Blending Online Learning with Hands-On Experience: A Proven Approach

Posted By: Chad Schron, Senior Director, Tooling U-SME on May 01, 2020

Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama

In light of the social distancing that is needed to combat COVID-19, most colleges have had to convert to a totally online educational model. For nearly 20 years, Tooling U-SME has been helping community colleges and manufacturing companies train their students and workforce. We are pleased to partner with our nation’s educators to facilitate their shift to the virtual classroom.

We have recorded sessions with several Career and Technical Education (CTE) instructors so other colleges can hear directly from them about the best ways to successfully set up and use an elearning system. These interviews allow schools to learn best practices, avoid pitfalls and quickly convert to online learning, enabling them to continue to serve the educational needs of their students. Today is the fourth in a five-part series, and we are pleased to welcome Tad Montgomery, Lead Instructor, Machine Tool Technology from Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama.

 

Chad:

Good morning, this is Chad Schron and Meghan Shea-Keenan from Tooling U-SME. Today, we are joined by Tad Montgomery from Calhoun Community College. We'll be discussing best practices in using elearning and digital tools in the classroom. Thank you, Tad, for joining us. In order to kick it off, could you please tell us a little bit more about yourself, your school and your program.

Tad:

I'm Tad Montgomery. I'm the machine tool technology lead instructor for the machine tool technology program at Calhoun Community College. We are a college that serves about 9,000 - 10,000 students. We're located in Decatur, Alabama. We have multiple campuses spread throughout that area. Most of our program is hands-on learning for machining. We have incorporated a hybrid type of format into our program over the last 10 years.

Chad:

Great. You've been using elearning in your program for 10 years. What are some of the reasons why you decided to integrate elearning into your programs?

Tad:

We started using elearning to allow students who are employed full-time an opportunity to continue their education, as well as to search for various platforms to reach different students. All students learn from different forms and in different manners, as you're well aware. As far as using the elearning, it has allowed us to be more flexible with our courses. Also, it helps the college as a whole. We saw a lot of growth due to introducing elearning into our program.

Chad:

We see a lot of programs out there that are a combination of both lecture online and hands-on lab. How do you balance and decide what you deliver by what format?

Tad:

Typically, we try to do a lot of our theory enforcement online. That helps us a lot. Even though we try to utilize simulation software, it's often hard to replicate the actual hands-on experience. It's almost impossible. We try to use online learning as much as possible so we can utilize what time we have with the students to do the hands-on activities. We also like the flexibility that allows someone to have done the majority of theory work on their own. Then they're able to come in and do their labs in class.

Chad:

With the online learning, there's an LMS or learning management system. How do you use the LMS to track and monitor? What reports do you find helpful?

Tad:

I find the LMS and the reports helpful. The transcripts are, of course, always very important. We're able to export those into our grade files. Plus, it allows me to determine how much time students are spending on the material. I can enter a minimum score they must reach that lets me know they know the material before they're able to do the hands-on labs. Anything that I see is a deficiency, I can go back and try to put more emphasis on. Overall, knowing how much time they spent on the material, and being able to track students’ progress, is probably the most beneficial to me.

Chad:

Great. And how are your students accessing the materials? Are they using tablets, phones or laptops?

Tad:

All of the above. Lately, the students are using their phones. They love the Tooling U-SME app. My students are able to wear their earpieces. I have a lot of students tell me when they have free time, they'll go in and spend time on the material, whether it's the assigned material or something they feel like they need to brush up on or didn't get. We use [the app] on all device types. Recently, using the app is probably number one.

Chad:

Great. In light of everything that's going on with the COVID-19 situation, how have you adapted your program?

Tad:

I started using more of the modules that are there. Luckily, Tooling U-SME lays out an outline for each course as well as the class objectives. I can pull various courses out of the directory. I can make sure to highlight any and all skills that are required for a specific class. I can also make sure that I match my course modules and objectives up with what Tooling U-SME offers, so the two coincide. I would say since all that has occurred with COVID-19, we're placing more emphasis on elearning because we don't have the interaction with the students. I have definitely started using more of the material that's available through Tooling U-SME.

