EAU CLAIRE – Joseph Kitzberger of Ellsworth saw some advantage when the Industrial Mechanics program at Chippewa Valley Technical College switched to an all online format. But he is also very happy to be back in the program lab in Eau Claire this summer.

“I liked the online learning because I live an hour away, and I could complete the stuff at home without driving,” he said. “But you couldn’t touch what you were working on. Now we’re getting the chance to actually do the things we’ve been learning about online.”

The hands-on, job-focused learning that CVTC is known for has resumed this summer, setting the stage for a more significant return when the fall semester begins Aug. 24, the college said. Steps such as limited numbers in labs, social distancing, face masks and ongoing sanitation of work areas have been taken to protect both students and faculty during the pandemic.

The difference can be immediately seen in the Industrial Mechanics lab, where 20 or more people commonly worked at a variety of stations, often in groups, especially since CVTC’s $1.7 million share of a Department of Labor TechHire Partnership grant in 2016 allowed for expansion. Now only 10 people, including the instructor, are allowed at a time.

“When they arrive, we have to verify that they didn’t answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions in a symptoms and risks survey and verify that they have a mask,” said Tim Tewalt, program director. “We make sure they use a hand sanitizer and advise them to wash their hands frequently.”

Tewalt added that although students frequently worked together in the past there is currently no need for students to be close to each other, so maintaining social distancing is not a big issue in the lab. Instructors also try to stay six feet away when answering questions.

Students say they feel safe in the environment.

“We come to lab six times over two weeks, alternating between two days one week and four days the next, four hours at a time to keep the number of people down,” said Hunter Peecher, a second-year machine tooling technics student from Hudson.

“We split the class into two groups, with a.m. and p.m. classes so we all get time in the lab without everyone being here at once,” said Dave Edin, a machine tooling technics student from Baldwin. “I feel safe coming to campus.”

CVTC machine tooling technics student Dave Edin of Baldwin programs a CNC machine in the Machine
Tool lab at CVTC in Eau Claire. Photo submitted by CVTC.
CVTC machine tooling technics student Dave Edin of Baldwin programs a CNC machine in the Machine Tool lab at CVTC in Eau Claire. Photo submitted by CVTC.

Welding students were moved farther apart, and an extra level of protection was added to prevent disease spread.

“We all have to wear face shields,” said Kailen Karlson, a welding fabrication student from River Falls. “And we don’t have many people in the building. The first-year students went to a different building. There are only a few of us second-year students left, so we can maintain social distancing.”

The weeks the students spent outside the labs was not ideal, but was productive nonetheless.

“We did multiple things for online learning,” Tewalt said. “We had built-in simulators in our

instructional programming. The students would do simulations, then make a video of themselves doing the tasks while explaining what they were doing. Instructors would evaluate their progression.”

Tewalt explain

CVTC Welding Instructor Wally Quaschnick explains a process to second-year student Kailen Karlson of
River Falls in the welding lab at CVTC in Eau Claire. Manufacturing students returned to labs
this summer, with some adjustments made due to the pandemic. Photo submitted by CVTC.
CVTC Welding Instructor Wally Quaschnick explains a process to second-year student Kailen Karlson of River Falls in the welding lab at CVTC in Eau Claire. Manufacturing students returned to labs this summer, with some adjustments made due to the pandemic. Photo submitted by CVTC.
ed that the online tools they used are common in industry and were used in class in limited circumstances. “Those tools are used in industry to talk to tech support at remote locations, so the students have to know how to use them. But we weren’t using them as much as we are now.”

Similar approaches were taken in welding and machine tool classes.

“When we were off, students who had access to design software were able to do production sheets, so when we got back to the lab, we had a game plan,” said Wally Quaschnick, welding program director.

“I felt like I was learning the lessons well online, but it took more time,” Kitzberger said.

“They made videos on how to do stuff, but we couldn’t do shop work,” said Peecher. “We’re glad to be doing that now.”

“Our faculty really stepped up,” said Jeff Sullivan, dean of apprenticeships, engineering, manufacturing and IT. “Now getting back on campus can supplement what they learned online. The lab time is really critical, and students are doing a good job being productive and making the best of their lab times.”