Onsite Sewage Treatment Program goes virtual, hybrid

When the COVID-19 shutdown stretched into weeks with no clear end, staff at the Onsite Sewage Treatment Program (OSTP) moved nimbly to adapt their programming. This has included offering synchronous and asynchronous online workshops, hybrid classes with online training and in-person field sessions, and fully in-person trainings with reduced class sizes and additional safety protocols.

With over 25 percent of Minnesota households relying on septic systems to treat their sewage and wastewater, trained septic professionals are critical to building and maintaining systems that efficiently treat waste and protect the surrounding environment.

ostpoutdoor

In the outdoor fieldwork portion of the Soils workshop students are required to wear proper face coverings, maintain a six foot distance from each other, and have daily temperature readings taken before class.

OSTP, housed within the Water Resources Center, has been providing training workshops in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency since the 1970’s. Minnesota state law requires that septic professionals attend certification workshops to obtain and maintain their licenses to design, install, service, or inspect septic systems. Developing ways to safely offer trainings was critical then not only from an environmental perspective, but also to address the needs of the professional community.

"I've been really thankful for the collaboration of our agency partner, the MPCA, the support available through the university, and the understanding of our professional community in this process. Online and hybrid learning development were pretty new to many of us, and it has been great to have a network to work through it all with," said Michelle Jordan, Education Specialist.

The two foundational workshops in the OSTP curriculum are Introduction to Onsite Systems and Installing Onsite Systems. OSTP staff worked quickly to get these certification essential classes into a live, synchronous online format, with daily Zoom lectures, and homework hosted on Canvas. While there was a learning curve for both the instructors and the participants, the response to the online courses was largely positive, as people enjoyed the flexibility of learning from home, not missing the commute to workshops and overnight hotel stays.

This summer, the Soils Continuing Education workshop was offered in a hybrid format, combining online classroom style instruction and hands-on fieldwork. Figuring out how to provide effective instruction in a safe environment was challenging. Early on, instructors had to figure out how to be heard through face masks and using microphones. Students are required to wear proper face coverings, maintain a six-foot distance from each other and touch-free temperature taking was instituted at the start of each workshop.

 Liz Wells, OSTP program associate feels good about the adjustments made by OSTP to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions while still offering septic system education, and is grateful for constructive feedback: “We are really appreciative for the people who are providing feedback to make up-coming workshops successful. We are learning along with everyone else.”