It’s taken over the lives of the anxious, the sick and the elderly.
It robbed grocery stores of toilet paper.
The coronavirus, or COVID-19, as labeled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has caused a global pandemic.
At the University of Florida, the response to the outbreak has been similar to those at other institutions: Transition classes online for student safety.
However, this decision is deeply affecting professors as well, who were forced to adapt to unprecedented circumstances in a matter of days.
“I’ve resisted going online forever,” said 73-year-old Mike Foley, a reporting professor at the University of Florida (UF).
According to Foley, after the U.S. Provost Joe Glover announced that instructors must move their courses online, he had three days to learn how to put a writing course online.
“I’ve been teaching for 20 years,” he said, “And not once have I had to go online.”
However, UF is providing resources such as video tutorials, technical help-desk phone lines and assistants who are familiar with the platform Zoom, a video-conference services company that universities are using to host online classes.
Foley enlisted the help of David Carlson, a retired professor who taught online courses at UF and his lab assistant April Rubin, but the transition still isn’t easy.
“I’m old school and I’m old,” Foley said. He believes that writing can’t really be taught online. His writing lab is the toughest part, and he intends to grade as he normally does: with a pen on a piece of paper.
“I’ve got something seriously wrong with my hands,” said Foley, explaining that he has a condition called Dupuytren’s contracture in both hands which limits his ability to type and use a computer.
In adapting to the transition, Foley has decided to give his students a break. He moved an exam to be a week later and told his lab students that they didn’t need to turn in an outside news story for the week.
In terms of his safety during the coronavirus, Foley said he’s never washed his hands as much as he has in recent weeks.
“I’m at that age group that’s high risk,” he said, adding that he’s avoiding crowds for his safety.
In terms of limiting the spread of the virus, Foley believes that people aren’t taking the threat seriously enough.
“Everything in this country happened too late,” he said.
Foley also said he feels really sorry for part-time employees, who no longer have a paycheck unlike him.
“I’m still working,” he said. “I still have a whole suitcase of papers to grade this afternoon.”
He’s not the only one, either. Nathalie Ciesco, a professor of Intermediate French at UF, is spending a lot of time transitioning her course online.
“I can’t just record a lecture or put up a PowerPoint,” said Ciesco. “It’s a foreign language class!”
However, Ciesco had the skillset to make the switch because she’s pursuing a master’s degree in education technology, which has taught her a lot about designing online courses.
“My colleagues postponed using technology in classes, so they have to learn how to use everything quickly,” she said.
In her opinion, they resist online tools for different reasons; some lack time to learn them because, as she explains, many professors have other obligations such as research, and some people just don’t believe in the technology.
A foreign language class can be taught successfully online as long as it’s specifically designed for online use, Ciesco explains.
“Right now, we’re just adapting,” she explained.
Ciesco believes that people and governments are taking necessary precautions because she prefers to be safer.
“I’m not an expert, and I’m not a doctor,” she said, “but I prefer to be safer because we don’t know much about [the virus].”
Ciesco has an insightful perspective on what’s going on in other parts of the world, too, because she’s from Nice, France. She’s worried about French people not listening to warnings.
“For French people, it’ll take more time for the information to set in,” she said. “They won’t follow precautions right away.”
The coronavirus pandemic is really a shock for them, she said. She thinks that the last time they felt this way was during the war and added that her friends in France are scared.
Ciesco isn’t scared, but she’s concerned for her husband and her students.
“I just hope we’re not so affected,” she said. “I hope we don’t lose people we love.”