COVID-19 presents challenges for engineering technology instruction at tech schools like Lethbridge College
09, Dec, 2020
EDMONTON, Dec. 9, 2020 – For technology institutes and colleges whose education of engineering technology students often relies on hands-on instruction, COVID-19 has presented challenges. The good news is that engineering technology instructors have marshalled their trademark ingenuity and inventiveness in finding solutions to keep Alberta engineering technology students on track to completing their education and advancing into successful careers, despite the pandemic.
Engineering technology education is, in most cases, three years of instruction compressed into an intense two-year program at any of the four technology institutes and colleges in the province: NAIT; SAIT; Red Deer College; and Lethbridge College. Of the Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta’s (ASET) 16,000 members, hundreds are full-time students.
Lethbridge College was somewhat ahead of the curve for COVID-19 preparedness due to its mandatory laptop requirement for students in all three engineering technology programs: civil engineering technology; engineering design technology; and geomatics engineering technology. Students had to purchase from the college laptops equipped with the latest software needed for their courses, making the transition to online instruction much easier.
All theory classes moved to Zoom, giving students the advantage of being able to join classes from wherever they were located. Zoom provides chat, breakout rooms and an opportunity to see classmates and the instructor in real time. Classes were filmed so that students could review content after the fact.
For classes involving hands-on work, such as labs, the fall schedule was adjusted so that all on-campus classes happened on the same day for the same group of students. Face masks and social distancing were, of course, mandatory. Students unable to come to campus due to self-isolation or geography were able to defer their experiential learning to a later term.
Edith Olson, chair, school of engineering technologies at Lethbridge College, says that instructors have been highly creative, setting up video cameras in classrooms, using tablets as white boards, and incorporating videos made in-house and acquired from YouTube as part of the learning experience. Students get to connect with their instructors both inside and outside of class time via face-to-face discussion on Zoom. Questions can be asked in real time during class.
The cameras installed in classrooms allow filming of close-ups, various angles and details of equipment in labs so that students can clearly see the technical resources necessary for different engineering technology applications.
The Centre for Teaching and Learning has gone the extra mile with dedicated staff ready to respond to “how do I?” questions. Faculty liaison contacts were established so that students know who to ask for help with any aspect of their college experience.
“The goal has been to create an as real as possible classroom experience for students without them actually gathering in the classroom,” said Olson.
In the new year and in accordance with COVID-19 protocols, the college will offer some classes with the requisite face masks and social distancing, but most theory and lab classes will continue online.
In the case of some lab classes, only subsets of students will join an instructor in the lab and take part in the exercise while the remainder of the class participates by zoom. This is because some lab spaces cannot accommodate many students due to social distancing. Larger labs with enough capacity for everyone - even with social distancing - will have full, in-person attendance of students.
“It’s no surprise to ASET that Alberta technology institutes and colleges like Lethbridge College have applied the innovation that is the hallmark of the engineering technology profession to finding safe and effective ways to continue that education for students in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis,” said ASET CEO Barry Cavanaugh.
Nothing works in Alberta without ASET members; they are the behind-the-scenes, hard-working women and men who keep this province safe. ASET members represent a wide range of sectors, including civil engineering and construction, avionics, biomedical, chemical, computers, electrical, environmental, geological, instrumentation, oil and gas, and telecommunications. From the moment Albertans wake up in the morning and turn on a light switch or shower until the end of the day, they rely on the work of these professionals.
Technicians install cable and phone, monitor traffic, work in labs, and serve as process workers in refineries and manufacturing. Technologists design plans with engineers, create commercial buildings and return well sites properly to nature. They ensure fast-acting telephone networks, smart bus connections, proper water pressure at home, perfectly clean water to drink, reliable natural gas service and electrical power, smooth roads on which to drive, and responsible oil and gas exploration/production/processing/and distribution.
ASET is the professional self-regulatory organization for engineering technologists and technicians in Alberta. ASET currently represents over 16,000 members, including full-time technology students, recent graduates and fully certified members in 21 disciplines and more than 120 occupations across a multitude of industries.
Michele Penz, Calico Communications for ASET