Jul 30 2020

How Schools Are Bringing CTE Programs Online

Teaching career and technical education programs virtually may be necessary for some schools today, but it comes with long-term benefits.

When schools closed last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, many career and technical education teachers had to quickly adapt their courses for remote learning. Now, with continuing health and safety concerns over reopening schools, many CTE educators will need to plan and prepare for teaching in a fully online or blended learning environment.

That task isn’t so easy. Compared with other subjects taught in schools, CTE classes rely more on hands-on instruction, equipment and fieldwork. “For many — if not most — CTE programs, at least some face-to-face instruction is ideal, or even necessary, for knowledge and skill development and hands-on practice,” according to the Association for Career and Technical Education’s recent brief on planning high-quality CTE for a pandemic-impacted school year.

Prior to the pandemic, some schools had already considered teaching some aspects of CTE remotely to provide equitable access to more learners, according to the ACTE. The pandemic’s impact on CTE programs has led others to rethink how such courses will be delivered in the future with the help of technology.

The Advantages of Bringing CTE Programs Online

While teaching CTE programs in a virtual environment is somewhat of a necessity today, it does offer long-term benefits. Online programs offer flexibility. Students can learn from practically anywhere and at their own pace if they have the proper devices and internet access. Students also can stay engaged in their learning and extend what they learn in the classroom with interactive learning opportunities they participate in at home.

Bringing CTE programs into a digital ecosystem can also help students develop 21st-century skills needed for workplace success, says Cliff Archey, senior program manager for education at IBM. Two years ago, he says, the World Economic Forum put out a report that found 42 percent of jobs will require brand-new skills by 2022, including cybersecurity, cloud and design thinking.

“These are things you can actually hone more effectively online in a lot of cases,” Archey says. “You’re helping to train students on the types of tools they’re going to use in the workplace. You’re teaching them both directly and indirectly how to operate in a mobile workforce, which is increasingly going to be the reality that many students will be walking into in the very near future.”

Delivering CTE programs online is also a cost-effective option for many schools dealing with budget cuts today and the pandemic’s economic impact in the coming years, Archey says. “Districts may not have the resources to spend on things that some may consider non-core,” he says. “That means schools are going to have to find resources that are affordable, low weight in terms of the implementation ramp-up and accessible for both students and teachers.”

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How to Teach Technical Education Remotely

Although many CTE educators may find it challenging to deliver curriculum through new instructional methods, there are plenty of options and resources for them to explore.

Many have combined videoconferencing technology, video recordings and at-home student projects to teach concepts, prepare students for certification exams and provide a semblance of hands-on learning through synchronous and asynchronous instruction. Educators have also used augmented and virtual reality for lab simulations.

Others have integrated online learning platforms such as Open P-TECH to remote or blended instruction. Open P-TECH is a free digital education platform built on IBM’s P-TECH program, which partners with schools, community colleges and industries to provide skills-based education and workplace opportunities for high school students.

With Open P-TECH, students can train in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud computing at their own pace through a set of modules, Archey says. Upon completion, students get a digital badge to add to their resumes. Teachers adopting a blended model can also leverage project-based activities and other resources on Open P-TECH during face-to-face instruction to extend the knowledge students gain from completing modules, he says.

Jai’Marri Moulden, a recent P-TECH graduate from Baltimore’s Carver Vocational-Technical High, says that Open P-TECH helped him gain a base-level understanding of in-demand fields such as cybersecurity. He adds that working with the online modules before the pandemic made the shift to virtual learning easier and helped him navigate taking college courses while in high school.

“I liked that I could do the program at my own leisure,” Moulden says. “My mathematical skills have gotten stronger, but I’ve also learned time management and how to adapt to certain situations.”

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But before moving CTE online, there are several questions educators must consider. The ACTE provides a list of them, including whether students and guardians have been surveyed about their technology needs and preferences, which instructional techniques work best in a face-to-face classroom or online environment and how project-based learning can be done remotely.

Another key consideration is whether students have devices that can support specific software needed to complete technical projects at home, said Yalanda Bell, executive director of career and technical education for Fulton County (Ga.) Schools, in an ACTE webinar last month. “One of the things that we’re tackling is getting specific devices for different programs that might need a more robust device,” Bell said. “For example, with graphic design, the devices we have are not robust enough to use Adobe Creative Cloud.”

Despite the challenges, trying out new ways of teaching CTE programs today can help schools fulfill the very purpose of CTE, Archey says. “It has a lot of advantages to the larger CTE initiative of preparing students for the future of work and ensuring that they understand what work looks like — both from a day-to-day practice and content point of view.”

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