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Teaching Surveying Classes in the Era of COVID 19

Friday, July 10, 2020

The COVID 19 pandemic has made teaching of all Civil Engineering lab courses very difficult this year. Most courses, if not all, have been offered online this summer. This fall will be a particularly challenging time to teach since we face such uncertainty about the effect of the Coronavirus. Most universities have the desire to be open and offer as much traditional face-to-face experience for the students as possible. We know that many of our colleagues are struggling with how to effectively teach the surveying labs in such an environment and with such constraints.

How do we give students a meaningful surveying practice educational experience while teaching virtually online or when we have to observe social distancing and proper cleaning of shared equipment? How do we provide students hands-on experiences and teach them practical aspects of surveying when we are limited to online and virtual delivery of their education?

The UESI Surveying and Geomatics Education Committee has prepared this article based on input from a few institutions that will be teaching surveying courses this coming fall. As we approached various surveying faculty, many enthusiastically responded saying this is the task that they are currently working on and they would be happy to share their plans and also learn from  strategies that other Surveying and Civil Engineering programs are planning to use this fall.

The prevailing sentiment and the general feelings, however, have been to embrace the challenges this sudden change has brought to us. As disruptive as the COVID 19 outbreak has been, many think it should be seen as an opportunity. The pandemic forced us to change. But, it also made us adapt in ways that we did not think possible before. Engineering innovation took over and we found a way.

The specific focus of this article is on how to effectively conduct surveying lab courses. For years, the common belief has been that experiential surveying labs cannot be offered remotely online. Well, during the spring 2020, all of us were forced to make a sudden change from traditional in-person classes to remote delivery. This sudden transition, affected surveying labs that were in session in mid-March. Many programs were in the middle of their Spring breaks and had perhaps one week to readjust and decide how to conduct the rest of the semester online. 

Some programs, such as Cincinnati State, however, did not even have that luxury and had to turn on a dime and convert all classes online. The lectures were quickly put online but instead of going out into the field to collect data, data were supplied to the students and they were expected to do the "office" part of the job to complete their labs. Fortunately, students did get access to equipment and fieldwork for the first half of the semester. Loaner computers were handed out to those who needed them and virtual hotspots were created for anyone that did not have internet access at home. During spring 2020, by the time we needed to change the delivery mode of the instructions, we were 8 to 9 weeks into the semester already. This meant most students enrolled in surveying labs, had already gained hands-on familiarity with the equipment and they could spend the balance of the course reducing data and focus  on post-processing calculations and mapping elements based on data generated earlier in the semester, or in some cases, data from previous semesters.

For the summer term 2020, many programs reported that they adjusted the start and end dates of the summer term or cancelled the summer term all together. Some programs, worked with local and regional practicing professionals and accommodated the irregularities caused by the pandemic. Some programs, such as the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, stated they provided their students simulated field data, combined with aerial images, old maps and enough graphics for them to try to grasp what a surveyor would do in different situations, emphasizing the analytical part of surveying.

The real story and of particular interest, however, is the fall 2020 semester. There is time to plan for the fall. The pandemic persists, and in early July as I am preparing this article, it is spreading at a higher rate than predicted or anticipated before. How will it be in the beginning of the fall semester? We do not yet know. As one of the contributors mentioned "we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best."

Three Different Delivery Methods

Because of the uncertainty, surveying programs across the country are looking at three different possible modes of delivery; traditional face-to-face, remote online, or a hybrid which is a combination of both. Each has its advantages and limitations. Face-to-face requires that we follow social distance and strictly follow the health and safety guidelines specified by the college and the state. Space and classroom capacity become the real issues. Distance education with 100% of the instructions online does not allow the students to have any hands-on experience with the surveying equipment and does not expose them to practical field experience. The hybrid model, however, is probably the way many programs will end up offering their courses. Using this approach, the lectures and interactive learning assignments can be presented and made available online and lab activities can be provided face-to-face following CDC guidelines and sanitizing the instruments between each use by each student. Social distancing guidelines must be followed, but space is not an issue since most experiments are done outdoors. In some cases, simulation software is going to be used instead of actual lab activity to introduce the student to different field procedures and then data is provided by the instructor so they can process the data and do the calculations preparing a report. Will this method be very effective? We don't know, but it may be the best we can do under the circumstances. As Diane Calloway of Delaware Tech said, "It's not that it can't be done, it is just hasn't been done before."

