Technical Education Programs Continue to Add Advanced Technology

Career and technical education involves expensive simulators and other technology tools that prepare students for work on real equipment.

by Britney Milazzo, Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.) / February 11, 2016 0

(TNS)  — For Richard Makin, using technology in the classroom is the norm.

The Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology president said technology is described "more as a matter of how we teach versus what we teach."

"For example, our new simulator trailer allows our students to experience (virtual) operation of different heavy equipment before we actually put them on the real thing," he said.

CPI invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into new equipment that enhances programs such as emerging energy and infrastructure and heavy equipment operations.

In its mission to enhance education, CPI administration is also trying to steer away from the title "vocational school" to "career technical education."

It's a similar name referenced at other trade schools in the area that put a focus on technology.

"A lot of people look at a vo-tech as a place where failing kids go, like it's an easy way out," Makin said. "Here, we're providing the future workforce. We're putting kids in real-world situations and helping provide them with the necessary training they need in the workforce, and it comes with hard work and motivation. You don't just skate by here."

Changing education

South Hills School of Business and Technology President Paul Mazza III said there are different ways to look at how technology enhances education.

"This can be answered from a couple of different perspectives," he said. "Perhaps the more obvious angle is the way in which technology is incorporated in and out of the classroom to facilitate the learning process."

A good example, he said, is the "flipped classroom pedagogical model."

This takes the traditional delivery approach — where the instructor lectures in class and students do exercises at home — and flips it around.

"By leveraging the technological ease with which video content can be captured and streamed online, the students are able to view the lecture at home and work through the exercises during class time the next day, under the guidance of the instructor," Mazza said. "This model lends itself readily to certain subject matter, such as mathematics and programming, as the student can review the lecture material as often as is needed to grasp the concepts presented."

The other approach to tech ed is by teaching technology.

"Many, if not most, of our course offerings have been directly impacted by technological advances over the past 35 years," Mazza said.

In accounting, for instance, Mazza said that while fundamentals of the program remained consistent, students are required to learn software programs that are regularly used in the profession.

South Hills offers 11 associate degree programs including five in Associate in Specialized Technology degree programs.

In the past five years, program choices haven't changed, Mazza said.

But each year, those programs — under direction of an advisory board — undergo an "extensive review process," and the curriculum is tweaked to reflect the needs of area employers, Mazza said.

Tech in the classroom

In his 13 years as a CPI instructor, Mike Holtzinger said he's never seen students at the level they are this school year in terms of operating heavy equipment machinery.

He attributed that to a $200,000 trailer that houses four simulators for articulated haulers, small wheel loaders, a bulldozer and an excavator.

Tech equipment in other classrooms, like Guy Woodard's emerging energy and infrastructure class, is also helping students with an interactive approach to learning technician work like troubleshooting.

His unit doesn't have simulator-type machinery, but multiple switchboards allow his students to work on everyday equipment like they would in the real world.

Woodard said he also has the ability to put faults in circuits so the program malfunctions and students learn to fix it.

"It's hands-on training where they can learn the fundamentals of industrial technology," he said.

Emerging energy and infrastructure is one of CPI's newest programs. It started in 2012 with one student, and there are now 13 students, Makin said.

But back in Holtzinger's heavy equipment operations department, there are 49 students in two classes.

And students are taught to treat the simulators like tangible heavy equipment machinery.

Sophomore Dylan Young said he was required to put his hardhat and seat belt on before operating the simulator.

"They want us to learn everything from the beginning," Young said. "That's exactly the kind of things we'd do when we're operating the equipment, so we're expected to do the same even on the simulator."

The simulators, which Holtzinger said give his students a replicated version of operating the equipment, were installed in October.

And it helps with safety, cost savings and recruiting students to the program, Makin said.

"If they mess up, they're not putting themselves at risk, and we're not seeing the wear-and-tear on the equipment," Makin said. "We also use this to recruit people into our program. We think we have the best program around, and investing in enhancements and technology like the simulator helps show how important we think these programs are."

But it's more than just something that acts like a video game.

"They work on the simulator, go through six chapters beforehand that puts them through different levels, and they have to pass that before we put them on the machine," Holtzinger said.

It teaches students control familiarization, component identification and basic maneuvers of Caterpillar machinery.

CPI also uses programs such as Skype in class.

Makin said the school's medical science students work with students in Texas.

"It's project-based learning across state lines," Makin said.

Tech surprises

Technology can surprise you, said CPI diesel technician instructor John Fike.

"There's technology that goes into diesel energy," he said. "I think people are shocked when they hear things like that."

Technology like computer control systems changes the dynamics of fueling systems in diesel engines.

"The computer controls things like the fuel (temperature), air intake, and most of today's trucks and heavy equipment have anywhere between 11 and 15 computers that communicate between each other," Fike said. "The control module talks to the body control module like the brain of the vehicle, which communicates with the other controls such as transmission and traction control, HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) and dash outputs."

He added that the past few years have seen "drastic changes" in clean energy and fuel efficiency that is tied to technology.

Engines weigh less, Fike said.

That's because they're made with compound materials like plastic and carbon fiber, instead of cast iron.

Less weight helps with fuel efficiency, Fike said.

General 18-wheel trucks used to get about three miles to the gallon. They now get about seven miles to the gallon, Fike said.

An exhaust gas circulation system in diesel engines also helps them burn fuel quicker and cleaner.

"The industry is ever-changing, and technicians and engineers are learning ways to make things more efficient," Fike said.

Tech ed growth

Local educators don't think tech ed will ever phase out.

 

"As employers embrace new technology with ever-increasing speed, career schools such as South Hills must continually adapt in order to prepare our graduates to meet the demands of the workforce," Mazza said. "An individual seeking to be successful in the job market today must be willing to acquire the necessary skills and, as circumstances warrant, upgrade those skills over time."

Mazza said this path was the main factor that led South Hills administrators to develop the Lifelong Learning and Corporate Training Center that promotes professional development.

At CPI, Makin said school administration is looking to enhance programs including a virtual welder.

"We're adapting with technology to prepare our students for what to expect in the real world," Makin said. "That's just the times we're in where we don't see anything anymore that's not influenced or impacted by technology."

©2016 the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.