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COVID-19 brings a new look to community college: More lecture-capture technology and pan-tilt zoom cameras in 170 classrooms

President Deneece Huftalin charts a new future for Salt Lake Community College

Salt Lake Community College Taylorsville Redwood Campus in Taylorsville is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

When it comes to the question of who goes to college, SLCC has a simple answer: anyone. Our programs, curriculum and financial aid are structured to be inclusive, to prepare students from all cultures and economic backgrounds for further schooling and meaningful careers. The coronavirus pandemic only intensified this focus.

As with most emergencies, the pandemic caused quick adaptation — a realignment, if you will — to ensure the best use of available resources. If I had to sum up SLCC’s response in one word, it would be “flexibility.”

That’s not new and has always been at the core of what we do. But in two weeks last spring, the college went from 25% of courses delivered online to nearly 90%. Few things bring people together better than a crisis, and SLCC’s faculty and staff responded with grace, ingenuity and aplomb to meet the needs of our 60,000 students.

Such rapid realignment heightened our focus as an institution and we learned about ourselves: our strengths and weaknesses. We now have a pretty good idea how to move forward. We realize there will be greater focus on remote learning through virtual, online courses. We’ve always known it’s an effective delivery method for instruction and the coronavirus pandemic has given us a semester to prove it on a broad scale.

We also learned online instruction is not right for every student or for every course, but it can optimize resources, accelerate learning and make instruction easier to receive. Eighty-one percent of our students work, so having the flexibility to take online, virtual courses during times of the day that work best for them is a great advantage.

To that end, and to ensure health precautions while the pandemic continues, SLCC is expanding lecture-capture technology. Pan-tilt-zoom cameras are being installed in 170 classrooms and instructors will wear lapel microphones. They’ll broadcast directly to students at home. Half a class can attend one day while the other watches at home and students switch on alternate days. This helps ensure social distancing.

SLCC is also developing HyFlex courses. The courses will be both fully online and fully on campus, so students can choose how they want to engage, and can vary that engagement time frame depending on schedules.

As Utah’s only community college, there will always be a need for hands-on learning and face-to-face instruction. Some students learn better in person, and many enroll in certificate programs to prepare for jobs and careers directly after graduation.

This includes a host of trades such as construction, composites manufacturing, machining, welding, truck driving, diesel engine technologies and more. Students are trained in nursing, as dental assistants and hygienists, in radiology, as pharmacy assistants and in other health-related fields. We will continue to offer in-person instruction, to train the workforce required for high-demand jobs that benefit Utah’s economy.

Because SLCC has the most diverse student body of any higher education institution in Utah and 54% of our students are first in their families to attend college, we strive to help students figure out the best individual pathways to succeed. In recent years, the college invested heavily in student advising. That focus will continue to help guide students. In addition, many young people face financial challenges that prevent them from enrolling, so, since 2016, SLCC has effectively offered free tuition and fees for those who qualify for federal financial aid. No student will be left behind because of economic challenges.

It comes down to flexibility. At SLCC, we meet students where they are, whether through technology or hands-on instruction. We intend to do what it takes to help them succeed, while optimizing our resources.

We’ll engage students online, in hybrid courses, through broadcast instruction and with traditional, hands-on learning. And, we’ll produce graduates who are critical thinkers, ready to handle the unscripted problems of the world, to be able to cope and triumph in crises to come.

Deneece G. Huftalin is the president Salt Lake Community College.