Most of the scheduled classes at Western Iowa Tech Community College (WITCC) are back in session this fall – with two exceptions.
The welding and HVAC programs were put on hold because providing adequate social distancing space in the WITCC lab was not possible for those classes.
“Sometimes students are very close together in the lab, so we needed a plan for keeping students safe,” said Jessica Garcia, director of the WITCC Denison campus.
“We suspended those courses for this academic year.”
She noted that the classes have not been discontinued - and will return.
“We will be bringing those back in the fall of 2021,” she said.
The college made a number of changes to the way the other courses are offered this semester due to the ongoing pandemic.
“We’re using a new learning model where a portion of the students’ classes are online and a portion are done via Zoom in order to allow students to take more of their classes from home and not necessarily have to come out to campus,” Garcia said.
WITCC has four options for classes to fit students’ comfort levels, she said.
“We do still have pretty much all the face-to-face classes that we typically offer in a semester – they just have lower numbers in the classroom,” Garcia said. “We do Zoom classes that originate from Sioux City - and some originate from Denison. We have online, we have face-to-face and we have the new mixed model (face-to-face and online).”
All of the options will be in use through the spring semester next year.
“One thing that we found through all of this is, when utilized to its full potential, technology can be very helpful in keeping students safe and giving them other opportunities to take their courses, or for how they’re able to take their courses,” she said.
Some students learn more effectively in a face-to-face setting and the option remains available, she said.
“We want students to be able to continue their education and be successful,” Garcia said. “We’re here to give them options that meet their comfort level and then help guide them through the process.”
The school’s COVID-19 policy is online; it explains when students can and can’t be on campus, when they need to stay home and what to do if they, or a family member living in their home, have tested positive.
“Masks are required when students are in the building,” Garcia said. “We’re trying to take as many precautionary measures as we can.”
When classes at WITCC were disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic this spring, the lives of students were disrupted, as well.
Garcia pointed out that the situation was new to almost everyone, so adjustments were made to how the spring semester of 2020 was finished.
“We were empathetic to that, so we gave quite a few students incompletes as opposed to just failing them out of the course,” Garcia said. “When those students picked back up, or felt safe to come back, they were able to pick up where they left off or work independently with their instructor to get that course completed.”
Some students were given passing grades based on coursework completed before classes were suspended.
“We took information of how the student performed and if they met the basic functions, or understanding of what was needed to pass that class, we passed those students,” she said. “In welding, some students needed to complete lab assignments, so we opened up our lab and only allowed a few people in at a time to work individually with the instructors to meet their lab needs.”
Once county COVID-19 numbers started to come down, the school began to reach out to the students.
“We scheduled one-on-one appointment times in our testing center to get our tests done and finish classes so they didn’t have to redo anything,” Garcia said. “We made some adjustments and changes and we made sure students were still meeting the minimal competencies in their courses.”
Meeting with all the students and picking up the pieces took a lot of work from the WITCC staff.
“The whole thing has been a learning experience,” Garcia said.
Enrollment at WITCC is down this semester, but Garcia expects it to return to pre-coronavirus levels by next fall.
The instructors for the suspended welding and HVAC classes were given assignments at the Sioux City WITCC campus to help with courses there that had to be divided into smaller sections for social distancing purposes.
“They do travel, for the time being, but when we bring those courses back we’ll bring those instructors back,” she said.
The rest of the staffing at the Denison campus has stayed in place.
The pandemic has been an unsure time for everyone, so the school tried to provide as much normalcy as possible, she said.
“We’re just trying to keep business as normal for students the best that we can,” Garcia said. “We’re here to help and support the students.”