Scott McLaughlin, Coordinator and Professor in the Motive Power Department at Canadore College in North Bay, describes the impact of an online and blended learning conference he attended in Atlanta a few years ago, as “they caught me”. Instructors from the US were demonstrating and teaching classes live from the conference, illustrating the teaching, learning, and interactive possibilities. Since that conference, Professor McLaughlin has integrated extensive content commercially available online into the post-secondary program in Motive Power, as well as worked as part of the team developing online apprenticeship courses in the Automotive Service Technician Program.
For Professor McLaughlin, the question was how online delivery would work when teaching a trade. Thinking about what and how he taught, he recognized content areas that could be provided online, particularly with the use of such tools as YouTube videos to demonstrate procedures. In-person, practical, hands-on experience in the College shop would also be essential, but online could play a substantial role in trades training.
The first step was a one-year pilot in which dual credit secondary students – those receiving both college and secondary school credit for a course – were offered online modules for a course in automotive. Professor McLaughlin based the course on Argo by Electude, game-based vocational e-learning modules for automotive education. Selecting from the 600 or more modules available in Argo, he built a course in which the students used the modules before class so that they had an active introduction to the content and were better able to follow the explanations and demonstrations. The student response was “awesome” as they really enjoyed the game-based learning and the opportunity to see ahead to the class content.
Integrating Commercial Online Modules: Building on the positive response from the pilot project, Professor McLaughlin introduced the Argo modules into the post-secondary Motive Power Program in 2013-14. He assigns about 10 modules for each major topic, which students work through in their own time before or after class. The modules largely consist of interactive learning objects the students manipulate, supplemented by text and questions. The module exercises are graded, accounting for 20% of the final mark.
Argo has its own built-in learning management system which grades students, as well as providing information on group trends and individual student strengths and challenges. In the pilot test, the College paid for all student access to Argo; the post-secondary students pay $95 a year for unlimited access, with the professor distributing the modules they use. He creates special packages for those requiring more practice or focusing on specific topics, such as electrical, that progress from easy to harder content to support effective learning. All the Motive Power courses Professor McLaughlin teaches now include resources from Argo.
Creating Online Courses:
Canadore submitted a proposal to Colleges Ontario to access the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ Ontario Online Initiative Fund (Phase I) to develop online courses for the Automotive Service Technician Program, a trade that is restricted to those in an apprenticeship program or holding a certificate of qualification. The courses are designed for apprentices employed in appropriate workplaces. The program consists of three levels, with five courses at each level. The first course developed for blended delivery was Engine Systems, Level One, with content delivery online followed by face-to-face, hands-on campus-based experience. The team working on the course development includes Susan Lister, instructional designer and project manager at New Media Consulting Services, with subject matter experts (SME), Dan Bowman, a part-time instructor , and Scott McLaughlin, a professor in the Motive Power Faculty at Canadore College.
The curriculum and objectives are set by the Ontario College of Trades. The first step in designing the Engine Systems course for online delivery involves breaking the curriculum into a two-hour chunk for each lesson. The SME then prepares a summary of each lesson on PowerPoint slides. These slides are designed to give students a quick overview of the key content. Preparing the slides also provides the opportunity to re-assess the division of the curriculum into lesson chunks, leading to some revisions and re-grouping.
The team then works to provide the detailed content of each lesson, including Information, practice, and test your understanding (IPT) components. Ms. Lister describes the model used as IPT+, bookending these three sections with lesson objectives at the beginning and the module’s evaluation at the end.
- The information component includes appropriate sections of the assigned text book, websites, hand-outs and YouTube videos from such sources as Fanshawe College, automotive products and repair shops. The information is supplemented with features such as “One Last Chance”, which asks key questions concerning the content and recommends specific resources to review to address gaps in knowledge. The summary slides offer a final review of the key points in the lesson.
- The practice component provides three areas of activity. Professor McLaughlin wanted the online course to mimic classroom discussions. To replicate these, students are given tasks, in a section called Shop Talk, to discuss or perform with their supervisors and colleagues; the students then convey the key points or summary of the tasks online. In Applied Activities, students view videos, read an article, peruse an automotive forum and answer questions about the content. Argo learning objects are also part of the practice component. The student apprentices have to gain understanding of all the content in the course, and do so by selecting the activities they feel will best support their learning needs.
