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Dedicated to keeping students on track, WCTC faculty gear up for online learning

Just a few weeks ago, WCTC students and faculty were getting ready for a relaxing spring break followed by a return to campus to finish out the remainder of the semester.

Enter the global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and how students will complete their classes has taken on a new trajectory -- but WCTC instructors are prepared for the task. Starting today -- April 6 -- classes that were offered face to face will shift to a virtual format, and instructors will offer instruction direct from their living rooms, home offices, spare bedrooms, basements -- and even garages. In total, nearly 650 courses have moved to fully online delivery to complete the spring semester.

In anticipation of this shift, faculty have been steadfast in their commitment to learning new technologies, including Zoom video conferencing, so they are ready for students’ return. They’ve participated in extensive training sessions to ensure they are up to speed and able to provide students with the best possible learning experience. They’ve enlisted the help of their children and teens, senior citizen parents, spouses, colleagues and others for test runs of the technology. And, they are committed to maintaining personal connections with students -- through online chats, virtual office hours, phone calls and video conferencing -- while keeping learning engaging and fun.

“Faculty are working from home yet creating and providing the support our students need and want in this new environment,” said Brad Piazza, vice president of Learning. “All of us are committed to providing exceptional courses and experiences for our students.”

Learn how a few instructors have been preparing for the transition to online learning.

Early Childhood Education instructor Jennifer Koel has embraced many different technologies and is eager to share them with students.

“I see this shift as an opportunity to develop a cutting-edge skill set and to push myself like never before. I am now able to utilize the latest technology that I wish I had time for before,” Koel said. “Suddenly, it became a need instead of a wish. I am passionate about online learning and am using this time in history to become an even stronger instructor.”

Besides Zoom video conferencing, Koel is using many tools within Canvas (learning management system), Flipgrid (video sharing tool), MyVirtualChild (interactive simulation) and others.

She has already held optional Zoom meetings with students, and, with positive results. “As the students entered the virtual environment – they were smiling! We used this meeting to test out the technology and touch base with everyone socially and emotionally. It worked amazingly well,” she said.

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Kathleen Bachhuber teaches courses in the Electronics Systems Technology and Electrical Engineering Technology programs as well as two apprenticeship programs – Electrical and Instrumentation, and Industrial Electrician. She has taken copious notes, participated in college-wide and statewide meetings, and watched numerous YouTube videos about online learning and video conferencing. She has also recorded herself teaching -- and reviewed the sessions -- and has met online with her team to discuss best practices.

“The process of moving from face-to-face course delivery to online classes has been a bit of a challenge for all of us,” she said, noting she has revised hands-on lab activities, rewritten lab handouts, altered homework submission requirements and modified other elements of her courses.

She will be teaching remotely from a spare bedroom in her home where she mounted a large whiteboard to draw and explain circuit diagrams. One of her biggest concerns is the quality of her internet connection as she lives in the country and relies on satellite. (In the event of a technology glitch, however, she has a plan B in place.)

Since the campus closed last month, Bachhuber has since been in touch with her students and will rely on their honest feedback to help structure courses in the coming weeks.

“This is new to all of us and a work in in progress,” she said.

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Douglass Clarks-Pritchard, Truck Driving program instructor and CDL test examiner, has been working from his home office and meeting via Zoom with other Truck Driving instructors to ensure students stay on schedule with their training in the coming weeks.

While the campus closure is a setback for the Truck Driving hands-on component, Clarks-Pritchard said students will focus on the theory piece using a digital textbook with accompanying safety videos, and work together on group projects.

(Last week, students were able to take the hands-on CDL test (with COVID-19 precautions in place) with retests this week, but no other hands-on training will take place until the campus reopens.)

Students are working at their own pace, but also meeting with other classmates and Clarks-Pritchard online as a group on Saturday mornings to talk over questions, progress and concerns. Clarks-Pritchard also encourages students to contact him at any time for help.

“Right now, things have been shuffled up, but it’s just about staying flexible and being honest with the students,” he said. “As an instructor, you have to have multiple ways to access your students. If that’s Zoom, if that’s the phone or if that’s email – this is showing us all how to be more adaptive.”

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Marketing instructor Ed Wierzbicki has been having practice Zoom meetings with coworkers, family members and friends, where they’ve shared screens, presented Power Points and recorded presentations, all in preparation for the shift to virtual learning.

Wierzbicki said plans for his classes include keeping them at their regularly scheduled times with most of the same learning activities along with some new ideas. He will schedule additional meeting times for assistance with assignments, technology and projects.

“I think everyone realizes this is a unique situation, and I’m focused on doing the best we can to provide a great learning environment,” Wierzbicki said. “I am super sensitive to what’s happening within all our lives; it’s stressful for everyone.”

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Automotive instructor Steve Angove and other Auto and Diesel program faculty have been holding daily video conferences to share ideas as they work to transition to online.

Angove set up his home garage to replicate a shop environment, and he plans to use some of his own vehicles for live demonstrations -- while enlisting a family helper to handle the filming.

Additionally, classes will temporarily add the automotive e-learning management system Electude to supplement students’ web-based training.

“I will be interacting every day with students for at least one hour via Zoom, and then I will stay on while they do their online, web-based trainings -- just in case they have questions,” Angove said. “I think it’s important to let them see the instructors daily via Zoom, just to let them know that we are there for them and we truly care.”

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School of Health instructor Diane Albert, who teaches Digital Literacy in Healthcare, said her course was already set up in a manner to be online friendly, so she envisions the transition to be a fairly easy one. Like other WCTC instructors, Albert did a few video conferencing test runs with colleagues and family members to ensure it would work smoothly.

Albert said she will keep her students on task through announcements, the Canvas calendar and by building in time each class for student-only questions and interactions. She anticipates there may be an occasional presentation misstep, “but that will only help us all to relax, laugh and learn!”

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Gerri Reuter, who teaches in the Aesthetician and Master Aesthetician programs, has participated in nearly every training opportunity available at the College to be ready for the switch.

“I have been taking all the WCTC support classes on Zoom, Canvas, closed captioning, accommodations and online learning. I am preparing three classes to be on Canvas for the upcoming next eight weeks. WCTC is amazing at helping support our instructors and students during this uncertain time,” said Reuter, who will teach from her living room, sunroom, and other spots in her home (and always with her dog by her side).

She has connected with many industry professionals for advice on how to engage students in webinars and trainings, and she will utilize Canvas Studio for videos. Plus, she said, there will be a lot of online sharing between classmates. “Opportunities are endless relating to future classes online.”

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Quality Management instructor Brenda Wolfe took an inventory of all active learning activities done in face-to-face courses and creatively found ways to substitute learning with Zoom discussions, case studies, discussion boards and videos. She thinks facilitating small group and team activities may be a bit of challenge, but the transition is expanding instructors’ scope of teaching.

“Online course conversion has incorporated a variety of new learning activities so learning will be fresh and interesting each week. Weekly Zoom meetings will keep students on track and keep the lines of communication open,” she said.

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Melissa Seamonson, an instructor in IT-Computer Support and IT-Networking programs, has immersed herself in learning new technologies through reading, watching videos and collaborating with colleagues along with guidance from the College’s Academic Excellence team.

Her technology practice sessions with coworkers, sign language interpreters and students have been a success, and she’s converted her classes to align with online instruction. She has made videos on Canvas Studio, located additional resources for students and has been working to ensure all instructions are clear.

“This has been an eye-opening experience to see people work so far outside their comfort zone,” Seamonson said. “I’m so impressed with what my colleagues are doing to support students at this time.”