Icon for: Steve Johnson

STEVE JOHNSON

University of Alaska Anchorage
Public Discussion

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  • Icon for: Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Academic Affairs/Assoc. Prof. of Computing
    May 9, 2022 | 08:01 p.m.

    Hello and welcome to my presentation,

    “Alaska Tech Learners” is a multi-faceted, NSF-funded project (#1801194) that provides dual enrollment software (web) engineering course work to high school students and teachers. Tech Learners is primarily directed towards rural school districts that have very little in the way of live dual enrollment instruction and do not have access to a middle college. The “Shared Teaching Model” described here gives teachers the ability to facilitate ATL’s asynchronous instruction and provide live assistance to their local students while they are taking the course. The “Shared Teaching Model” is one way that rural students can be given access to the benefits of dual enrollment and middle colleges. ATL and STM increase the:

    • diversity of STEM students by giving rural Alaskan students access to college-level computer science courses
    • equality of the curricular offerings that urban and rural high school students receive
    • inclusiveness of the engineering student body by increasing the number of rural students who are prepared to enter an engineering program

    The problems being discussed:

    • how to meaningfully include rural students in dual enrollment programs?
    • how to help high school students succeed while taking college-level asynchronous courses?
    • how to simulate a middle college experience for rural Alaskans?

    Tech Learners is one of many projects that PWSC is working on to help transition high school students into vocational and academic programs at the University of Alaska.

  • Icon for: Nidaa Makki

    Nidaa Makki

    Facilitator
    Professor
    May 10, 2022 | 08:23 p.m.

    Thank you for sharing your work expanding access of rural students in Alaska to dual enrollment courses. I liked the model of having the high school teacher facilitate teaching the course, as we often find high school students needing different levels of supports than what is provided in college courses. I am curious to learn more about the strategies that teachers are using to help the high school students succeed, and how they navigate their role as course facilitator.

    I am also interested to know how you're evaluating the impact of the program.  

  • Icon for: Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Academic Affairs/Assoc. Prof. of Computing
    May 11, 2022 | 05:13 p.m.

    Hi Nidaa,

    Evaluating the impact of the program is not an easy thing to describe because Alaska Tech Learners as a project has many different inputs and outcomes. ATL looks to improve the quantity and quality of computer education that high school students receive by having students take ATL courses as dual enrollment while teachers can take the “same” class for professional development. While there are five courses that are in Web Engineering, I also offer a course in MS Office as an introductory course. This Office course does go over how to color text and change font sizes, but the point to the course is to teach the computer science and the information architecture behind digital communications. I do teach people how to make borders in Excel, but my Excel instruction emphasizes how tables are matrices of relationships and that math does nothing more than describe those relationships.

    One way that I can know the impact of the courses in the program is by the weekly discussion board postings that teachers and students leave. I also have virtual office hours 4 nights a week where (mostly teachers) come and discuss their course with me (I teach the entire curriculum of six courses each semester). I typically have 80 students over the six courses, so while the quantity of courses can be a bit daunting, the workload of 80 students combined into 2 sections is manageable. I use the feedback that I get from the discussion board and in Zoom to help me plan out the updates to the curriculum that I’ll be making (my unmet goal is to update 2 courses a year).

    I really need to do something different to get better teacher involvement. Due to COVID, I was unable to travel to school districts and meet with administrators and teachers. That is something that I hope I can do moving forward.

    I would love to have numbers as part of my evaluation, but numbers are deceiving due to Alaska’s small sizes. If I can educate one person in 10 different school districts, I’ll be filling 10 different community’s needs for an IT person. That is a major accomplishment. If I was working in a mid-sized city in America, you need to have that many technicians in one small IT company. No one would care about 10 graduates. Six students so far have completed the Tech Learners program and earned a Web Engineering Occupational Endorsement Certificate and given the obstacles and hurdles that I’ve had to go over, I’m very pleased with ATL’s accomplishments to date and the teachers and students all tell me (via discussion board and Zoom) that they’re pleased or better with the courses and program.

  • Icon for: Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Academic Affairs/Assoc. Prof. of Computing
    May 11, 2022 | 05:14 p.m.

