Old Colony vocational teachers shift gears for online learning

May 18, 2020

At Old Colony Regional Vocational Technical High School, the mechanic shop is closed, the pulses of light in the welding shop can’t be seen, and patrons aren’t waiting for a haircut. But that doesn’t mean students aren’t learning the trades that made them want to attend the school in the first place.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, vocational instructors have had to adjust their learning styles to teach their students hands-on skills without actually being hands-on.

Bethany Botelho, vocational coordinator at Old Colony, said that the faculty and staff have done a “fantastic job” in finding ways to teach students remotely.

Since the school can’t give out machinery to students for home use (“the safety repercussions would be a nightmare,” Botelho said), vocational class time has shifted to learning theory and hearing from industry experts.

Students have two live sessions a week where teachers use different applications to virtually recreate the hands-on learning. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, teachers have office hours where they can meet with students for any needs.

Automotive instructor Dennis Frates uses an app called Electude to teach students how to fix an overheated engine or replace spark plugs online.

With the app, he is able to walk students through a learning video, show powerpoints, give assignments, and track how long a student is logged on.

If the assignment is to replace brake pads, Frates said that students have a virtual car in front of them in Electude that they have to repair like they would in the shop.

He said that it’s “as close as you can get” to working in the shop at school.

During the pandemic, dealerships and big garages are essential, so some students are still working in the school’s co-op program (the school program officially discontinued this program but leaves it up to students if they still want to participate.)

Frates said that it can be tough for some students who are the only ones that are still employed in the home.

Old Colony recognized this issue, so these students are exempt from live sessions, but still have to watch recorded lectures and turn in assignments.

He is in constant contact with these students and said that they’ve still been consistent, and participation across the board has been near-perfect. 

In the welding and metal fabrication department, instructor Doug Desrochers has used his connections with the American Welding Society to help teach students remotely. 

As the AWS district director for New England and Quebec, he uses the society’s library of content and learning modules for coursework online.

Desrochers is able to teach theory, math and blueprint reading skills to students using these lessons, which can help when they get back into the shop.

But what he can’t give to students in the hands-on learning experience.

He said it has been “great to see them online” and keep up with them in lieu of in-person classes, but students still need a certain amount of in-shop hours completed in order to meet the qualifications of the society (usually a graduation goal) and work professionally.

Tammy Hoyle, an instructor in the cosmetology program who teaches mainly at the senior level, has a similar issue.

In order to get their license to work in a salon, students have to complete 1,000 hours of certification work and pass the state’s certification exam.

Hoyle said she has four seniors that haven’t tested yet, and it’s uncertain when they will test.

Since she can’t be in the salon with students, Hoyle now teaches seniors using a mannequin by having them act as test evaluators and point out what she did right and wrong.

She also asks students to create how-to videos at home, and their responses have been quite creative. One student used candy canes to curl hair and another built a full diorama of her dream salon.

This time has taught Hoyle to “definitely think outside of the box” in how she teaches. 

Since they can’t sit for state exams, she had students get certain sanitization certifications which she said may be useful now that salons can soon open with restrictions, and more importantly, new positions that focus just on sanitization.

But, nothing can replace the buzz and excitement of the salon environment, and Hoyle said it’s sad that “I can’t create it at home.” 

As an Old Colony graduate who has worked at the school for 25 years, Desrochers said that he has, “never had a bad day waking up and going to work,” so he misses being able to go into work and feel the sounds and smell of the shop. 

For Frates, “the biggest thing I get out of this job is to see when students succeed,” so to see how dedicated his students are to their schoolwork during this pandemic has been nothing short of amazing.