Examples

Below, I include a few novel ideas shared with us by fall 2020 surveying course planners.

Labs are supposed to be recorded and a likely solution came from the Forestry Department. Attach Go Pro cameras to a hardhat to record the labs. This came from Paul Smith's College.

Chris Gwaltney of Lipscomb University shared the following: "for the "surveying" portion of the course I will prepare videos for advance viewing before field work (typically this is a 30-45 minute lecture preceding the field work), then split the class into two groups of 8 each (4 groups of 2) x 2. That way I can get by with 4 sets of equipment (all I have) and limit teams to 2 members that will be socially distanced (no third member that would be too close to the instrument person). I will have one set of 4 teams work on Monday and the other on Wednesday. Most days I won't need a room, but it would be nice to have one that seats 8 (could use the soils lab with capacity for 11 for that I guess). That will mean cutting some content although each team will have 3 hour lab time per week since they are only in the field one day per week, vs. 4.5 hours (typical after lecture time). There will be some loss of instructor/student contact time as I will only see each of them for 3 hours a week. I typically do one simple topographic mapping project (data collection and CAD) and one "final" topo and planimetric mapping project (same but more details); but will cut this to one final project."

Cliff Mugnier of LSU shared the following: "Our research center (C4G) bought us a fancy new video camera with a remote control microphone (Sony ZV-1). I'll be getting my Labs videoed this summer (Grad Teaching Assistant & me) just in case we can't have students on campus this coming Fall. If they do come on campus, then LSU will have these instructional videos for whatever comes up in the future. My advanced classes in surveying, geodesy, and photogrammetry usually are under 50 students, so I'm not planning on putting that material on a video tape.

I'll tell you one thing ... last Spring was "Boundary Surveying" which covers all State & Federal Laws for Louisiana. Even with all of the Courtroom/Expert Witness stories I tell each and every class, it had to be one godawfully boring course for students to sit through "voice-over" PowerPoints. For me, after teaching this stuff for 45+ years, course prep is normally zero. For this Distance-Learning stuff it was a 3-4 hour preparation per one hour's lecture."  Is this not the truth!?

Christopher Huhnke of Cleveland State, notes that classes will be offered as hybrid and he plans to cram intense data collection for the first few weeks of the semester, just in case another wave hits and closures occur. This way, students have their own data to analyze and progress through the remainder of the lab activities as normal. Social distancing, hand sanitizers, and masks will be required.

Allan Ng of Cal Poly Pomona points out a really important point if this model is used. Class preparation should include working with the university to have computing power hungry software Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD), photogrammetry, LiDAR postprocessing, available on university/campus cloud high performance computing or remote desktop. This will reduce the strain on students without a latest, above average, or non-Windows based laptops. If we expect students to remotely complete a CADD project, we must help them with the software version and its availability on remote desktops, eliminating the problem of software availability and licensing.

Oregon State University, reacting to the sudden transition to remote delivery of the Spring term surveying courses, in hopes to provide a similar educational experience that the students would receive in class created a series of "Surveying How-to Videos" where the emphasis was to focus on the primary survey concepts, typically covered in those labs. The produced lab videos introduced the following concepts: Introduction to differential leveling equipment; How to set up a level; Completing a level section between two points; Introduction to total station instruments; How to setup a total station over a point; Making measurements with a total station; GNSS Observation (Real-Time & Static). We are not sure if these videos can be made available to other programs to use, but it sounds like a great modern instructional library for surveying education.

