Sowela students adapting to online learning

Sowela Technical Community College has been facilitating 100 percent of its courses online for the last several weeks in light of COVID-19. While some of the college’s offerings were already set up for online learning, many students and teachers are facing a new educational reality in cyber space.

Sowela’s health care programs do not typically operate online, Kristine Stout, School of Nursing interim dean, said. Naturally, most of its courses require hands-on, face-to-face clinical practice.

“For us to go completely online has been an adjustment not just for students but faculty, as well,” she said.

The state boards for registered and practical nursing have made provisions for online learning due to the unique circumstances of the pandemic. Students enrolled in those courses will still remain on track, she said.

However, sterile processing and surgical technology students will still have to complete their clinicals in the hospital setting once hospitals re-open for typical operations.

“That’s our only big concern right now really,” Stout said. “We know we need to get back into the hospital.”

Despite the change in platform, Stout said students are “staying in touch with their skills, just a different way.”

Nursing students are completing online simulations to assess patients. The simulations require “a lot of critical thinking,” Stout said and take hours to complete much like face-to-face clinical rotations in a hospital.

She added that research studies have confirmed that simulations are comparable to going into the hospital setting.

“Do we want to be in the patient setting? Yes, absolutely. But with everything going on we have to use simulation.”

Unlike the allied health programs, many of Sowela’s business and applied technology courses were already housed in an online platform. Wendy Sonnier, business and applied technology instructor, said prior to the campus closure, 50 percent of her courses were already online.

The nature of the courses provided for a smooth transition online because her students were already familiar with working with computers to complete assignments, she said.

Internet access is proving to be an unexpected hurdle, she’s noticed. Some students were used to using cell phone hot spots for home internet or the school’s library.

When the class met in Zoom for their lecture and students mentioned their struggles, Sonnier noted the students banded together to support one another.

“As an instructor I’m not necessarily thinking of those things and other students are. They’re looking out for one another, chiming in and providing direction on where to access some of those free resources like WiFi and internet access for the month.”

The online classroom is also giving students a resumeboost as they learn to navigate digital platforms.

“For our department, it gives students a special opportunity. Utilizing Zoom and WebEx in the business career field, that’s something you could put on a resume. Writing ‘presented using online tools like Zoom or WebEx,’ there’s a lot of potential benefits there,” Sonnier said.

Like its business programs, Sowela’s culinary arts program already existed in an online platform giving on-campus teachers a proven track of success. Sarah Broussard, adjunct faculty for the culinary arts program, teaches dual enrollment high school students.

One of the biggest hurdles these students are facing, she said, is leaving their textbooks at the high school when campuses closed weeks ago. She’s worked to take photocopies of the lessons to ensure students are able to continue to progress in their culinary skills.

She’s noticed the students coping with the change from learning on campus to the online platform especially in the times they’re submitting assignments.

“They’re working at odd hours now that they’re doing emails. These are high school juniors and seniors, so I’ve had to extend deadlines because of changes in child care around them or they’re working or they just have different home life situations.”

While the students can’t “turn-in” their cooking online, Broussard said, they complete their assignments through film. When dual-enrollment students complete their studies, they can continue in Sowela’s program full-time which is the online culinary associate’s degree in the state, Darlene Hoffpauir, marketing and communication manager, said.

“We’re making sure our students are, regardless of their educational and career goals, able to continue with their studies with as little interruption as possible,” she said.Natalie Tower, a student in Keyboarding I, works on her Sowela online coursework.

Special to the American Press

Sowela business students recently presented their virtual assignments.

Special to the American Press


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