Due to Coronavirus Outbreak, Faculty Start Shifting to Online Learning


School closures are sweeping the globe thanks to the recent coronavirus outbreak that has sickened more than 150,000 people worldwide. From the U.S. to China, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused colleges and universities to cancel classes, shut down entire campuses, and end study abroad programs.

In the U.S., at least 88 colleges and universities have announced temporary cancellations or transitions to online learning until the end of the semester. Meanwhile, educators are now finding themselves needing to quickly transition to virtual classrooms that are inclusive of international students, students with disabilities, and students with limited access to the internet. Students and faculty in Asia, where many universities made the switch to online learning earlier in the outbreak, are finding the adjustment challenging.

“It was really difficult in the beginning because the website crashed often, and it was especially hard for international students like me, because the connection would cut off,” Sejin Kim, a Korean student in China who has been taking classes online due to travel bans, told VOA News. “But now they’ve fixed it and it’s going well.”

Although Kim has started to adjust, students at other universities are still struggling to cope with the challenges.

When educators take proactive measures to ensure fast and easy transitions, adopting virtual classrooms can be much easier. Some colleges and universities without any known cases of COVID-19 are doing just that. For example, the University of Southern California recently announced a plan to examine its ability to bring classes online via a three-day trial.

“During Spring Recess, we will review feedback from faculty, students, and staff to determine how to improve the online experience,” university officials stated in a memo. “Should the situation erode and we need to take stronger measures, we will be able to smoothly and quickly adapt, having tested our resources for three days.”

Adjusting to Online Learning Tools

As COVID-19 continues to spread in the coming weeks, it’s likely that more schools will move classes online to finish the semester. As they do, professors and instructors need to prepare to teach students in virtual environments. According to education technology experts, instructors should gauge their abilities to engage students using online tools as well as to anticipate any accessibility problems that their students may experience when accessing online classes. 

For instructors with engineering and computer science curriculums, the shift to virtual learning can be particularly challenging. In order to help these education professionals prepare their curriculums for distance learning, IEEE, the world’s largest not-for-profit technical association dedicated to advancing technology for humanity, will host a free webinar on 24 March 2020 on techniques that can help academics supplement curriculum and keep students learning.

U.S. Department of Education Announces New Guidelines for Online Learning

As U.S. schools turn to online learning resources, they will need to ensure they are complying with federal policies. Such policies include the Title IV, Higher Education Act (HEA) for distance learning.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidelines for colleges and universities that address five scenarios on what to do if: 

1) a  student must leave a study abroad program early or is unable to enroll in one;
2) a student loses full-time enrollment status due to a COVID-19-related disruption;
3) a student is quarantined, falls ill, or misses class due to the virus;
4) a school shuts down because of the disease or
5) a branch of a school serving students overseas closes.

In addition to laying out appropriate steps to follow in these scenarios, the new guidelines also soften requirements for how to utilize distance learning technologies to accommodate students affected by the outbreak. 

For example, the requirements permit professors to use email to send and receive instructional materials and student work. It also allows them to use chat tools and conference calls to communicate with individuals and groups of students.

“Institutions may provide distance learning temporarily to accommodate students as a result of a COVID-19 interruption, including in cases where students began attendance in classes offered in a brick-and-mortar setting but were transitioned to a distance education format in the middle of the term,” the guidelines state. “In these cases, we will accept the accreditation and state authorization of the institution for the programs in which those students were enrolled prior to the interruption due to COVID-19 to enable students to complete the current term.”

Free On-Demand Webinar: Using eLearning to Support Distance Learning

At IEEE, we know that faculty at many universities are suddenly being asked to offer courses exclusively online. It can be challenging to create resources that are effective and immediately available.

When adapting engineering and computer science curriculum for a distance learning environment, eLearning courses can be a valuable tool to supplement instruction and engage students. This on-demand virtual event can help you learn techniques that can help you supplement your curriculum and keep students learning.

Watch It Now>>


Mack, Janine. (12 March 2020). Colleges and universities across the US are canceling in-person classes due to coronavirus. CNN.

Toledo, Aldo. (11 March 2020). Bay Area community colleges, school districts taking different approaches to stem spread of coronavirus. Mercury News.

Zalaznick, Matt. (10 March 2020). Harvard to move online, tells students to go home. University Business.

Busta, Hallie. (6 March 2020). Ed Dept expands options for online learning in response to coronavirus. Education Drive.

Young, Madeline. (4 March 2020). In COVID Locked-Down South Korea, Students Long for the Classroom. VOA News.

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