Integrating Functional Skills Into Web Courses
Integrating Functional Skills Into Web Courses" The Technology Source, July/August 2002. Available online at http://ts.mivu.org/default.asp?show=article&id=1034. The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.
My journey into online education at the Maine Technical College System all started when Chef Paul proudly announced "You can't teach cooking long distance; you have to be face to face with the learner." This started me thinking: What has Julia Child been doing all these years? What is the Food Channel really doing? How can I adapt internet technology to accomplish my goals in such hands-on industries as food and beverage and lodging management? There had to be a way for me to use web-based instruction, but I knew it would take a totally different approach than anything I had been doing for the past twenty years.
The initial idea was to be able to instruct students in the conceptual portion of HMR-133 Front Office Operations using the Internet; for the functional skills, I would have them come to the Peter A. McKernan Hospitality Center to do their internship. This type of approach would allow the students to apply the concepts learned on the web to an actual workplace. In essence, I would just be replacing my lectures with web instruction. The different concepts of hotel and organization types, the guest cycle, industry specific computerization, front office accounting, and the night audit would all be learned using the web for glossary, field trips, and case studies. The different functional skills of guest service, telephone skills, reservations, registrations, communications, and guest settlement activities would all be learned and practiced in the internship portion of the course.
I taught myself WebCT and set up a Windows NT server in two weeks of 12 hour days. In four weeks, I had an outline/template of what I wanted to do with the course in place. I spent the three-week winter break transporting quizzes and exams into the WebCT format and researching Web sites and case studies. After I had the outline for the Front Office Operations course in place, it was very simple to adapt that format to my four other courses. I found myself preparing five courses all at once. This was actually much simpler than it sounds because all of my courses are interrelated in content and approach in an attempt to prevent course amnesia. Course amnesia is when information is learned in one course and immediately forgotten upon completion of that course. The student does not realize that the information will used in many other courses. Also, I found that all of my courses very naturally broke down into the two categories of either conceptual information or functional skill. Having a very complete operations manual for the Peter A. McKernan Hospitality Center really helped in the identification of functional skills.
In the Spring of 2000 I introduced my revamped courses to my students. WebCT was chosen to deliver these courses because the teaching tools I needed were all together in one neat package. A series of five "housekeeping" chores were placed at the beginning of each course to insure that all the students understood how to use the software and what the online requirements would be. After the housekeeping chores were completed in about 1/2 hour, students were immediately able to jump right in and send email and begin studying in the area known as "Course Work". The Course Work consisted of nine modules that augmented each chapter in the text. Chapters were not done in published order, but rather in a sequence that was directly related to the order in which they learned to perform the different positions as interns in The Hospitality Center. Each module had exactly the the same processes: 1) An introduction of the material that would be covered, 2) A pre-test that told the right and wrong answers but was not graded, 3) Instructions on what and how to study the chapter, 4) A streaming video that lasted 10 - 40 minutes, 5) A series of web sites to visit, 6) A case study, and 7) A review test that told the right and wrong answers but was not graded. Upon completion of the web assignments and the case studies, each student had to write a brief paper about their thoughts and experiences. After the completion of every three chapters and modules, students took a progress test online. Upon completion of the test - questions, answers and scores were immediately made available so students could tell how they did and then learn from the questions they missed. At the completion of the third exam, a comprehensive final exam was also given in the same manner. Exams were set up with a bank of questions for each chapter and the computer randomly chose the questions and the order of the questions so every student had a different exam.
This new way of learning the conceptual information was well accepted by the students and the process of applying the concepts to the functional hands-on training worked wonderfully. For the first time in six years, I had a group of first year students who actually knew the vernacular of the industry. I had more time to train and correct behaviors, because I was not bogged down delivering lectures. Relating ideas to reality was much easier for both the students and me because of this new style of instruction. The specific areas of safety, security, and guest comfort were addressed easily and quickly because I arranged the information efficiently on the Web. The students were able to put that information into practice almost instantly. It was not long before I started getting calls from employers asking what I had done to change my courses, because students were talking about how great it was to be able to go to class when they wanted to, not when I wanted them to. There were rough spots due to the rapidity with which I launched the five courses, but the majority of those problems were corrected with editing.
The most exciting thing I found was that one-on-one contact with every student increased. I could monitor when and for how long they were studying and I could guide them better on how to succeed in the courses. All my students were reading the textbook and relying on each other rather than relying on me as a fountain of knowledge. My classes had become student and knowledge based, not professor based. I was a mentor to the learning process, not the center of the learning process. And the most important thing was that I was actually available to them 24 hours a day through the computer and they could learn at their own pace and in their own style. If you would like to experience the web portion of this course, click here (but don't tell Julia Child you came to visit). Type tsunc001 for the user name and use tsunc001 for the password.
The Serendipity Experience
I got a call from a colleague at another of the seven colleges of the Maine Technical College System telling me that he could not run his course in front office because he did not have enough students; he wondered if it would be possible for his students to take my web based course and just transfer the credit. Great idea, but how were they going to handle the functional portion of the course that would require them to travel two hours to my facility to do their internship? That is when it struck me that five years earlier I had worked with the Maine Innkeepers Association and The Maine Restaurant Association to set up Hospitality Standards for a program called Maine Career Advantage. These Standards were accepted by most restaurant and lodging properties in Maine so these students should be able to do their internship in a property close to home using these Hospitality Standards. I suggested this idea to my colleague and he jumped at the idea. He had long been trying to strengthen industry ties, and this seemed like an excellent opportunity to expand his horizons in his area. From my standpoint, I had excess capacity in my course, so adding a couple of students was easy. In addition, I welcomed the opportunity to expand and test the integration of Web instruction and internships through use of the Hospitality Standards document with industry properties who were willing to participate in an experiment.
This simple exercise of applying Hospitality Standards to off site internships and combining that experience with online conceptual learning has expanded horizons in the whole Maine Technical College System. Since this worked so well in the very hands-on hospitality industry, we have applied this methodology to other programs. We are now using this system of Web instruction and internships in business courses, diet technology courses, behavioral health courses, culinary arts courses, and pharmacology courses. The Hotel, Motel, Restaurant Program is now totally online and we have two more technology degree programs coming online in the next two years. The major contributor to the success or failure of combining functional skills with web based instruction is the acceptance by industry of high quality standards documents that measure performance and learning outcomes for the hands-on component of the course. Even Chef Paul now teaches DT-114 Food and Beverage Purchasing online. Because he absolutely enjoys the experience and results he is getting from his students, he is now designing two more culinary arts courses using web instruction and internship standards documents.
Editor's note: This paper is modified from a presentation at the 2001 WebCT conference in Vancouvermahjongtime management gamesplatform gamesbrain teaser gamesword games