Pensacola State College combats COVID-19 with mask mandate, blended course options in 2020

When Pensacola State College students return to class Monday, almost nothing about the upcoming fall semester will be typical.

Highlighting the many changes in response to the coronavirus pandemic is the requirement for all faculty, students and staff to wear face coverings, which shield both their mouth and nose, at all times in any common area of any building on PSC’s six campuses. Students will also notice socially distanced work spaces in the libraries and classrooms. 

The most challenging aspect of the fall term may prove to be the ways classes are conducted and how students will handle the task of staying motivated in a climate that will see about 80% of studies taught online — almost the complete opposite of how classes were conducted in fall 2019.

How traditional, online and blended courses will work at PSC this fall 

“There will only be about 20% face-to-face class offerings,” said PSC President Ed Meadows in a phone interview Wednesday. 

When students enrolled, they could choose from a mixture of live online courses, pre-taped online courses, face-to-face courses and blended courses that consist of both traditional and online teaching. 

Third-year PSC student Paul Tiblier, who is working to become an emergency medical technician, took online courses this summer as the college began implementing some of its COVID-19 changes. Tiblier said it was the first time in his school career that he learned online and he enjoyed the convenience. 

“I enjoy the online classes because I don’t have to go to school, I don’t worry about what I have to put on and I’m more comfortable,” Tiblier said. “I don’t see focusing being a problem for me personally.”

Meadows said part of choosing which classes to offer face-to-face this fall was based on the physical classroom size of certain courses. Those with the largest rooms that could be adequately modified to adhere to six-foot social distancing guidelines were allowed in some cases to carry on in their traditional format. 

College officials also evaluated individual courses to determine if they were best suited for in-person or online learning.

“The typical lecture classes in the general education course for university transfers, and also the general education requirements for other degrees we offer in the workforce —we felt that we had to offer those courses face-to-face as well as online,” Meadows.

PSC has a select handful of hybrid classes set up so lecture portions take place online, while laboratories and clinical settings are done in person. About 20% of the school’s fall courses will fall under the hybrid option.

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“Those courses are our health science programs, our nursing program, as well as our vocational programs like welding, carpentry, electricity, HVAC and construction skills classes,” he added. “About 40% of our classes are either going to be face-to-face or hybrid because of the nature of the workforce programs. And because of students who do not feel comfortable or can afford the technology to take purely online courses.”

Tiblier has three in-person courses scheduled for his fall term: EMT professional, EMT med-tech and the EMT med-tech lab. Those three courses will require Tiblier to physically go to school. He said he’s not against that, but did admit that constantly wearing masks will be bothersome. 

“The face mask thing, I think that’ll take away from people who pay full attention,” he said. “Especially for people who wear glasses. I wear glasses, so they always fog up with a face mask on.”

Meadows said his most crucial piece of advice for students who aren’t used to taking online courses is to make sure they isolate themselves from distractions. 

“They are going to have to find a way to set aside time, just like they were if they were taking face-to-face classes,” Meadows said.

Resources at PSC designed to help students navigate trying times

For the college, Meadows said the largest challenge this fall might be the faculty’s ability to identify early on which students are struggling. Virtual tutoring will continue to be offered this fall, and tutoring hours will increase. 

Meadows added that a pre-COVID era retention and completion tracking system that automatically flags struggling first-year students has preemptively been expanded this year to help all PSC students. The system is monitored by both faculty and advisers. 

“Being able to expand that is a work in progress, I’ll say, to expand it to all students,” he admitted. “We’ll be very vigilant in tracking student progress to make sure they don’t get in any trouble they can’t overcome.”

Short certificate programs with mini-terms built into each semester can help students who are looking to be employed as soon as possible.

Another pre-COVID initiative, Meadows said, is that students who have not registered at PSC can sign up for mini courses even once the fall add/drop deadline passes Aug. 21.

“For those seeking immediate employment with short-term workforce programs that may be a good option for students in the community who continue to lose their job due to COVID,” Meadows said. 

Examples include career certificates in the building construction trade, such as electricity, HVAC, welding and carpentry. These programs are a year or less certificate programs that allow enrolled students to find employment often within the first semester. 

For more information about the college’s COVID-19 adjustment plans, go to pensacolastate.edu/covid-19-response-plan.

Jake Newby can be reached at [email protected] or 850-435-8538.

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