CORONAVIRUS

Kirkwood moving to distance education amid COVID-19 fears

Coe extending spring break, hoping to resume in-person classes

Kirkwood Community College's Linn Hall is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (Fi
Kirkwood Community College's Linn Hall is shown in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. (File photo/The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids’ Kirkwood Community College on Thursday morning followed the lead of many of its collegiate counterparts by announcing it will transition most of its classes online March 23 — after next week’s spring break.

The Kirkwood move to distance education will extend through at least April 10 — which is longer than the public universities initial distance education shift through at least April 3. The affected Kirkwood classes include all lecture-format classes.

Its lab and hands-on classes will continue to meet in person as scheduled — also different from the public universities, which are asking individual instructors to find distance alternatives for those more experiential-style classes.

The unprecedented response to the spreading novel coronavirus has been sweeping across higher education in Iowa and beyond — with some institutions taking a two-week reprieve from in-person classes by going online, including Iowa’s public universities and some private colleges like Drake University.

Others, like Grinnell College, are shifting to distance education for the rest of the semester. And some like Coe College are letting students have a longer spring break while they reassess.

Coe announced Wednesday night that it’s extending spring break by one week through March 29 — without shifting to any online alternative, at least right now. Unless conditions change, classes will resume in person March 30.

“This decision is focused on providing Coe students with the best educational experience possible, as person face-to-face education cannot be easily replicated online,” according to a Coe news release.

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During the extended break, Coe officials will monitor the virus and its spread and adapt courses to go online should that become necessary. The campus’ business functions — like most colleges and universities — will remain open, as will its housing and dining facilities.

Mount Vernon’s Cornell College, which has a unique one-course-at-a-time block schedule, on Thursday said it is shifting “block 7” — beginning March 23 and ending April 15 — online.

“This has been a tough decision for all of us on campus, especially because we absolutely love seeing our students on campus as they engage in the hands-on educational opportunities that Cornell is known for,” President Jonathan Brand said in a statement. “However, all while providing an excellent education, the safety of our students, staff, faculty, and the wider community around the college is our number one priority at this time.”

Where many of Iowa’s colleges and universities are about to pause for spring break next week, Cornell students are on break now. The campus is extending that break one week to allow for the online preparations.

It will decide whether students can return for the final block of the year by the beginning of April. The campus also is suspending all employee business travel, both internationally and domestically; holding visit events for prospective students virtually; and encouraging faculty and staff to forgo in-person meetings, while keeping all campus offices open.

Des Moines Area Community College — which, like many community colleges, already offers plenty of online courses — crafted its own amended schedule, announcing in person classes won’t meet between March 23 and March 28 to allow for “self-isolation and social distancing.”

Online courses will continue as scheduled, and starting March 30, most classes will resume in an online capacity until further notice. Select lab-based and hands-on classes will keep meeting in person — and faculty will let those students know whether that includes their course in the coming days.

At Kirkwood, instructors in the coming days will be reaching out to students to confirm whether their class is moving online and explain expectations moving forward. The community colleges’ campuses, regional centers, and county centers will stay open — although its recreation center on the main campus will close.

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“This measure will allow the college to significantly decrease the number of students on campus, and in doing so will reduce the risk of exposure to the Kirkwood community,” according to a news release.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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