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COVID-19 Demands Teaching Adjustments

While remote learning can be effective, certain classes require in-person instruction—and the right safety precautions.

By Alfonso Clemmings, MT (AMT) From the AMT Pulse, Fall 2020

Instructor, Molecular Diagnostic Branch, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, JBSA Fort Sam Houston, Texas

 

When we look back on how 2020 began and all the events that transpired into spring, we can definitively say that COVID-19’s ferocity blindsided us. As the number of cases in the country increased, it was clear to the Department of Defense (DoD) that action should be taken to protect the health of the armed forces. Travel restrictions were initiated in March that effectively stopped the movement of all DoD personnel, including a later set of restrictions that triggered a 14-day quarantine if people visited certain countries and states. Naturally, this affected our ability to teach.

One of the most significant effects on training is the guidance calling for a 14-day quarantine for all personnel coming to a post. For students looking to transfer to another location to take a particular course, the student’s command has several considerations:

  • Is the training mission critical, or can it wait until the 14-day quarantine is relaxed or eliminated?
  • For housing, the student will most likely be self-monitoring in a hotel or in the barracks for 14 days before class begins.
  • The cost for the 14-day quarantine comes out of the command funds. Will those funds be reimbursed? The number of students will decrease significantly as the command takes a wait-and-see approach.

Conversion from in-person instruction to remote training is easily accomplished for some courses but not possible for others. For example, a medical laboratory technician will need in-person classes for practice exercises to ensure a procedure is done correctly and to ensure the concept is learned. For these classes, instructors monitor laboratory exercises while giving students valuable pointers and insights as well as addressing any issues that may arise during the exercises or with specific instrument utilization.

Whether you are 100% invested in remote training or using it solely during the lecture portion, internet issues are common. This may be due in part to necessary security filters with DoD regulations and mandates, modifications put in place by the IT department, and/or the limited bandwidth as the number of teleworkers increases dramatically. This can make conducting remote training problematic and frustrating. One way to increase your chance for a successful remote training session is to use multiple means of communication.

“Teaching and learning continues as we make adjustments to ensure the safety of the staff and students.”

For example, Microsoft Teams or Zoom can be the primary platform. Instructors can then use a secondary system if the internet is down, such as a file drop with a downloadable presentation and a teleconference phone number. The initial-entry trainees are students who are all new to their chosen field. They are also subject to the 14-day quarantine before beginning their program. While in quarantine, students can be given a packet of lecture materials and assigned items to be completed.

Since social distancing and mask wearing are mandatory, classrooms where face-to-face lectures are being conducted may need to be modified so students can spread out. Additional classrooms and other nontraditional learning areas may be required. Overall, the course content and laboratory exercises have remained unchanged, although student-to-instructor ratios have been adjusted to reduce proximity between them. The Field Training Exercise used at the end of some courses to reinforce and evaluate military, tactical and laboratory skills, has also been unaffected. Even though training is outdoors and sometimes in the woods, emphasis is still placed on maintaining social distancing and wearing a mask when appropriate.

So, the teaching and learning continues as we make adjustments to ensure the safety of the staff and students. Because of what we do and how we do it, teleworking and remote teaching are not always the complete answer. Sometimes, the hands-on portion of our laboratory exercises dictates that our students be physically present for us to guide them.

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