Marilyn Barger, Executive Director, Florida Advanced Technological Education Center, and Lakshmi Jayaram, President, Inquiry Research Group
During the recent “virtual” Spring Meeting of the Florida Forum on Engineering Technology, participants expressed concern about technician students’ experience in moving to remote instruction this semester due to COVID-19. Based on early reports from community college partners, the transition has been challenging, and some programs indicated students are even considering withdrawing from their programs. As one faculty member explained: “They have given up. [Students] feel they can’t do this online without support.” There was interest in discussing this topic further at the next ET Forum due to both the uncertainty related to the return of in-person instruction and the perceived need to improve student comfort and confidence in online learning. To help inform that discussion, the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE) and the Inquiry Research Group LLC teamed up to create a small pilot survey to collect some initial feedback from Florida technician students about their online experience this past semester.
Almost all students report using a Learning Management System for remote learning, and have a variety devices to use for their studies, as well as reliable internet connectivity at home. Some of the biggest changes noted by students is that they message their instructors more, read and write emails from/to the class more, but actually talk with everyone much less. In terms of applied learning, students report a significant decline in demonstrations, hands-on lab activities, and group projects. Though some programs have gotten involved in volunteer efforts to create PPE/medical equipment, students in this survey report a decline in service learning opportunities. About half of students report feeling worried about making progress toward their degree, although about two-thirds did feel that they would be able to complete the semester. While students felt having access to course materials all the time worked well for them, they also felt the greatest challenge was not being able to learn in a hands-on way. In order to overcome obstacles in online learning, students report relying heavily on instructors.
To date, 30 students have taken the survey, and the majority are enrolled in advanced manufacturing and engineering technology programs, some full-time and others part-time, and with some seeking degrees and others enrolled for certificates. The students who completed the survey are similar to other students at two-year colleges in being quite diverse by way of age, partner status, having a family, race-ethnicity, employment status, and educational background. About one-third of students who responded are women. Some students also reported learning disabilities and chronic illness.