Technical Education Post

News and Information for Technical Educators

How Community Colleges are Tackling Hands-On, Experiential Learning During the Pandemic

This spring, the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC) pivoted – like the majority of organizations across the world – to seriously and thoughtfully follow the national coronavirus pandemic experts from the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization, as well as the National Governors Association, AACC and many others to assimilate as many key factors in how and when our community and technical college members would be able to restart necessary hands-on learning in many of the applied technology and advanced manufacturing fields.

With guidance from college advanced technology center (ATC) experts and many of our 38 industry strategic partners, such as the Association for Manufacturing Technology, Festo, Haas, the American Welding Society/Weld-Ed and the National Coalition of Certification Centers, we developed a growing repository of best and promising practices that emulate real-world, successful and safe working environments during the pandemic.

We also crafted a survey to learn how NCATC member colleges were handling hands-on labs in light of COVID-19.  Here are some of the highlights:

Labs that are currently open and providing hands-on training:

  • Industrial Maintenance/Mechatronics – 62 percent
  • CNC/precision machining – 54 percent
  • Welding/fabrication – 55 percent
  • Computer labs – 46 percent

Who is responsible for sanitizing the instructional areas before each lab?

  • Custodial staff – 77 percent
  • Faculty/Instructors – 70 percent
  • Students – 54 percent
  • Lab assistants – 42 percent

Personal protective equipment provided by college for students and faculty:

  • Hand sanitizer – 93 percent
  • Surgical mask/face coverings – 77 percent
  • Protective gloves – 58 percent

Top safety protocols being provided to current and potential students:

  • Health screening prior to classroom and lab participation each day
  • PPE required for faculty and students
  • Limited number of participants for each class
  • Social distancing
  • Online and hard-copy COVID regulations outlined on a handout with signature required
  • Multiple communication points including email, dedicated website page, phone calling campaigns

Just a few of the best practice ideas and approaches share in the survey are:

“We spent time strategically planning how to go about the process in a safe effective manner utilizing CDC guidelines and signage. Industry advised us on their needs and requirements. Also, the college established a COVID response team who reviews and approves or denies protocols before the start of labs and then they share best practices with others.” – Chaffey College (California)

“Offering more hybrid and online format as well as adjusting classroom capacity to meet the requirements of social distancing. Classroom settings are now at 50 percent or less the normal capacity.” – Kentucky Community and Technical College System

“A Diesel Instructor had a concern about meeting ASE Accreditation requirements during this semester. They solved this problem by using worksites to cover ASE-required tasks to complete the diesel program. The key piece to that was coming up with a Youth Apprentice Skills Checklist to make sure student progress was properly documented.” – Gateway Technical College (Wisconsin)

Next steps

There is a plethora of solid, well documented and promising practices already happening in ATC/CTE hands-on training labs across the United States.  NCATC’s aim is to continue documenting, sharing and promoting them for the greater good of our entire educational community.

To that end, our next-level approach has been to create a series of helpful webinars with experts from both industry, our strategic partners and ATC/CTE-based education and workforce college members.

Our series of three COVID-19 pandemic-related webinars begins this week. The July 31 webinar will highlight NCATC member colleges and industry partners collaborating to improve access to high quality, safely delivered advanced technology, hands-on training in labs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the webinars and register here.



NCATC is an AACC afilliated council.


is executive director and CEO of the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers.

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