Technical, community colleges adapt to distance learning

By , Special to the Daily Memphian Updated: April 13, 2020 2:31 PM CT | Published: April 13, 2020 4:05 AM CT

Classes look different for students across the country who are learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic and two local colleges, Moore Tech and Southwest Tennessee Community College, say their students are adjusting to the new classroom formats.

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Moore Tech ended its most recent trimester last week through virtual learning, and it plans to begin the new trimester April 27 with virtual classes. The college is prepared to go online and do Zoom classrooms at this point.

“Obviously, we would like to get back to our shops as quickly as we can, but we’re still concerned with the spread of the virus, and we will definitely heed the warnings through the government, governor and president,” Skip Redmond, president of Moore Tech, said.

With Moore Tech being a “hands-on” school, it has had to make some major adjustments to its curriculum. The school is considering opportunities to allow students to go in to the shops on an appointment-only basis if current social distancing and stay-at-home conditions extend past the first two weeks of the third trimester.

“Sometime in May, if we can’t get in the classroom, we can set up appointments and get students on the equipment,” he said. “It (an appointment) would have to be at the student’s request. We can’t mandate them to come in. But this would allow them to come in and offer them masks and gloves and be able to have some time on the machines on a scheduled basis.”

Redmond noted that Moore Tech has not implemented the appointment-only practice but is considering doing something similar, if permitted.

While Moore Tech’s offices remain closed, calls are forwarded to an assistant who has seen a “very steady stream of students interested in enrolling in Moore Tech.”

“We have the building trades, advanced manufacturing and automotive. We’re seeing interest in all three areas,” Redmond said. “It’s not spiking, but it’s not slowing down, and we’re encouraged by that. We’re looking to have a very robust enrollment in April.”

Moore Tech enrollment ebbs and flows with the economy, he said. When the economy is weak, interest in nighttime certificates from non-traditional, part-time students is very strong. Immediately prior to COVID-19, Moore Tech’s daytime program was up because the economy was very strong, and its nighttime enrollment was not as popular.

Dr. Kendricks Hooker, who joined as vice president of academic affairs for Southwest Tennessee Community College in March, is optimistic about the school’s preparedness to go completely virtual and applauds the faculty and students for a successful online migration.

Prior to COVID-19, Southwest had increased its digital and online capabilities to be more prepared to manage a virtual learning world.

The theory or lecture portion for all Southwest courses is being conducted online, and the majority of students are able to do 100% of their classwork online. Hooker said the face-to-face interaction that is required for some courses is either being postponed or is conducted virtually or by video, adding that Southwest is “being very creative.”

“It (distance learning) is actually going very well,” Hooker said. “I’m making that statement based on what we’re hearing and not hearing. We’re not getting a lot of complaints. In our opinion, things are going relatively well.”

Southwest has encountered a few issues with students who lack some of the necessary resources and technology for virtual learning, but it is being resourceful in trying to address that. For example, students can complete a writing assignment, take a photo of it and submit it to a faculty member. 

Another challenge with distance learning at Southwest is the clinical component of some of its courses. Many of the school’s clinical sites are closed because of the virus and are not accepting students.

Once those reopen and begin accepting clinical rotations again, students will be able to fulfill their requirements for this semester.

As Southwest looks toward the fall, any class that was scheduled to be online will remain online. All of the other courses will be in a hybrid format, with some face-to-face interaction and some online learning.

“We’re anticipating starting the (fall) semester out online, but if there is access to campus, and if things clear up, then because of that hybrid modality, we’re able to quickly move to campus and have those face-to-face experiences,” Hooker said.

Since Southwest was already building an online virtual world for students prior to COVID-19, it is simply “taking it to the next level,” he said.

Every faculty member is encouraged to go through an online teaching certification, which, while Hooker hopes something like this never happens again, will help ensure Southwest’s faculty is prepared to move into the virtual world in the event it has to for an extended period of time.

“I think the faculty has done a very good job in terms of reaching out and trying to engage students as best as they possibly can. We have seen an uptick in advising, which is a clear indication that our faculty is certainly doing their part in trying to engage students and keep them involved. We’re building, and we’re going to get through this together,” Hooker said.

Christin Yates

Christin Yates

Christin Yates is a native Memphian who has worked in PR and copywriting since 2007. She earned her B.S. in public relations and M.S. in mass communications from Murray State University.


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