Community colleges across the country are shifting classes to online instruction in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but they’re finding more challenges in figuring what to do about nursing clinicals, apprenticeships and other hands-on programs.
When Ivy Tech Community College (Indiana) restarts classes on March 23, “accommodations will be made for labs, clinicals and some technology courses to meet in groups of 10 or less if social distancing can be assured,” said Jeff Fanter, vice president for marketing and communications.
“There is a very detailed approval process being put in place to review such courses,” Fanter said.
Some colleges are still trying to figure out how to go forward. Oakton Community College in Illinois has extended spring break for a week and is moving all class lectures online, but “we’re still assessing alternatives for lab programs, clinicals and apprenticeships, ” said spokesperson Steve Butera.
Howard Community College in Maryland is working with companies directly about what to do about apprenticeships, as the state’s labor department hasn’t issued any guidelines on that yet, said spokesperson Elizabeth Homan. The college revised its spring break schedule so classes won’t start until March 30.
At Everett Community College (EvCC) in Washington, students in classes such as aviation maintenance, advanced manufacturing, nursing, emergency medical services (EMS) and other courses that require in-person work can finish their training, “with strict social distancing required,” President Daria Willis wrote in a March 16 notice.
EvCC is serving students and the community remotely and has closed all offices, computer labs and buildings. The college anticipates reopening for in-person services on April 6. Student housing remains open to residents but guests are not allowed.
With clinicals, “instructors are getting creative,” Willis said. Many EvCC nursing students take clinicals at hospitals in Seattle, the epicenter of coronavirus in the U.S, so that’s no longer possible. Beginning next quarter, faculty are asked to front-load lecture materials in their courses to provide more time for determining how to deal with hands-on activities.
The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges is working with the state’s nursing commission to see if there’s any leeway or flexibility in required clinical hours, Willis said.
EMS programs and science labs at EvCC are using larger classrooms to allow for social distancing. Welding students are working in booths, so they’re not in close contact with anyone.
The college is looking at ordering science lab kits, but “we haven’t made any sweeping decisions for the next quarter,” Willis said.
EvCC’s career and technical program for dual-enrolled high school students is now run online because local public schools are closed.
Restrictions on clinicals
Officials at South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) in Washington “are going program by program to assess the options. It’s a lesson in creativity,” said spokesperson Kelly Green.
Local healthcare providers told the college that students could finish this quarter and that they would reassess for the next quarter.
Protecting students’ health is front and center, Green noted, as there are five positive COVID-19 cases in the county, and a group of students from Lake Washington Institute of Technology (LWIT) visited the Evergreen nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, which had a major outbreak. One faculty member from LWIT tested positive, and all those students are self-quarantined at home.
“The biggest challenge is finding a balance between what faculty say we need and what regulators and accrediting bodies say we need,” said Green, who noted that faculty would like to use lab simulations, but accreditors are still requiring in-person instruction.
Automotive technology and welding programs are bigger challenges, Green said, although welding students already wear masks with respirators.
Some workforce and lab programs at SPSCC are splitting into smaller groups to allow for social distancing. Instead of having 10 students in a lab, for example, there could be three separate sessions.
Nursing students at Metropolitan Community College in Nebraska “are still in clinicals with our instructors as long as the hospitals allow us to be there,” said Stacey Ocander, dean of health and public services.
Students are not allowed in high-risk areas or on the same floor as patients with infectious diseases, Ocander said, and they have their temperature taken before entering the building.
Students were prohibited from long-term care facilities weeks ago, she added. Health classes are now delivered online, and labs are restricted to just two students at a time.
For other students, Metropolitan is putting as much instruction as possible online and is following social-distancing guidelines for workforce programs and labs, said Tom McDonnell, vice president for academic affairs. Some academic areas, such as culinary arts, are preparing kits for home use.
Everything could change
The Virginia Community College System (VCCS) “remains open for business” but has canceled many events, including commencement ceremonies in May, Chancellor Glenn Dubois said in a March 17 notice.
Dubois commended colleges in the state for offering classes remotely, limiting instruction to small groups and continuing to offer computer lab and food pantry resources when possible.
When it comes to nursing clinicals, “we don’t have answers right now,” said Assistant Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Kraus. “A lot of clinical partners have to respond to the pandemic as well, and some have immediately canceled clinicals.”
Nursing homes, where many students do their clinicals, “are blocking their doors to everyone,” Kraus said.
“Obviously, not everything can go online,” he said. Some colleges in the state are breaking down welding classes, so the instructor meets with two or three students at a time, not 15, for example. Regarding apprenticeships, the key factor is whether there are more than 10 people in the room.
On performance-based learning and clinics, “we have yet to come up with a universal answer but smart people are working on it every day,” Krause said.
VCCS is working with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools on how to deal with such issues as credits and graduation.
“Our biggest challenge right now is how and when we will get an all clear,” Kraus says.
Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in Ohio has suspended all nursing skill labs and clinical rotations until further notice.
“We will be continuing skills lab content online in a number of formats,” Nursing Dean Wendy Batch-Wilson wrote in a March 17 notice.
“While we do not know when face-to-face restrictions will be lifted, we do ask that you have a plan in place should labs and clinicals resume in the coming weeks,” Bath-Wilson wrote in the memo to nursing students. “Because standards set by our accrediting bodies must be met, missed time and experiences must be completed if/when we are able to continue.”
Tri-C extended spring break for an extra week and expects to start for-credit classes on March 23, said spokesperson John Horton. Instruction for those classes will be delivered online or via videoconferencing through the end of the semester.
Apprenticeship and workforce programs, such as welding, are still happening on a case-by-case basis, Horton said.
All that can change, he said, as “things are moving pretty quickly.”