As a professor in both health sciences and environmental technology, I understood the unspoken difference between courses that were considered “general education” courses compared to the career or technical education courses. Career education was “hands-on” and not considered useful to teach “online”. Well, that was until SARs COV-2 hit with the world with a vengeance and created one of the worst pandemics this generation has seen. With over 225, 000 (and counting) dead in the United States alone, people from all walks of life realized that wearing masks and maintaining social distance would be here for more than a few short months… and at the rate the US has gone, well let’s just say, in my opinion, normal won’t be around for another year or two.
We all know that life can’t just stop, and as thinking beings, we try and figure out workarounds to deal with work, school and home life. From an educational perspective, the timing couldn’t have been better to be participating in a grant opportunity focused on online learning for career education programs. With the help of “cutting-edge” online design experts housed right on my college campus, I can now say that career education CAN be taught successfully in a fully online DE format.
My program in Environmental Technology, which offers both Associate of Science degrees and Certificates of Achievement in Environmental Management and Occupational Health and Safety, is what I like to call the “best-kept secret” on campus (and probably the local community). The program is small but mighty as many of my former students are respected professionals in their fields. The challenge has always been lack of advertisement funding, and “dog and pony” shows can only get so many students in the door. Having taught online for numerous years with my GE courses, I felt that creating a fully online Certificate of Proficiency that could be taught to students everywhere, not just my local community, would be a perfect way to introduce students to important careers in safety and environmental compliance.
The CVC-OEI Improving Online CTE Pathways Grant couldn’t have come at a better time. Not only would we “CTE” faculty be challenged to apply online andragogy to technical courses, but we would also end up supporting our students with these changes because COVID19 was just around the corner. What this activity taught me and other fellow faculty members who participated in the grant was that successful online education was possible for career education, too. The program will therefore continue to convert face-to-face courses to fully online or hybrid courses with a future goal of also making the awards “zero textbook costs” to further support our students.
Project Goals and Relevance to Students
The primary goals for this grant included increasing enrollment and developing a Solid Waste Technician Certificate of Proficiency that could be completed in two semesters. Students new to this area of study might decide, upon successful completion of the “mini-certificate ”, that completing either the AS or the Certificate of Accomplishment would be even more beneficial, since completion of these degrees (AS in Environmental Management or Occupational Health and Safety) or certificates also includes a 40-hour HazWOPER certificate for the Environmental Management awards, or an OSHA 30-hour General Industry Safety certification for the Occupational Health and Safety awards. Both of these certifications are highly coveted in environmental and safety careers.
As our new online courses launched this semester, we found that for the first time since the inception of the program, the Introduction to Environmental Technology course has enrolled close to the class maximum number of students allowed. The impact to the program and college is significant because this course can carry its weight to enhance enrollment in all the other courses offered in the program. The benefits don’t stop with the college and the discipline. Students also benefit greatly, since many who are not from the local community were able to register and take this introductory career education course because it was offered fully online. Students can now learn this specialized field of study without having to be within driving distance of the college that offers it (and few offer this program in California). Another positive student impact is the flexibility that these fully online courses offer. Many students don’t have the ability to get to campus because of transportation challenges, and others are often working multiple part-time or full-time jobs. This new online certificate gives more students the flexibility and support that are critical to their success.
Lessons Learned and/or Obstacles Encountered
Like all project and grants, there are lessons to be learned and obstacles that need to be addressed. In short, because I am a more senior faculty member at my college, the technological prowess needed to develop the design one envisions requires a learning curve that in some cases will likely be under-estimated, as was the case for me personally. Those with sharp computer and software skills will not likely take as much time to “get the hang of it.” Thankfully these obstacles were not insurmountable because of the support of our current Online Learning Center staff. Without their assistance, I doubt that I would have been this successful developing this course. It is a very time-consuming process, so I encourage people to give themselves ample time to transform face-to-face courses to fully online courses, especially when lab components must be included.
Major Project Accomplishments
This semester is the first time offering the first two fully online career education courses in environmental technology, and the feedback I have been given from anonymous student surveys is positive. The courses have been designed to minimize student confusion and to maximize student support and interaction. It will take a few semesters of data to determine how successful these courses will be. The faculty anticipate that with these positive results, and the ability to offer these courses through CVC-OEI Course Exchange, the program will likely increase in student enrollment and completion, giving students the opportunity to work in careers that pay higher than average wages and are in demand.
Professor, Health Sciences & Environmental Technology
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District or those of the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.