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E-Learning applications for career and technical education.

AN EFFECTIVE SYSTEM OF CAREER AND TECHNICAL. education (CTE) faces challenges in delivering high-quality instruction due to the sometimes large costs of programs, dispersed and rural locations of students and schools, and cultural and economic conditions in some areas. Traditional barriers to offering diverse or specialized instruction include lack of qualified faculty, lack of funding to implement new or in-demand instruction or classes, or insufficient number of students to justify a budgetary expenditure. E-learning provides an available and cost-effective opportunity to address student needs. Schools can use e-learning options to enhance offerings to attract and serve more students and to address community needs for workforce preparation.

E-learning options can add relevance to the overall learning experience, which can be important for a couple reasons. One, all students can experience real-world application of concepts and skills. Students can be better prepared for further education or a job. Two, for students at risk of dropping out, an otherwise unavailable learning opportunity can be the stimulus to excite the student and keep him or her in school. Further, e-learning is adaptable to varied learning styles and experiential instruction, two common needs of students concentrating in CTE programs.

The Importance and Relevance of CTE

According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, professions fed by graduates of CTE programs make up the foundation of the nation's economy. Less than 20 percent of all jobs require, and will be filled by, individuals possessing a baccalaureate degree or higher educational attainment. More than 60 percent of jobs will require an associate degree or technical certificate, and jobs requiring an associate degree will increase by 32 percent between 2000-2010, the largest increase of any educational category. Jobs requiring a postsecondary vocational award will increase by 16.2 percent, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These are the jobs that make things, build things and fix things; not only machines, computers, cars and houses, but also what we eat and how we care for ourselves and our children. These jobs are filled by graduates of CTE programs. The 20th century concept that "vocational classes" are for "other peoples' children" is not the reality of the 21st century. CTE coursework no longer is "shop" classes that isolate troublemakers and "slow learners," nor is it the home economics classes concentrating on 1950s ideals of "homemaking." Providing relevant courses with academic rigor ensures students an opportunity to attain a high living standard, and it promotes the economies of the local area, state and nation.

The growing movement to redesign America's high schools includes recognition of CTE as an integral component in providing meaningful educational opportunities for all students. E-learning, distance learning and virtual high school applications across the United States address these challenges, giving all areas and all students the opportunity to shape their educational attainment and career achievement (Smith, Clark and Blomeyer 2005).

It is vital to engage all students in a program of study that embodies high academic content and prepares them for future work, college and lifelong education--all in the context of the changing realities of today's information society and global economic competition.

Former U.S. Department of Education Official Hans Meeder, now a consultant with Visions Unlimited, spoke at the 2005 Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) Convention. He cited two miscalculations still part of the old high school model: belief in fixed intelligence and low expectations, racial and ethnic prejudices; and belief in a static economy and slow-changing workforce demands.

The high school model hasn't changed in 50 years to meet the challenges of the information age and global economy. E-learning is a tool to change the old high school model.

CTE Appropriate for All Students

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Executive Director Tom Vander Ark, also speaking at the 2005 ACTE convention, noted of all students entering high school today, one-third don't graduate, one-third graduate but are unprepared for a "family wage job" or postsecondary education, and one-third are doing pretty well. He said the debate has reached a point of convergence on two points:

1. Even college kids should be employable. Too often book learning is not connected to real-world savvy, and

2. Even non-college-bound students should leave high school work-ready and prepared for further learning.

The proposals to redesign American high schools focus on academic rigor, course relevance and personal relationships. Meeder defined rigor as core curriculum designed to meet high expectations; relevance as career academies, experiential learning and thematically focused schools; and relationships as support for students. Vander Ark cited America's high dropout rate as evidence schools are not working, and he said a survey indicated half of the dropouts left simply because of boredom. Of those, 70 percent would return to school if it were interesting.

"Career and technical education is the model of what the three R's can look like," Vander Ark explained. He said CTE motivates achievement, encourages perseverance and improves preparation.

"The essence of career and technical education is helping kids see themselves in a job," he concluded. E-learning adds to that potential vision. E-learning brings the full opportunity afforded by modern CTE courses to any student in any school in any area.

Developing CTE E-Learning Programs Kentucky, among other states, offers online e-learning opportunities. While most high school online coursework in Kentucky and elsewhere focuses on Advanced Placement academic programs and other core academic content (Watson 2005), Kentucky is addressing the need for available and accessible CTE programs. CTE courses are offered by the Kentucky Virtual High School (KVHS), and more are being developed, including CTE courses integrating core academic content. These courses fulfill core academic graduation requirements while permitting students to gain under standing or insight into relevant application in their CTE area of concentration.