    Hi Nidaa,

    The role of facilitator and university faculty is something that is evolving. For STM to work, but the university faculty and the high school teacher need to be willing to give something up so that they can both gain a greater outcome. The university faculty needs to look at their course as an asynchronous course. I have developed all my courses on thumb drives that give students access to theoretical lectures and applied labs. At the end of each week, the student must submit to me an assignment, complete an online quiz, and post a message to the discussion board. The thumb drive also has optional quizzes (which are directly tied to the required online quiz), vocabularies, and online readings. I have to trust that the high school teacher is following the curriculum, but students in an asynchronous setting do as they please and may or may not do everything as I envision it. The high school teacher will lose some curricular freedom because they must follow what I’m doing so that their students can complete the assignment. I don’t require that they use my PowerPoint slides, but they must somehow cover the same content. For some teachers, my thumb drive is their prep for the course and they see it as a win. For other teachers, they see the thumb drive as a limitation on their academic freedom (if high school teachers have such a thing) and resist being told what to teach, when to teach it, and how to teach it.

    As is the case with any asynchronous course, I have little ability to know what’s happening at the other end and my job is to assess the turn-ins that students send to see if they’re performing the tasks that I want them to perform. Because of COVID, I was never really able to build a significant cohort of teachers who did STM. Almost all of my students did asynchronous instruction on their own as they were home anyway. I did have four teachers who used STEM and it worked out well for three of the four. I think that given time, I could expand this model out to 20 teachers. I have been working with many teachers in the Mat-Su Borough School District on an informal basis (they’ve been taking my classes as professional development) and they’re just now getting to the point where they’re comfortable enough with the concept, content, and me to where they’re ready to give it a try. My courses were recently approved by our State Department of Education as high school courses, which helps sell the process to school administrators. Getting this approval took a bit longer than a year.

    I realize that I’m biased, but I think that as a curriculum you’re not going to find a better system to teach web engineering. I use 5 classes to cover the different components of commercial web page development (HTML, programming, database, JavaScript, and PHP) and the five courses are aware of each other and they work together to teach the greater idea. It’s one curriculum that’s divided up into five separations of concern.

  • Icon for: Nidaa Makki

    Nidaa Makki

    Facilitator
    Professor
    May 15, 2022 | 09:26 p.m.

    Thank you for the detailed explanations! I agree asynchronous instruction poses challenges, especially for high school students. That's why the model you're proposing with teachers following your curriculum can mediate the need for fully asynchronous courses. 

    I wasn't able to reply to the previous post, but it makes sense that you focus on the number of students that acquire IT skills. Measuring impact would look different in different contexts. 

     

  • Icon for: Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Academic Affairs/Assoc. Prof. of Computing
    May 15, 2022 | 10:47 p.m.

    Hi Nidaa,

    Tell that to a grant evaluator :). I'm sure this is true for many rural communities throughout the western United States, but challenges presented by distance, bandwidth, and mass of students make doing anything significant more difficult and expensive. I understand that grant administrators want the best bang for their buck. I want that too. However, small and tiny high schools also have the largest curricular challenges and the least amount of opportunity for their students. Coming up with ways to overcome as many of these problems as we can is what I think good education is about.

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    Millie Johnson

    May 11, 2022 | 05:30 p.m.

    Hi Steve, Thank you for sharing your video and the details about the dual credit program.

    Can you share the village communities you worked with, and the outreach completed to bring awareness to the dual credit program?

  • Icon for: Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Academic Affairs/Assoc. Prof. of Computing
    May 11, 2022 | 10:12 p.m.

    Hi Millie,

    Alaska Tech Learners is advertised each semester to every school district in the state. Rachel and Fallon have developed lists of superintendents, school principals, and guidance counselors as well as using DEED’s (State Department of Education) bulletin boards for CTE and Science to advertise the ATL program. We also started advertising to home school programs in 2020, which was the second year of the project. The mailing lists have 20% or more turnover each year, so the effectiveness of email to communicate programs has always been a problem. With the addition of the Natural Resource Technician program, we are using Fallon to directly call school district personnel as well as sending them email messages which they may or may not see. We’re also going to create Zoom meetings where anyone in the state can contact PWSC personnel live during the meeting time and discuss our 12-week intensive programs in Marine Service Technology, Natural Resource Technician, a GER program, as well as ATL. I can honestly say that I’ve done everything that I can possibly do, but I’d still give our advertising a C- at best. My original plan was to travel to the larger western Alaska rural school districts (LKSD, LYSD, NWABSD, SRSD) and make presentations to them, but COVID put an end to those plans, as well as our direct marketing efforts at the ACTE and ASTE conferences that happen in Anchorage. Marketing PWSC’s programs is something that we need to work on in the future as PWSC’s program focus becomes more aligned to dual enrollment residential programs.

