Big Island Coronavirus Updates

UH System Moves Online Only for Immediate Future

March 12, 2020, 3:00 PM HST
* Updated March 12, 6:47 PM
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UIH-Hilo students will be learning online exclusively until further notice due to concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19. Courtesy photo: UH.

The University of Hawai‘i education system is the most recent entity to feel the brunt of the COVID-19 global pandemic that has already closed Disney theme parks, shuttered major sports leagues and shattered a formerly high-flying US economy.

As a result, and out of concern for the safety of students, faculty and staff, University President David Lassner has decided to transition all classes at all campuses to online-only instruction following the spring break. The order is effective March 23, 2020.

He also ordered no public events of more than 100 people in enclosed spaces at any campus, also a part of continued efforts toward “social distancing” to minimize the spread of COVID-19, of which there have been reported cases numbering roughly 200,000 the world over as of Thursday.

“All of these are hard (decisions), they are impactful,” Lassner said in a press conference Thursday afternoon. “We are really committed to helping all of our students to complete the semester, particularly those on track to graduate in Spring, and we want to maximize the safety of our students as well as our faculty and staff and everyone who visits our campus.”

“We believe we are looking at a pretty dark time as a nation and as a globe right now,” he continued, “but (that we) can come out the other end of this even stronger.”

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The UH System has said online classes will be the norm until April 13, at which point the decision will be reevaluated. That seemingly arbitrary date, Lassner explained, is roughly the halfway point between now and graduation.

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“I think things are going to get worse before they get better,” he said. “We as a team want to be hopeful. … If we are able to return to in-person classes, we want to be able to do so.”

Lassner was clear that no students will be expelled from any campus. Dorms, libraries, labs and recreational centers will remain open, and food will remain available to students on campus.

Not all classes are suited for online instruction, and not all teachers are familiar with the practice. However, Lassner said educators who know the ins and outs of online education have offered to help prepare their colleagues for the inevitable and necessary transition.

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“Teaching online is very different from teaching face-to-face. Different technical tools and pedagogical methods are needed,” said Lindy Hern, Associate Professor of Sociology at UH-Hilo. “Administrators at UH-Hilo are creating mechanisms to help faculty who are just getting started. They have created additional online resources and there are a series of emergency workshops in online instruction scheduled for next week during spring break. Faculty members involved in the Center for Teaching Excellence, such as myself and Dr. Marilyn Brown, have offered to help other faculty members as well.”

The Faculty Congress Executive Committee will also create a team of experienced online educators to help others with the transition, Hern explained.

“My face-to-face class, Research Methods, is one that I would never plan to teach online,” she continued. “It’s very practice-based — a lot of lab work. So, I’ll be trying to figure out how to do that online over spring break. But my students are really amazing, an awesome community, so I’m confident that we can get through it together.”

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