UND Aerospace's ground school sets pace with move to remote education
Thanks to rapid action of UND Aerospace faculty, students can complete current ground school courses online
UND Aerospace's quick request to move its ground school online won almost immediate approval from the FAA, a development that may have paved the way for other aviation schools and students around the country, leaders of the University's aviation school say.
The nation's leading flight school has had to make unprecedented changes during an unprecedented time as its programs - and programs across the planet - confront the COVID-19 outbreak.
The situation presented an especially complex set of issues for the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.
Not only are flight operations grounded at Grand Forks International Airport until further notice, but the edict to teach remotely for the rest of the semester directly contradicts the regulations set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowing UND to operate as a Part 141 ground school.
The FAA-regulated selection of courses comprising Part 141, from the 100 to 400 level, is what prepares and qualifies UND graduates to move forward in their careers as aviators. All of them involve flight in one way or another.
According to the course outlines that keep UND within Part 141 regulations, all training must be delivered on-campus at UND, or out at UND Flight Operations. This, of course, put faculty in a difficult position, and required immediate action with an impending restriction on campus activity.
The quick work of Aerospace faculty and staff impacted not only the lives of more than 1,000 UND Aerospace students eager to keep their education on track, but also, potentially, thousands more aviation students across the country.
'Not a small feat'
Here's the key dilemma that confronted Aerospace leaders as the "remote learning" news developed: How would UND be able to keep complying with FAA regulations, while also switching ground instruction to online after spring break?
Lewis Archer, assistant professor and assistant chair of flight academics, said faculty leaders were already making "Plan B" by the time they sent a request to the FAA to deviate from their training course outlines, which would allow them to shift to online delivery.
"We had the drafted request in the hands of our principal operations inspector - who is based out of Fargo's FAA district office - by Wednesday, March 11," Archer said. "We were preparing for them to say no."
On the day the request was sent, the inspector to whom it was delivered happened to be on location at UND Flight Operations, which gave Archer and Chief Flight Instructor Jeremy Roesler a chance to hand-deliver the same documents and discuss the situation.
After the chance encounter, Archer checked in with the office through the rest of the week, but didn't hear back. Then after a tense weekend - relief. The FAA sent back a letter of approval.
"I was quite surprised not only to get that response, but also to get it that quickly," Archer remarked.
"Those of us who have worked with the FAA over the years know that such a result is not a small feat, but rather a huge accomplishment," Bjerke said in commending Archer's and other's efforts.
"As I watched all of the other collegiate aviation programs chime in that their district offices finally received guidance to assist them in similar requests, after we were already granted approval, I realized that we were once again proving to be leaders in collegiate aviation education," she added. "Not only did Archer's and Roesler's efforts positively impact our aviation students, they undoubtedly helped thousands more across the country."
Archer also liked the thought of UND showing the way for others during unusual and uncertain times. As soon as they were granted approval, UND faculty shared their regulatory approach with peer institutions. This past week, Archer confirmed that most institutions have been approved to move their ground schools online.
"I'd like to think we paved the way," he said.
Aerospace's online PSA
On March 16, UND Aerospace leaders described the ground-school and other coronavirus-related changes in an online presentation on the College's YouTube channel. Throughout the presentation, the College's message was clear: "The health and safety of our students, staff and faculty is our paramount consideration."
Those were the words of Dean Paul Lindseth, who was accompanied during the presentation by an array of faculty and staff.
UND Aerospace boasts an exemplary safety record, noted Brian Willis, director of safety. But "today, it's not your flight safety, but your personal safety that we're concerned about," he said.
Roesler said that while there are plenty of questions around requirements for flight training, those shouldn't be a concern at the moment. The conversation about how to eventually resume flight training is ongoing, and everything is subject to change in a fluid situation.
Regarding ground school course registration, Archer said that the system tracking flight lessons - aka course prerequisites - has been frozen to Feb. 29. That means wherever students were in their flight lesson progress at that date is how the system will establish priority for registration once normal activity resumes.
Once again, though, Archer stressed the fact that any of the numbers can change as circumstances develop.
"There are a lot of factors at play, and there's no doubt that this will delay things for a lot of students," Archer said. "We're going to do what we can to hopefully avoid that as much as possible."
Making it work
As many of the courses moved to online delivery for the first time, which was an undertaking on its own, the FAA conditioned its approval on having remote access to the courses.
The responsiveness and assistance from the Teaching Transformation and Development Academy (TTaDA) was a lifesaver throughout the fast-paced process, said Archer.
"The help we've had from TTaDA has been exceptional," he said. "I explained what we had to do to comply with the FAA, and as soon as I had the approval, and I emailed [Academic Application Administrator/Learning Space Coordinator] Diane Lundeen, it was done instantly. We had what we needed for the FAA.
"I can't thank them enough for how they've helped us through this."
Archer is one of the many in the aviation faculty who are teaching online for the first time this week, but he's confident that every flight student will be able to finish his or her ground school coursework for the spring semester, regardless of where each student is at in the program.
Faculty are collaborating as a group, he said - sharing knowledge and resources to ensure students get the education they expected when they chose UND Aerospace to start their aviation careers.
"It's not going to be an easy transition, but with the amount of tools we have and people who can help, I know we can make it work," Archer said.
Keep up to date with UND Aerospace
The latest information regarding UND Aerospace's response to COVID-19 can be found at their blog site, and questions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Many up-to-date responses regarding flight training and aviation course requirements can be found in the March 23 Questions & Answers post on the UND Aerospace Coronavirus Updates blog.
Connor Murphy | UND Today