Coronavirus: UBC says ‘preparations underway’ for system to move classwork online

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The University of British Columbia says it’s working on a system to allow online instruction amid mounting concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Preparations are underway for the implementation of a system that would allow us to provide instruction online,” said spokesperson Matthew Ramsey.

“We’re also exploring the potential of providing exams in a different format as well, rather than bringing students together for those things.”

However, Ramsey said as of yet there were no presumptive or confirmed case of COVID-19 on campus, and no immediate plans to switch to online classwork.

Simon Fraser University (SFU) says it is also “exploring” remote options for students, faculty and staff.

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“We have a university-wide planning group that has been meeting regularly since January and we will continue to share updates with our community as this situation evolves,” said a university spokesperson in an email.

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The comments come as nearly 1,500 students have signed an online petition calling on UBC to suspend in-person instruction, amid mounting concern over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The petition, started by student Sean Lin, expresses concern that the university campus and classrooms could become a “hotbed” for viral transmission.

“Many lectures at UBC have over 150 students in a closed room, and a typical student may come into contact with thousands of individuals in one day at UBC,” states the petition.

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“UBC is a hotbed for infection, and students and staff are endangering the health of themselves and their loved ones attending school.”

Several prominent U.S. post-secondary institutions, including Harvard University, Columbia University, Princeton University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California and the University of Washington are temporarily dropping in-person instruction to stop the spread of the virus.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday that the province was in regular discussion with post-secondary institutions.

“I think virtual classes are very much an option that people should be considering,” she said. “But we’ll be having more detailed discussion in the coming days about those issues.”

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Ramsey said any decision about going online for classwork would be made in consultation with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and the Ministry of Health.

The school is already asking anyone who has been to Iran, Italy or Hubei China to stay home and self-isolate for 14 days.

Full details of the school’s current response are available on the UBC website.

As of Tuesday, B.C. had confirmed 39 cases of COVID-19 and one death.

–With files from Srushti Gangdev

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