Alaska vocational schools to open with no online option for hands-on learning

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Classes will continue at colleges and training centers in Alaska where classes regularly require working with the hands, but the first day of school will be far from normal.

Kenai Peninsula College principal Gary Turner said many lessons taught at the affiliate school at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, which specializes in industrial training, process technology and other fields of study field-based, were already delivered online, but a great deal of work in these types of the course cannot be done remotely.

“It’s more difficult with technical and professional type courses, but the vast majority of our process technology is delivered online and these courses have been around for years,” Turner said, adding that most of KPC’s other courses are a hybrid of online and face-to-face courses. face to face instruction. “Industry and learning goals of most industrial process instrumentation courses – industry requires these students, graduates, to train with the hardware, turn the dials and gauges, and work with our great simulator in our career tech center, so these are things we have yet to do.

Nonetheless, he said the number of students receiving face-to-face instruction this fall would drop significantly from over 1,300 last year to just over 330 when classes begin on August 24.

Kenai Peninsula College, which offers classes in Homer and Seward in addition to its main campus in Soldotna, is increasing the number of lab sessions and in-person classes this year to reduce the number of students in a room at any time to those who will go to class. Rooms will be limited to 25% of normal capacity and students will be spaced at least six feet apart, Turner said.

Student digital key cards used to access campus facilities will be programmed to turn on 20 minutes before class starts and turn off 20 minutes after class ends; common areas will also be closed.

“The students will come to class, learn and then have to go,” Turner said, also noting that this is a departure from how things normally work.

“Students of all ages love to talk, sit and study together, and do study groups. It’s over unless they want to go home and do it themselves, but I hope they don’t.

Kenai Peninsula College is following the advice of the UAA Chancellor’s Office on more general coronavirus procedures and precautions, he added.

Masks will also be mandatory in all KPC buildings, Turner said, and there will also be no traditional public events at the KPC this fall.

“It’s sad because our colleges are such an important part of our communities; so it’s hard to swallow, ”he said.

The uncertainties and challenges surrounding the impending school year have greatly increased the ongoing enrollment declines in the university system and Turner said the number of KPC students was down 24% from a year ago. year and that the number of hours taken by students was down 27% despite the fact that recessions often result in more people seeking vocational training.

He believes many potential students are waiting to enroll – some may wait to see whether they will need to home-school their own children or not while others may wait to see what the ever-changing requirements and procedures are. related to coronaviruses. the start of the semester.

“Within a week of the start date (August 24), I expect an increase in registrations. It seems to make sense, but with covid, nothing seems to make sense, ”Turner said.

The enrollment situation is leading KPC officials to budget for a shortfall of $ 2 million from what was around $ 16 million in 2019. Turner said he was trying to close most of the gap by not not pursuing positions when they become vacant.

Across the Kenai Peninsula in Seward, AVTEC director Cathy LeCompte said the state’s vocational and technical school would operate at half of normal enrollment for its programs at long term, but not for lack of demand. There would still be waiting lists for several AVTEC programs if the school was operating at full capacity, she said.

According to LeCompte, what will be the demand for AVTEC’s popular marine training center and deck simulator, as it is widely used by industry for short training sessions. In a normal year, up to 1,100 people will pass through the maritime center, she said.

AVTEC officials are “cautiously optimistic” they will be able to get students back to campus in the coming weeks, and whether or not that happens will be affected by the number of virus cases in Seward, LeCompte added. .

“We have some programs that we can take online, but for the most part our courses are quite intensive on a practical level,” she said.

If students are allowed to return, they will be divided into “cohorts” based on their respective fields of study and live in a dormitory area away from other students to limit interactions as much as possible, according to LeCompte.

AVTEC dormitories will be limited to half of their capacity and, like most campuses, common areas will also be closed.

“Our gymnasium is currently a hospital – a makeshift hospital for the City of Seward and Providence Hospital – so there is no gymnasium available and no activity is taking place,” she said.

The Account is featured in a short video on the AVTEC homepage detailing other virus precautions taken in which it makes it clear that masks will be needed throughout the school.

“As a state agency, it’s good to have the governor’s health team by our side when it comes to covering your face,” she said.

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