Confusing. In limbo. Unprecedented.

These are all words regarding the recent coronavirus pandemic and the movement of all classes to the digital sphere that Gonzaga program directors and deans used to describe their plans for graduate students for the remainder of the semester.

Last week, it was announced in an email to all undergraduate students from GU President Thayne McCulloh that all academic course work will be moved online via technologies such as Blackboard and Zoom.

While this will be the modes of technology that most graduate students use, there are unique elements to their education that need different action to ensure they meet all their academic requirements.

“Since the beginning of the virus, we’ve been engaged in, ‘What would this look like if…’ and finding those contingency plans,” said Rosemarie Hunter, dean of the School of Leadership Studies. “What’s the best-and worst- case scenario, and we walk through these drills and we’ve been doing that since we heard about the virus. I think that’s probably consistent across the university and across institutions of higher education right now.”

As GU graduate courses are delivered both online and in person, new procedures will depend on the program.

“It’ll look different for all programs,” Hunter said. “I’m talking about the School of Leadership Studies, so online graduate programs also exist in nursing, education and other areas, so this will all look different.

“What we’re doing is working with the department chairs and graduate enrollment management services to look at a student’s progression of study and if courses are left that they need to take, what’s offered and things like that,” she said. 

Students in the master’s and doctoral programs through the School of Leadership Studies already take their courses online. The main point of change comes in immersion requirements.

“For some students, and for a lot of our students in our particular school, we offer immersions every semester, including over the summer,” Hunter said. “So, for a student to miss it spring semester, typically, it can be pretty easily replaced with having a summer immersion, for instance, however, not losing time by offering some other courses that might be part of B schedule.”

In this school, the semester is split into two eight-week portions, known as A and B schedule. Due to the fact the A schedule just ended, the transition for the School of Leadership Studies should be smoother than other schools.

Similar to the School of Leadership Studies, the School of Business will be moving all courses online with a switch in courses 10 weeks into the semester.

“With regards to the [Master’s in Business Administration], the structure is somewhat different,” said Mirjeta Beqiri, MBA programs director and professor of operations management, in an email. “Most of the core courses are 2 credits (and run for the first 10-weeks) with the trailer/elective courses being offered in the last five weeks or as weekend intensive courses (1 credit).”

All Master of Accountacy (MACC) and Master of Science in Taxation (MTAX) will be moved online, just like the MBA program, said Gary Webber, professor of accounting and director of acounting programs, in an email. 

In the School of Education, the path for graduate students during the remainder of the semester is still unclear.

“The School of Education is working diligently to develop protocol for all of its graduate programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Yolanda Gallardo, dean of the School of Education, in an email. “Because all of our programs are different and have varied needs, our plan at this time is to relay information to each program separately in place of a blanket email to all graduate students.”

It’s the same case for the College of Arts and Sciences, specifically the philosophy department.

“Master’s students have some different requirements and those are largely the things that are still in limbo. We still haven’t necessarily decided how those will be completed,” said Tyler Tritten, assistant professor of philosophy and interim graduate director of the philosophy department. “But insofar as the classes that concern graduates, the classes are going to be finished online, largely at the professors’ digression of how they would want to alter the course to still try to achieve the course outcomes as they were originally drafted in the syllabus but, obviously, by an electronic means rather than a face-to-face means.”

What makes this difficult for graduate students is they are required to take graduate seminars or 400-level courses and those tend to be discussion-based, which is hard to facilitate online, Tritten said. He also said most of them have to spend extra one-on-one time with professors to complete their curriculum.

The other piece of the graduate curriculum that will have to be figured out for the philosophy department is the comprehensive exam. Tritten said the graduate committee is still in the process of deciding if the exam will be postponed, made electronic or entirely reworked.

Graduate assistantship (GA) is also an issue that has come up amid the academic change.

In both the School of Business and the College of Arts and Sciences, GAs are encouraged to communitcate with their supervisors to figure out a way to work remotely. 

“A graduate assistantship is a way for graduate students to earn some money by working for professors by doing various jobs. But often times, it will be assisting the class through grading and every professor does that different,” Tritten said. “Some might want the student to sit in on the class and take the course with the students, so they’ll be better positioned to grade or tutor properly and this, of course, throws a big wrench in that. Again, there’s no prescription from the top down.”

The future for graduate students’ education is still up in the air but all schools and departments are determined to figure out the next steps as quickly as possible.

“We just need to be very, very thoughtful about everything, so that students are served in the best way possible,” Gallardo said.

Riley Utley is the head news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @rileyutley.

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