Career & Technical Education in a Remote Learning Environment

By Rusty Parker, Director of Career and Technical Education, Cabarrus County Schools

Rusty Parker, Director of Career and Technical Education, Cabarrus County Schools

As we near the end of 2020, who could have imagined how online learning would impact the education world? Online learning is not new, but with the impact of a pandemic, many school districts had to rethink their online learning strategies to provide quality instruction. Career & Technical Education has also been forced to rethink instructional strategies that have been very successful in the past. For CTE teachers, the norm has always been to rely on face-to-face, hands-on activities to teach the content. In many districts, including my own, CTE courses are being taught in a fully remote environment, and our department is forced to rethink the norms.

Cabarrus County Schools’ Board of Education opened the 2020-2021 school year in a fully remote environment. After school started, the board voted to enter a blended learning option at the end of the first grading period. With both options, online learning will still be a must for students since Cohort A will attend school face-to-face on Monday and Wednesday, and Cohort B will attend school on Tuesday and Thursday. With a limited amount of time with students, guidance for CTE teachers is coming from many directions.

Guidelines for Career & Technical Education

The Association for Career & Technical Education provided guidance and support for state and local CTE leadership through a publication called High-quality CTE, Planning for a COVID-10 Impacted School Year. Advance CTE also released their guidance called Prioritizing CTE Through and Beyond COVID-19. Based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, both documents encourage local CTE leaders to consider how topics such as Equity and Access, Assessments and Credentials, and Work-Based Learning will look in a remote environment.

"Another change has been the move to a one-to-one initiative. Now, each student in the district receives a Chromebook to use for remote learning. For students who do not have Internet access, the district also provides sites around the county where a bus has been converted to provide an access point"

The Career & Technical Education staff at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has worked diligently to provide online resources for teachers. “Collaboration stations” were organized, so teachers across the state can share resources and ideas for instruction. The state released a document in August called The North Carolina Career & Technical Education Guidance for Re-Opening During COVID-19. It also gives suggestions for how teachers should manage a classroom during the pandemic.

District-Level Guidance for Career & Technical Education

To support the Career & Technical Education teachers in our district, our central office team scheduled bi-weekly Professional Learning Community meetings, using Microsoft Teams, to discuss how to teach remotely. In addition to reviewing data and content needs, teachers collaborate on how objectives can be shared with students in the most creative way possible.

The department has worked with several third-party vendors to provide online content. A major concern for our school district has been student support in software-specific courses. Courses where the Adobe Creative Cloud is required, have been a challenge. Drafting teachers have also struggled with AutoCAD or SolidWorks. To support the students and teachers in these program areas, our department purchased a remote access software package so that students can log in to their school desktop through their Chromebook.

The Bright Side

Several changes occurred due to the pandemic that brought a very positive spin to the challenges of remote learning. Our district fast-tracked a Virtual Academy that was originally planned for a fall 2021 opening. Students in grades K–12 can apply to be part of the district’s fully remote school. Another change has been the move to a one-to-one initiative. Now, each student in the district receives a Chromebook to use for remote learning. For students who do not have Internet access, the district also provides sites around the county where a bus has been converted to provide an access point.

For Career & Technical Education, there have been positives, as well. Foods teachers have been some of the most challenged with remote learning. Many learned how to record themselves and demonstrate cooking techniques through video so that students could try the activity at home with parental supervision. A few of the students created their own videos in a Food Network format to share with their teacher. This format worked very well since in-class instruction is limited to one student per kitchen.

Our district required teachers to use Canvas as the Learning Management System. The learning curve has been phenomenal. Teachers are posting videos and online activities for students to access. They also use live streaming to get their students together, if for a few minutes.

The Challenge Ahead

There have been many good things that come from the pandemic, but all challenges are not gone. One of the programs most affected by the pandemic has been our Firefighter Technology courses. The Office of the State Fire Marshal requires that all the firefighter courses be taught face-to-face. If students cannot get into a classroom with an instructor, they may need to retake the course or enroll at our local community college.

Remote learning is changing the way Career & Technical Education teachers use technology in their classrooms, but there are portions of the curriculum that cannot be taught online. Flexibility and creativity are the keys to teaching CTE courses in a remote environment.

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