I am a new instructor at a trades school in the Pacific Northwest. I am teaching the same course that I took some 16 years ago. Times have changed. When I took the course a few brave souls had pagers but most of us were not “connected”. I think that meant that we actually connected to the course curriculum in a different way. We took notes on the most beautiful pads of lined engineer paper, carefully using green plastic templates to inscribe electrical schematics. Now photocopies are handed out, links are given to relevant websites, Motor Control and PLC labs are given on computers. In their own time students look at videos of electrical work on YouTube and access on-line resources through smart phones and tablets. The very way the information is received and retained is different.
In the trades school where I operate the role of an adult educator is interesting. All of us instructors are seasoned electricians who’ve trained many apprentices. It’s quite different instructing in a classroom. In one class we may have students with substantial trades experience, those who are retraining and those who have just graduated from high-school. You have to challenge those who are keen, focused and who have some understanding of what a construction environment is like. You must also engage and direct those students who are unsure of their next step and who might have never worked.
I have also had to consider what my personal understanding of Student Engagement is.
Recently, researchers are asking students and teachers how they would measure engagement, this refocused question is producing both interesting qualitative criteria and differing definitions of engagement in learning, which consequently, has had some impact on how we ‘assess’ learning. Answers to this refocused question have also surfaced a gap between what teachers consider engagement in learning and what students consider engagement in learning. A move to linking student engagement to learning as opposed to linking it to achievement, lifts the question of measurement to the forefront because it asks us to measure the process and not simply the content of learning. (Parsons & Taylor, 2011, p.4-5)
Not surprisingly my students are very focused and very vocal about getting good grades. They are often frightened to make mistakes in the shop and are so concerned about perfection that they might actually wind up not practicing enough and not actually getting all that much done. For myself, some of my greatest learning moments in the trade have arisen out of total frustration matched with a determination to sort my situation out! My students take a great deal of pride in their installations and at the end of a project photograph them and upload the pictures to various social media websites. They are literally demonstrating their accomplishments to their acquaintances.
A mark of success for me as an instructor is to see a student graduate with safe work practices, some basic Electrical skills, some working knowledge of Electricity and a great attitude. I want to hear back from the employers that the students I trained are safe, responsible and hard working. The Electrical Trade is huge with many different wiring methods and materials and it will take time for any apprentice to be “useful”.