Sep 22, 2021, 16:02
Revisiting the Pros, Cons, Future of Online Culinary Instruction

Revisiting the Pros, Cons, Future of Online Culinary Instruction

03 June 2021

Instructors share their distance education experiences and expectations of online assessments.

By Lisa Parrish, GMC Editor

Metamorphosizes take time to complete. So, how far along are you?

I wrote a story in the June 2020 Gold Medal Classroom edition that likened culinary education’s pivot to an online environment to that of a caterpillar encasing itself in a cocoon and emerging transformed. I pondered at the time if the culinary education distant teaching model transformation was complete. I suspected it was not. And, I think we can all agree many things have changed in the nearly 365 days since the article was published.

One year later I am revisiting the evaluation of online education and how it has altered culinary curriculum. I asked more than 120 culinary educators to share their observations on the successes and challenges of strictly teaching online or in a hybrid environment and how their schools’ 2021-22 plans are shaping up.

Let’s take another look – one year later – at the pros, cons and future of culinary instruction as seen from the instructor’s point of view.

Instructional format as classes ended

A surprising majority of schools ended the year fully in-person. More than half of those who responded were now teaching in-person full-time, while other instructors were teaching hybrid classes. Additionally, a small number of schools remained in-person and socially distant during the majority of the school year except for online instruction between November and December.

Instructors varied widely on their attitudes about which format worked best and their reasonings behind that decision. Mary Elise Chonko from Chesterfield County Public Schools said she preferred classes that either had all students in the classroom or all online as it was difficult to equally divide her attention in a lab setting to both sets of students. Other instructors commented how they did not like fully online classes as it was difficult to create camaraderie, motivation and maintain students’ attention in the courses. Dr. Jonathan Deutsch from Drexel University commented how although cumbersome to teach, classes that allowed students to be either online or in-person offered students the maximum flexibility which his students appreciated.    

Were class outcomes achieved?

The question of outcome achievements also resulted with widely varying answers from “a big no,” to “not completely” or “yes, but” all the way to “yes!”

A few schools reformatted class curriculum and outcomes due to pandemic-caused shutdowns and forced online instruction. Those schools broadened their course offerings and altered their outcomes for lab instruction. Although many instructors lamented how difficult it was to replicate real-world kitchen circumstances, teachers agreed that students progressed better – sometimes surprisingly so - through the changed curriculums.

Another common response to the outcome question was that students who were already self-starters achieved the greatest results during distance education, where students who were not self-motivated truly struggled.

John Lucchesi of Mott Community College Culinary Arts Institute said, “I feel the students that took online/distance education seriously and applied themselves realized online will often require more time, dedication, organization, and structure. They definitely achieved their course outcomes with some even exceeding them.”

Benefits of online culinary arts instruction  

Many culinary instructors were chefs before working in a school and have lived the refrain “Yes, Chef.” This indomitable get-things-done spirit ingrained in chef educators was obvious in their attitudes toward distance education benefits. Many instructors did that just, got distance education done, and learned a lot along the way. (Click here to read about how Culinary Instructor Brenda Nimmo’s “Yes, Chef” attitude helped her maintain academic rigor during online assignments.)

Vicki Mendham from Nicolet College was surprised about the success of their student restaurant. “We were full with reservations for the semester and students got a good experience, especially in the back of the house. Front of the house received less service training but better than expected with taking reservations, taking and entering food orders and coordinating food deliveries to cars,” she said.

Several instructors said they learned more about their schools’ Learning Management System which greatly enhanced students’ learning experiences. Wook Kang of Kendall College commented how impressed he was with how diligent and hard-working his colleagues were in transitioning modalities of courses to best accommodate students’ needs.

Instructors searched and found different technologies for online instruction. Many began utilizing the digital resources offered through their culinary textbooks. Others opted for teaching programs such as: collaborative meeting and whiteboard program Miro; question and answer polling app Slido; interactive presentation software Mentimeter; and Quizzizz featuring gamified quizzes, polls and lesson plans.

The search to make distance education more interactive brought a world of new resources into the classroom including demonstration videos, PowerPoint presentations, relevant articles, and other online resources related to food and technique. Many respondents said they will be updating lesson plans to include these new resources into in-person instruction this fall.

Another benefit to online instruction is how it can address limited course offerings based on scarce classroom space. Lucchesi said his school is offering more culinary classes this fall because classes that successfully fit the distance education model will remain online and this adds classroom availability.

Distance education instruction challenges

Creating an interactive classroom with camaraderie, inclusion and free-flowing discussion was a challenge to many respondents. Although programs like Zoom and Google Meet were initially thought to duplicate the in-person classroom experience, several instructors felt the technology fell short. Paul Mendoza of Galveston College did not enjoy Zoom instruction and said his students did not like the program either. “I think many students zoned out. When asked if concepts were clear, all responses were yes. It was obvious the concepts were not clear or students did not know how to apply them when work was turned in,” he said.

Changes in the curriculum to accommodate hybrid teaching required that instructors modify their lectures and the amount of material covered. A few instructors commented that information retention, even with the more limited material, declined. Robert Fredrick of McClaskey Culinary Institute at Clark College said his school planned to use face-to-face instruction this summer to catch students up on missed culinary concepts.

Students were also very challenged in their personal lives during this past year and several instructors commented that many classes were devoted to wellness and mental health check-ins. Christina Horn at Grand Junction’s Career Center, Culinary Arts said that because of day-to-day uncertainty, students had trouble getting into a good routine for note taking and studying.

Mott Community College Culinary Arts Institute’s Lucchesi found students wrongly believed with the addition of the latest technology that he would be available to them 24/7. “Parameters of when and how student concerns would be addressed had to be put in place and followed more rigorously than before,” he said.

And there are concepts particular to the culinary arts field like the taste and smell of food and operating in a high-energy kitchen environment that were difficult to convey online. No instructor who responded to this story’s questions found an answer to how to teach those concepts in a distance education format and it was generally agreed that some classes require face-to-face instruction.

Plans for the 2021-2022 school year

In terms of the 2021-22 school year, most respondents said their institutions were planning on full-time in-person instruction with only two instructors indicating their classes would remain in a hybrid format. However, several instructors indicated that some selected classes would remain either fully virtual or hybrid depending on the class’s curriculum.

Mendham from Nicolet College said that nearly 100 percent of the college’s culinary students attended online, live lectures this year. She thinks that live online lecture classes can successfully be done in the future “with some additional training and time to plan how to carry out online training.” She believes it will increase students access to culinary courses.

Horn of Career Center, Culinary Arts in Grand Junction also noted her plans for the next school year included incorporating curbside delivery and meal kits into her student-run restaurant.