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UNLV, UNR to begin online-only instruction on March 23

Updated March 12, 2020 - 5:57 pm

UNLV and UNR will transition to online-only instruction after spring break due to coronavirus fears, the universities said Thursday.

All normal university operations will continue, the campuses will be open, and students who live in residence halls will be able to remain there, according to UNLV President Marta Meana’s message.

More details will follow on the university’s plan to transition to online instruction on Mar. 23.

“The transition to remote instruction can result in unexpected impacts and complications for every member of our university community, and we need to be patient, flexible and support each other during this challenging time,” Meana’s message said.

UNR said in a statement that the university is making “a concerted effort to greatly reduce the collection of people on campus in order to diminish the spread of coronavirus.”

Though the UNR campus will also remain open, the university is directing students to remain home and not return to campus following the completion of spring break until further notice. Students who do not have the option to remain home should contact University Residential Life and Housing immediately.

All faculty, students and staff will have access to a video conferencing platform with real-time messaging and content sharing, the university’s statement said. All public or special events with planned attendance of more than 150 people are to be canceled as well.

The announcements came a day after Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly directed all campuses to make plans to transition to online instruction by April 3 should it become necessary.

Should NSHE schools switch to distance learning, they’ll join a growing list of colleges that have already done so, including Arizona State University, UC Berkeley and Harvard, with more making the decision every day.

Reilly said that while the situation is changing daily, NSHE plans to keep campuses open even if classes go online in order to allow students to use dorms, libraries and other resources.

“We don’t have the luxury like some private schools to close our campuses,” Reilly said. “Our students might have nowhere to go.”

Contingency plans

Reilly’s memo also asked campuses to have contingency plans for students who may not have access to laptops or other technology.

Reilly said UNLV and UNR are in good shape for a switch to online learning, and that UNLV also plans to purchase laptops for students who may not have them.

But at community colleges, particularly those in rural areas, students and lecturers may have barriers to access, Reilly said. For those groups, a switch to online learning may necessitate working in coffee shops, Reilly added.

Spring break for most institutions is Mar. 16-20, Reilly said, which will give the university system some time to plan before students return.

UNR has separately asked its faculty to prepare online learning plans for all classes, including labs and lectures, no later than Mar. 30 in case the university adopts “alternate operations.”

“This plan should include how you would address your courses, related materials, and assessments and to evaluate and train yourself on technological resources available to assist you,” the memo said. “Deans and Chairs need to facilitate conversations with instructional faculty and TAs as some instructional formats may be easier to deliver remotely, while others will require outside of the box thinking.”

UNLV has already had its first brush with a coronavirus case this week, when a lecture was canceled out of an abundance of caution after a student self-quarantined for possible exposure.

Long-term college closures have the potential to reshape higher education, according to Arun Ponnusamy, chief academic officer of Collegewise, an education consulting company.

For example, if coronavirus fears begin to affect standardized tests like the SAT, which are typically conducted in group settings, schools may need to adopt test-optional admissions next year, Ponnusamy said.

But the perception of college may shift for current students, too, he said.

“If college can be done at home in your parents’ basement, then what are you paying $75,000 for?” Ponnusamy said.

Contact Aleksandra Appleton at 702-383-0218 or aappleton@reviewjournal.com. Follow @aleksappleton on Twitter.

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