Education //
April 22, 2020

Cheese, Challenges, and Creativity – Living in a New Educational Maze;

By Carl Borleis
Director of Program Excellence
Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence

   Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, M.D., is a fictional book about dealing with change.  Many educators in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) world may consider this book required reading for themselves and their students due to the various changes caused by COVID-19 in recent weeks.  Originally, while classroom education was getting transitioned to an online/distant format due to the pandemic, small groups of students were going to be allowed to attend class to complete hands-on lab portions of the class by following CDC guidelines for distancing and sanitation, but 11th-hour changes to the stay-at-home order from the Governor created last-minute changes that required students to stay home and not go to school, even for hands-on labs.  CTE educators across the state are trying to make lemonade out of lemons.  Following are some examples of what is working, and some of the challenges still being faced by CTE Instructors.

   One of the biggest positive results of the COVID-19 pandemic is that instructors are realizing a variety of tools at their disposal.  Many educational publishers have opened up their online resources free of charge for the remainder of the semester.  This allows instructors to adapt these curricula on an interim basis and create virtual training modules for their students to complete.  They can stick with one curriculum resource or mix and match them to create a unique offering to their students.  Some instructors have indicated they will be using these new curricula and designs in future classes, for snow days, or even when the need for a substitute teacher arises.  Many OEM industry partners have also made their online and web-based employee training available for schools to use.  In many cases these industry-school partnerships already existed, but additional connections have been made as well.  In addition to these resources, instructors are discovering videos on YouTube and other platforms that they are using and sharing with students to enhance their education.  Sometimes these are quality videos with correct information, while others are riddled with mistakes. Even the “bad” videos can still be used by having students identify the mistakes being made.  Instructors are also creating their own videos and educational materials by learning and using products like Zoom, VidGrid, Teams, Electude, SP/2, and other media and curriculum platforms.

   These changes have been received with mixed results by the students.  Some have embraced the changes, understand why they have occurred, and are even excelling in their studies. However, others are struggling as their kinesthetic/hands-on learning styles do not mesh well with the new, often computer-based environment (not to mention that not all students have easy access to the internet at home).  Some students are still learning needed time management skills in order to be effective in their studies.  Changes due to COVID-19 also mean that many CTE students are either working additional hours in essential jobs (as all transportation sectors qualify as essential), or having to deal with cut hours at their jobs due to less work being available (while many truck shops are busy, especially in urban environments, fewer cars on the road mean fewer accidents and less available work for auto body repair shops).  Some students are also having to care for younger siblings when both the students and their siblings would normally have been in school.  While online opportunities often allow for more flexibility in learning, some students are better served by the structure of a regular school schedule.

   The biggest challenge facing CTE educators is how to make up for the hands-on lab time and assessments required by many programs and accreditation organizations.  The best answers have come from creative solutions often utilizing industry partnerships.  Multiple schools have coordinated early internships with industry and are coordinating with those industries to ensure their students are getting hands-on experience and assessments of the required tasks needed for graduation.  Industry accreditation organizations are also temporarily waving some of their requirements of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Other programs will have to delay graduation for students until they can get the needed hours; this delay causes a ripple effect for future classes and financial aid, including the fact that some summer programs may also need to be taught in an alternative format.  These problems will require creative answers.  Speaking of creative, at least one truck driving program in the state convinced an industry partner to hire their students and most of their staff and are coordinating the carrier’s newly-created training program at an on-site location.  Temporary waivers by state and federal authorities for CDL testing have also allowed for creative use of 3rd party testing, and testing in other states that was previously unavailable, but which will allow students to receive training, get tested, and get on the road to their new career. 

   Creativity, collaboration and ingenuity have been the key ingredients of a successful educational transition during this pandemic.  Many instructors are thinking outside the box and are working hard to educate their students to the best of their abilities.  Nobody signed up for this or expected it, but critical thinking, problem-solving, a mindset for continuous improvement, and a can-do attitude will see them through this crisis.  They can be proud of their accomplishments.