    I no longer have complete data on the communities that ATL students have come from, but I’ll do my best to answer that question. The communities where high school students live who have taken an ATL class include:

    Anchor Point
    Chuathbaluk
    Cooper Landing
    Cordova
    Delta Junction
    Fairbanks
    Glennallen
    Golovin
    Gulkana
    Gustavus
    Homer
    Juneau
    Kenai
    Kotzebue
    Nome
    North Pole
    Palmer
    Sand Point
    Soldotna
    Sterling
    Talkeetna
    Tok
    Valdez
    Ward Cove
    Wasilla

    When I started this project, I expected to get most of my students out of the Anchorage School district simply because one teacher in Anchorage could easily flood my system with students. What has worked out is that most of my “independent” students are home schooled and another large pool of students come from the Mat-Su Borough School district. I’m also getting about 30 students a semester from the College of Engineering at UAA, which I never expected.

    -Steve

  • Icon for: Scott Pattison

    Scott Pattison

    Facilitator
    Research Scientist
    May 11, 2022 | 06:49 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing your work, Steve. I'm impressed by your collaborative model, and I appreciate your open assessment of the successes and challenges on the discussion board. From the high school student perspective, I'm wondering what you are learning about supporting and working with indigenous youth from rural Alaska. Beyond access to courses, are you seeing other key barriers that we need to be thinking about as educators? What about the unique strengths, resources, and experiences these students bring to the courses? Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

  • Icon for: Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Academic Affairs/Assoc. Prof. of Computing
    May 11, 2022 | 11:10 p.m.

    Hi Scott

    I think that way too much computing instruction is directed towards points and clicks and nearly enough at how computers are used to create digital communications.Digital communications uses a different metaphor than printed communications and we need to teach how the metaphors of digital communications change what communication is and means. Putting text on a page is an easy thing to do and most everyone knows how to do that. What they don’t know is how to organize that information so that its meaning is understood, transferred, and used. An example of this is the use of styles in Word. People don’t understand that an ‘h1’ style is very different from an enlarged font size that’s bolded. Alt text on an image or a caption on a chart are busy work to most students but learning how to label information so that it can be understood even when we can’t directly see it is an important part of the new metaphor. We should be pushing information architecture concepts in Language Arts classes and good paragraph organization in computing classes. Teaching about concise and persuasive writing is an important part of creating a brochure or flyer if you take the time to stop and teach across the disciplines. We make a mistake when we give the students the text and the images and tell them to copy and paste to complete a project. We should make them write their own text and get their own images from their own world to complete our assignments as much as is possible.

    The ATL curriculum is hardly perfect and in a second generation I’m going to have many updates and fixes to add in. I think that my direction was good. The instruction is supplied on a thumb drive so that students aren’t required to download the 8 gigabytes that a typical course uses. In future versions, I think I will use a central server where students can go to download the course. Times are changing, but it may be 5 or 10 years before rural Alaska has consistent broadband Internet. The instruction is asynchronous so that any student in any situation can complete the course largely separate of the Internet. I used approximately 4 lecture-based theoretical movies (under 5 minutes each and covering one topic only) to one lab-based applied movie. This separation allows the theoretical and applied instruction to be taught separately, but integrated into assignments. I discuss the theoretical learning about information while also showing the point-and-click process that’s used to create the document. All of the labs and assignments that I use are Alaska-themed to bring relevance to the information used in the asssignment. Students are given 4 or so ungraded optional quizzes that they can take each week to check and see if they learned what they need to learn. I also provide them with an optional 20-word vocabulary each week, as well as optional readings from important people in the field. I set up the thumb drive so that a teacher who has students doing different work can complete tasks independently that are meaningful but are also self-directed. I am trying to build foundations in computing while I’m teaching a specific skillset. I’m also covering all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy as I’m teaching while traditional cookbook-style computing textbooks cover only the lower levels of Bloom’s.