Chad:

What have been some of the biggest pitfalls or obstacles that you've had to overcome as you brought digital tools and elearning into your classroom? And how did you overcome them?

Tad:

The largest obstacle in the beginning was that a lot of the students who typically took the career tech courses were not necessarily computer savvy. We would have to overcome that. That was probably our number one problem. Believe it or not, it has changed in recent years. Now I have a hard time with a lot of the students. We do a lot of dual enrollment courses, and we have students from the high school coming to community college. A lot of the students that I'm getting out of high school prefer hands-on over online learning.

So, it's a balancing act to try to make sure you instruct your courses so they appeal to individual groups, such as the high school students who want the hands-on. They don’t like the online learning, because they are showered with it constantly now. The older students, the ones coming back to update their skills or further their education, look forward to doing the online learning component of a course. It allows them to work their full schedule and maintain their family lives. So, I guess the balancing act of trying to meet the needs of all your student groups — that’s probably the largest obstacle I have.

I guess another thing is that I have to make sure I match the courses in Tooling U-SME with the courses in the directory at our college, in terms of objectives and so forth. Tooling U-SME does a great job of this.

Chad:

Great. What has been some of the feedback that you've gotten from either the administration or parents on using the elearning?

Tad:

I've gotten positive feedback from the administration. I really don't deal with a lot of parents with community college. Generally, we deal with adult learners, but we do have some dual enrollment students. It's been very positive as far as administration, especially now with COVID-19 going on. I've had to do presentations to other faculty and staff about what I'm doing with Tooling U-SME, and it's been very positive. They’re asking me what areas Tooling U-SME offers. I've had to mentor some of the other instructors because they have zero online learning experience, and try to help them get up to speed. We use Blackboard as our LMS at the school. I've had to show them how to set up Blackboard, and with Tooling U-SME I’m able to do that. Working with our IT course designer, I’m able to embed the links into Tooling U-SME without any problem whatsoever. It's just been positive.

Chad:

Great. And if you were talking to a new instructor who was just getting into this, what would you say are the key steps or the best processes to get going with elearning?

Tad:

I would say make sure you find a good LMS system or a good partner such as Tooling U-SME. Align your course objectives with the class objectives that Tooling U-SME has to offer. They are broken out in the outline, so be sure to match those two up together. Stay away from some of this free stuff you see online. I love free things, but I would stay away from it because the content changes constantly. A lot of the links are broken once you set them up in your course. My advice there would be to have clearly laid out goals and objectives for the students. Develop your course schedule and implement deadlines. I would say follow that closely because you may be dealing with a lot of students who don't typically do online learning, and sometimes they'll procrastinate and get behind. Keep a clear-cut schedule. Make sure that your students are following the schedule and track their progress by looking at the reports available through Tooling U-SME. That’s the advice I’d give someone.

Chad:

Is there anything else that you'd like to share based on your experience?

Tad:

I wish I had known about Tooling U-SME when we first started elearning. We tried to use a lot of the free online content and develop a lot of our own material. I hate to say this, but you just need to go with someone who’s an expert on it and has it developed. We searched and tried some other programs, and it did not work. Now, I can honestly say I'm 100 percent satisfied. There are always areas where I would like to see some changes and enhancement, but as a whole, Tooling U-SME is a reliable elearning partner.

Chad:

Great! Thank you so much for your time today. We really appreciate it and your kind words.

The manufacturing industry will prove to be a leader in getting our nation through this current crisis. By preparing the current and future manufacturing workforce, colleges will be instrumental in leading us back to a stable economy.

If we can provide assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us at 866.706.8665.


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
Using Online Learning and Hands-On Experience in a Competency-Based Machinist Program
Online Learning Is Here to Stay: Buy In, Get Started, Love It


Tags: "Calhoun Community College", "Career and Technical Education", COVID-19, CTE, "dual enrollment", elearning, "learning management system", LMS, manufacturing, "manufacturing training", "online learning", "online classes", "Tooling U-SME"