At-Home Toolkits Selected as STLCC Innovation of the Year
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
For students in programs that rely heavily on hands-on training, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major roadblock to learning.
Early intervention – and a little creativity – employed by faculty and staff at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley has helped electronic engineering technology students overcome that obstacle. Their bright idea, “Electronics Technology at-Home Kits,” not only gets lab equipment into students’ hands at remote locations, but the project also was selected as both the Florissant Valley campus and STLCC districtwide Innovation of the Year.
The other entry this year for the STLCC Innovation of the Year was submitted by faculty and staff at STLCC-Wildwood. It was titled "STEM at Wildwood: Nurturing Curiosity."
The architects of Florissant Valley's project were Steve Ehlen, supervisor of the Engineering Technology Center; David Kobe, assistant professor in electrical/electronic engineering technology; Bill Hoffmann, engineering technician II; Stacey Lampman, library assistant II; and Tom McGovern, professor of mechanical engineering.
“After assisting Dave Kobe with his live virtual learning classes last spring after the campus shutdown by taking notes and screen captures, and posting them for all classes, it was apparent we needed a way to get lab equipment in the hands of the students,” Ehlen said. “Dave and I, along with the rest of the department, are very focused on hands-on training. We knew we needed to act fast as we were already noticing difficulties the students were having without the hands-on experience.”
The wheels were quickly set in motion. The team would use funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, to create the portable kits that include test equipment like field technicians use, and portable breadboard trainers like those used in the lab to reduce cross training on specialty equipment. They also include a plastic toolbox filled with a soldering station, solder, small tools, and various pieces such as light circuits, switches, relays and amplifier boards. Kits also included class-specific parts placed in a fishing tackle container.
Based on what he knew, Kobe put together a list of specific parts, components and kits already in use for each of his courses, so, he could instruct students in a live virtual learning environment.
Hoffmann made sure everyone had the correct items in their test equipment cases, toolboxes and components’ cases. He also ensured the new portable materials were delivered to the Florissant Valley Library.
Ehlen worked with the business office, purchasing department, information technology, and shipping and receiving to get the equipment ordered, inventoried and prepped for distribution. He also assisted the team in coordinating the logistics and communication with others.
McGovern contacted Lampman to determine if library staff could manage equipment checkout and return.
Lampman and library staff placed inventory control tags on each item and set up everything in the library system. They also ensured students were aware of their responsibility to return the equipment at the end of each class and possible liability.
“It's an honor to be part of a team that is so dedicated to quickly react and successfully solve the issues that threatened our student’s ability to obtain a life-changing education,” Kobe said. “From what I hear from my students, the appreciation of our efforts is far greater than we know.”
David Halley, a journeyman power meterman for IBEW 1439, said the ability to take home the lab equipment for his class, EE:132, greatly enhanced the virtual learning experience.
“The lab equipment provided allowed the virtual learning to not be hindered by lack of ‘hands-on’ experience that is essential for classes that are focused on vocational skills,” he said. “It is my belief that the test equipment created a more balanced virtual learning environment as compared to the traditional classroom experience.”
The League for Innovation in the Community College established the Innovation of the Year Award to recognize an individual or group from each of the member college districts who have use creative, productive approaches to meet new needs or solve old problems. Criteria for the award are quality, efficiency, cost effectiveness, replication, creativity and timeliness. STLCC has participated in the program since 1983-84.