By: Patsy Weiler
Restrictions related to COVID-19 have made it challenging to keep the engines turning in associate professor Bill Allen’s Aerospace aircraft maintenance classes, but his love of teaching has kept him on course.
“Much of what we do is lab work and it needs to be done hands-on,” said Allen. (Because of that) online instruction is marginal.”
However, he has embraced remote learning by moving his lectures, quizzes, tests, worksheets and some technical resources online so students could access them via D2L.
D2L, or Desire2Learn, is MTSU’s online learning platform and Allen thinks it can be particularly helpful to have lectures there for his students should he have to miss a class for any reason.
Following this year’s 2020 spring break, the 24-year classroom veteran was faced with unforeseen obstacles regarding teaching in-person labs.
“During the spring semester, we were not allowed to conduct our labs after we came back from the break. We initially got permission for our seniors in the Advanced Aerospace Engine Systems Maintenance and Repair (AERO 3362) class to do labs, but that only lasted two weeks,” said Allen.
Determined to find a solution, Allen and two of his classes ended up doing all of their lab makeups during the first three weeks of the summer semester. He and other Aerospace faculty in essence taught during this time without being paid to make sure their students met rigorous FAA requirements that cannot be circumvented.
“In addition to my 3362 class, I also had members of Aero 2331 Airframe Inspection class making up labs. There were a few days I taught for eight hours,” said Allen. “Usually students don’t want to do summer course work, but with the exception of one young man who had a work commitment, everybody showed up. One kid commuted from Huntsville, Alabama.”
During the fall semester, Allen said he was impressed with how vigilant his students were about being personally responsible when it came to their possible exposure to COVID-19. Allen is easily available to students as office calls are forwarded to his cell phone.
“They continually communicated with me if they didn’t feel well or thought they may have been exposed to the virus and were going to self-quarantine,” said Allen. “The students have been very considerate. They understood how important it was to keep a healthy environment in classes necessary for graduation.”
Allen regularly uses humor, as a teaching tool in his classroom, but during the extra stresses brought about by the pandemic the levity has been helpful for both student and teacher.
One such event that eventually ends with a laugh in the hangar — which has continued despite the virus — involves a large piece of hardware called a crankshaft gear bolt.
The directions, if read correctly, explain the amount of torque that must be used to put on the bolt, Allen said. Tighten it too much and it will be ruined. When students don’t pay attention to the instructions and the bolt breaks from too much twisting, it is not a happy face moment. After letting the intensity of the learning experience hang in the air for a minute, “I smile and pull out one of the spare bolts I keep in my pocket and explain it is an easy fix, much to my students’ relief,” said Allen.
Drawing a correlation between the engine repair and life on campus since COVID-19, Allen said just like too much torque can cause serious stress on an engine bolt, the many changes faculty and students have dealt with this year can contribute to feelings like they may be near a breaking point.
With that in mind “I tell my kids to hang in there and stay focused,” said Allen. “We are in this situation together and it is not going to last forever.”
— Patsy Weiler (Patsy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)