During the pandemic, Delta College instructor finds creative way to teach future electricians

SAGINAW, MI – At first, Diane Lobsiger-Braden feared that her electrician and mechatronic program at Delta College would die out before she got through the pandemic.

Instead, Lobsiger-Braden, the program’s coordinator and only faculty member, worked with fellow Delta College staff to reinvent the way their classes are taught and enable students to take a traditionally practical subject from a distance learn and practice.

“When we had to go online, we had to come up with a different way of teaching,” said Lobsiger-Braden. “As you can imagine, the electrician and mechatronic programs are difficult to run online. We had to think outside the box a lot. “

In their classes, students use two software programs to simulate and operate circuits and learn more about how electrical devices and machines work and interact with each other. While these programs aren’t practical, they are pretty realistic and, in some ways, can provide an even better understanding of the equipment students will be working with, Lobsiger-Braden said.

“These two simulation packages help enormously in these two classes,” said Lobsiger-Braden. “Obviously they can’t see it in real life because they’re not practical, but in some ways it’s even a little better.”

When students return to face-to-face learning, the simulation software is kept as an additional addition to give students the “best of both worlds,” she said.

For her Circuit class, Delta bought equipment for students to set up their own “mini-lab” at home and follow with their teachers, Lobsiger-Braden said. Students do the same lab exercises they would face to face, but instead of switching responsibilities with classmates, they do each step themselves to allow for a better understanding of the material.

“You can actually build the circuits at home while I sit there and take measurements with your meter and check the voltages,” said Lobsiger-Braden. “You don’t miss the opportunity to ask questions.”

Lobsiger-Braden teaches all of her classes in sync, which means she gives a live lecture on Zoom and interacts with the students. That way, if they miss notes or have trouble understanding something, they can go back and watch videos of the lecture.

A positive experience

Some employers who send their electricians to Delta feared they would not receive the same instruction remotely, Lobsiger-Braden said. She put together a video to show them the students are still learning, a moment that really clicked the potential of the new methods for them, she said.

“Delta has been extremely supportive of the pandemic throughout the pandemic. They purchased all of these devices for me and my students so they could continue to thrive throughout the pandemic,” said Lobsiger-Braden. “With all the changes we’ve made, our programs still thrive, our students thrive.”

In fact, her students’ grades are better than ever under the new system, she said.

“It was really a very positive experience,” said Lobsiger-Braden.

When Delta College returns to face-to-face learning, Lobsiger-Braden intends to keep some of their introductory courses online only for students who choose to study this way, she said. Since the students have successfully used the distance learning system, she wants to make sure that it remains available. She also plans to further incorporate the new resources in the future, such as lending the new equipment to students fighting in personal classes to give them more practice, she said.

“There’s really an opportunity that I learned about during the pandemic that I’ve never heard of before because I never had to,” Lobsiger-Braden said. “There are many ways in which we can still use what we learn.”

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