We are going to discuss experiential learning with Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). In March, as campuses around the country abruptly shifted from in-person to online learning, many of us faced an existential problem. How could colleges – particularly the ones that encourage collaborative, hands-on learning — adapt to distance education? Can we replicate learning in labs, group projects, and field study at home?
As many schools and universities embark upon entirely remote or hybrid academic years, and many others return online as a result of the rising complexities of handling COVID-19 on campus, we confront the very same questions — and difficulties– all over again.
Experiential education — learning by doing — captures and keeps a wider and more varied audience, instills self-efficacy and confidence in our students, and contributes to better learning results. Losing this vital element of learning may compromise our students’ instructional needs, delaying essential research, or limiting the discussion and debate needed to successfully address the most problems our nation is facing amid this worldwide Covid-19 crisis.
Authorities recognize the barriers to offering experiential learning with Covid-19 current limitations. “Remote hands-on learning” seems like an oxymoron, especially in the science and engineering fields. And, the stakes are higher than ever for us to get it right.
Furthermore, as the pandemic’s effect is much worse for our brown, black, and lower-income pupils, we must mitigate inequities in our system and stay even more engaged, facilitate peer connections and be flexible — despite the distance.
Months ago, when we faced these challenges, we did what engineers do. We saw a problem. We tried our best to resolve it.
Doing so required us to completely rethink all our courses two weeks before the beginning of the spring term. At Dartmouth College, lecturers teach engineers to participate in science and technology in the human-made world’s junction and the human experience. That meant finding ways to keep this essential pillar of the program, not in a classroom or laboratory alongside other people but online.
In the long run, they retained core elements of what distinguishes the colleges. They offered 55 engineering classes, only four fewer than intended, with over half of the classes containing lab- or project-based parts — elements we were eager to maintain. Till the spring term, their students finished working in virtual groups to build 3-D-printed chronometers, mini-segways and balancing robots, and prototypes for economical ventilators using BiPAP machines. The researchers had pivoted continuing work to face the human body’s immune reaction to SARS-CoV-2.
And we did this without going over budget or requiring our students to invest more. In fact, as a college of technology, we broke even when accounting for additional savings from shutting down electricity and heat in our near-empty buildings and from canceling events and traveling.
With COVID-19 a reality for the near future, all the higher education management people must think beyond the box if they want to continue making sure the authorities meet our students’ highest educational needs. Every institution has a different set of components, needs, and resources. However, we can provide some general advice to other educators seeking to integrate more hands-on learning in their experiential learning with Covid-19 virtual and hybrid classes.
Focus On The Main Things Your Students Will Need To Learn
We often get bogged down with what we can not do in class versus what we could. We concentrated on the most crucial elements of our courses during the past months and reimagined the ideal way for students to have that experience in your home. We did not aim to get an exact replica online.
Re-purpose Everyday Household Items And Spaces
With students scattered throughout the world, we drummed up tips for lower-cost, easily available choices for materials and equipment: garden hoses, newspaper clips, sugar, and salt, to mention only a few. We also considered how the garage, the kitchen counter, or a toilet sink could transform into a seat or laboratory.
In one class, students can use hammers, mallets, and common hardware to construct their own at-home plastics effect tester, instead of a $10,000 piece of equipment they would ordinarily use on their campus. Students may even be assigned to create their own different demos to show a newly learned concept.
Look To Relatively Low-Priced Scientific Kits
Scientific kits and equipment are available at a significantly lower price than just five years back. To be sure, as an Ivy League college, Dartmouth has more resources than most, but even with only $50, the options are virtually endless.
For lots of our courses, they paid to send many kits to students comprising relatively inexpensive components, such as tubing, paper clips, and wiring. The kits they developed for a number of their robotics classes will be utilized as standard and supplementary materials for upcoming courses, making technology more accessible to more students in the future.
Retrofit Equipment, So Students Throughout The Globe Have Access From Their Home
We could continue to tap into campus resources even while our buildings remained comparatively empty. As students could no longer operate machines in person, some Dartmouth classes filled with students in locations worldwide and the world obtained equipment, including a scanning electron microscope, from the house after retrofitting the machines to adapt to online learning.