Kentucky's system of Area Technology Centers (ATCs--state-run schools offering CTE-only courses often serving multiple high schools) is in the process of developing a Virtual Area Technology Center (VATC). In both cases, the goal is to enhance student learning opportunities. In Kentucky, e-learning most often follows two formats. One is supplemental support in a traditional classroom setting, providing a broader and deeper learning environment for application in classrooms, labs or research; for remediation; or for accelerated learning. A second offers coursework to remote students for credit needed to fulfill a career major or graduation requirements.

According to officials with both KVHS and VATC, planning is essential to developing a good system. Planning not only sets the mission, goals and objectives of the program, but also identifies a delivery medium easily used by both teacher and students. Former Gov. Paul Patton spurred creation of KVHS. He wanted all schools to have the ability to offer all students the same quality of academic choices and student supports, both in curriculum and scheduling flexibility.

The Kentucky Department of Education accepted the challenge and introduced the first KVHS classes in 2000. Ruby Stevens, Kentucky Department of Education branch manager for virtual learning, praises the state's leadership for careful planning, which included research of other online schools.

Terri DeYoung, Kentucky Department of Education program consultant and coordinator of KVHS academic and student services, remembers, "After the first year, without a national model, I was pleased with decisions of leadership."

She also cites Kentucky's commitment to technology; every school in the state has the technology to implement KVHS. KVHS charges $150 for a half-credit course and $300 for a full-credit course; however, scholarship funds are available and some online courses made available through traditional, facilitated classes are tuition free. In addition, KVHS charges $100 for "credit recovery," which allows students to make up work to achieve full credit toward graduation. All VATC courses are free to enrolled ATC students, and currently are not available outside the ATC.

KVHS uses eCollege as its delivery medium. VATC uses Blackboard. Joe Morgan, Kentucky Office for Career and Technical Education program consultant for communications and technical education, says VATC began at the school level when a local ATC received a grant to use the Blackboard system. At the same time, the ATCs' state administration was considering establishing a virtual ATC. Without manpower or funding for full implementation,

VATC was built on the experience of the grant recipient. Kentucky's state universities also use Blackboard for their e-learning programs. Morgan says a consortium of the state universities, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, KVHS and VATC are looking at adopting a common delivery medium for K-16 e-learning.

There are several privately developed products available to deliver e-learning. Morgan used and recommended WCET EduTools' Web site, which allows side-by-side comparison of various selected products Kentucky's decision was driven by existing use of the Blackboard system at the university level, existing implementation by one local ATC, ease of use by students and teachers, and cost. Those considering e-learning may have other priorities to consider. The EduTools Web site facilitates comparison among more than 60 products. DeYoung says most of the differences among the systems now have dissolved.

Practical Applications

Morgan stresses the need for a system that is easy to use for both the student and teacher. Whether a course is developed internally or as part of a consortium, or purchased from a third party, a teacher will implement it and communicate with students. This can be as part of a traditional classroom structure enhanced by e-learning or a completely online class with students and teacher in different locations.

DeYoung says teachers remain the key ingredient in successful teaching, whether in a traditional classroom or online. "They have to make it a valuable learning experience for the students," she explains.

Morgan warns of the importance of having adequate computer availability, access and connection speed. Students who want and need a course require access, he added. Kentucky is building the Kentucky Education Network (KEN) on Internet II for all public education entities in the state. Morgan says it will even have cameras built in for two-way visual communication.

DeYoung notes the process of developing a course is a lot more time and resource intensive than anticipated. But it has ad vantages in stimulating teacher preparation and effective delivery (Willis 1993).

The system should offer the ability to post announcements and assignments, manage discussion between students and teacher, and contain course documents. Currently, most VATC courses are used in a more traditional manner to enhance the classroom learning environment. Many CTE courses at some point require hands-on application of skills.

For instance, Roc Moore, Harrodsburg, Ky., ATC automotive technology instructor, uses VATC courses, some of which he has developed and posted, to support his lectures. He follows a teaching method in which he provides information, shows the application, and then lets the students apply the skill in the automotive shop. VATC courses "increase my time with the kids in the shop," he says. Students still must work on a car to demonstrate mastery of a skill, such as brake repair. "In my shop, the slowest student would drive the course," he explains. "I wanted something for the advanced student to go at his own rate."

