The campuses of Central Oregon Community College are prepped and ready for a new era of learning. Classrooms are reorganized to maximize physical distancing. Buildings have designated doors for entering and exiting. Other safety protocols, such as mandatory face coverings, routine surface wipe-downs and hand sanitizer dispensers, are in place.
When fall term gets underway in just a few short weeks, the college's campuses will be able to offer in-person learning, though face-to-face options will be scaled back from typical years. Remote classes, as well as hybrid and online instruction (conducted on one's own schedule), will continue to bring coursework to virtual learners as they have since late March.
Students are preparing for their first class of the term, which begins on Sept. 21, by utilizing resources such as the college's dedicated "Health and Safety" webpages to find answers to specific questions. Faculty are participating in all-day virtual retreats to best prepare for supporting students. Above all, in-person learning is being rolled out carefully, with a commitment to health and safety.
Plugging into virtual studies is a proven method for those who favor distance learning at their own pace. Before the coronavirus forced a new normal, recent COCC graduate Jessica Thaxton was already utilizing online learning to achieve her associate degree in computer information systems."Out of 22 courses taken prior to the COVID-19 precautions, I took 17 of those online," said the up-and-coming web developer. "As someone who works full-time, the availability of many online courses was the primary determining factor in my decision to return to school."
"Pharmacy tech, computer information systems and our business program are all areas where a significant portion of the courses have historically and continue to be available online," said Betsy Julian, vice president of instruction, pointing to three of the college's biggest distance-learning programs.
For a number of years, students at COCC have had a wide range of virtual studies to choose from — from classes in microbiology and ethnic studies to early childhood education and health and human performance. Last year, four out of 10 students utilized those learning opportunities.
Now, remote learning is a part of most programs. It forces a new approach. Music instructor Jan Saito, for instance, has taken her piano lessons into the virtual "auditorium." As someone without any prior online teaching experience, she quickly adapted to using Zoom and video recordings. It has allowed her to connect with students in a new way, revealing that some students feel more comfortable practicing piano at home rather than surrounded by classmates.
For some hands-on programs at COCC, in-person instruction was able to adapt from the outset and moved forward with state approval, a testament to how classroom learning can proceed in these times. "I've been doing this since March," said Vicki Thomas, an instructor in the certified nursing assistant program, surveying her lab of nine students in the Health Careers Center. "This nursing assistant class was one of the only ones."
Other programs took a pause to integrate new safety measures, then relaunched this summer. Paola Santacruz, who's completing her Master Automotive Technician Certification this year, was eager to return to campus when the automotive technology program returned in June. "There was no hesitation returning to school," she said. "The instructors have made it a safe learning environment."
Potential students are now able to make appointments for virtual one-on-one "Getting Started" sessions with admissions representatives. Campus tours, masked-up and restricted in size, are being scheduled. Get started today at cocc.edu or contact the Madras campus at 541-550-4100.
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