Adjunct faculty see support from the University during online course transition

The University has been providing technology support and other help to adjunct faculty, many of whom are working professionals in their fields.

Niamh Coomey

For adjunct faculty at the University of Minnesota, the transition to online courses due to the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted new challenges as well as opportunities for support.

Adjunct faculty, who often have jobs outside of the University and have temporary teaching contracts, say the University has provided support in their transition to teaching online. Many faculty members have made changes to their courses and assignments in order to accommodate the new online format.

Fred Melo teaches in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

“We have to kind of rewrite our syllabus, learn Zoom … and figure out how to do our day-to-day jobs on top of that,” he said.

The University has been helpful at navigating the transition to online courses, Melo said, even purchasing and sending him a webcam to use. 

“They check in a lot,” he said. “Their attitude has been very flexible — kind of, ‘do what you need to do.’”

Ben Lewis is in his first year teaching at the School of Architecture and works for MSR Design in Minneapolis. The process has been a learning curve, he said.

“I feel that students, practitioners and instructors all have a great sense of patience and creativity around how the way we work needs to evolve in response to the social distancing orders,” Lewis said in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

One positive aspect of the situation has been scheduling professional and academic meetings without having to consider travel time, he said.

Both before the transition and now, Lewis has met regularly with a group of instructors that provides support with teaching.

“We continually share our methods we are developing to teach in unique ways, and that is greatly helpful for a first-time instructor as I can get feedback on the ideas I have for helping the students learn,” he said in the email. 

Communications consultant and adjunct instructor Marsha Pitts-Phillips emphasized that the journalism school has been providing faculty with the help and support they need.

“I’ve talked to colleagues who are teaching across the country, and many of them are surprised to hear about the type of technical support and training that our faculty is receiving,” she said.

Aside from transitioning to Zoom, Pitts-Phillips is also balancing between offering some components of the class in real time and leaving other work for students to complete when it works for them. 

Christina Melander is in her first year of teaching in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She has also held a research appointment in the School of Nursing for the past five years.

Melander said because her work was already remote, balancing the shift to online courses with other work has not been drastic for her. 

Being adjunct can be isolating, she said, but emails and help from the University have aided in the transition.

“I think the Humphrey School has done a really great job of trying to reach out to everyone with seamless communication and a sense of positive community that has … helped me feel more at ease with this transition,” she said.