• College campuses are moving to online courses in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Make sure you have the resources you need to participate in classes online, such as internet access and course software.
  • Be aware of campus and community support services that can help you transition to online learning.
  • Stay patient and motivated. Switching to online classes can be a big transition for professors as well as students.

A few weeks ago, schools in Italy and South Korea reacted to the spread of COVID-19, commonly known as the coronavirus, by closing physical campuses and switching to online classes.

This week, some American colleges are switching to online learning in regions most impacted by the virus, such as the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle, which is working to accomodate 50,000 students.

A young woman in a smart wool blazer and glasses leans down toward her laptop computer as she attempts to resolve a thorny issue.

According to Khanh Dinh, a full-time communications major and senior at UW, “Starting next week all of our classes are moving online. We are not going to meet on campus at all… Professors are finding ways to compensate for this.”

Right now, moving campus courses online is a short-term solution. The UW, for example, is hoping to resume on-campus classes at the start of spring quarter on March 30.

Colleges across the country are quickly creating contingency and continuity plans so that students can continue their studies as seamlessly as possible should their campuses be affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

If you don’t have experience with online classes, making the move from learning on campus can be intimidating. So what can college students do to prepare? Below is a list of actions you can take to make the transition as smooth and easy as possible.

Take an inventory of your devices and internet access

How and where do you usually connect to the internet? You may have a laptop or tablet or use only a smartphone. Do you have Wi-Fi access at home? If so, what is your internet speed?

You may not have any of these devices and instead rely on libraries and other resources to access the internet. If this is the case for you, check now with your school to find out what is possible.

Colleges may have plans for loaning out equipment, such as laptops or mobile hotspots for those who need them to continue their courses online. Your public library may also be a good resource for this.

Download and update software and mobile apps

Beyond the hardware, you also need to access the software required to participate in class activities. Now is a good time to make sure the software and operating systems you use are up to date. Don’t forget about anti-virus software, too.

Pay close attention to announcements from your professors about how they will proceed with their courses and what you'll need to participate in them online.


Access your school’s learning management system

Chances are that your on-campus courses currently have some online component, even if it is just to post the syllabus in a learning management system (LMS) like Blackboard, Moodle, Canvas, D2L, or Sakai.

Many schools already create an online space for every class, leaving it to each campus-based professor to use at their discretion to augment face-to-face class meetings.

The LMS will be your portal to course communication and materials. Find out what system your school uses and how to access it. You'll likely need a school-issued user name/ID and password. Download the LMS mobile apps if you want to access this via smartphone or tablet.

Understand the differences between online learning formats

In a contingency situation, especially one happening quickly, your professors may rely heavily on video conferencing tools to hold live, real-time class meetings online.

These synchronous meetings closely replicate a lecture setting and include tools like two-way video and audio, whiteboards, and text chat.

Asynchronous activities are not live, and include everything from discussion boards to recorded presentations. You can complete these activities on your own with deadlines set by your professors.


Review class materials

If you will have limited access to Wi-Fi, download what you need now to help you stay on track. If there are large files in your reading assignments, for example, make sure you can access those offline.

Dinh shared that, “We [UW] already use Canvas, so I am just making sure to transfer all the lecture slides to my notes. Some professors have video lectures online.”

Will you need to stream live or recorded presentations in your classes? Speed is an important component. Test your download and upload speeds with a free tool like Speedtest.

Generally, faster speeds are desirable — and less frustrating — but guidelines for working (or studying) from home suggest that you will need a connection speed of at least 10 Mbps.

Prepare to participate

Not all classes will use the same strategies as they move to online formats for completion. You may even be given options.

Lucas Kim, a full-time graduate student in engineering at UW, shared that, “Professors are posting notes online and it’s up to your discretion to review the notes. One professor is giving an optional final exam. You can take the final and your grade will include the final, or he will give you the grade as is.”

For her part, Dinh said that, “All of my classes already post lectures online, but it’s always easier to meet face to face.”


Locate support services

Keep in mind that just because your on-campus classes are moving online, it doesn’t mean the entire campus is closing. For example, Dinh said that, “Campus will still be open in places like the library and dining halls, but classes are not meeting.”

Know how to contact the help you may need during this time. For example, are there people or offices that you visit frequently on campus? They are good places to start.

Take time now to find and bookmark web-based information for things like your school’s tech help desk, library databases and research librarians, academic advising, counseling centers, student health services, and your program’s academic department offices.

Stay up to date on where and how you can access the services you need while your classes proceed online.


Subscribe to emergency networks

If you haven’t already done so, subscribe to any emergency communication channels your college uses. These can provide text alerts and email notifications to update you on rapidly changing events. Look to your professors for updates about expectations related to work in your individual courses.


Be patient and stay motivated

Last, but not least, understand that everyone at your institution is experiencing this sudden switch. Your professors may be new to the online format as well. As Kim noted, “[Each department] is kind of trying to figure it out the best they can.”

Expect some challenges, especially as you get started. You're all in it together so embrace the opportunity to connect via technology with faculty, classmates, and course materials.

Successful online learning requires a different approach to time management, communication, and motivation, and you can expect to use a new set of tools.

As Dinh suggested, “It will be harder to keep up with. I am not very motivated when I have to do individual work and it’s finals week. We don’t have facetime and that will make it hard.”

Kim shared similar concerns about an online format: “[It takes] away the interaction with the professor and the student. And the professors really need to make sure the students are learning the materials. This makes it really hard.”


Take the initiative to gather resources now and keep the lines of communication open. With any luck, colleges will be prepared to make the transition to online learning without being forced to make the switch.

In the event your campus closes, however, remember these plans have a short-term focus and are not a permanent shift. All such precautions are intended to serve you and your school well in other types of emergencies, such as natural disasters, so the effort is a positive one overall.

As Kim said, “Academics is a crucial part of my life, but my main priority right now is to stay safe.”