Instructors at technical colleges have had to alter the way they teach their students the skills required for careers such as welding, HVAC and cosmetology.
Teachers and students at public and private schools and colleges have figured out how to teach and learn through distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic — but how do trade-school students learn hands-on skills when they can’t be on campus?
Kathy Lepow, a guidance counselor at Orange Technical College – Westside Campus, said video conferencing has been working despite any reservations students or teachers might have had a few months ago.
“We’ve become extremely adept in a short amount of time at video conferencing,” Lepow said. “We’re using the same learning management system as the K-12, the Canvas (e-learning) system, so our instructors right now, every class, even welding, has theory that they work on. So they’re adding as much theory as they can and then doing a lot of video conferencing.”
Many of Westside’s 600 students returned briefly to campus to pick up kits and chemicals and tools and other items necessary to practice their lessons.
Cosmetology students took home mannequin heads with hair, as well as their tool kits and hair coloring. Many of them had already been working with the products, Lepow said. Massage students picked up massage tables.
“Most people have someone at home with them, some lucky people who are still getting their haircuts or their bodies massaged,” Lepow said.
“Massage and barbering and facials and cosmetology — we’ve done a lot of video conferencing where the instructor was demonstrating something by video conference and then was watching the student as they practiced that skill,” she said.
Mary Dorian teaches the Advanced Esthetics and Facial Specialist courses, where students learn about the skin its sciences and treatments to beautify and promote skin health. In a typical classroom setting, students have contact with human skin in their daily skills practice.
Lesson modification was necessary, and she said she, and her respective educators, had to create digital courses “using creative ideas to construct lessons of skills practices and theory knowledge.”
The challenge, she said, was designing online lessons that engaged her 22 students as much as the classroom lessons did on campus.
“Interesting, fun lessons; a positive energy; and communication are key factors in keeping students engaged,” Dorian said. “The students were disappointed at first, as we all were. After the initial shock, my amazing group of students stepped up to the plate and attended the daily Zoom classes and completed their assignments online. My students were accepting of the theory portion online.”
However, they still would prefer to be in the classroom experiencing hands-on practice for this career, she said.
Welding is probably the most difficult, Lepow said.
“I can’t send home a tank of gas,” she said. “Our instructor has gone out and purchased his own equipment to work from home. Even in welding, their (lessons) work online, practicing their safety.”
Ellen Logue is the senior instructor for the Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration program, and her class went from mostly hands-on training to 100% virtual learning.
“Labs and lectures became videos and virtual meetings,” she said. “Some students have adapted very well and progressed through the program. Some students have struggled with relating content to the actual work because they prefer the hands-on part of the program.”
When distance learning began, Logue had 13 students. The online lessons have worked, because eight of those students have completed the program and four have gained employment within the industry, she said.
Lepow said distance learning began at the most opportune time.
“We’re very blessed because of this time of year, (students), especially the construction trades, were already out on some kind of internship; in many cases, they are already employed. (Others) had finished up the majority of their beginning skills the instructor worked with them on, so they were already looking for internship and employment opportunities. The timing was good.”
Orange Technical College’s four campuses will come together for one large graduation ceremony once the school is cleared to hold one, Lepow said.
“We still want to honor our students,” she said. “Most of them still will be graduating on time, and if we’ve come to a situation where we absolutely couldn’t practice, we will be working with those individual cases to make a plan for them to return to complete.”
It has not yet been decided how the summer program will work, Lepow said.
“We’re trying to plan for every possibility,” she said.