Tyler Totten's chemistry lab class at the University of Minnesota Duluth is no longer hands-on. Instead, he watches a video of his instructor doing the experiments.
Aveda Institute student Gem Russell has to practice hairstyling on a mannequin, not an actual client.
Thomas Oliphant recently looked at his 15 University of Minnesota students and saw one holding a 4-month-old and another in pajamas as the furniture design professor taught on Zoom, a remote video app.
This is the new reality for Minnesota students and teachers since higher-education classes — from Minnesota State, Mankato to St. John's University in Collegeville — have been forced to meet virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Class meeting times and professors' office hours are generally still the same, but with everyone stationed at home, teachers and students have had to adapt quickly to deal with unfamiliar technology, inadequate resources and unexpected interruptions from pets and children.
Many higher-ed courses were never developed to be offered online.
UMD sophomore Totten was accustomed to meeting for three-hour organic chemistry labs. But now, he just watches a half-hour video of his instructor doing the experiments.
"It's a lot different," he said, "because it's not hands-on and you don't get to work with the [instructor] as much."
Online classes sometimes get a bad reputation for being less rigorous, but that doesn't have to be the case.
"What we can do is take the weaknesses of online — you're alone, you don't feel a part of community learning and there's no discussion — and you can fill that gap with lectures that seem like they're in class and discussions where they're all involved," said Jon Gallop, who has taught online courses at Metropolitan State University and elsewhere for 18 years.
Yet, when institutions are only given a week or two to transition all courses online, there will inevitably be hiccups.
Some students are anxious about whether they will fulfill requirements to graduate.
Aspiring hairstylist Russell is worried about receiving credit during quarantine. Under normal circumstances, her program is heavily focused on in-person work with clients — experience typically required for a cosmetology license. Now she receives video instruction and practices on a mannequin.
"Would we have to make up all of this time in quarantine? Does this count toward our degrees?" she asked. "Nobody knows, because this has never happened before."
University of Minnesota arts senior Jessica Hill is similarly worried about reaching the finish line, with a painting exhibit for her BFA degree.
"For so much of our work, it's important to see it and experience it in a gallery space," she said. "Showing in the Nash Gallery is a really big deal, and now we've all lost that."
Koki Sato, a U piano master's student, had more immediate concerns: no access to an instrument to practice on.
"As musicians, we can get away with not practicing for a week, probably," he said. "But, we don't know how long this will be. We cannot not practice for two months."
Sato didn't have a piano in his apartment. He was fortunate enough to relocate to a friend's home, though the upright piano there is only a makeshift solution for an ambitious classical pianist.
U theater student John Patterson also has to improvise. Without a live acting partner, he's had to use a wooden cane for a substitute.
"In my apartment, it's not the same," he said. "Being in a space that can make you feel creative and free is very beneficial to the theatrical process. I'm not coming up with brilliant, weird things to do. Here, I'm like, 'OK, how do I not hit the couch?' "
Lessons in resourcefulness
Instructors also have had to ad-lib by converting their courses to online platforms in a short amount of time.
Oliphant, the furniture design teacher, assigned his students to make a pair of chairs before spring break. Under normal circumstances, they would have had access to an entire kit of materials — plywood, steel, hardwood lumber, cardboard.
But stuck at home, Oliphant told his students to make chairs using anything available to them.
"This was potentially just as challenging as anything else they might do," he said, "even if they had access to industrial facilities and induction-molded plastic."
St. John's Prof. Betsy Alwin also had to encourage her students to improvise for her introductory sculpture course. She assigned them a different form of artistry: to make a meal for their loved ones.
"It's something they can do with whoever they're sheltered in place with and it can be something special," she said. "It's process-based. A recipe is not unlike sculpture."
Liv Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.