Over the past year, we have undergone many changes, both professionally and personally, at Texas State Technical College (TSTC). This is probably true of everyone. Here, the pandemic has had us re-examine our curriculum and look for different ways to deliver content that had probably been delivered the same way for many, many years. In many cases, we even looked at the specific content we have been delivering and considered whether it was even necessary. Not many positives have emerged from the pandemic crisis. However, one definite positive was this examination of our courses and the “what’s,” “whys,” and “how’s” of what we are doing. With that said, thank God 2020 is gone.
The title is a play on a television show, where ordinary people start relationships with convicts while they are in jail and try to make it work when they are released. Over the past year, the show has probably decreased in popularity as its overall tone is striking too close to reality. A new year and new political arrangements bring new circumstances and possibilities, especially here in Texas. Over the past several years, our enrollment has had a steady downturn. Nothing unusual. During times of economic prosperity and when jobs are more plentiful, our enrollment has typically decreased. With a seemingly certain downturn in the oil and gas business, enrollment should creep back up as people retrain for other jobs. We even heard there may be a need for folks to build solar panels (wink, wink). With different border policies in place and free college, we may soon be overrun with students. I wonder if I’ll finally get a raise. It’s been five years now, sir, and people are beginning to talk!
But first, we must get back to the classroom. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that face-to-face hands-on learning is hard to beat. Our students and the employers of our graduates would probably agree. We are still not back full-time. The labs are taking place on campus, but the administration is hell bent on keeping lectures online. And, for now, until the pandemic has released us, it is necessary. My experience has been this: sure, I can put content online. Videos, video calls, PowerPoint, reading material … all of it can be put online. What I am seeing is that I must spend part of the lab time going over the material again. This could be because the material is not fully optimized online, or it could be because of the types of learners that typically enroll in our program. It could be the very nature of a technical program versus a more theory-related program. In the end, if I am spending lab time doing lecture or scheduling other out-of-class time to explain, then the students have not benefitted.
Parents, students and employers have told us they want students in the classroom. Yes, most of the students want the lecture part in person also. They enjoy the interaction with others and the spontaneity. Right now, with labs being divided into groups of 10, the instructors are tasked with bigger teaching loads. If enrollment grows, this will mean additional costs for the college.
We will see what happens when the masks come off. Certainly, some online components will remain. I think having material online as a reference point for students is a good idea. However, it should not replace good ole face-to-face learning. If the price of fuel were to climb, this would make the online portion more necessary, even if it is not necessarily desirable. My other job of training motorcyclists will surely benefit.
With advancements in technology, such as virtual reality, who knows what is possible in the future. The bottom line is that we need more HTM professionals and we must continue to find better ways to deliver them now and in the future. I look forward to seeing many of you at MD Expo in Dallas in April!
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