Using Online Learning and Hands-On Experience in a Competency-Based Machinist Program

Posted By: Chad Schron, Senior Director, Tooling U-SME on April 28, 2020

Ogden-Weber Technical College in Ogden, Utah

Online learning is a powerful educational resource and combined with hands-on experience can be even more valuable. We are proud to partner with technical colleges across the country to provide the foundation of their machinists’ program.

To help other schools and colleges take advantage of online learning, we are recording sessions with several Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructors. Their experience implementing and managing an elearning program can provide guidance and best practices to those schools just starting this journey. Today is the third in a five-part series and we are pleased to welcome Bret Holmes, Machinist Program Coordinator from Ogden-Weber Technical College in Ogden, Utah.

Chad:

Good afternoon, this is Chad Schron and Megan Shea-Keenan from Tooling U-SME joined by Bret Holmes of Ogden-Weber Technical College. Today we'll be discussing best practices, and how to use elearning and digital tools in the classroom. Thank you, Bret, for joining us. To kick it off, please tell us a little bit about yourself, your school and your major program.

Bret:

Thanks! I'm happy to be here. I'm the machinist coordinator at the Ogden-Weber Tech College. We have been a college since 1971. The machinist program was established in 1992. I have been on staff with the college since 1997, so I have a little over 22 years of teaching experience.

Chad:

Great. How long have you been using digital tools and elearning in your program?

Bret:

We first found out about Tooling U-SME in about 2001; its real infancy stage. We decided to try and implement it. We've been using it a really long time now. We started our first courses in November of 2004. Since then we've had over 1,600 students enrolled. We've logged more than 65,000 hours spent in classes. We have over 75,000 classes completed and more than 9,200 logins. Our pretest average score is about 65 percent and our final average score is 83 percent.

Chad:

Wow. That's really impressive. What are some of the reasons you chose to blend online into your programs?

Bret:

We originally started in 2004 because our apprenticeships needed some distance learning type training, They needed to be able to do the theory, as much as possible, outside of the facility and just come in for the hands-on portion. We had no idea, at the time, to really implement it into our overall program. We started with our apprenticeship just to try it. That was a nightmare on our end. In 2004, there wasn’t a lot of technical expertise; this is very new technology. To do online training was really scary for our administration here, but we kind of pushed forward anyway.

Chad:

Great! It sounds like you were one of the forefront leaders in the space. How do you balance using the online, lecture and hands-on labs?

Bret:

It's pretty interesting. We are definitely a different type of environment — more of a competency-based environment. I have new students starting twice a month, every month. We have an open entry, open exit style system. At any given time, I have students at different levels. I do very little to no lecturing unless I have a group of students who need something specific. We're more one-on-one instruction. We have to have the ability, for whatever coursework we put together, to have more of a self-paced feel to it. We have a very hybrid program that includes Tooling U-SME and our Canvas system, which is our LMS. We also have videos and textbooks. We’re about 70 percent hands-on; 30 percent theory. Out of that 30 percent, we are probably 85-90 percent online. We're going to push for more of that. One of our programs is a CBT, which is a computer-based training program, and it's moving to online in July. We’ve also been pushing, for the last two years, to move our math courses completely online for our students.

Chad:

Great. You mentioned the LMS. It sounds like you really know a lot of the stats of all the students. What are some of the features and functionality of the LMS that you find to be helpful?

Bret:

We don’t use a lot of the stuff in your Tooling U-SME LMS. There are a million capabilities in there. You can set up timelines for students to complete things; you can do lecture. You could do all kinds of things with Tooling U-SME. What we're doing is using a course syllabus that we have our students use and follow. It’ll say, “Read text, this, this and this; do this Tooling U-SME class and do this in Canvas.” It’ll tell them exactly what to do, step-by-step. When they’re in Tooling U-SME and complete one lesson, [the system] sends a group email. All my instructors have access, so they can go in and look at a student's progress at any given time. They see what the student completed and what they haven't. We've set it up so a student will have to complete it. They can take as many exams to complete the coursework as they need to, but they have to wait at least 24 hours to be able to take the exam again. That limitation is based off our standards here at the college. But you can set that any way you want. Students can take the exam once; you give them a master’s at the end of it. They take it again and do all kinds of things in there. Our main function is we use testing and assessment as more of a learning tool then to assess students’ knowledge. When we do it, we have them do the course. If they complete it with 80 percent or better, they move on. If they cannot, they'll have to take that exam again, but they'll have to wait 24 hours before they do that. Did that answer your question?

Chad:

Yeah, that was helpful. What type of devices are your students typically accessing the classes on — tablets, phones or laptops?

Bret:

I was actually one of the people pushing really hard for better access. It was probably eight or nine years ago that I was asking some people from Tooling U-SME, at one of the big shows, to have an app for the students. I had students on my floor trying to hold their laptop and look at the CNC courses while they're at the CNC machine. The information that was in the coursework was so identical to the controllers that we have here. The students were trying to do it that way. I wish I would have thought to take a picture of it. It was kind of funny to watch them trying to balance a laptop on one hand while they're trying to run the controller with the other. But of course now the phones are bigger, and they have the tablets, so I see my students use every one of those to do the work.

Chad:

Great. When you’re talking to somebody who is new going into it, what are some of the pitfalls or some of the things you want to avoid when you're adopting elearning into the classroom?

