Didge Evolution Virtual College Concert (promo) by Rob Thomas

Didge Evolution Virtual College Concert (promo) by Rob Thomas

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Virtuoso didgeridoo player and master multimedia producer Rob Thomas invites you on a journey to Australia ... and beyond. Rob was born in the U.S., lived in Australia, and has traveled the world, all of which have contributed to his unique and captivating musical project, Didge Evolution. The Didge Evolution concert mixes funky didgeridoo rhythms, pumping beats, percussion instruments and relaxing soundscapes with both organic and electronic sound effects ... all the while immersing the audience in a stunning virtual landscape of Australian forests, deserts, oceans and distant galaxies. Didge Evolution is much more than a musical event. It's a mesmerizing journey of sight, sound and imagination! (The visual effects shown in this video are also displayed in our live virtual events.) Didge Evolution also is educational and inspirational. The didgeridoo has been played by Australia's Aboriginal …

Inside Berea College’s Decision Not To Put Classes Online - Forbes

As colleges shut down and move classes online, Berea College is doing things a little differently. On March 10, Lyle Roelofs was one of the first college presidents in America to cancel brick and mortar classes at his school of 1,600 undergrads in the small town of Berea, Kentucky. Unlike the vast majority of institutions, he didn’t announce a move to online education. He posted his reasoning on Berea’s COVID-19 information page: “Many students will be returning to areas where they do not have adequate internet access to participate in online courses.”

Berea was founded in 1855 to educate freed slaves and disadvantaged whites as social equals. It has only ever accepted applicants from low-income families. Students comes from households that earn, on average, $29,000. They pay no tuition, 98% are eligible for Pell grants and all of them work at least 10 hours a week on campus. Some 7% are foreign students from developing countries like Somalia and Kyrgyzstan.

Forbes ranks Berea #464 on its list of 650 Top Colleges. Washington Monthly gives it a high rating because Berea does such a good job of graduating students with significant financial need.

Roelofs, 66, is one of the few higher ed leaders eager to speak about the challenge of running online courses well. Before joining Berea as president in 2012, he served in a provost position at Haverford and as interim president at Colgate. But for much of his career he was in the classroom. Professors can’t learn to be great virtual instructors overnight, he believes. “It requires a certain amount of sophistication on the part of professors and students,” he says. “I taught theoretical physics for 22 years,” he says. “I needed to actually look into someone’s eyes to see if they were getting a concept.”

His stance against online classes caused an initial stir at Berea. A March 10 local news report quoted several alarmed students who thought they were being left high and dry. "I honestly got really emotional because I was like 'I need to graduate on May 3. Like, what is going on?’" Zita Erez, a senior from Burkina Faso, told WDRB.com, a Fox affiliate in Louisville. "I worked for a long time to get that recognition to walk across the stage and have my name called, the whole works that everybody gets."

Since that report, Roelofs has announced a plan to continue classes. Berea is offering some form of online instruction in as many courses as possible. But it has been a challenge to ensure that students can get Internet access. It’s taken time but Berea has established digital connections with all but 10% of students. Some professors are sending study materials via email. In foreign language courses, students are connecting by phone and practicing conversational skills.

But Roelofs is more frank than other college leaders about the inevitable failures in Berea’s efforts to offer students all they need to complete every course. Fortunately, more than half of Berea’s 13 seniors working toward their undergraduate nursing degree have already completed their required 120 hours working face-to-face with patients. The remaining students will be able to satisfy their clinical requirement through virtual simulations.

However, a group of sophomores was in the midst of engineering courses that required hands-on use of machinery like lathes and drill presses. Those students will receive a grade of incomplete. “They’re going to have to come back in the fall and get their hands on the machines,” says Roelofs.

In other courses, both professors and students are improvising. Dylan Angiolillo, 24, who was raised by his grandmother and mentally disabled single mother on an island off the Maine coast, worked on lobster boats after he graduated from high school until he narrowly escaped a serious workplace accident. He discovered Berea and is now in his junior year working toward a degree in health and human performance which he says will prepare him for an accelerated graduate nursing program.

When Berea shut down, he was in the midst of a microbiology lab project. He’s since switched to contributing to a report his professor is preparing on the Staphylococcus bacteria’s resistance to antibiotics on campus.

Instead of running Zoom classes like most colleges, many Berea professors are uploading power points that students can review anytime. Angiolillo’s instructors have all shared their cell phone numbers. “I try to figure things out on my own,” he says, “but I’ve already texted with one professor.”

Along with 150 of his Berea classmates, he has remained in campus housing. He has a single room, and the dining hall has closed. Students pick up boxed meals and eat in their rooms or in small spread-out groups in common areas.

Roelofs felt compelled to offer housing to students like Angiolillo who would otherwise be homeless. But he worries about a potential COVID-19 outbreak at Berea. “In all of our residence halls, students share hallway bathrooms,” he says University officials elsewhere have compared the potential infection rate in college dorms to cruise ships. “We’re urging our students on campus to maintain their distance,” says Roelofs. A further problem: should a Berea student on campus become infected, they would have nowhere else to go.

Berea funds its free tuition program with its endowment, which peaked at $1.24 billion in late January. The pandemic had driven that number down to $1.1 billion as of March 13. “If we are entering another great depression, we are in trouble,” says Roelofs. Since some 80% of Berea’s budget is devoted to meeting payroll, he anticipates faculty and student body cuts of as much as 20% if the economy does not recover. “We’re already pretty lean,” he says.

Berea was expecting 252 seniors to graduate. Nearly all of them are likely to get their diplomas, though not at an on-campus ceremony. Commencement has been canceled.



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