WENATCHEE — “Sometimes you’re the only person I see each week.”
Monique Hirschkorn, American Sign Language (ASL) instructor at Wenatchee Valley College, shared this quote from one of her students at a WVC board meeting last fall. She teaches ASL in a hybrid format, using a mix of online lessons and live Zoom videoconferencing.
“I was one of those instructors that said, ‘I will never teach online!’ It was so important to me to interact face-to-face with my students,” she said. “But as a teacher, my role goes far beyond the classroom. It is much greater. We must reach out and check in with our students.”
Like most of the instructors at WVC, Hirschkorn was suddenly plunged into an all-virtual world last spring when in-person college classes were stopped due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, instructors and students were trying to hold classes virtually in the midst of a pandemic, with high unemployment, nonexistent childcare, civil unrest locally and nationally, and a divisive political climate during an historical election year.
Despite all of it, Hirschkorn says the college as a whole supported faculty like herself. Spring quarter 2020 started with a one-week delay to ensure extra training. That “zero week” training included workshops for Zoom videoconferencing, Canvas learning management system, Panopto video recording tools, remote instruction preparation and student support training.
“We were so lucky to have the support staff and resources to help us through the process,” she said, “and so many other staff and faculty reached out with encouragement, information, guidance and technology to help me think outside the box and create the most successful, interactive courses.”
Virtual learning is challenging, for instructors and students alike. In the home environment, space can be a big issue for students. Some of Natalie Dotzauer’s art students work out of their cars and use WVC’s parking lot Wi-Fi to logon for class work. Busy or crowded home environments are an issue too. To help her students overcome these challenges, she now uses short videos to demonstrate techniques. Students can quickly learn new skills with the limited time they have. She also created small art kits with supplies that can be used to complete all their assignments.
While a few classes have been able to operate in limited capacities, the majority of WVC students have and will continue to take classes online this year. Instructors from all areas have risen to the challenge with creative solutions.
Those enrolled in the college’s machining program are a few of the students able use the labs on campus for a few hours a week. Machining instructor Micky Jennings supplements each week’s in-person instruction with virtual discussions, online lectures and first-person videos showing how to use the machines the students will be working on. To capture his work on the machines, Jennings uses a GoPro attached to his forehead. Students get to see the work done from his perspective.
He said online instruction is something he had always talked of doing, but had never had the time to do.
“COVID pushed it over the edge so that it had to be done. Instead of spending my time doing synchronous (live) Zoom class stuff, I made all my lectures recorded and students can watch them at any time during the day and then we discuss,” Jennings said. He added that he hopes some of the online work instructors are doing carries over even after COVID passes. “It is so beneficial for students who can’t be on campus for whatever reason.”
Jennings said the work he’s done during COVID has prepared WVC to offer entry into the machining program each quarter, as well as an avenue towards a self-paced option where students can complete lectures and assignments at their convenience using the recorded lectures and virtual discussions. Instead of daily lecturing, Jennings will focus on hands-on work in the machine shop.
In the past year, the college has provided emergency care and resources, and a safe online social circle for hundreds of students. Phyllis Gleasman, WVC Board of Trustees Chair, says she hopes that WVC can continue to serve students in that way.
“I’m overwhelmed with the creativity of our teachers and the thought they put into developing those courses,” she said. “The talent we have is incredible.”
Holly Thorpe is a writer/editor for Wenatchee Valley College’s community relations department.