Adapting to Change

The question of how to navigate a culinary program through a pandemic was not one the staff of The Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metropolitan Community College had ever expected to encounter. As the question forced itself upon them this spring, they proved themselves adaptable in transitioning from in-person lectures and demonstrations to operating classes online.

“The people that have transitioned the best were the faculty,” said Brian O’Malley, Associate Dean of Culinary Hospitality and Horticulture. “Now they are putting it on their backs and running. Metro is not afraid of online, but the hands-on folks, us and the trades, have avoided it because it seems harder to deliver and less valuable. We have been proven wrong on both fronts. It has not been any more difficult than normal and students are able to learn a great deal.”

The new online lessons are completed in a video format where students watch their instructors in real time and can ask the instructor questions during the demonstration while receiving immediate live feedback. The instructors can also better understand the perspective of the students through their video feedback monitors. This perspective shift has helped instructors see through the student’s lens and adjust their teaching methods to include more helpful visuals for the students.

Some values can be difficult for the faculty to assess online, such as the smell of how quickly butter is melting, so the faculty reduced its lessons to the more critical components and will continue completing practicum tests in-person with only 2-3 students in the kitchen at a time. The school will continue to monitor students’ progress and re-evaluate what continuing online classes will look like in the future.

Several instructors have changed the way they run their classes to include more time for students to ask questions and work together. “In our World Cuisine class, the instructor has curated a playlist rather than him lecturing,” said O’Malley. “He is able to share a video to watch instead of a 2-hour lecture. This is a chance for everyone to watch the same content and look at it together.”

There will always be things students miss about meeting in person. “One of the things that students get out of being here is we [faculty] are here.” O’Malley explained how those “water cooler moments” have always given students an opportunity to collaborate with others and grow together. The instructors will have virtual office hours where students can pop in and ask questions. These office hours work similar to how instructors already had time for students to visit their desks for questions about lessons and homework.

An additional resource for students is the online weekly Town Hall. This space is for non-classroom conversation about what is happening with anything from financial aid to fall schedules. This resource allows students to save their personal issues for time outside of the classroom where their specific concerns can be fully heard.

One of the biggest solutions in helping each student have a successful semester was to create a supply pick-up program. This program makes sure students are supplied with the same products for consistency throughout their classes. O’Malley stated, “It is like having a subscription CSA (community supported agriculture). You show up at your time every week and all of the stuff you need for the next week’s classes are in your materials box. If you are in three different classes, you pick them all up at one time.” Pick up is simple as students pull up to the loading dock outside the school and call for a staff member to deliver their box to their vehicle.  

The school has also adapted its non-credit classes to online classes in which students can pick-up their ingredient boxes at the school as well as interact with the professor and students online during a lecture and demonstration.

As for what the typical person in Omaha can do to better support the school, O’Malley suggested taking the time to seek out restaurants that host the college’s culinary interns as well as encouraging the restaurant community to take on interns. These values of supporting interns will give students more experience and will also feed more money into the restaurant community, which is a win-win for all.

Community is such a big part of the school’s mission, and there have been some concerns with what community would look like online. “One thing people love about coming to culinary school is the camaraderie that you develop with your classmates, so I don’t know yet what the outcome of this will be on that,” O’Malley said. “I know going through an intense situation like this will form bonds. The students who left class together are going to share a common experience that will bind them together.” O’Malley has already seen students who were previously enrolled in classes together start working together through transitioning to online. “They do change their permanence in each other’s lives. I hope the remote learning environment will create a really cool tidal wave as the restaurants work together.”

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