- The test your understanding component contains true and false and matching quizzes students can complete to assess their understanding of the information. The quizzes are not required at the lesson level. A multiple choice test at the end of each of the four modules has to be passed before the student can move on to the next module.
When students consider themselves ready to take the test at the end of a module, they e-mail the professor. Using Desire2Learn (D2L), the learning management system, the professor looks at each student’s work in the practice exercises, assesses his/her readiness, and may suggest further work before the test module is opened. Instructors act as mentors and guides for students, as they are no longer providing the content. Communicating through e-mail or regular virtual meetings, professors can help students with difficult areas, provide encouragement, and monitor progress.
The lessons and modules In Engine Systems, level One were tested by three post-secondary students who had experience similar to that of apprentices.
Outcomes and Benefits
Integrating Commercial Online Modules: The visual nature of the Argo modules is particularly well-suited to the trades as the students tend to be visually oriented. The students in the dual-credit pilot test group were more enthused about the game-based nature of the learning; the post-secondary students have a wider age range and don’t enjoy that aspect as much.
Creating Online Courses: Currently, students in the Automotive Service Technician Program spend one seven-hour day a week in face-to-face classes at Canadore, plus four or five days in the workplace. They also have intensive practical sessions. The potential of the online delivery is to substitute for this face-to-face class time, allowing students to work at their own pace and from their own location. More students in Northern Ontario would be able to take the program, without the obligation to travel to North Bay each week. The practical sessions could be bundled so that they had to spend less time overall at Canadore.
The student-centred design of the online course is built around such considerations as encouraging the students to assess and manage their own learning, offering tools and resources that tend to be more engaging than listening to a lecture, and providing time estimates for each resource and activity so students can plan their online study sessions. The design reflects a concern for student time, avoiding overly cumbersome activities and content.
The online design supports competency-based learning; students can complete the apprenticeship more quickly or more slowly depending on their availability, capacity, and the requirements of the College and the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.
Challenges and Enhancements
Integrating Commercial Online Modules: Professor McLaughlin modified his choice of Argo modules as he found those most successful with his students. Some of the students struggle with self-paced learning, especially the younger ones who may lack academic discipline. About 20% of the students do not engage with the modules.
Creating Online Courses: Professor McLaughlin sees the greatest challenge as having students understand the information without actually having simultaneous access to the equipment being demonstrated – the same challenge as in the classroom. By using videos, the same information he presents in the class can be more interesting and flexible for students.
Ms. Lister would like to offer students better guidance in choosing their learning path within each lesson, maybe by adding text that specifies the strength of each video. Each resource is carefully chosen, but this would highlight their best points.
For subsequent courses, they may create their own videos as well, with Professor McLaughlin wearing a camera and narrating as he demonstrates procedures. The summary sheets for each lesson are to be shorter and linked to visuals from Google Images.
Integrating Commercial Online Modules: Professor McLaughlin would like to increase the time students spend using the Argo modules, as students have responded positively to the effective, individualized learning offered.
Creating Online Courses: The Level One course on Engine Systems is the first course in the Automotive Service Technician Program to be developed for online delivery. Currently, a second course, Work Practices, is under development. The completed course in Engine Systems is ready for use by Ontario Online.
In future courses, Ms. Lister would like to introduce scenarios so students could make choices throughout a situation, increasing their engagement and critical thinking skills.
Professor McLaughlin would like to make an arrangement with the textbook publisher in which students would rent only the applicable chapters for online use. At present, the face-to-face students rent the whole book for online usage or have the option of buying the print version.
Both Scott McLaughlin and Susan Lister believe very strongly in the potential of online learning. Ms. Lister says that, “the online environment is alive; the technology evaporates and you are a teacher working with students”. Professor McLaughlin expresses amazement at his own transformation in five years – from someone who was “a naysayer concerning online learning in the trades” to someone who is committed to its possibilities and its effectiveness for teaching and learning in the trades.
For Further Information
Coordinator and Professor
Motive Power Department
New Media Consulting Services