The British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Vancouver Canada will have strict physical distancing requirements in place with no sharing of any equipment. For the fall term they are planning to have short field camp type classes with 3 groups of students taking 3 days of consecutive field labs with students using the same equipment to avoid having to share. The equipment will then be sanitized and stored for 4 days before the next 3 day session to avoid potential contamination. This requires the other classes to be more flexible to enable the rotating 3 day field sessions to be possible.

Iowa State University will be adjusting the fall semester to begin and end earlier (August 17--November 25). The university will also be open and hold classes on Labor Day. In addition, the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday class times will be changed to ease congestion by allowing more time between classes. The surveying course will be offered as a hybrid course where the lecture meets face-to-face one time during the week and the other lecture during that week is offered on-line. The on-line lecture includes an embedded quiz to assure the students are watching the video and comprehend the material. For the face-to-face lecture and labs, the classroom density will be limited to 50% of the room's normal capacity and seating will accommodate social distancing. Face coverings and/or face shields will be required in the classrooms where physical distancing is not possible. The laboratory equipment will be sanitized at the beginning and end of each lab session. Laboratory instruction will have to be modified some since access to the university's computer software may be a challenge. The computer software is available through remote access, but sometimes students' personal computers do not have the capability to run the software. 

Detailed Example from California Maritime Academy

One of the biggest concerns this coming fall is how to keep the students and the instructors safe and healthy. Dean Lina Neto of California Maritime Academy shared the following guidelines with me. It is a comprehensive guide for safe conduct of courses and labs. It follows the Coast Guard recommendations, but other California universities such as CSU Chico are also following it. Below, I am including the entire document for I find it very helpful. 

All planning related to the campus's Fall 2020 response to the COVID-19 crisis is governed by three guiding principles. Guard the health and safety of our campus community - faculty, staff, and cadets.

Keep cadets' education on-track and on-time  

  1. Maintain the highest quality of instruction possible for both in-person or virtual instruction.
  2. Operate within the constraints of key constituencies, such as the USCG and the Chancellor's Office
  3. Constantly assess and re-assess the progression of the COVID-19 virus and make decisions based upon conditions and not the calendar.

From OSHA's "Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID 19", Medium Exposure Risk jobs include those that require frequent and/or close contact with (i.e., within 6 feet of) people who may be infected with COVID-19, but who are not known or suspected COVID-19 patients. In areas without ongoing community transmission, workers in this risk group may have frequent contact with travelers who may return from international locations with widespread COVID-19 transmission. In areas where there is ongoing community transmission, workers in this category may have contact with the general public (e.g., schools, high-population-density work environments, some high-volume retail settings).

Daily Screening Protocol

All staff, faculty, and cadets on campus will be screened daily. Screening consists of a temperature check and three wellness questions. The Health Center will address out-of-tolerance cases.

A key symptom of COVID-19 infection can be elevated temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Some individuals may be infected but not have symptoms such as elevated temperature. Testing is not widely available, and individuals with an elevated temperature may not have a COVID-19 infection. But if the temperature is elevated, the chance of COVID-19 infection is too significant and must be addressed by prohibiting access to campus. In other words, those with an elevated temperature must stay home and away from campus.

In the interest of the entire campus community, persons with elevated temperature should not come to campus, or leave immediately if they develop the temperature while on campus. In order to manage this issue of interest, the university has many options to implement. Cal Maritime will enforce "rigorous control," being defined as "anyone entering campus must go through a temperature checking station at some point and have their temperature taken and, if elevated, turned away and sent home."

Screening stations will be set up in numerous open places around campus. A more detailed memo outlining screening protocol will be issued before each instructional phase. Using a non-touch thermometer, staff trained from the Health Center will check that the individual's temperature is below 100°F. If below 100°F, the individual will receive a daily color wristband. This wristband will be good all day and confers access into any building, classroom, or food service. Wristband color changes each day. Anyone without a wristband will be refused entry into controlled buildings.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

While engineering and administrative controls are considered more effective in minimizing exposure to COVID, PPE will also be used to prevent certain exposures. While correctly using PPE can help prevent some exposures, PPE should not take the place of other prevention strategies.

