LEWISTON, Idaho – Spring break for most Lewis-Clark State College Technical & Industrial Division students like Seth Rhodes of Lewiston and Kaleb Noah of Orofino was, well, anything but a break last week.
While spring break for college students usually means a week away from classes, T&I students at LC State doubled down during the week to wrap up hands-on instruction. This included students in programs like CNC Machining Technology, Diesel Technology, Welding Technology, and Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC-R) Technology.
With the college moving to remote learning and following social distancing guidelines, related to COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic, T&I students continued learning labs by adhering to a strict protocol and an accelerated schedule.
“With input from the students, we elected to work through spring break while practicing social distancing guidelines,” said Bill Frei, a professor in the Diesel Technology program. “We want to make sure students get the training and hands-on experience they need.”
T&I faculty began working with LC State administrators prior to the start of the semester on alternatives for classes that cannot be fully taught remotely and need the hands-on components. In early March, when both the country and state began to limit social interaction to battle COVID-19, the T&I faculty implemented the new plan.
“We worked with administration about how we would move forward and how to make small group learning work for us,” Frei said.
To make this work, both students and faculty had to adapt. For Lonny Gehring, an assistant professor in Welding Technology, this meant splitting the lab schedule for welding students. Because there are nine welding work stations that allow for social distancing, students in their first year of the program were in the lab 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday and second-year students on Thursdays and Fridays. The students maintained work spaces at least 6-feet apart and thoroughly cleaned their spaces once they were finished. Faculty also aided in the cleaning of the work areas.
“I know everyone is getting tired of the smell of bleach,” Frei said.
Gehring said the welding program, as well as other T&I programs, have allowed students who have jobs in their area of focus to complete some training on-the-job. As long as the students and employers can demonstrate students are achieving course competencies, they will receive credit for their work.
“It’s a great opportunity to go to work and show what they have learned here and what they are learning on the job,” Gehring said.
CNC Machining Technology instructor Charles Bell, had to readjust his schedule along with his students. Bell owns and operates a small business, Pure Precision, in Lewiston, but has had to rely more on his wife to oversee the shop while he spends more time in the lab.
Bell used two four-student shifts in the CNC area. The first shift worked 8-noon in the lab, while the second shift was at 1-5 p.m. Students also work on their designs on computers when they are not in the labs.
Bell said he has been flexible with the schedule because some students travel more than 30 miles to class, while others now have children at home with area public schools closed.
Bell has held one-on-one meetings with the students after hours and on Saturdays to help them use the online video conferencing program Zoom. He said he will hold Zoom meetings with students so he can see the computer designs they are working on. He also had them install a software program that allows them to share computer screens.
“They will be able to see my screen and I can show them some things and I can show them on their screens where they can improve,” he said. “It’s a different way to teach, but these are different times.”
Gehring said a flex schedule is also helping the first-year welding students, who may also have English and other classes to attend. With all academic classes being delivered remotely, the T&I students could work straight through their lab time without leaving.
“It kind of makes it feel like as if it’s a job you are going to,” Noah said about the lab blocks. “You’re now spending a lot more time just doing the work.”
Frei said the move to remote learning doesn’t change the course work for HVAC-R and diesel students. He said about seven years ago, the programs put together large class binders that contain assignments and reading materials, which can be used and found online. He said the goal was to help students because many of the certifications/accreditations they need to advance within companies include online tests.
“In class, we go over the high points of a chapter, review questions, and pre-tests before taking tests, and that’s all in the book,” Frei said. “This is all online as well so it’s really more like a hybrid class.”
For the students who are working jobs instead of in the labs, Frei and others will begin to visit their work sites so the students can show they have learned and possess the skills needed to pass the class.
“Our administration has been very supportive in making this all work for the students,” Frei said. “We want to make sure our students succeed and they are.”