The program also works for students who require remediation or additional study to grasp a point, and it helps students who may be embarrassed to ask a question in class. They can communicate with Moore via e-mail or look up an answer in the posted handouts or links. With all lessons posted online, students who are absent can access coursework from remote locations, complete assignments and obtain credit.

Moore says the courses can take a considerable amount of time to set up, and must be reviewed for accuracy, but once in place, "it's such a positive tool, not only for students but for me, too."

Accessibility Meets Demand

VATC posts lesson plans accessible online in courses ranging from character building to architecture. They address CTE program areas of automotive, business, communication, computers, construction, cosmetology, health science technology, maintenance, manufacturing, marketing and transportation. Additional courses, such as computer programming, are entirely online for remote access.

KVHS relies on student needs, school requests, overall demand and an access assessment to determine what courses should be developed and offered, Stevens says. Once a course is targeted, DeYoung explains, KVHS determines whether it can be purchased from a third party, whether it already is available from a partner (such as Kentucky Educational Television or the coalition consisting of KVHS, Illinois Virtual High School, Colorado On-Line, Gwinnett County, Ga., or Rapid City, S.D.), or whether it must be developed in-state.

If KVHS develops the course, a team of teachers is assembled to design the course to meet all state and national curriculum standards. A design consultant is hired to build the process into the software environment. The first two CTE courses offered by KVHS are Electronic Office, a business course, and Introduction to Health Science. These are two of the 65 KVHS course offerings. In spring 2006, KVHS enrollment was about 2,200 students.

The development of the Introduction to Health Science class offers insight into the process. With funding from a small grant, the Kentucky Department of Education Division of Career and Technical Education suggested development of health science courses. Students were identifying health science as a career major on their individual graduation plans but were not pursuing the major due to the lack of available courses and instructors. A team was assembled to create the class, and it was made available in 2005. In spring 2006, there were three separate groups taking the class.

Also in development is a medical science class. KVHS is moving forward in developing interdisciplinary courses. The first will be construction geometry, which is being created by a team of CTE teachers and administrators, Kentucky Educational Television and KVHS.

Similar developments are taking place in other states. Faculty at Texas A&M University developed an online curriculum for agriscience students in poultry (Ermis, Dillingham, Edney and Marriott 2004). In business education, online education continues to grow and students from all walks of life are taking online courses. Students believe the courses are flexible and permit earlier graduation. The design and implementation are critical in impacting student success in online courses (Wallace, Jubin and Walker).

In Iowa, online secondary health science technology courses are well attended and successful (Burley-Hicks). Construction and manufacturing applications were cited in other areas facing challenges in teaching content, where logistics are a concern, when costs can be prohibitive, where equipment is limited, and when just-in time learning is required (Fenrich 2005).

E-learning has been recognized as an industry cluster by the Arizona Governor's Strategic Partnership for Economic Development. In Indiana, high school students are getting a head start on college by taking online courses, which are expanding into K-12 education.

A Natural Process

Morgan sees the use of e-learning as a natural process, whether as an enhancement to the traditional classroom or for remotely located students. "We're looking at a huge step, like moving from blackboards to marker boards to white boards. This is just one more move to uses of instructional technologies. We're going to see more and more uses of this. Students don't get information the way I did. They don't typically pick up a book to find information; they go to the computer, the cell phone, the PDA. Even textbook companies are shipping electronic resources with books. Even textbook companies are recognizing this transition is going on."

Another barrier he sees is acceptance at the school level. There still is a traditional mind-set, and it takes time for decision makers to catch on. Students still must pass the courses, whether online, by proctored exams or a combination, but to John Hodge, Harrison County, Ky., ATC principal, providing online CTE courses are another tool and another opportunity to help students.

"People do things when we make it comfortable for them to do it," says Hodge. "The hardest part is getting instructional staff to use the product; to integrate instructional materials in the classroom. It's a high learning curve. Where do you get time to develop competence and confidence? As they build success, other teachers will get a handle on it. A teacher has to be able to see the advantage of time savings in the long term, but it takes time in the short term."


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Ermis, L.; Dillingham, J., Edney, K.; Marriott, V. (2004), Online Academy Model for CATE Curriculum Delivery, Texas A&M University Instructional Materials Service, presentation at 2004 ACTE Convention

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Michael R. Stone is the executive director of the Kentucky Association for Career and Technical Education. He can be contacted et
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Author:Stone, Michael R.
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Date:May 1, 2007
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