Examples of PPE include gloves, protective eyewear, face shields, face masks, and respiratory protection when appropriate. According to OSHA, during an outbreak of an infectious disease, such as COVID-19, recommendations for PPE specific to occupations or job tasks may change depending on geographic location, updated risk assessments for workers, and information on PPE effectiveness in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Employers should check the OSHA and CDC websites regularly for updates about recommended PPE.

All types of PPE must be:

  • Regularly inspected, maintained, and replaced as necessary.
  • Selected based upon the hazard to the worker.
  • Properly fitted and periodically refitted, as applicable
  • Consistently and properly worn when required.
  • Properly removed, cleaned, and stored or disposed of, as applicable, to avoid contamination of self, others, or the environment

All faculty, staff, cadets, and administrators on campus will wear a face covering. Gloves will be made available after the daily health screening and placed in instructional spaces.  The use of gloves is contingent on the instructional space and the use of equipment in those instructional spaces. Additional orientation on the use of gloves can be provided.

Physical Infrastructure

Instructional spaces vary widely on campus in the square footage and the type of equipment used.  All protocols for social distancing, when possible, will be followed. All appropriate PPE will be worn. The instructor has the authority to make more stringent safety protocols as deemed necessary. Instructors may have students disinfect (with wipes and sprays provided) the equipment prior to, and after each use. Care needs to be taken when using wipes around sensitive electronic equipment, so the appropriate type of cleaning produces will be provided.  Section 14 outlines the sanitizing protocol in instructional spaces. Cleaning kits will be placed in every instructional space.

Specific cleaning protocols have also been established for the different laboratories, instructional spaces, and other spaces on campus.

Cleaning checklist will be completed on a daily basis during Fall 2020, as follows:

  • Disinfect all high touch "hotspots" with an EPA-registered disinfectant, including but not limited to: doorknobs, handrails, light switch covers, water fountain, elevator buttons, walls, community space furniture, tabletops and chairs, community vending machines.
  • Apply EPA-registered germicidal disinfectant cleaner in all restrooms and restroom fixtures.
  • All staff will be required to wear the proper PPE, such as face coverings, eye protection, and hand protection.
  • Laundry facilities to be sanitized daily. Check and restock all soap and paper dispensers in all restrooms. Check and refill hand sanitizing stations.

Physical Infrastructure

Instructional spaces vary widely on campus in the square footage and the type of equipment used. All protocol for social distancing, when possible, will be followed. All appropriate PPE will be worn. The instructor has the authority to make more stringent safety protocol as he or she deems necessary. Instructors may have students disinfect (with wipes and sprays provided) the equipment prior to, and after each use. Care needs to be taken when using wipes around sensitive electronic equipment, so the appropriate type of cleaning produces will be provided. See Section 14 for sanitizing protocol in instructional spaces. There will be cleaning kits placed in every instructional space.

There are also individual plans for the Library, for the Dining Center, for Common Areas, and others physical spaces on campus.   Signage is posted around campus, various one-way ingresses and egresses have been established in walkways and hallways.  In places where students or staff may have to wait in lines, floor markers have been placed to establish proper distancing.

There are also specific cleaning protocols that have been established for the different laboratories, instructional spaces and others on campus.

The following resources were also consulted in the creation of  this plan:

Equipment, Software and training for faculty to move to remote instruction delivery:

Equipment: iPads or similar writing tablets, Webcam and microphones, Wi-Fi spots for distribution to students

Software and Faculty Training:  Ally, VoiceThread, Respondus (LockDown Browser and monitor); Techsmith (Camtasia and Snagit); Padlet and Adobe Creative Suite

We would like to close by sharing this link to resources from the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE ) that contains excellent guidelines for design and conduct of engineering courses online. We want to emphasize that we are all in this together and invite you to send us comments and feedback as you wish. If you have created instructional videos that you are willing to share, please send either links or the videos to J.P. Mohsen of the UESI Surveying and Geomatics Education Committee. We will make them available to the surveying education community.