Distance learning inspires UMass to share courses

President calls course exchange 'a silver lining that will benefit our students long after COVID-19 is a distant memory'

UMass launched a new systemwide course exchange Tuesday as the latest in a wave of higher ed innovations inspired by the shift to distance learning during the COVID pandemic.

The Inter-campus Course Exchange, also known as ICX, makes courses offered at any of UMass’ campuses available via online learning to all students enrolled in the state system.

As the distance learning program was developed during this ‘COVID spring,’ students at the Amherst, Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses completed a higher percentage of their courses than during the two previous spring semesters, UMass said in a news release.

“Our faculty and staff responded with exemplary resilience and ingenuity to the unprecedented challenges created by the pandemic, and our students benefited from their actions,” UMass President Marty Meehan said in a statement. “The inter-campus course exchange is an excellent example of a silver lining that will benefit our students long after COVID-19 is a distant memory.”

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Undergraduate and graduate students who want to take a class that is not available on their home campus will be able to search a soon-to-launch website for course availability and the corresponding syllabus.

Students can enroll in the online course with the approval of the academic advisors and department chairs, who will determine if the class meets each school’s graduation requirements.

The exchange will also help department chairs who have an under-enrolled course find more students from other campuses to participate.

“ICX is an innovation that was technically feasible in the past, but simply didn’t rise to the level of implementation until the COVID pandemic taught us a lesson about what we can do with Zoom and other tools,” said Katherine Newman, the UMass chancellor for academic programs who developed the exchange.

“It will now become a permanent feature of our academic landscape and will help us maximize efficiency during a period of financial constraints,” Newman added.

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UMass Amherst has also created a formal resource hub for faculty transitioning to remote instruction. The program provides videos and other tools to guide faculty in redesigning their courses for online learning.

UMass Lowell faculty members, meanwhile, have found new tools to shift laboratory and studio courses online.

Electrical and computer engineering students, for example, are using a “Digilent Analog Discovery kit” that  a personal computer into a lab “bench” consisting of an oscilloscope, function generator, voltmeter and logic analyze.

UB’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on higher ed.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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