice president instructional advancement. “We did three days of training sessions for faculty and students; Zoom video conferencing for faculty and students to prepare to transition to the online learning modality. So far, I’ve heard good responses.

Dr. Marshall Flowers, vice president for academic affairs and athletics, said the college started online classes March 18.

“For them to do this is certainly going to take a significant amount of work to transition, but they are familiar with the online modality of teaching,” Flowers stated. “We gave them three days of training and teamwork together preparing. They stepped up and did a good job readying themselves. I’m hearing good results so far. There have been no formal complaints and challenges at this point, so I think we’ve made that transition in a very smooth manner. For them, the students, it’s a little more natural as well.”

“All of us prefer the seated classroom relationship, the personable, but this is working,” Flowers said. “Our next challenge is to decide if we continue this through the end of the semester. The last day of classes is actually April 29. We have to make a decision now on the next five weeks of the semester.”

Online classes are now being used at Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands, Va. so students can keep working. 

Travis Roberts, marketing and community engagement director, emphasized that although only a few individuals are on campus, the college is not closed.

“All classes have moved to alternative delivery. Only designated individuals are currently allowed on campus at this time. All student services are currently available via phone or video chat to assist students with any needs they may have,” Roberts said. “The main thing is the college is not closed, we are open. We are not on campus, but we are open for business.”

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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