TSTC Culinary Arts Program Adapts to New Learning Environment

(WACO, Texas) – Texas State Technical College’s Culinary Arts program worked in late March to accommodate a campuswide shift to online teaching due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until that time the program used Moodle, the college’s open-source learning platform, on a limited basis. But Michele Brown, lead instructor of TSTC’s Culinary Arts program in Waco, said faculty members had to learn new skills quickly. The program worked with TSTC’s statewide online learning office to adapt the curriculum to an online format and still meet its teaching standards.

“It has forced us to reevaluate how we deliver material,” said Len Pawelek, statewide chair of TSTC’s Culinary Arts department. “I think it has actually been better for the students.”

Instructors have created online quizzes, directed students on ways to upload homework, and recorded lectures for online use. The faculty continues to create their own teaching videos.

One way the faculty has transitioned online is by using SoftChalk, an e-learning software for interactive course development.

“It’s a way for [the students] to use different parts of their brain,” Brown said.

Pawelek said faculty cannot forget about teaching students about soft skills. He said working in a kitchen for hours at a time can teach students about building a work ethic, punctuality, respect and other skills.

“I think in this environment, we are going to have to be creative in working with them to be successful in our industry,” Pawelek said.

Hands-on labs resumed in early May so the spring semester could be completed. The online and in-person hybrid format is being used this summer and will carry over into the fall.

“The students come in for an abbreviated period of time,” Brown said. “We don’t want people lingering.”

Dequan Carter, a third-semester Culinary Arts major from Hewitt, said he has adapted well to the hybrid way of teaching.

“I do not have any issues with doing the online section at all,” he said. “The hardest part of it is having to be in a mask (during labs),  but I understand that is necessary.”

This new way of teaching culinary arts is also being adapted as uniformly as possible at TSTC’s Harlingen and Williamson County campuses.

“I think we are dealing with a generation of students that see this hybrid system is actually more beneficial for them,” said Pawelek. “These are the kind of students that will sit down and watch YouTube videos of culinary techniques and perhaps practice them. It is really in line with how our students are learning nowadays.”

For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.