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USC Is Moving To Online Classes. Here's How That Will Work

The Jill and Frank Fertitta Hall at USC's Marshall School of Business on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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For three days this week, starting Wednesday, USC will become an online university, joining a growing list of higher institutions keeping students out of classrooms as the coronavirus spreads nationwide.

"This is a crisis that we're in," said USC Provost Charles Zukoski, "and so if we are told we can't bring students together in a classroom, I have to have different ways of delivering that education."

The three-day shift to online is a test of whether USC can effectively institute remote learning for more than 44,000 students if the campus ends up shutting down for an extended period.

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UPDATE: University officials said Tuesday night that they've decided to continue online classes after Spring Recess. We'll have more on that decision on Wednesday.

"We like to just assume that everybody has Wi-Fi at home, everybody has good connections, everybody has the hardware, but that may not be the case," said law professor Ariela Gross.

Undergraduate Nicholas Guzman has similar concerns. "I don't want to make it sound like it's like the worst Wi-Fi in the world," he said, "but it cuts out for a minute or two or it slows down for a second."

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USC is not buying piles of laptops for its students or adding rooms of servers, and will rely on existing commercial software.

This is how USC's shift to online teaching is going to work:

  • Class participation will be done on Zoom, the video conferencing platform.
  • Assignments will be turned in and tests will be managed through Blackboard, a classroom management platform.
  • Professors may continue to hold office hours in person.
  • Students with disabilities are being asked to talk to their professor and contact the campus Disability Services and Programs office.
  • USC has a list of frequently asked questions.

A student wearing a USC sweatshirt over his shoulders walks on the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, California on May 17, 2018. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

The shift to online instruction will be a big adjustment for some USC professors.

"I'm really, really, really dumb at this kind of stuff," said Obie award-winning USC playwright Oliver Mayer.

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The university is doing a good job training him, he said, on how the 17 students in his undergraduate playwriting class on Thursday will be able to read their plays to one another and virtually raise their hands in the online class.

Some professors wondered if the Zoom video platform can effectively handle hundreds of thousands of additional users.

"All of these universities going to video conference, most of them using the very same program all at once," Gross said. "We don't know what's going to happen. Can [Zoom] handle that?"

Zoom said yes.

"In the case of an unprecedented, massive influx of demand, we have the ability to access and deploy additional servers within hours, and in full compliance with our Privacy Policy to seamlessly scale without any impact to our users," said Zoom spokesman Farshad Hashmatulla by email.

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USC joins universities nationwide, including Columbia, Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Washington, that in the past week have suspended in-person classes and shifted instruction online.

UC San Diego informed students on Monday that current classes will continue to meet in person through the end of the winter quarter on Friday, but spring quarter classes that begin on Mar. 25 will be delivered online. UCSD did not say when the shift to online classes would end.

On Tuesday, the California State University Chancellor's Office recommended administrators at its 23 campuses who are planning to shift instruction online suspend classes for several days to carry out the change.

UC Berkeley posted checklists for professors and students to prepare for a shift to online instruction. The campus suspended in-person classes on Tuesday and will decide whether to reinstate them by the end of the spring break on Mar. 29.

USC said the dorms will remain open and the campus has plenty of computer labs and campus Wi-Fi. Spring break is next week, so USC will have time to decide whether to continue classes online.


8:54 p.m: This article was updated with news that the online classes will now continue after Spring Break.

This article was originally published at noon.