Universities Ramp Up Virtual Learning to Combat 2nd Wave of COVID-19

Posted By: Jeannine Kunz, Chief Workforce Development Officer, SME on November 19, 2020

Virtual Manufacturing Classes

At SME, we’ve had long relationships with universities and colleges across the country. We know how important academic institutions are to helping the manufacturing industry innovate and grow.

We are fortunate to have regular access to our brilliant members – many from universities – who act as sounding boards and subject matter experts, author technical papers and journals, and often serve as elected Board of Directors and Member Council representatives for SME.

In addition to our professional chapters, SME has student chapters at universities nationwide. These chapters provide a local member network, allowing students to meet potential employers and gain leadership opportunities.

Together with our education partners, we work with others in the industry to make sure the manufacturing pipeline is strong, and that the industry addresses challenges to ensure it thrives into the future.


Virtual Learning During the Pandemic

COVID-19 is certainly an unprecedented challenge. And it is deeply impacting educators as they adapt to virtual learning.

Our learning and development arm, Tooling U-SME, has been an important resource for educators and is committed to sharing our extensive experience with online instruction.

During the pandemic, we’ve worked closely with instructors of engineering programs and other courses focused on the manufacturing industry as they prioritize hybrid and blended learning.

We have helped them utilize hundreds of our existing elearning classes as well as new classes on various aspects of Industry 4.0, including additive manufacturing, cybersecurity, data collection and machine learning.

Matched with time in the lab, these online classes ensure students learn both theory and practical skills despite challenges with social distancing and other health restrictions.


Schools Go Remote After Break

A streamlined virtual learning experience is more important than ever.

Due to the pandemic, many colleges and universities with in-person instruction have reworked their academic calendars so that once students leave for Thanksgiving break, they do not return to campus.

For some, the fall semester will end at the break. For others, the semester will be completed remotely, with finals taking place in the week or two after break.

Many schools have also announced remote winter sessions, some for the first time.

Of course, this is all engineered to reduce COVID-19 outbreaks from an expected second wave that could be further fueled by student holiday travel and visits with family and friends.

Fortunately, this far into the pandemic, schools and students have become very familiar with elearning. At Tooling U-SME, we’ve seen the accelerated and effective shift to digital learning environments. While blended learning offers the benefits of personal instruction from experts complemented with the visual interaction of online classes, the reality is that it isn’t always possible now.


Kennesaw State University Model

We have been impressed by how one of our customers, Kennesaw State University (KSU), has moved to a seamless hybrid model as instructors develop and mentor students with a passion for manufacturing engineering.

For background, KSU is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses in Kennesaw and Marietta, Ga., KSU offers more than 165 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students.

Despite the pandemic, KSU saw a 14 percent increase in summer enrollment over the previous summer. All of these classes were held online. With summer jobs, internships, study abroad and other programs on hold, online studies can provide an ongoing development outlet for students.

The school, which adopted a hybrid model for the fall, saw a 6 percent increase in enrollment for the semester.


Online Learning for Engineers

Online training is not new to the school. The Department of Engineering Technology has been using Tooling U-SME since 2011, so changes to the virtual learning environment due to COVID-19 were easily integrated.

“The pandemic hasn’t changed much for us since we have used Tooling U-SME for years, but we rely on it more,” said Randy Emert, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology, KSU. “Before, we used Tooling U-SME to teach additional material outside of class. Now we rely on it more for content and testing.”

Emert, who has been with KSU for 10 years, uses Tooling U-SME courses to teach machining, welding, CNC programming, additive manufacturing, and CAD classes.

“It’s a good way to ensure students are reading the text before they move to the shop,” said Emert. “Through Tooling U-SME, they ask better questions and perform better.”

Emert added that using Tooling U-SME helps with grading so that instructors can spend more time in the lab or preparing additional lecture material.


Manufacturing Certifications

Additionally, KSU uses Tooling U-SME online courses to prepare students to earn nationally recognized credentials including:

  • Certified Manufacturing Technologist (CMfgT) Certification, a designation that validates a student’s knowledge of fundamental manufacturing processes.
  • Additive Manufacturing Certifications, validating a student’s knowledge in the growing field of additive manufacturing to increase workforce readiness for roles in automotive, aerospace and medical equipment.

“The students who spend time going through the Tooling U-SME modules tend to perform better with certifications,” said Emert.

Richard Kennedy, Lecturer of Mechanical Engineering Technology, KSU, reinforced the importance to employers of having industry-ready students.

With industry certifications like CMfgT, students are “ready to contribute to the bottom line.”

Kennedy said, “I can stand before our industry advisory board and say, ‘We heard you and are preparing our students, as seen through certifications, to be contribution-ready.’”

This is good for both the students and the universities.


Best Practice

When it comes to virtual learning, Kennedy, who teaches classes including 3D design, tool design and welding fabrication, advises instructors to concentrate on the process. For instance, teach the process of welding and then back into how to weld.

“Teach students the engineering perspective,” he said. “Engineers need to learn how to weld but they are not going to be welders. They need to learn the process and be observers of the physics.”

Tooling U-SME courses are there to help with this preparation to send students into the lab for hands-on activities.

“Tooling U-SME made me a better teacher,” Kennedy said. “I’m not as diverted with 20 students in the class and I am more focused on how to direct and hold their attention through offering different examples.”

KSU provides an inspiring example of a university’s flexibility and adaptability as it continues to build the skills and knowledge of its students despite continual external changes due to the pandemic.

Tags: "Additive Manufacturing Certifications", "Certified Manufacturing Technologist Certification", COVID-19, engineering, "Kennesaw State University", manufacturing, "online training", "Randy Emert", "Richard Kennedy", "Tooling U-SME"