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 said he’s 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.”

Hands-on, job-focused learning at CVTC resumed this summer, setting the stage for a more significant return when the fall semester begins Aug. 24. Steps like 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 ongoing pandemic.

The difference can be seen in the Industrial Mechanics lab, where 20 or more people commonly worked at a variety of stations, often in groups. 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 working together frequently happened in the past, there is no need for students to be close to each other, so maintaining social distancing is not an issue in the lab. Instructors also try to stay six feet away.

“It’s as safe as it can get without not coming in,” said Tyler Kumferman of Eau Claire. “They’re giving us health questions, having us wear masks and keeping us apart.”

Welding students were moved farther apart, with first-year students moving to the West Annex building at the main Clairemont campus and students wear face shields.

“For me, I’ve always felt safe,” said Rachel Holm, a first-year welding student from Elk Mound. “But if you are worried about the pandemic, there’s nothing to worry about here. We all have to wear masks and face guards. We social distance. There’s less kids in class than before. We sanitizes everything. We’re following protocol.”

The weeks the students spent outside the labs was not ideal but 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.”

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.