Although College of the Canyons was limited to remote instruction during the fall 2020 semester, it was clear that not everything could be properly taught over Zoom.
Students enrolled in essential infrastructure programs such welding, culinary arts, automotive technician, medical laboratory technician, emergency medical technician (EMT), land surveying, construction management and technology, and nursing need hands-on training to be prepared to enter the workforce.
After following state and county protocols in order to receive the necessary clearance to begin hosting on-campus classes, the college began to offer in-person instruction for more than 50 essential infrastructure class sections to provide students with hands-on training during the fall 2020 semester.
As a result, countless numbers of students have secured employment and four nursing graduates and 37 EMT graduates will qualify for national licensure examinations.
“Being able to finish their training in person gives students the technical and dexterity skills they need,” said Cindy Schwanke, chair of the college’s culinary arts program. “It’s hard to teach that online.”
After adjusting syllabi and undergoing training to teach online, the culinary arts department restructured its program to teach beginning courses online and reserve in-person instruction for advanced students who are finishing their degrees.
“We were very grateful that the college allowed us to come back on campus,” said Schwanke. “I was happy for the students.”
On a Tuesday morning at the College of the Canyons Institute for Culinary Education, five masked students gathered around a large steel table to watch as chef Michelle Razzano poured liquid nitrogen over a bowl of marshmallows. Next door, chef Daniel Otto taught students how to properly sear a steak. In another corner of the building, Schwanke’s students poured chocolate under her watchful and skilled eye.
“When they walk into a professional kitchen or pastry shop, they’re not walking into it cold,” said Schwanke. “It gives them a sense of familiarity in a kitchen and the basic skills to move so they’re not training on the job.”
Once given the green light for in-person instruction, the college’s medical lab technician (MLT) program also reconsidered its instruction methods to best teach students during the pandemic, which has spurred creativity among faculty.
“We are using more videos and audio recorded instruction to help our students know what we will be doing in lab ahead of time,” said Dr. Hencelyn Chu, chair of the MLT program at the college. “This helps students anticipate and plan for the lab activities, which has increased our efficiency to accomplish the tasks in a timely manner on campus. Students come to class prepared and ready to go.”
Still, the adjustment process has been challenging for faculty and students alike.
“I did not realize how facial expressions, specifically, during the on-campus instruction, significantly impacted instruction,” said Chu. “Students can see when you smile when encouraging them to keep going, while learning a new skill. That is tough to do with the masks on.”
In a recent lab lecture, four socially distanced students were present as Chu filmed a lab lecture on how to operate a blood count analyzer with the help of an aide.
“Having students observe how to perform new techniques and skills live is critical to the students’ abilities to connect lecture theory with lab experience,” said Chu. “Online simulation activities are important. However, they do not replace hands-on activities in the lab.”
To that end, on-campus courses are designed to maximize opportunities for students to develop their skill sets and increase their confidence.
“Such activities will help them perform safely and effectively at the clinical sites during year two of the program,” said Chu. “Without the on-campus lab courses, they may not be able to practice safety skills and techniques and develop the confidence that they need to succeed in their clinical training and subsequent employment.”
The experience students acquire in clinical lab courses can help them obtain jobs as lab assistants and entry-level positions in clinical labs, added Chu.
“This is currently in demand, as many COVID-19 testing facilities are hiring specimen processors, lab assistants, and non-technical staff members to help with the increased testing labs,” said Chu.
Citing a MLT shortage in California and in many parts of the country, Chu says training the next generation of MLTs has never been more crucial.
“Physicians and health care practitioners rely on our services to diagnose and monitor treatment for all patients, including those with underlying conditions and COVID-19 patients,” said Chu.
The demand is so high that several students are already employed as phlebotomists and lab assistants in various facilities.
“Because of the recent COVID-19 surge, it has impacted their ability to concentrate on school work because they are picking up extra shifts at the hospitals to cover for colleagues who are COVID-19 positive and are unable to work,” said Chu. “These are very challenging times for our students right now.”