Monday, August 31, 2009

Online Courses - Preparing for H1N1 at the University of Southern Florida

Last week I read an interesting article in the St Petersburg Times about how the University of Southern Florida (USF) is taking precautions for H1N1. The article did not focus on the usual (and so important) hand-washing, vaccination, go home if you are feeling sick content we've all been seeing. It focused on the use of online content as a backup in the event USF gets shut down because of the virus. Here's a piece from that St Petersburg Times article:

University of South Florida students returning to class Monday found something new on every course syllabus: A paragraph outlining USF's plan to hold classes online, via e-mail or a video service like Skype, in the event of emergency. And one of this fall's worst-case scenarios concerns a possible severe outbreak of swine flu that could force the suspension of classes, perhaps for weeks. "In my mind, that's a high probability," said Tapas Das, USF's associate provost for policy analysis, planning and performance.

A couple of weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a document titled CDC Guidance for Responses to Influenza for Institutions of Higher Education during the 2009-2010 Academic Year. In the document, the CDC says to decrease the spread of flu, CDC may recommend preemptive class suspension if the flu starts to cause severe disease in a significantly larger proportion of those affected than occurred during the spring/summer 2009 outbreak.

Is USF going too far with their preparation? I don"t think so after taking a look at what the CDC experts are saying. The university seems to be making a strong preemptive effort to prevent an entire semester from being canceled because of the flu.

My favorite piece of the St Petersburg Time article is the last few lines:

At first, Das said, it was hard to imagine teaching some courses in nontraditional ways. But he said USF professors have been working on backup plans to continue teaching even courses like music, theater and dance.

"This is, perhaps," he said, "an opportunity for us to be more creative."

Very nicely said Associate Provost Das. Could this be an opportunity for all of us involved in higher education to be more creative?

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