14:56 PM

Alternative teaching methods

Instructors keep students engaged in learning during a pandemic

Midway through WCTC's spring 2020 semester, the College did something it had never done before: it fully shifted classes to a virtual format for the remainder of the semester – because of COVID-19 and the state-issued Safer at Home order.

The College has offered select hybrid and online classes in the past, but to convert 680 courses from in-person to online delivery was no simple task. Instructors, with help from the College's Academic Excellence team, immersed themselves in learning the finer points of the Canvas web-based learning management system, set up teaching spaces in their homes, and mastered the art of Zoom video conferencing in a matter of weeks. Because of their dedication, they kept their courses and their students moving forward.

In preparation for the transition, faculty participated in numerous and varied trainings to provide the best possible learning experience for students in uncertain times.

For Kathy Bachhuber, Electronics and Electrical Engineering Technology instructor, online teaching got off to a bit of a rocky start, but became easier as the semester progressed.

"How was the online teaching experience? It varied from ‘What on Earth am I doing?' to ‘Goodness. This is going to work!' " she said.

To make assignments, lab activities, quizzes and exams meaningful in the virtual space, Bachhuber had to approach them in a new way. "The most time-consuming pieces for me were in revamping teaching in a traditional manner to teaching in a virtual world," she said.

She was able to use a simulator for lessons in electronics circuits, and she required students to get creative and share their work in a "show-and-tell" format via Zoom.

During the final weeks of one of her courses, students were required to complete a project using a microprocessor from home – not an easy feat, Bachhuber said – but they did so successfully. Examples include interfacing a microprocessor with water pumps to provide a watering system for plants and developing a prototype alarm system for a moped-type scooter among others. "This group of students demonstrated that they had the resiliency and tenacity to totally complete a project, and present the project to the class."

Gerri Reuter, who teaches in the Aesthetician program, said the online experience proved to be "interesting, stressful and rewarding," but she and her students have persevered.

She remembers sitting in her living room in late March making a video to be shared with students. "I told them that even though the world was changing and our format was changing, the one thing that would not change was my commitment to help them through this pandemic and stay on track for their graduation," she said.

Reuter restructured her classes for online learning, and she spent significant time working through technology issues in order to get her classes up and running. She welcomed guest speakers, industry experts and alumni to Zoom meetings, and she added unique projects to pique students' interest. She also made a point of reaching out and connecting with students regularly.

"It affected each student in a different way. I know my students and I could tell when and if they were struggling," she said. "I would just send them a ‘checking in' email to see if I could help in any way."

The transition to virtual teaching was easier than IT instructor Melissa Seamonson expected, but it was not without challenges.

"The drastic change caused students to struggle with life. Lack of a structured schedule creates challenges with accountability to do the coursework," she said. "I spent a lot of time sending reminders and calling, and I set up a virtual study hall where the students would connect via Zoom and work so I could encourage them to get their work done and be available if they had questions."

One discovery she made in using Zoom meetings was the importance of synchronous communication – and for her students to be visible on screen.

"Having the weekly scheduled Zoom session was key in making the connection and keeping students engaged," Seamonson said, noting that when audio and video features are enabled, it holds students' attention and makes for better interaction.

Providing real-time instruction was important in creating a positive experience for students during the virtual learning shift, said Steve Angove, Automotive instructor. When he started teaching via videoconferencing, he was encouraged by their responses.

"It was the first time teaching in seven years that I had perfect attendance 16 days in a row, and everybody was logged in on time and ready to go," Angove said of his spring evening Engine Performance I class.

While he taught theory online and used an e-learning platform focused on automotive and diesel training, he also gave live demonstrations, on his own vehicles in his own garage, while his wife graciously helped with the camera. This provided students with a close-up view of the work being performed, and it allowed them to ask questions along the way.

"I had a super response from all the students, and I feel that they all stayed engaged and learned a lot," he said. "I knew they were all excited and looking forward to get back in June and finish up with some hands-on learning and assessments."