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WCCC instructors go above and beyond for their students

If there are any positives that have come from the pandemic the world is currently facing, they would be the stories of humanity’s strength and resilienceLike many industries, higher education has had to change the way it operates overnight, and for many Western Colorado Community College (WCCC) instructors it has been quite the journey.  

Throughout the last few weeks WCCC faculty and staff have rapidly and effectively adapted to the changing times especially since most courses at WCCC are based on hands-on, experiential learning. Depending on the class, students can be found in the kitchen cooking, flying an airplane or disassembling a machine and learning how to put it back togetherAnd that’s in large part what draws students to WCCC — the ability to learn practical knowledge.  

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the thought of students taking these types of courses online would have seemed impossibleHowever, today they are doing exactly that. 

Technical Instructor of Transportation Services Michael Carsten is an expert in automotive technology. With 23 years of experience working in the transportation industry, primarily as an automotive technician, he knows his way around a mechanic shop and can diagnose and repair a vehicle in his sleep. But figuring out how to teach these skills in an online format wasn't so easy.  

“I realized that my learning curve was about to be met with a very large and steep incline,” said Carsten. 

He decided since his hands-on course was going digital, the best way to teach his students would be through video. There was only one problem: Carsten had never edited a video in his life.  

“I had to learn how to edit a video and post it to YouTube, he said.  

Carsten met the challenges head on. He got a camera and made instructional videos at the college and at the automechanic shop where he works. 

“I’ve had positive feedback from my students because they get to follow along as I work on vehicles in real-time.” 

In addition to learning how to produce video content, Carsten learned how to navigate a number of different software programs and digital communication and collaborative platforms that allow him to keep in touch with his students.  

“My students and I keep in contact through Microsoft Teams and Google Meet at least twice a week. Doing this has been a blessing. We have cried, laughed and expressed the feelings that go along with the times in which we are living,” said Carsten.  

Wayne Smith is dealing with similar challenges only with a different subject area. As a culinary arts assistant technical professor, one of his courses involves a purchasing field trip to visit wholesalers and food producers.  

“Since we are not able to do that I set up some virtual tours online. Students can see various aspects of food service in action including indoor stacked hydroponic gardens, soup and sauce manufacturing, and meat cutting. They then post comments to a discussion board,” said Smith.  

For culinary and baking labs, culinary faculty are putting together boxes of ingredients each week for students to practice with at home. They box the ingredients up on Monday and do curbside delivery to students on Tuesday.  

The take home groceries are a challenge just for the time involved. It takes hours and hours to measure ingredients for 20 or so students in my two lab courses,” said Smith. 

Smith has also adjusted the time allotment for students to complete assignments and how assignments are graded. Students take photos and videos of their finished products and Smith grades them that way.  

“I can look at a reasonably good picture and tell everything about the food except for how much seasoning they added. I can tell the doneness by colors. I can tell if a sauce is smooth or not. I can look at plate composition," 

Smith said there is one positive to this new normal.  

“Ware being challenged and forced to learn new skills, to look at what is essential in what we teach, to evaluate our programs, and to continually look for new ways to reach every student. 

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Written by Kelsey Coleman