In March 2020, the trailer that Eric Wooldridge expected would be the headliner of his MOBILE AMP Advanced Technological Education (ATE) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) had been delivered to Somerset Community College in Kentucky. He was ordering 3D printers to outfit the trailer as a traveling additive manufacturing lab for summer workshops at high schools and colleges when Covid-19 lockdowns occurred.
Rather than retreat, Wooldridge and the other community college educators featured in this article added to their ATE initiatives, which are essentially experiments to test their ideas for improving technician education.
This article is an excerpt from the new issue of the Community College Journal, published by the American Association of Community Colleges. AACC’s 2021 Virtual Advanced Technological Education Conference begins this week.
For these ATE principal investigators, responding to the needs of students, educators and industry partners during the pandemic became a new facet of inquiry. As they expanded or shifted their efforts, they gathered evidence about what worked and what didn’t, and adjusted what they did based on data. Not everything they attempted worked. But, they reported being happily surprised by better results than if they had been able to carry out the plans they had crafted before the pandemic.
Wooldridge, program coordinator of digital printing technology at Somerset Community College, used public interest in the mobilization of 3D printers to make personal protective equipment to accelerate action toward his long-horizon goal of creating dual-enrollment additive manufacturing programs across Kentucky. In the early weeks of the pandemic, he wrote a proposal for a $130,000 Perkins grant to equip and teach faculty at five community colleges to make critical supplies using 3D printers.
He also reconfigured his ATE project’s professional development. With ATE grant funds, he bought 3D printers and shipped them to educators, who watched video-recorded lessons and did assignments when it fit their schedules. In late summer when Covid infection rates decreased, the teachers came to Somerset for a one-day, in-person workshop. Wooldridge jokes that so far the mobile part of his ATE project consists of participants bringing 3D printers with them so that he and his colleagues can help troubleshoot glitches.
“Covid actually helped improve our process quite a bit,” he said.
The arrangement of having people work through the instructional material at their own pace, then in-person as a group, followed by more remote lessons has worked so well that he has offered the workshop this way every semester since. Four cohorts with a total of 65 teachers had participated by August 2021. That is double the number of educators Woodridge expected to learn “the additive manufacturing mindset” at this point under his original plan.
With the Perkins grant and other external support, 10 Kentucky community and technical colleges now have the 16-credit additive manufacturing certificate programs designed to be scaled quickly. Several colleges now offer courses at multiple high schools where teachers, who went through MOBILE AMP professional development, support the dual enrollment courses that are remotely delivered by community college instructors.
Hands-on labs at home
Early in the pandemic, Chrysanthos A. Panayiotou, principal investigator of the Center for Laser and Fiber Optics Education (LASER-TEC) at Indian River State College in Florida, obtained a supplemental ATE grant to help the 44 colleges affiliated with his center continue their photonics programs during the Covid-19 lockdown.
With the additional funds, LASER-TEC staff put together the home study Light and Optics Experiment Kit (LOEK). The kits were shipped at no cost directly to 250 students in 22 states, Puerto Rico, Curacao and Canada. Each kit had 23 experiments and an illustrated lab manual. The staff also made YouTube instructional videos for each experiment for two entry-level optics and photonics courses.
Judy Irwin, an instructor at Spokane Community College in Washington, explained in an email that her students told her “having the kits and doing the labs at home was a wonderful experience…. The labs truly helped with comprehension and retention of the theory.” She also noted, “When we were allowed back on campus in small groups for labs, the students were not behind.”
Irwin has incorporated several of the exercises from the kits in her in-person classes. However, her biggest takeaway is that “in a time of need, LASER-TEC and NSF-ATE were ready to help. They reached out and offered the support we needed while I, as an instructor, was still asking myself ‘How am I going to do this?’”
Panayiotou reports that three colleges have purchased the kits from the center’s website to use in fall 2021 courses.
“Along with the videos for each experiment [they] make it ideal for online or hybrid courses,” he wrote in an email.