Like nearly every higher education institution, the fall 2020 term at Western Technical College has been a sweeping challenge.
Nearly two-thirds of Western’s programs are in alternate formats this fall. Classes that require in-person instruction, like manufacturing and health care, are limited to nine students.
Since planning for the fall began back in the spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic first began, Western staff have been working overtime to get students to the finish line this December, even with COVID restrictions in place. Some have even accelerated coursework to get students out in time. The goal is to finish classes early so time can be reserved for students who missed classes due to COVID or who have struggled with the program’s online nature.
“We’ve had some students struggle with the class format this year,” said Mike Poellinger, associate dean of the Integrated Technology Division at Western. “This extra class time at the end of the term really helps our students be more successful.”
Western’s Auto and Diesel programs typically have five-week classes. This fall, program faculty made the switch to run the courses in four weeks. While instructors put the “classroom” content online, they ran longer days in the lab to get through the hands-on content. Students are limited in number, and masks and social distancing have been used throughout. Students must also complete a questionnaire and temperature check before entering all Western buildings.
“It has been a tough, grueling road with long days, but most students will finish their coursework this week,” said Poellinger.
Another example is Western’s Welding program. The program typically runs seven and a half week courses. This fall, similar to the Auto and Diesel programs, instructors condensed the content into six weeks. The end result means more students have more opportunities to succeed.
“We were able to schedule this extra time because we moved our lecture portion completely online,” said Art Karbowski, Welding instructor at Western. “This freed up two extra hours of lab time every day. This format really helps students that put in a lot of effort, but are still struggling and need more time in the lab.”
Western’s HVAC program has a combination of full- and sub-term classes every year, but faculty ran labs with open times that allowed students to demonstrate proficiency on competencies at an accelerated pace, once again cutting a students’ time in class down, while significantly reducing opportunities for transmission on campus.
While COVID continues to impact our community, the demand for these workers continues to grow, which is why Western officials know their work is so important.
“I am in awe of all of our faculty,” said Poellinger. “We are finding new and better ways to serve our students, even during a pandemic. I am looking forward to what the future brings.”
Western’s spring term, which begins January 11, will be similar to the fall. The majority of courses will be taught in alternative formats when possible, with masks and social distancing required in all buildings.
To learn more about Western’s response to COVID-19, visit www.westerntc.edu/coronavirus.