USF possibly looking to transition to online classes due to coronavirus outbreak

Provost Ralph Wilcox (standing left of the podium) provided information about remote learning and addressed nonessential large meetings with respect to the coronavirus at the BOT meeting Tuesday. ORACLE PHOTO/DEVIN PERRY

As more coronavirus (COVID-19) cases come to light, Provost Ralph Wilcox said USF is working on making a “gradual transition” to suspend in-person classes and continue classes remotely, if necessary.

Wilcox provided the update at the Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting Tuesday morning after receiving questions about whether or not moving online is feasible.  

Even though there are no COVID-19 cases within the USF community, this would be in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. 

“As we move from face-to-face delivery to remote delivery, we need to set reasonable expectations,” Wilcox said. “That doesn’t mean we are going to move 3,000 courses this semester to a fully engaged online experience right now … [USF’s] will be a gradual transition so we can utilize tools, technologies and provide training to faculty.”

As of this week, Harvard University, University of Washington, Hofstra University, Columbia University, University of California-Berkeley, Stanford University and Princeton University have opted to transition to an online platform, according to NPR.  

No universities or schools in Florida have suspended face-to-face classes, as of Tuesday. 

However, UF administration is strongly urging its professors to “start making the switch immediately,” according to a Tampa Bay Times article. 

Wilcox said with the use of Canvas and a system called “Toolkit,” the transition should be smooth. The system offers “remote delivery, training and support, a planning checklist, a frequently asked questions section and technical assistance,” among other services. 

In an email sent Monday to faculty, Wilcox encouraged professors to become comfortable with the program even though the university has not announced any plans to be fully online.  

USF President Steven Currall announced at the BOT meeting that a special task force was created — chaired by Senior Associate Vice President of USF Health Dean Donna Peterson — to make recommendations moving forward. 

Wilcox also Tuesday afternoon addressed restricting nonessential large gatherings in an email sent after the BOT meeting. 

Conferences of more than 100 people in the next 30 days have to be canceled or postponed if they include people from another state or country. 

This is with respect to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations about mass gatherings and large community events. 

However, smaller gatherings of 100 people or less that do not include people from outside Florida can be held as long as there’s written approval from a college dean, vice president or regional chancellor. 

College of the Arts performances and athletic events in closed spaces have to be approved as well. 

Wilcox said there are some students and professors who have been “practicing social distancing,” but the rest of the USF community does not need to worry about self-isolating unless they present flu-like and upper respiratory symptoms. 

“We will be working seven days a week to ensure our readiness to move, should it be necessary, to a comprehensive delivery remotely,” Wilcox said. “We are not there yet and I hope we have a little more time so that our professors are engaged and ready for that transition.”