Students, faculty respond to summer classes moving online

University President Joan Gabel announced that classes will continue online-only through the summer due to COVID-19 concerns.

Folwell Hall on Saturday, March 21. 2020.

Image by Kamaan Richards

Folwell Hall on Saturday, March 21. 2020.

by Niamh Coomey

University of Minnesota students and faculty are preparing for the summer semester to continue online.

Due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns, University President Joan Gabel announced last week that the University would offer summer courses online only. Faculty are currently reworking courses to better fit the digital format. Some are concerned about student access to the internet and whether there will be financial resources to support the online-only instruction. 

Last week, administrators answered questions about the University’s response to COVID-19 in a virtual town hall. Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson said the Center for Educational Innovation is working with faculty to discuss alternatives to more experiential parts of classes.

“Part of our goal [of] announcing the transition to remote education over the summer a little earlier was to enable faculty the time and resources to prepare a high-quality distance educational experience,” she said at the town hall.

Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences professor Justin Revenaugh said one challenge of teaching his introductory physical geology class is finding alternatives to labs, where students usually identify rocks and minerals.

One option could be filming videos of himself working with the samples for students to observe and complete labs remotely, Revenaugh said.

The University has offered educational tools for transitioning online, Revenaugh said, but he hopes to see more economic resources in the future. 

“If I have to redo 14 labs for the summer, it would really help if I could hire a graduate student to help me with that. But if there’s no money for it, then you can’t do it,” he said.

Asian and Middle Eastern studies professor Paul Rouzer said in an email to the Minnesota Daily that he will mostly be able to maintain the normal structure of his Buddhism class. There are no labs, and he usually assigns take-home exercises rather than in-class tests.

He said he is hopeful that students will all have an internet connection capable of supporting Zoom, but this may be a challenge to overcome.

Rouzer will also be doing additional training for online teaching before summer semester starts. 

“That should also give me some insights in the best way to deliver class materials and to encourage discussion and create a sense of intellectual community,” he said in the email.

Graduate student Quentin Wathum-Ocama said his summer fieldwork for his master’s degree in education in youth development leadership will be very different from what he expected. Online-only classes and limitations to social gatherings make hands-on work in the Twin Cities difficult. 

While communities come first and he appreciates the safety measures, the change is overwhelming, he said. 

“It’s really frustrating,” he said. “It really changes so much of how I envisioned things.” 

Freshman Peaux Frenkel Popell, who is pursuing a double major in linguistics and economics, said he does not mind classes being online and would like to see more offered that way in the future. 

He is now able to complete a required course this summer from his home in California and may take classes from other universities as well.

“I figure we’re all locked up, so I can’t exactly do anything fun for the summer anyways,” he said. “I normally wouldn’t be doing school over the summer, but since I have nothing better to do, I might as well, you know?”