CHEYENNE, WYO. – The spring of 2020 was unexpected in numerous ways, with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting every aspect of people’s lives. Because of this, virtual learning presented new opportunities for the faculty at Laramie County Community College to rise to the challenge and find innovative ways to educate students in this new online landscape.
"Without the unbelievable creativity and ingenuity of the LCCC faculty, we would not have been able to help a large number of students graduate this spring,” said Dr. Jill Koslosky, dean of LCCC’s School of Business, Agriculture, & Technical Studies.
Once the pandemic hit, LCCC officials – like many schools and businesses across the country – had to react quickly to the changing environment. In March, the college decided to extend spring break by an additional week to give faculty time to prepare for classes that would no longer meet in person, from English to nursing, equine studies to chemistry.
“We took everything we do and built an online college in two weeks,” said Jason Pasqua, theatre instructor at LCCC. “Teachers and professors around the country did this for their students.”
In the College of Arts & Humanities, where the theatre programs lives, other programs also worked diligently to reach their students. Faculty in communication and Spanish had been working to master online learning for some time, so they offered to help others prepare for this upcoming change. The visual arts team was able to allow students to continue drawing, painting, and sculpting – including snow sculptures and found-object sculptures - from home, uploading work to a shared platform. Music faculty also had to find ways to adapt to teaching without in-person interactions.
“I uploaded examples accompanied by several instructional segments to showcase concepts and analysis,” shared Dr. Frank Cook, instructor of instrumental music at LCCC. “Even with private lessons, we were able to use Zoom.”
Zoom is the online meeting platform that, because of the quarantine faced by most, has become ubiquitous in homes, schools, and businesses.
Cook did laugh at some of the potential drawbacks. “Trombone through a laptop to another laptop and back again isn’t exactly ideal,” he added.
But in a new environment where ideal may not always be attainable, creativity and innovation shone through. In many ways, this is evident in the technical programs, where hands-on, in-classroom training is an expectation.
“Many national news sources said how impossible it is for career and technical education programs to be taught in the virtual environment,” Koslosky said. “But all of the LCCC trades programs were able to teach their content this way.”
Koslosky noted that faculty found myriad ways to adapt. Using cameras and computers, faculty rigged up virtual labs to work with students. They also used Go Pro cameras to provide video lectures and labs, and even mailed out lab kits for programs such as wind energy, auto body, and agriculture to guide students in completing coursework at home.
Instructors in health sciences also found clever solutions. In the physical therapy assistant program, instructors improvised a make-shift solution using a webcam, a bungee cord, and a music stand. In radiography, family members of faculty often became the “models” to showcase positioning and other techniques in the field. In dental hygiene, the team worked diligently with online resources to ensure that students still had access to teeth models, practicum “stations,” and dental instrumentation demonstrations.
A big success story at LCCC came from diesel and welding. Koslosky shared that, of the 52 students who were set to complete their credit diplomas this spring, 49 are on track to graduate thanks to an approved extensive exemption request to allow them to work in small groups in the labs.
“Students were able to demonstrate they could finish courses in an abbreviated timeline,” she said. “Internships were expanded to the entire country with virtual industry tours, one-on-one interviews with industry experts, and a more rich and wide-reaching experience than working with one trainer or in one location.”
These opportunities also presented some long-term ideas for the classroom. Faculty across campus indicated that they learned a great deal about how they could expand and enhance the learning in their classrooms using new tools and adding aspects of virtual learning as a permanent part of their teaching.
Even the Zoom platform allows for an interaction that both students and faculty weren’t expecting.
“I now have the ability to see and respond to every student and groups, more so than I was even able to during our face-to-face course,” said Dr. Marie Yearling, microbiology instructor at LCCC.
In science classes such as microbiology, the synchronous component allows students to remain engaged with their faculty member. In many of these courses, lab kits were built and sent directly to students. Because science can be intimidating in a traditional setting, instructors worked hard to ensure that they gave students the best opportunity to succeed and learn.
That opportunity extends to every student, including those in developmental classes who had to find their own ways to adapt to a challenging educational situation. Laura Hayes, an instructor at LCCC and one of the faculty heavily involved in developmental learning, found ways to ensure that all students would thrive in this environment.
“It’s been a significant challenge to be organized in a way that allows students to do some Independent learning and balanced with the amount of one-on-one and follow-up,” Hayes said. “I’ve used YouTube videos where I film myself talking over my computer screen, showing them step-by-step how to do things as well as holding online meetings to cover topics that just don't translate to a video.”
Hayed added that she also has had numerous text conversations and phone calls to assist students and walk them through assignments to help them with understand and explore various concepts.
“All of them who made it through this crisis deserve a huge gold star for making the effort necessary to learn in this environment,” she said.
These campus-wide changes aren’t limited to the classroom setting. Even the team with the Ludden Library and Learning Commons adapted their services. This included enhanced chat services, creation of resource guides, virtual tutoring sessions, and the distribution of computers and technology to students.
Ultimately, every consideration and every action during this process was to do what’s best for the students. Though it was difficult and much was learned along the way, it appears that the process succeeded.
"Teachers have been more than willing to work with students to help accommodate their needs, and the students are very willing to work with their instructors,” said Andrew Herschberger, a student at LCCC.
“I realized that some of these instructors might be teaching their first online class, or perhaps aren’t acclimated to such a platform,” he continued. “I applaud every single person working or learning in the virtual campus.”