Virtually all of American higher education is now taking place in the electronic realm of online learning. As of March 23, the first day of classes following an extended Spring break, this includes SUNY/Westchester Community College.

The trend started with Princeton University and Stanford University, who were among the first to foresee that the spreading COVID-19 epidemic would eventually rule out the possibility of students gathering in classrooms to hear lectures, watch media presentations, or engage in discussions with their professors and fellow students.

Instead, all students will pursue these activities in the presumed safety—if not necessarily the comfort— of their own homes. (See page 00 for a survey of student reactions to home learning.)

It was during the week of WCC’s annual Spring break—this year, Mar 9-13—that students and faculty were informed that the break would be extended another week and that classes would resume on March 23.

The announcement included the further advisement that classes would not meet on campus but would be conducted online.

This was followed the following week by the announcement that classes would be online not just for the week of March 23 but for the balance of the semester. No announcement was made about graduation plans.

A busy time for faculty followed as they were asked to produce contingency plans for the switch.

For many professors and students alike, online teaching will be something new. As they scrambled to comply with the request, offers of help and support from colleagues and chairs kept the school email system busy.

The surprise second week of Spring break was met by most students with glee.

In fact, instructions from Provost Vanessa Morest, Vice-President of Academic Affairs, who is leading the transition to online learning at the college, made it clear to all department chairpersons that students were not to be assigned work that week but were to enjoy an extra week of vacation before returning to potentially stressful changes in the curriculum.

In the message to the faculty accompanying the semester-long extension, Provost Morest acknowledged the difficulties for both students and professors posed by the transition when she said, “I know that what we are all being asked to do is difficult. 

The most important reason to do this is our students. When they return next week, many of them have so much on the line and will be burdened by very real challenges. 

We can continue to make an important difference in their lives, no matter how we do it, or how perfect or imperfect, it looks.” 

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