Meghan Finnerty | November 02, 2020

An Inside Look at Brockport’s New Normal: Hands-On Learning Hangs Around

With precautions and PPE, students continue to engage in hands-on learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some SUNY Brockport courses can’t skip the hands-on approach to learning. And sometimes, they can’t social distance either. But no matter what, face coverings stick around.

“I’ve gotten used to it,” said senior Reanne Dressler, who studies athletic training. “Before, it felt like my face was getting hot. But now, it feels like the mask is a part of my face, and I forget it’s there.”

While the College’s athletic training program relies on hands-on curriculum, students attend their in-person clinics and classes wearing more than just a face covering. Because they have physical contact with student patients, they gear up with coverings, face shields, and gloves.

“Pretty much everything we do you’re within six feet of the patient,” said Associate Professor Tim Henry, program director.

“I can’t give them enough credit for how compliant they’ve been,” he said. “If you want to be a health care provider for a career, this is what they’re doing.”

After seeing what happened in the spring, Henry flipped his Athletic Injury Assessment course syllabus for this semester. Now, introductory materials are moved to the end, when classes turn remote after Thanksgiving. The start of the semester was frontloaded with class practical exams.

All 24 students in the program need clinical hours this semester. “If they didn’t allow sports to practice, we would’ve really struggled,” Henry said. “That’s been a huge help to our program.” Brockport athletics are not currently competing, but they are practicing, which means student-athletes might need treatments in the campus clinic.

The clinic is accepting patients by appointment only, which Henry notes is an unexpected benefit. Students are getting more one-on-one time with patients. Before COVID-19 guidelines were in place, the clinic would be busy with 25 to 30 student-athletes at a time.

Dressler has an off-campus placement for clinical this semester, at the Aquinas Institute.

“I’m fortunate to be where I am,” said Dressler, who is providing regular treatments and rehab to students in fall sports. In terms of her classwork, she said she’s learning better face to face and that last semester was a difficult experience.

“I’m really grateful that we’re back on campus,” she said.

Senior Maddie Winters in the Department of Nursing has similar feelings. Her maternity clinical at Highland Hospital was canceled in the spring. While the department was quick to implement interactive online experiences and virtual simulations to fill the gap, the nursing program ultimately requires a hands-on approach.

“I feel like all of us are so grateful to have any clinical site right now,” she said. Winters is currently at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“They’re so great, so flexible. But we’re not allowed to stay for an extended period,” she explained. Her shifts are two days a week for six hours each.

Two students wearing masks

Before COVID impacted classrooms, Winters says you could find her on campus any day practicing her skills in the labs. While in-person labs are open this semester, students can’t freely enter to practice, and classes are online.

“A day in [my] life is spent on the computer, which is so different from how it used to be,” she said. It’s hard for Winters to find motivation at times, as she describes herself as “a hands-on type.”

“So, three hours is my top on the computer before I’m brain-dead, but it’s just an adjustment that we have to get used to,” she said. “And nursing is all about being flexible and adapting.” She added that professors have served as a support system working to make the experience the best it can be.

Senior Amelia McCarthy plays cello in the Brockport College-Community Orchestra. “Obviously, you can’t really do that on a Zoom call. It just doesn’t work,” she said. She also takes voice, and group singing over a Zoom call doesn’t really work either. Then, there’s her piano class.

Her need for a piano outside of the classroom was a problem solved through the Ellsworth CARES Fund, created by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The fund authorizes colleges to award emergency grants to students for their expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19. Now, she has a keyboard at home.

As for her virtual voice class, she’s noticing pros and cons. The muted calls make her feel less self-conscious, but she can’t hear her classmates to make adjustments.

McCarthy has been a cellist in the orchestra for four years. And this semester, it’s a whole different experience. “Usually, it’s a very community-based thing, and that was kind of my favorite part of it,” she said.

Members are learning the music on their own and record themselves through SmartMusic technology. Lecturer Scott Horsington of the Department of Theatre and Music Studies then combines the individual submissions into one piece.

While McCarthy’s music classes operate a lot differently now, they’re still working. She said she’s happy to keep supporting a department that’s given her such a rewarding experience.

“I think it works well for me,” she explained. “It’s more of an individualistic approach, because I can focus on myself and my own technique.”