St. Clair College Adopts New Delivery Methods
Story by Michael Seguin
Photography Courtesy St. Clair College
Patti France was first hired at St. Clair College in April 1987. Since then, she’s been witness to countless seismic shifts in the postsecondary education system.
However, in terms of sheer impact, nothing could equal the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, as the fall semester approaches its September 21st start date for most programs other than Health Sciences and BSCN, Patti reflects on how her institution has adapted to these unprecedented times.
“The pandemic has changed our fundamental delivery method from in-person classes to online ones,” Patti explains. “We had a crash course in that when the pandemic first occurred in the spring. Windsor’s first outbreak happened during our March Break.”
St. Clair College navigated the changing circumstances with astonishing speed. Within five working days, the faculty converted all classes to online instruction.
“I have to commend our students as well,” Patti states. “They recognized the severity of the situation and they adapted to those changes. Online education is certainly not our preference, but its effectiveness is certainly not to be underestimated. Today’s technology does allow it to be highly interactive.”
However, Patti notes that the current situation is far from ideal.
“Reception has been mixed,” Patti admits. “Some love it. Some absolutely love it. But some don’t. Some want the face-to-face interaction. Everyone learns differently. Some really enjoy the freedom of online learning, while others find it very difficult. We will be happy to return to traditional delivery when it is safe to do so.”
That said, Patti admits, there are some skills that can only be taught in a hands-on environment.
“While lectures will continue online in the fall semester, during the early spring we developed the ability to deliver some of our essential labs, workshops and clinics in-person,” Patti states. “We worked with 21 other colleges—Colleges Ontario and the Ontario government—to develop a pilot project for practical skills that required the completion of vocational learning outcomes.”
As part of this pilot project, the entire college went through a rigorous assessment process.
“We did a thorough assessment of every single program, including apprenticeships and pre-apprenticeships,” Patti explains. “Every classroom. Every lab. Every area of the institution. This was to ensure the safety of our students and staff for face-to-face activity was possible. The assessment also included a comprehensive analysis of every course to determine the best blend of virtual learning opportunities. We’re designing everything to be flexible and accommodating.”
As a result of this thorough process, St. Clair College was able to provide some students with on-campus learning opportunities over the summer.
“We have about 500 students right now,” Patti states. “Almost all of the postsecondary students who have been with us over the summer were individuals in the final year of their studies at the end of 2019/2020 or during the spring semester. We also have apprenticeship students who have started back. Many of those programs are tied to professional accreditations or outcomes that require them to complete a specific number of hands-on lab hours, workshops or clinics.”
St. Clair College developed numerous safety protocols to ensure that these services could continue to be offered in the fall.
“If you were to come visit, it’s a very different place,” Patti explains. “We have directional arrows. We have controlled entrance and exit points. Physical distancing is required. We have signage everywhere. We’ve implemented a mandatory wearing of masks in all common areas. Personal protective equipment is required in all of those labs and workshops where physical distancing cannot be maintained. We cannot sacrifice the health and safety of anyone.”
Patti acknowledges the role individual responsibility plays in order to halt the spread of the virus.
“Each student had to complete a training module before they could return to school,” Patti states. “In addition, they were all required to complete a daily screening questionnaire before arriving on campus. Everyone’s safety is of the utmost importance to us at St. Clair College. It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that they follow the rules and those training protocols.”
And while St. Clair College was busy ensuring the health and safety of their students, the institution continued to find ways to service the community. Notably, the Chatham HealthPlex (along with the Windsor SportsPlex) were used as field hospitals for Windsor Regional Hospital and the Chatham Kent Health Alliance.
“After we concluded the 2020 academic year by switching those final few weeks from in-person delivery to online delivery,” Patti states. “And as the crisis worsened, our attention turned from inward to outward. We looked at what we could do to serve our community. And our answer to that was to offer all of our equipment and facilities to the disposal of the local healthcare system.”
And St. Clair College’s generosity did not end there. Several faculty members in various disciplines launched COVID-related research projects, including our Data Analytics team. Some Fashion Designer professors and students made masks. Respiratory Therapy graduates were immediately accredited so that they could join the workforce in the fight against COVID. The alumni association and the student organization gathered a $100,000 donation to local hospitals.
“It’s a classic example of the community spirit exhibited by all of the St. Clair College staff and students,” Patti explains. “If we as an institution, as people, can do anything to contribute to the wellbeing of the community, we really do try and step up. We always have.”
And as the summer draws to a close, St. Clair College continues to ensure that the 2020 fall semester is as safe and enjoyable as possible for all students.
“We must maintain our plans for online learning, coupled with brief attendance in essential labs, workshops and clinics,” Patti explains. “Our support services will certainly be stepping up. Even now, our library is promoting our vast catalog of online research material. We’ve also bolstered a number of counselling services to provide phone-in and online assistance to students. We want to make sure it’s as exciting and engaging an experience as possible.”
And while the last six months have seen an unprecedented number of changes, Patti remains optimistic about the St. Clair College student experience.
“Postsecondary education has been changed by the pandemic,” Patti admits. “But it has not been curtailed. Indeed, it’s certainly more alive, vibrant and innovative than I think it has ever been. We’ve expanded our offerings and our delivery methods to make everything more accessible to our unique circumstances. Converting the lifelong career aspirations of our students into reality has always been the purpose of St. Clair College. The obstacles presented by the pandemic can’t stop us or our students from making those dreams come true.”
New Sports Park
Despite all the turmoil surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Clair College has recently completed their new Sports Park, which will offer a range of new services and experiences for the students and community.
“When we constructed the SportsPlex several years ago, its amenities quickly made it one of the most popular spots on campus,” Patti explains. “We expect that the Sports Park will have the same effect for the outdoor sports that St. Clair College will be hosting. We expect it will instill a new vibrancy in our community.”