By: Patsy Weiler
One of the hallmarks of students in MTSU’s Aerospace professional pilot program is their ability to successfully navigate unexpected challenges, including months of turbulence caused by a worldwide pandemic storm.
Tyler Babb, associate professor and professional pilot concentration coordinator, thinks most aerospace students are handling the COVID-19 situation well in a year unlike any other.
The flight school remains open despite the pandemic. MTSU’s flight school staff and administration have established COVID protocols, ensuring daily compliance from instructors and students.
“In a normal academic year, pilots in training are usually delayed because of poor weather, but this year, COVID protocols and required quarantine rules have forced delays on many of our flight students,” said Babb. “It can be quite discouraging, but we continue to do our best to continue flight training and help students make efficient progress.”
When COVID-19 struck, it grounded the way Babb conducted his classes and since he never taught a course online he called it “quite a learning experience.”
Two of his three classes, Professional Pilot I and II, have been taught remotely since March, but due to its small size, an Honors Theory of Flight offering has been held in-person.
At first, his “flight plan” for the teaching journey ahead was to record lecture videos and allow students to access them during any time of the day. Unfortunately, the academic ride got a little bumpy from boredom.
“Watching someone talk about a subject without any interaction at all is difficult, if not boring, so over the past several months I have tried to make the recordings as interactive as possible,” explained Babb. “[I have] included asking open-ended questions to be addressed on D2L discussions. It has improved the quality and quantity of student interaction and may become a course requirement in the future.”
D2L, or Desire2Learn, is MTSU’s online learning platform.
Babb has also significantly expanded the amount of D2L quizzes to ensure complete understanding of course topics.
The MTSU alumnus, who earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees in the aerospace field from the university, also says he tries to change his pace and tone of voice and occasionally adds a short story or joke. Additionally, he offers an optional weekly Zoom session where he has added Kahoot quizzes — a game-based learning platform — which have been popular. The innovative teacher says he has discovered these simple additions can go a long way in retaining a student’s attention.
Despite the aerospace industry being hit hard by COVID-19, the Professional Pilot program has experienced rapid growth during the past four years and has 890 students currently enrolled. He is proud of their recruitment efforts, including the Aerospace Ambassadors, a select group of senior students who offer virtual tours of their department three times a week and has proven to be a successful endeavor.
Amid the distractions and changes of 2020, Babb says his students provide him with a sense of normalcy.
“My remote and in-person students are well aware that my wife and I are busy at home raising our 1-year-old daughter, Charlotte,” Babb said. “Some of my students are parents and they have offered encouragement and advice. I have shared stories about her first birthday party and trick-or-treat experience. [These exchanges] help to try and humanize this COVID education experience.”
Also, Babb finds taking daily walks “allows meto appreciate the beauty of our campus as I try to get my 10,000 steps per day,” he said. “It helps with my energy and sleep schedule.”
Babb tells his students that everyone will face adversity in their personal and professional lives. No one sits alone in that cockpit, and our response is more important than the situation itself.
“This year has created challenges for everyone, but in my experience, working through a difficult time forces me to adapt and overcome, and ultimately makes me more productive and resilient,” he said.
— Patsy Weiler (firstname.lastname@example.org)