COVID-19 Challenges

In March 2020, the Colorado School of Mines campus experienced a rapid shift from in-person instruction to remote learning as the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated an immediate response. This novel magnitude of operational and instructional change presented a number of unique challenges for all campus units.

Several key clusters of challenges were encountered in the remote transition:

  • Access to appropriate technology:
  • Adjusting assessments
  • Transitioning large enrollment classes (70–1000 students)
  • Transitioning project-based and design courses
  • Transitioning laboratory and research courses
  • Access to resources (computer labs, 3-D printers, machines necessary to build prototypes/models)


The Trefny Center responded with adaptive supports for faculty and students as they made the initial transition to remote instruction in the spring semester, and continued to devise support systems as pandemic response policy dictated instructional shifts among fully remote, in-person and mixed (both in-person and remote students simultaneously) instruction of Mines courses.

Specifically, we responded by focusing on a cycle of of creating content, facilitating learning, and assessment. First, we created content, such as how-to guides, best practices, and compilations of strategies used by faculty. Created content examples:

We facilitated learning through providing information in a variety of formats, designing and conducting workshops, and hosting virtual office hours. We also facilitated learning by focusing on community building events, allowing faculty to share ideas and resources amongst themselves. Facilitated content included:

  • Workshops – Structured learning opportunities focused on a specific topic 
  • Office Hours – Informal opportunities for faculty to ask questions of Trefny colleagues and other instructors 
  • Community Events – Online spaces for developing faculty community, e.g. Coffee Hour, Wednesday Afternoon Club. 
  • Resources – Web resources focused on technological and pedagogical topics 
  • Short Courses – Online courses designed to help faculty design and facilitate online and remote courses 
  • Consultations – Meetings with a Trefny colleague to discuss the faculty member’s course 

Table 1: Facilitated Content Offered During 2020, by Semester.

Spring 2020  Summer 2020  Fall 2020  Total 
20 Workshops 

95 Office Hours 

27 New Resources 

2 Short Courses 

33 Consultations 

No Workshops 

5 Office Hours 

14 New Resources 

4 Short Courses 

19 Consultations 

58 Workshops 

35 Office Hours 

14 New Resources 

2 Short Courses 

38 Consultations 

78 Workshops 

135 Office Hours 

55 New Resources 

8 Short Courses 

90 Consultations 

Finally, we continuously assessed teaching and learning to monitor changes over time, providing data to inform practices (within the Trefny Center and across campus), and to contribute to the broader STEM education community. Formal assessments fell into 3 categories: surveying faculty and students, faculty focus groups, and interviewing faculty. Informally, we also monitored discussions during all facilitated sessions, as well as those shared across a variety of meetings and interactions not intended as assessment points. Assessment data sources included:

  • Faculty Survey (S20, F20) – Asked faculty what challenges they were facing and what support they needed 
  • Student Check In (S20, F20) – Asked students what was going well and what suggestions they had 
  • Faculty Interviews (Sum20) – With faculty who taught in person; focused on challenges and strategies 
  • Student End of Course Evaluations (Sum20) – Student evaluations for in-person summer courses 

Table 2: Summary of Faculty and Student Perceptions of COVID circumstances.

Working Well  Challenges 
  • Faculty felt supported by the Trefny Center 
  • Students seemed to be adapting reasonably well 
  • Faculty and students felt more stressed than usual 
  • Interaction was more difficult in the remote format 
  • Managing in-person and remote students was challenging 

Continued Support

Responding to the challenges that have been identified, the Trefny Center continues to support Mines in the Spring 2021 semester:

  • 2021 Prep Week – In the week before classes began, the Trefny Center collaborated with ITS and the Library to offer 18 workshops focused on technological and pedagogical topics relevant to the start of the semester. 
  • The Jedi Program – In collaboration with ITS and with the support of Academic Affairs, the Trefny Center launched the Jedi Program, which aims to address the challenges of stressinteraction, and managing mixed classes identified by faculty and students. Undergraduate “Jedi” work alongside faculty teaching Spring 2021 courses to act as advocates for remote students, to facilitate interaction, and to help address technological issues. 
  • Spring Workshops and Events – In addition to the 2021 Prep Week, we will offer 36 events during the spring semester, including workshops, student panels, and strategy sharing sessions. See the Spring 2021 Event Flyer for details.  


Pandemic Teaching at Mines: How the Trefny Center Supported Faculty during COVID-19 
Authors: Ariana C. Vasquez, Amy Hermundstad Nave, and Sam Spiegel

Trefny Innovative Instruction Center COVID-Related Support
Author: Megan Sanders