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Prepare for potential campus shutdown amid spreading COVID-19

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University of Montana administrators and faculty are preparing to move classes online in the event of a coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on campus.

Emails went out on March 3 to faculty and students with tips to prepare for an outbreak, but Central and Southwest Asian Studies Director Mehrdad Kia has been ready for weeks.

“We are hoping and praying we will remain safe and clean,” Kia said.

Kia said he hopes no one will test positive for the virus at UM. There are no confirmed cases in Montana as of March 9. He will continue to hold regular classes, unless the administration does call for a shut down. “I concluded that we need to just have a precautionary approach,” he said.

Kia wants to have a strategy ready so he doesn’t have to scramble if the campus shuts down. He has exchanged contact information with all his students and established online assignments for the next few weeks for students to complete if classes are canceled. He believes it is important to be direct and open with his students about what the expectations will be in case of an outbreak.

Kia and his colleagues at the Central and Southwest Asian center also postponed the program’s Annual International Conference on Central and Southwest Asia until 2021, which would have been held in April. This would have been the 18th year the conference was held at UM, but many of the visitors would have come from locations with coronavirus outbreaks.

A campus shutdown is uncharted territory, according to Paula Short, director of communication for UM. She said she doesn’t know of any time campus shut down for a public health matter.

“I suspect it would take a confirmed outbreak of some magnitude to close UM altogether,” Short stated in an email.

UM’s Campus Preparedness and Response Group (CPRG) has been in close contact with state and local health officials, who will help decide if and when a shut down is necessary.

As for students living on campus, Short said many will likely travel home, but University housing and some dining facilities will remain open over spring break.

“We would certainly take care of any/all students who needed to remain on campus,” Short stated in an email.

In the meantime, Short said UM is working to prepare faculty who have little experience with online instruction and to figure out how to work out limitations for performance and field-intensive classes and labs.

“Our goal is to help you and your students successfully complete the academic term, even if coronavirus is confirmed on campus or in Missoula,” Provost Jon Harbor said in an email sent to faculty March 3.

Harbor encouraged faculty to access the Keep on Teaching website made by UM Online staff on March 2.

“Which is really impressive, because I think we started talking about it last Friday [Feb. 28],” said Jordan Costello, a UM Online instructional designer.

The website compiles resources and information about teaching online using Moodle, UM Box and/or Zoom — a video conferencing software. There is also a list of strategies inspired by Pepperdine Community and Indiana University ranging from identifying plans ahead of time to providing detailed instructions.

UM Online is also providing training and workshops for faculty who need help making the transition online. Their first session was held Friday, March 6. Accessible Technology Services and Disability Services for Students also worked on the training to make sure online tools are accessible to all students. There will be more, but the date and location has not yet been determined.

While UM Online holds other training courses for Moodle, generally at the start of a semester, the Keep on Teaching response is new.

Costello said while the Keep on Teaching strategy was developed in response to COVID-19, it can also be used for other possible scenarios such as a natural disaster or unsafe campus conditions. She said UM doesn’t know what might happen, but it should be prepared for anything. 

Costello and fellow instructional designer Nancy Clouse urged faculty to work together, be proactive about communicating with students and be prepared to move courses online.

 If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, call your medical provider or the Curry Health Center hotline at (406) 243-4330 to discuss your treatment options.