Mass. Colleges, Universities Discuss Impact Of Online Education

BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — The coronavirus pandemic has forced most colleges and universities to close their campuses and move to online classes.

Westfield State University is among the schools to remain open while operating remotely.

“We like to make sure everybody realizes that we are completely open for business in terms of not only serving our current students, but recruiting new students for next year — serving both undergraduate and graduate students,” Diane Prusank, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Westfield State, said.

Prusank said the transition to online classes has been a smooth one. “Not to say it’s perfect by any stretch, but it has gone really well,” she said.

According to Prusank, the success is attributable to a few reasons, including faculty that was already trained to teach through an online format. The school also held training sessions and workshops for faculty.

Some classes that require lab work, like biology, chemistry, can pose challenges. But, Prusank said there's enough experimental work that they can analyze data. For others, being away from the campus has actually been beneficial.

"In some areas, for example in environment science, students are now in different environments. There are materials they can collect and analyze right in their own backyards, for example, and do some comparison," Prusank said. "Really, when you think about our student population at Westfield State, over 60 percent of our students are from east of the Worcester area. So, that means we have students all over the state. So, in an environmental science class they can now look at multiple environments in their discussions online."

Lasell University

Michael Alexander, President of Lasell University — a small private school in Newton, Mass. — said their staff and faculty were already prepared to make the move to online learning.

"We have some advantages at Lasell University. We've been teaching online for 17 years, both graduate and undergraduate levels. We have a summer online program that's been going for 8 or 9 years and growing every year. It's been very successful," Alexander said.

Alexander said that although most students are off campus, there are still some who have stayed for a variety of reasons.

"We felt it wasn't right to require every single student to leave our campus because some students just don't have a better place to go," Alexander said. "That would include international students, students for whom the home situation would not be conducive to learning, people who don't have the technology to access the remote learning modes that we've turned to, people who have jobs nearby and their employers still need them to work... there are any number of reasons why students would need to be here."

He said that only 62 students remain on campus. They have been spread out so that every student has their own room and their own bathroom.

Westfield State University

Westfield State's Prusank is hopeful the school will be able to return to normal in the fall, but they will follow official guidelines.

"We'll think about different variations on what that might look like if there has to be some change in the way that we start our semester," Prusank said.

At Lasell Unversity, Alexander said they are planning for multiple scenarios.

"It's a totally unpredictable situation. Nobody knows. Anybody that tells you they know is kidding themselves," he said. "We're forming a scenario-planning task force... and defining various things that could happen from a minor disruption in the fall to a real serious disruption in the fall... and then develop a specific plan for each of those scenarios that we can put in place as things develop or adjust to as things develop."

WBZ NewsRadio's Ben Parker (@radiobenparker) reports

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(Photo: Courtesy of Lasell University)

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