Colleges prepared for distance learning

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Nearly 4,000 of Davenport’s 6,000 students already were taking at least one online course this semester, so the COVID-19 crisis implications were not as severe as they could have been. Courtesy Davenport University

Online education for colleges and universities has become the new normal since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

As a result, more technology companies have been offering low cost or free services to students and educational institutions that have suspended or, in most cases, canceled in-person classes for the rest of the semester.

West Michigan schools such as Davenport University and Grand Valley State University are among the universities across the country that have made the full transition into requiring all students and professors to work remotely on virtual platforms.

According to Amy Miller, executive director of communications and public relations for Davenport University, nearly 4,000 of the school’s 6,000 students already were taking one or more courses online this semester. She said now that 100% of their classes are online, they expect to see a 30% overall increase in students taking at least one online course.

Dottie Barnes, associate director of news at Grand Valley State University, said they do not have the number of students who are taking online courses at the moment, but she said “it is fair to say that most students are experiencing at least one of their courses moving to remote/online education.”

Although classes are being held remotely, students and faculty members are able to use resources on-campus. Miller said the university’s campuses will remain open and students are able to continue to access computer labs and Wi-Fi options.

Barnes said students can borrow laptops from GVSU and faculty members can go on-campus to use the internet. She also said they are beginning to publicize Comcast’s “Internet Essentials” package.

The internet company announced earlier this month that it is offering new customers 60 days of Internet Essentials service for free, which is typically $9.95 per month for low-income households. The company also is offering free Xfinity WiFi hotspots to anyone, including non-Xfinity internet subscribers.

Davenport and Grand Valley, like other educational institutions in the country, for years have been using Blackboard, an online learning management platform that has an audio and video system called Collaborate Ultra.

Barnes said Google Meet and Cisco WebEx also are available to GVSU students and staff to utilize.

Now, different companies are offering new options to accommodate online learning, according to Adam Deveraux, technical vertical leader for Holland-based Worksighted, an IT company.

“Every school has a different philosophy and different ways they are going to approach things,” he said. “I think a lot of them are scrambling to figure this out and they may have been using a virtual classroom platform, so a lot of teachers are going to be constrained to the platform that the schools are making available to them. But they should keep in mind that a lot of the big companies like Google, Microsoft and Adobe may have some specials. Microsoft has released (Microsoft) Teams for classrooms, (a) free version that is available without any charge on the student level and they are giving away six months of the educator licensing free, as well. So, picking the platform is really important.”

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