University officials discuss decision to move courses online for students


Iowa State online coronavirus centerpiece

Sage Smith

University officials discussed the details of online instruction for all Iowa State classes following spring break.

The media availability Wednesday came after the university’s decision to move all classes online from March 23 through April 3 after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic.

“We know that many of our students will be disappointed by this decision but it is important to note that this change is disruptive not only to students and their families, but also to our faculty and staff here on campus,” said Jonathan Wickert, senior vice president and provost. “However, we are very confident that we are making the very best decision and the right decision for Iowa State by putting the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff as our overriding priority.”

Students may wonder what their coursework will look like in the upcoming weeks. They should expect more detailed information before March 23 about their classes, according to President Wendy Wintersteen’s statement announcing classes are to move online. Wintersteen said in the email that they know how “disappointing and disruptive” the decision to transition courses to online was, but it was made in consultation with the Board of Regents out of caution. 

“Our Center for Excellence and Learning and Teaching, as well as online learning offices in each of our academic colleges are working beginning now to assist faculty with migrating their classes to online format,” Wickert said. “I would note that 63 percent of the courses being taught this semester already have a presence on Canvas, which is our electronic learning management system and that serves as a stable platform for us to scale up over the coming time period.”

Wickert said Parks Library and many college units have a supply of laptops that are available for students to check out and take with them.

Edith Kocher-Cowan, senior in mechanical engineering, said one of her labs focuses on heat transfer and obtaining raw data from the experiments. She said she is wondering how the lab will be laid out online, though she predicts the professor of the lab will give the class the data rather than the students figuring out themselves.

“We wouldn’t get to do the experiment, which the whole point of a lab is to see it for yourself to kind of prove to yourself that it works,” Kocher-Cowan said.  “So we would just kind of be like, trusting that the data [given] is correct.”

Along with the coursework, some students have said they are worried for their events planned for later in the semester. 

“The main reason why, at least for me where I went to college, is because not only did I want a degree but I wanted to get involved, I wanted to get that hands-on experience,” said Ani Yam, sophomore in industrial engineering and events chair for Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE). 

IISE had plans to go to the IISE North Central Regional Conference April 2 through April 4, which Yam said will have to be postponed. 

“So I know what [Iowa State is] doing is precautionary,” Yam said. “I think I mean it is hard on everyone. But I think the university wants what’s best for us.” 

Erin Baldwin, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and director of Thielen Student Health Center, said the university will reassess the situation during the week of March 30. They will look at the status and spread of COVID-19 at that time, which may result in the time period of online classes being extended.

“Our Iowa State residence halls and apartments will remain open,” Baldwin said. “But students who wish to remain in university housing through April 3 are required to request approval by contacting the Department of Residence via an online form.”

Baldwin said they are encouraging students to go home and remain there if they have the ability to do so. She acknowledged students are from all over the world, which is why she said they are maintaining the option to stay on campus in residence halls. Dining halls will provide services, though limited, as there will be less students on campus.

Recreation Services informed the Iowa State campus they will continue normal operation for the foreseeable future. The services said in an email they are working closely with the university and will follow guidelines and recommendations. Information will be communicated as it becomes available.

“So student employees can come back to work, campus remains open,” Baldwin said. “So that will be a conversation within each of their individual departments but student employees will have the opportunity to work.”

Baldwin said faculty, staff and students should do what they can to decrease the chance of community spread by doing things like limiting face-to-face interactions, avoiding crowded areas and regular hand washing.

Michael Newton, Iowa State Police Department chief, said at the media availability they have been working with their emergency operation center and community partners to talk through how to best respond to the situation.

“The situation around our events on campus does still remain dynamic and additional changes will happen throughout the coming days and week,” Newton said.

Topics the campus is working on and considering, Newton said, include the remaining spring study abroad programs, domestic travel for university business, commencement and orientation.

“We are in regular contact with other universities in the state, in the Midwest and really around the country, in terms of the best practices for responding to what is a very dynamic environment,” Wickert said. “The practices that we are putting into place and announcing today are very consistent with the best practices of the higher education sector right now.”

Reporting contributed by Amber Mohmand.