Editor’s note: Chronicle reporters are examining how select programs at Durham College and Ontario Tech University have responded to the teaching and learning process during COVID-19. Most programs have moved online, but some classes are being conducted on campus.
It didn’t take the pandemic for forensic science students at Ontario Tech University to know understand the abbreviation – PPE.
Students in the program are introduced to personal protective equipment (PPE) in the second year of the program to do the work required of forensic scientists.
Forensic Science is a four-year honours undergraduate program, covering the natural sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics to help solve crimes, and it’s being taught remotely this semester.
However, unlike many programs at Ontario Tech and Durham College, students and faculty in Forensic Science actually had access to campus in the first semester.
Students had the opportunity to use the forensic lab at the campus, and solve mock investigations at the crime house lab, located on Windfields Farms, just north of campus.
Due to the pandemic, Professor Kimberly Nugent says this has been her most difficult year of teaching but she implemented plans for labs to run smoothly for the program before the stay-at-home order.
“You’re not afforded time to deal with every element of transitioning to blended learning,” says Nugent.
During this most recent stay-at-home order by the government, students are unable to access campus to learn the essential skills face-to-face.
“What we’re doing is kind of back-ending it in the semester hoping that after reading week things open a little bit up,” says Nugent.
“We can offer limited amount of labs, but we’re doing online learning up until that point.”
Brayden Vale is completing his third year in the program and says not being able to see his friends at school is most difficult for him.
“This semester, it’s a little bit different, there were some (classes) that were supposed to be online [and some] in-person, but they’ve had to switch to fully online,” says Vale.
“It’s not the same thing as actually being in the lab and doing that.”
Vale says he’s lucky to be able to have had lab classes in the previous semester.
Vale has about 30 classmates and says they’re all close with each other and faculty.
Prior to COVID-19, students were required to take four hours of laboratory learning for each course, but that has been reduced.
“I would also have to run the same lab over multiple weeks, just to accommodate this social distancing so I couldn’t have 15 students in a lab anymore I had to have five,” explains Nugent.
There also needs to be a teaching assistant, a technician, and an instructor present in the labs.
Nugent says one of the biggest challenges she faced was to maintain the student learning with hands-on experience.
“Having our own facility like the crime scene house made it a little easier for scheduling and sharing purposes because it was just us there,” explains Nugent.
“Another element to our advantage [in the fall semester] was that we could do more outside, and not have to worry about the PPE…and social distancing as much.”
As for the upcoming semester in fall of 2021, Nugent says she hopes to have a blend of in-person and remote labs but is prepared for the worst.
“We’ve been afforded a little bit more time now to develop online material,” says Nugent.
“But at the end of the day, I don’t want to replace the face-to-face learning with online content.”
Vale also hopes to be back on campus for his last year in the program this fall.
“Fingers crossed everything will be going back in or at least mostly to normal…but honestly, who knows at this point?,” says Vale.