BW’s Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Comparison

In the middle of the Spring semester of 2020, the coronavirus shocked the world by being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Many universities across the country faced a decision: go completely virtual or continue as normal and risk students’ safety. While some schools stayed open, many, including BW, closed their in-person classes and opted for a virtual learning experience. However, the question stands, was this the best way to handle the pandemic?

BW’s shutdown happened during the middle of spring break. The initial response was to have everyone stay home and to add on a second week of spring break. This was so professors could finalize their online plans for the rest of that semester.

Professor Ken Schneck, chair of the leadership in higher education masters program at BW said, “I think there are areas we did really well, there are some schools that are closed down.” He continued, “I don’t think BW is there, but we are seeing some case studies of schools that handled pieces of it better.” The word nimble has been used to describe how universities handled the pandemic. Schools that are more technologically advanced had an easier time transitioning than older schools.

BW falls somewhere in the middle said Schneck, with older buildings being harder to retrofit for the changes necessary for remote learning. This had some impact on the learning environment for students and professors. One of the largest learning curves was the use of the online format. Schneck said, “I’ve never taken a class online and I’ve never taught a class online.” He said, “To play catch up from zero, maybe that should’ve been something we were certified in in some way.”

With all of these changes happening so fast, communication is key, so everyone is on the same page. At first, communications were coming fast and hard and some of the messages may have not been as clear as some would have hoped. This led to some confusion that is still happening now. Schneck said, “I think there is still even to this day a confusion between online learning, in-person learning, hybrid learning, synchronous and asynchronous learning. I don’t think everyone is on the same page about how that impacts your workload.”

But what of the students? Many students were impacted by this pandemic greatly. Sports seasons were cut short, programs had to close down and students in the study abroad program faced a challenge being so far away from home. All of the study abroad trips were cut short by the pandemic. Kristen Catrina, associate director for global exploration, said, “We were kind of panicking here trying to make sure our students got home in case the borders closed.”

Though not all changes have been negative, said Catrina. There have been things in place so that experiences haven’t been lacking for students. There is a new program called Global Classrooms. These are programs to help bring international experiences to BW. Catrina said, “Faculty from BW and faculty from our international schools will come together to teach a class, so students from both universities can come and work together. So we haven’t stopped doing study abroad programs, we’ve been able to incorporate international experiences right here from Berea.”