Community college program using Web-based coursework in training industry workers

February 12, 2002

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - The traditional notion of college students sitting in a classroom taking notes and listening to a professor give a lecture is gradually going the way of slate tablets. The South Texas Advanced Technology Education Project (STATE) is changing the traditional notion of community college classes by developing Web-based modules, or portions of classes, enabling students to master specific parts of courses without having to travel to campus. Instead, these modules are designed to fit into students' schedules. "We're trying to build our curriculum so students can access it on their time instead of ours," said Dr. Lee Sloan, the project's principal investigator and dean of occupational education and technology at Corpus Christi's Del Mar Community College. "Our program is designed to develop Web-based modules within process technology to train people to operate petrochemical facilities." This $1.5-million, National Science Foundation (NSF) project, which is administered by the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES), will take portions of a course in petroleum facility operation and adapt them for the Web, building in computer simulations so people can see what a petrochemical facility looks like even if they are hundreds of miles away from one. In the past, petrochemical companies trained their own technicians in-house, but in the interest of saving time and money, they are now asking colleges to offer this training, Sloan said. Researchers hope to meet this increasing nationwide need for petrochemical industry technicians by making it easier for people to receive training via the Web. The turnover among such technicians is expected to exceed 30 percent during the next 10 years. The need is so great that other states are coming to Texas because the state has already worked with industry to develop a curriculum to train technicians, he said. In addition to providing training over the Web, the project also follows the example used by other NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) programs by infusing material from core curriculum courses -- such as English, math or science -- into process safety courses. Instead of attending classes dedicated exclusively to English or math, for example, students attend courses in process safety and study English or math as they encounter these areas in their process safety coursework. These same concepts -- Web-based technician training and content-driven coursework -- can be applied to other degree programs, Sloan said. They can be applied across the spectrum to any technician training programs. The STATE program also will help the petrochemical industry better reflect the changing population of South Texas by providing training to previously underrepresented groups, he said. The South Texas Advanced Technology Education Project is a partnership of five community colleges -- Del Mar, Victoria, South Texas, Coastal Bend and Texas State Technical College -- as well as Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, TEES and 15 major industry partners. 2/12/02 NR 972

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