Creativity during COVID-19: How students will navigate the changes to vocational and lab-based courses

By Bethany Rentfro, Staff Reporter

The coronavirus pandemic is changing the academic experience for students in the southern Illinois area and around the globe. 

SIU and John A. Logan College made the decision to extend spring break and convert courses to online or alternative formats and students in vocational or lab-based courses have expressed concerns about how they will be able to complete the semester. 

Isaac Wysong, a student in the HVAC program at John A. Logan College in Carterville, said one of his main concerns is finishing classes. 

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Wysong said his instructor is very good about working with the students during this uncertain time. 

“He’s doing the best that he can under the circumstances,” Wysong said. “I guess the best hope we have is to be able to get some sort of decent grade and maybe [the college] will let us come back and do the labs.” 

Crystal Young, a nursing assistant and program coordinator at John A. Logan College, said the college is trying to help these programs by coming up with some creative options to complete labs and clinicals. 

“Some of them are getting case studies and other types of alternatives,” Young said. “The college has been very supportive. They are just trying to keep everybody in peace of mind and a lot of it is just creativity.” 

John A. Logan College made the decision last Friday to transfer courses online but the release on the website did not say anything about vocational courses. 

Melanie Pecord, Vice President of Instruction at John A. Logan College, said the concerns of students in online programs have to do with the accrediting bodies. 

“Students are concerned about what that looks like so they can finish the guidelines of the accrediting body,” Pecord said. 

Pecord said the college is reaching out to these accrediting bodies to figure out an alternative solution for these students. 

“There are many of the programs that have clinicals, externships or maybe [require] a certain number of minutes or hours in a lab,” Pecord said. “So, those things are difficult because you can’t really teach a person to weld online.” 

Pecord said the instructors in these programs are trying to frontload their lectures with the hopes that students will be able to return to campus by the end of the semester to finish their labs. 

“Everything is up in the air,” Pecord said. “We don’t know if we will get to come back or any of those things.” 

Since this interview, John A. Logan College made the decision not to allow students to come to campus for the rest of the semester. 

Wysong said a major hardship for him this semester is navigating the online platform as a tactile learner. 

“Me, personally, I learn hands-on,” Wysong said. “I prefer working on stuff versus book stuff, so that is definitely concerning.”

Some of the vocational courses at John A. Logan College include HVAC, welding, sheet metal, automotive technology, cosmetology, nursing and several others. 

Young said she is concerned about how the students will get the experience necessary while everything is shut down. 

“Students are worried about how they are going to finish on time, when they will finish and if it will affect future jobs they will be getting,” Young said. 

For the nursing assistant programs, Young said some of the labs can be done online if students can be evaluated through a video format. 

“We are trying to come up with some creative ways,” Young said. “We are looking for some simulator-type, interactive programs that can count for some of the clinical time.” 

Young said the college has taken some measures to ensure the needs of these students are met and told students they can take an incomplete if they are experiencing financial hardship. 

“I know that some of these other programs, we are going to get through as much as we can and then they are going to have to take an incomplete,” Young said. “I think they are just trying to be as flexible as possible to work with them when we get to that part.”

Staff reporter Bethany Rentfro can be reached via email at [email protected]

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