In fields like history, literature and French, transitioning to online learning — as many colleges have done to fight the spread of the coronavirus — might sound challenging but doable. In some career and technical programs, it’s a different story.
At Peninsula College in Washington state, Eoin Doherty, who coordinates the school’s welding program, is scrambling to devise a plan for offering classes amid new restrictions resulting from the virus. In welding labs, an instructor demonstrates a technique to students on a machine, sends them off to practice on their own and walks around to check their work. That simply can’t be done online, he said.
For now, the campus is closed, and the school is on spring break. If they’re allowed to offer labs in person when classes restart on April 13, Doherty and college administrators plan to run students through coursework in smaller groups to maintain social distance. But if Washington Gov. Jay Inslee extends an order for residents to stay home past that date, that won’t be an option.
In that case, Doherty and his administrators would have to figure out how students would get their lab time. Students who have welding equipment at home might send in photos of their work. Others might have to make up the lab time in another semester. The program might have to revise its grading criteria. “I’m working on so many options right now,” Doherty said.
Ne’Keisha Stepney, a dean at Waubonsee Community College in Illinois, overseeing technical programs in areas like automotive technology, welding technology and HVAC installation and service, is facing similar challenges. The school has closed its doors through at least April 12.
Stepney is strategizing with faculty about how to offer content online — through Zoom and a video-recording platform called Kaltura. None of the available tools is optimal, she said.
If in-person classes don’t resume this semester, Stepney says she’s not sure how she’ll make her classes work. For administrators like her, it’s uncharted territory. “Probably in my entire career, this is one of the most challenging things that I’ve ever had to work through,” she said.
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