Bret:

There are a lot of things. You have to balance whatever elearning you're trying to do with whatever impacts your facility itself. In our case, we're driven 100 percent by employers. I feel very fortunate to be able to run a program that is designed and run by the employers. I just get to drive the ship. The advantage of that, especially with this type of a system, is that you don’t have to go back and rewrite curriculum. I don't have to worry about that. Tooling U-SME does that on a daily basis. I tell my students, every time they open up Tooling U-SME, if they see an old piece of equipment it’s not because it's old, it's because it's still being used somewhere. So, every time they open up Tooling U-SME they're getting a brand-new textbook, every time they log in. That’s an advantage for me as an instructor, because there's just no way I could keep up. I've written curriculum to support some of the stuff that we need. If the higher universities near us did not require us to use textbooks to get our accreditation with them, to be honest, I'd get rid of a lot of my textbooks and solely go with Tooling U-SME.

Chad:

What are some of the changes that are happening in light of all the things that are going on in the world nowadays? I'm not sure how it is where you are, but we're seeing a lot of schools that are completely shut down. What kind of changes are you making now in this new day?

Bret:

It was interesting. We'd always had a bunch of our theory base that was available online to students throughout the year. Ever since we've done Tooling U-SME, it's been really weird for us. As a student, I would have been really excited to have the ability to do the lessons that you can do in there outside of the classroom. Being on the other side of the fence as the instructor, it's funny for me to watch students have the ability to do that but choose not to use it.

In the past four or five years, we've had some people who are anywhere from 50 to 150 miles away from our campus, come enroll in our program. They show up once a week and they only come here to do the project. They're able to do all the theory work remotely and they just show up here to do projects in the lab. On average, a student who maintains 100 percent progress here would take about seven and a half months to get the entry-level skills to be a machinist. These people did that in five months and only showed up part-time because they were able to do that with sources outside of here. That’s amazing, huh?

Chad:

Yeah, that’s really good!

Bret:

Then on the other hand, I have students who have been in the program two and a half years because they don't do what they're supposed to do even though they have the ability. I've had guys pay for two Tooling U-SME accounts and they still haven't gotten the certificate done. It runs the gamut between the good and the bad.

Chad:

If you were talking to new instructors who were just getting into this, what are some key steps that you would outline to get them up and going in an elearning program in the classroom?

Bret:

There are a couple of things that I would look at if I was going to start all over again. There's a textbook out called Precision Machining Technology, and it's written by the NIMS standard and follows the NIMS standard, which Tooling U-SME follows as well. Most of the country is talking about the new standards that are out there, and to get any kind of funding, you have to follow some kind of national standard. That's just how the funding sources are these days. I would suggest that they look at that textbook and follow Tooling U-SME, because it has everything laid out for you to follow that same standard.

We here at the college do not use the NIMS standard 100 percent because our employers don't want it. Not that I did not create [the program] to align with it. It's just that our employers don't want it. We are a test facility here for NIMS, so our students are able to test in NIMS if they choose to. I feel confident, with the curriculum we use in Tooling U-SME, that my students are able to pass. I've not had anybody take more than one test so far; they passed it first time out. I don't have a lot of benchmark, unfortunately.

Then you have the other conversation about SkillsUSA. You know, people talk about skills and what's out there on that. I can tell you with our students, they get trained to get jobs, so they're not really training to compete at SkillsUSA. They’re more training to get jobs in industry when they get out of high school. The last five or 10 years I've taken people back to Nashville and they feel very comfortable. Because not only do we have Tooling U-SME, which supports the Haas controllers that you need — the software or the programming skills that it takes — but we actually have the simulators here in the machines to be able to use that to support the other side of it. If you're just looking at being like a high school and you're going to do some basic things, SkillsUSA is one [competition] that all high schools want to compete in, obviously. All you would need is to have some Tooling U-SME and a Haas simulator. Then you're as successful as you can be inside your classroom to get ready for those kinds of contests.

Chad:

Great. Thank you so much for taking the time today. Anything additional you think would be helpful for other instructors? Anything we didn't cover that you'd like to share?

Bret:

When I first started teaching so many years ago, I’d come directly out of the industry. I had no real teaching background. The best advice I got to start a new program was “Remember when you knew absolutely nothing about machining. Start there and work your way forward.” That advice is the reason I stayed. I was told that five or six days after I had first started, and I was so frustrated. I had no idea how to write curriculum. I had no idea where to go. I was just kind of stuck spinning my wheels. That advice gave me enough momentum to be able to create what I did at that point on.

Chad:

Great. Sounds like some good, sound advice. Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience. And it sounds like a very successful program that you’re running there. We've just been really fortunate with industry support.

Bret:

We’ve been really fortunate with industry support and I’m more than happy to share. I would be more than happy to share syllabuses and answer questions.


You may find the rest of the blogs in this series here:

Using Online Classes to Create Digital Learning Environments: Insights from CTE Instructors
Best Practices for Using a Virtual Learning Classroom for High School and Adult Students
Blending Online Learning with Hands-On Experience: A Proven Approach
Online Learning Is Here to Stay: Buy In, Get Started, Love It


Tags: apprenticeship, "Career and Technical Education", competency-based, CTE, curriculum, elearning, LMS, "machinist program", NIMS, "Ogden-Weber Technical College", "online training", "online classes", "Tooling U-SME"