Use Free Online Materials And Cheap Equipment
Pay for a tiny mechanical engineering program and send each student a miniature 3-D printer; in under $200 each, they cost less than some textbooks. Give groups of students scattered throughout the small world budgets and debit cards to buy required materials for project-based classes. And ask students to become creative. In one material science program, our students made rock candy to study crystal structure.
Empower Faculty And Staff With Support And Flexibility
Sometimes, teaching these courses remotely required sheer willpower and the can-do attitude of staff and faculty members who rolled up their sleeves. When the dean realized that components necessary for a course may not arrive in time, he hired a flatbed truck and went to local hardware stores to buy the materials. A number of their front-line staff members changed from usual work assignments to help box and send hundreds of laboratory kits to students so that they can do project-based learning at home.
Offer Extra Resources And Support To Students As Possible
It is most essential to admit that students are also facing uncertain times. A relatively inexpensive, remotely situated teaching assistant, like an undergraduate who took the course last term, can be a precious source of further support for current students. The faculty and teaching assistants provide more office hours to satisfy the new demands of distance learning and consideration for time differences worldwide.
Although you will now see plenty more students, faculty, and staff on the campus, we’re basically copying what worked in the spring, making easy alterations here and there to meet growing demands. By way of instance, this fall, several classes are still only being offered on the internet, so the colleges continued to purchase materials for students to use at home. But instead of sending everything, they’re departing prepacked and clearly labeled boxes for those students on campus to pick up, reducing time and overall price.
We continue to fine-tune our plans for the rest of the academic year, aiming to become more flexible and accommodating while still maintaining high standards. Every student wishes to have the opportunity and ability to fully engage, and our COVID-19 expertise has illuminated how to perform better.
Get a Digital Communication Tool that Everyone Can Use
The schools may use a learning management system (LMS) such as Canvas or Blackboard, but you will need a platform to communicate readily with external businesses and partners. Many platforms exist that may help make communications simple. Texting or emailing may look like simple solutions, but monitoring conversations with these tools can be inefficient and challenging.
First, find out what your partners, students, and customers are already using. Outside the United States, WhatsApp is a popular and useful communications tool, as is Slack. Conference calls through Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts are helpful.
Make sure everyone is using the same technology and allow them time to learn how to use it. In fact, Katie Van Dusen, one of the full-time MBA students at Case Western Reserve, recommends beginning early and being patient. “There could be an original learning curve when trying to determine how to operate efficiently on those platforms,” she mentioned. “You must be even more conscious of how many times you’re communicating and that you are reaching out knowingly –communication does not flow as naturally as you would think.”
Keep Yourself Updated — Check in Regularly
Imagine you are an instructor in your own classroom. If you ask a question and nobody speaks, it is a good sign that your students don’t know something. You will need to locate a way to move the learning forward. If you see communication limiting down online, it usually is emblematic of an issue, and it is time to intervene. As the teacher, remain in the loop with pupils and frequently track communications to ensure learning and work progress.
Van Dusen also recommends regular and shorter check-ins with customers when working on jobs. “That is more precious than saying, ‘Okay, at this date and time, we will lay it out at a two-hour call, ‘” she notes. Regular virtual meetings will “build rapport, test communicating in an electronic format, troubleshoot technical problems, and help you tackle them early…all that pays dividends in how easily the work will proceed.”
Enlist Teacher Assistants, Study Buddies, Community Sponsors
Don’t try to do everything independently. Identify someone who is knowledgeable about the local environment and can help students get unstuck when issues arise.
If your students work with a local company or organization, find out if someone at that company will serve almost as a colleague and be a source for the teacher and the students.
Be Open-Minded & Positive
For students or teachers who might be feeling overwhelmed or disappointed by the sudden possibility of running or taking courses online for the near future–and this may be particularly true of experiential classes where you’re hoping to meet new people, shake hands, roll your sleeves up, and all the rest–the near future might not be as bleak as it could be possible to imagine at the moment.
Plenty of significant learning and work can be achieved virtually and it is happening every single day. One week into her virtual job, Van Dusen can see how her encounter will really serve as a blessing to her resume and professional skills.
The team has adjusted on the fly–it is easy: They test things out, see what works, and scrap what does not. We’re learning to become nimble and build techniques and strategies, though it’s different than what we anticipated.
Now we are gaining a new, different kind of valuable experience of working constructively and profoundly through a digital connection. We have learned to adjust Experiential Learning with Covid-19 and create something novel and beneficial for both the clients and ourselves.