  • Icon for: Scott Pattison

    Scott Pattison

    Facilitator
    Research Scientist
    May 13, 2022 | 11:15 a.m.

    Thanks for the additional information, Steve. I really appreciate your broader perspective on digital communication. It seems like these ideas could be applied to many aspects of literacy and communication in STEM. Good luck with your ongoing project!

  • Icon for: Amy Wilson-Lopez

    Amy Wilson-Lopez

    Facilitator
    Associate Professor
    May 12, 2022 | 11:48 a.m.

    Hi Steve, thank you for an informative presentation and more importantly, for your impactful work in broadening participation in remote Alaska. The map that you shared was really powerful for showing how much of Alaska is under-served in terms of opportunities to take dual enrollment courses, and it is clear that your project is addressing this gap in services. You had mentioned transitions into the University of Alaska. I was wondering if you were able to build connections or pathways to community colleges or other institutions of higher education in Alaska as well. Thanks again for sharing this important work!

  • Icon for: Steve Johnson

    Steve Johnson

    Lead Presenter
    Director of Academic Affairs/Assoc. Prof. of Computing
    May 12, 2022 | 06:12 p.m.

    Hi Amy,

    PWSC (where I work) is an extended campus of the Unversity of Alaska Anchorage. PWSC is not separately-accredited. We are part of UAA for accreditation purposes. I've had curricular/bureaucratic challenges at the high schools, the State Department of Education, and the university. All of the difficult challenges have been at the university.

    The big IT needs that technicians perform for rural Alaska agencies, organizations, and businesses are in areas of network & employee support and communications going out to stakeholders, shareholders, and customers. This communication is done using web sites, mobile apps, and digital communications (social media and desktop documents). An additional area of need is for network technicians. The vocational need in rural Alaska for IT technicians isn’t huge, but there’s a steady need for technician-level IT support and usually these jobs are filled using outside hire – which is very damaging to the community where the agency is located. Preparing students to perform technician-level IT work is what I’m trying to match up the ATL computing curriculum to.

    The short answer to your question is that bureaucracies love inertia and the more bureaucratic an organization is, the more it hangs on to its own bureaucracy with both hands. We were able to create the Web Engineering OEC and an AAS in Technology degree that allows students two 16-credit OECs and 60 credits to earn the AAS degree. Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. I haven’t sat down and scored which problem is the most disappointing, but my inability to complete the curriculum for the greater ATL program is amongst my biggest disappointments. ATL is a program that could easily have 300 or 400 students in a fully developed program that starts in high school and ends with an OEC, an associate, or bachelor’s degree. Getting the dual enrollment part of the program funded is not a problem. Getting the bureaucracy to see the opportunity or act on it has been beyond my reach so far.

    What I’d like to have happen is to create an upper division Web Engineering program so that students can combine two lower division OECs (from Web Engineering, Digital Communications, Mobile Applications, or Networking) with two matching upper division programs of study (again: Web Engineering, Digital Communications, Mobile Applications, or Networking) to create a BA/BS degree in Technology. My university doesn’t have this type of a setup and I have been unable to convince them that this is a good way to move forward. I also haven’t been able to integrate Web Engineering into our College of Engineering’s programs, so I built my web engineering courses in our Community and Technical College instead.

    Universities need to have bureaucracy to protect the curricular process. However, the star of the show is the curriculum, not the bureaucracy and bureaucrats try really hard to forget that inconvenient truth.

  • Icon for: Amy Wilson-Lopez

    Amy Wilson-Lopez

    Facilitator
    Associate Professor
    May 13, 2022 | 06:11 p.m.

    Hi Steve, I really appreciated your point that it would be great if more jobs could be filled by rural Alaskans who live within the community to be served. I also recognize institutional barriers, such as bureaucracy, but I commend you for moving forward in all the ways that you see possible. Thanks for this helpful response.

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