Guest columnist Jenny Adams: Turning online learning fantasy into reality

 In General
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By Jenny Adams | Aug 23, 2020, 6:56pm EDT

University and college administrators have long fantasized about online instruction.

Here’s how the fantasy goes: professors create online courses, the school owns these courses, and the school sells them again and again.

Some university and college administrators have used COVID-19 to make this fantasy a reality. As UMass Amherst cancels in-person classes and instruction shifts online, the administration has helped us transform our courses. At the same time, it has used the pandemic to lay-off “nonessential” workers, often claiming that there is insufficient work to go around.

I’m a faculty member in the middle of shifting my teaching online, and I’m here to tell you: there are no nonessential workers and there is still plenty to do. For starters, putting my courses online is a team effort. Librarians have spent hours tracking down articles for course pages. Information technology support staff have traded in their summer vacations to build up our remote teaching capabilities. The center for teaching staff has surpassed itself to provide training for online instruction. When I open Zoom to meet my first class later this month, I will be the only teacher on the screen. But in reality, many people will have contributed to that moment.

Nor is it just courses that take collective labor. Recreation center trainers have created online workouts so that people can stay healthy at home. Cleaning staff still keep our buildings clean so faculty can access resources in their offices. Maintenance crews still make sure that the buildings don’t fall apart and that students will have a campus to come back to.

And speaking of coming back to campus, some of our students are doing just that.

Some never left and remain stranded from countries they can’t access. Others will escape unstable living situations to seek the structure and stability of college. Even those who do not return need the support of a learning community that also looks after their personal well-being. Those resources also take human labor. Student psychological services, legal aid, career services, and advising all require human resources. Those parts of campus have become more important, not less, during this pandemic.

My university, like most others, functions like a body. We are interconnected parts working together with one goal: to teach, mentor, and nurture our students. So far, my university administration has carefully tended to this body. They have put in countless hours to care for its members and recognize each for their hard work.

At the same time, a few in the UMass system and in our State House have used the pandemic to push for amputations. We already have a level budget — we don’t need more reductions. We need to stay whole and healthy so that we can serve our students through this crisis and beyond.

In this critical moment, we call on our administration to stand with us, preserve our campus and our students’ futures.

Jenny Adams is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at UMass Amherst, her current research focusing on academic debt and university life in late medieval England.

Read the full article on the Daily Hampshire Gazette.