The University of Massachusetts Boston has joined the growing list of local colleges that are shutting down campus and moving to online learning in response to the coronavirus outbreak. WGBH Morning Edition host Joe Mathieu spoke with Erin O'Brien, associate professor of political science at UMass Boston, about some of the challenges she and her students are facing during the transition. The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Joe Mathieu: Quite a week we've had.

Erin O'Brien: You're the first to read my Twitter and want to talk to me after!

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Mathieu: I'm pretty sure [that's] not true! You're one of the best follows right now in Boston, as far as I'm concerned. For starters, when was your last class?

O'Brien: Tuesday. The campus closed Wednesday night, but my last class was 2 to 3:15 p.m. on Tuesday.

Mathieu: You, in some cases, found out that your students learned by reading the paper as opposed to the school.

O'Brien: It's a difficult situation, and so we're all trying to offer some grace. But it was deeply problematic that the Globe broke the story and we didn't hear from UMass for over another hour. Transparency is just so key. When I went into class on Tuesday, faculty had received an e-mail saying, 'Get ready to move online.' So obviously, the writing's on the wall. But the e-mail took on a law, if you will. And so it's only a 75 minute class. I spent 45 minutes just taking their questions, and then we pulled down the screen. I'm like, 'You want to see the e-mail? Here's the e-mail.'

Mathieu: Which they probably really appreciated at this point, right?

O'Brien: Yes, they did. And they took pictures. There wasn't much to read, but I think that was reassuring that nothing was being hidden from them.

Mathieu: Did it cause chaos, or was it just the inherent anxiety with not knowing?

O'Brien: If you want to feel good about the world, come to UMass Boston. Really. Our students' lives are complicated; they've taken hits before. So they were really good about it. But they had, understandably, a lot of questions, and it was problematic that I didn't have answers. So I'll be the adult in the room and be as transparent as I can and I said, the anxiety for this class, take it off your plate. There are going to be hiccups. I don't believe in online education. I've never done it, so you're going to meet my dog online when we're doing this. And I'll work with you. I'm pretty rigid in the classroom; I like a schedule and things like that. I'm like, you're about to meet Erin, not Professor O'Brien. We're in this together, and I will work with you. I want all of you to pass, I want you to get three credits, and most importantly, I want you to be safe and feel better. So that's my job in this.

Mathieu: So we're going to class in our pajamas starting, right now. Erin O'Brien tweets ahead of your arrival here this morning, "my last class with undergrads before announcement left me inspired, fearful for what they face, desperate for more info to convey, and proud to be on their team." I thought you really crystallized this whole thing pretty nicely there. What are you fearful about them facing?

O'Brien: Our students are almost all commuters. And on paper, that sounds better.

Mathieu: Well, it must be easier; they just go home.

O'Brien: Exactly, they just go home. But they're not going home, oftentimes, to totally stable places. I have a student who e-mailed me who's living in a shelter, and she said, "I don't have a computer. I don't have regular access to Internet and can't have a phone sometimes in the shelter." She said, "I can go to Boston Public Library, but how long is that going to be open?" So this idea that students have access to really good high speed Internet is deeply classist. It's not borne out. And when they signed up, that wasn't required. There's a reason they were doing face-to-face. So there was that concern.

Secondly, almost all of our students work 20 [or] 30 hours, if not more, and they work in low-wage service jobs, predominantly. Those jobs are going away. People aren't at restaurants, everyone is socially isolating and they don't have the finances to make that up. They wanted to know if the university was going to take that into account when it came to billing. And we have a lot of foreign students, and those students were worried about their visa. I should have known this: you can only take one online class if you are a foreign student and maintain your visa. Well, now everything's moving online, and the current political environment does not inspire confidence for those students that the administration is going to work with them.

Mathieu: Right. Talk to me about teaching online. If you haven't done it, what does this mean for you? You kind of need to learn now how to do this.

O'Brien: I have no idea! And I just said, my students help me! You've taken us online before. What worked well? What didn't work well? But I've already made one change. You can, apparently, virtually have the same class time and have everyone log on. And then I got the e-mail from the student at the shelter and a couple others and I realized —

Mathieu: They may not all be there.

O'Brien: Exactly. I can't assume the luxury of access to getting online at the same time. So I've already decided I'm going to put things up, hold the class at that time, but have other — I don't even know yet — record it or something else. Because again, I think something really magical happens in the classroom, especially as diverse as UMass Boston is. I have not developed online pedagogy because I'm really good in the classroom, and now we're supposed to do this in a week on Spring Break.

They're trying to give you some resources, but everyone's quite taxed. So the students and I are in this together. I said they're allowed to mock me. They probably already do some, but they're good. I said, 'You're allowed to do that and we're in this together. Help me out. I'll help you.'

Mathieu: Wow. Well, this is an incredible peek behind the curtain here, and I'm fascinated by it. You should check in a week or so. This starts Monday, right?

O'Brien: No, we're on Spring Break.

Mathieu: So a week from now?

O'Brien: Yes.

Mathieu: I'd love to hear what's happening, how it's going, whether you're ending up on the phone with some students or how you're getting this information to them.