Vocational institute uses CMS to address privacy, cost concerns

Since its inception, Seattle Vocational Institute (SVI), a division of Seattle Central Community College, has provided post-secondary vocational instruction—from allied health to cosmetology and computer networking to pre-apprentice trades—and basic adult education to more than 15,000 individuals. With growing unemployment rates, it has seen its enrollment jump as more people seek to better their chances in the job market.

SVI now enroll approximately 1,400 students each year and the average classroom size has grown to almost 30 students. More that 80 percent of its student body is made up of women and minorities. In any given day a classroom may have 45 ESL (English as Second Language) students in the morning and 45 dental assistant students in the afternoon.

IT Director Michael Baker and his colleagues evaluated a handful of classroom management solutions with three specific criteria in mind. First, the approximately 300 PCs at SVI are state-owned and are shared among students in different programs and, as a result, there is no expectation for privacy. So, the solution had to provide privacy to students who were likely to be self-conscious and reluctant to ask for assistance. Second, the faculty needed a solution that would facilitate classroom management without draining time and resources. Finally, with a 14 percent budget cut, the solution had to be cost-effective.

The choice was CrossTec SchoolVue, based on its ability to directly address the school's challenges. After extensive testing by the tech department and faculty, all agreed that this affordable solution would be a major contribution to solving the problem of limited instructor time for one-on-one help. The privacy features in this classroom management console also help overcome the shyness and embarrassment that often accompanies a student needing help.

"Implementing a solution that integrates all aspects of classroom management—from maintaining privacy to providing individualized instruction in large classrooms to sharing resources—has delivered ongoing value for our faculty and students," Baker said.

How It Works: Student, Instructor, and IT Perspectives

There was a transition period for the students who were enrolled when SVI implemented this solution about 18 months ago - the first students who were exposed to it were reluctant initially because they felt as if they were being watched. However, within a short period of time, students began accepting the program readily.

Students can securely use a student toolbar in SchoolVue to confidentially request help from the instructor, who will then communicate privately via an online text chat without interrupting or involving the rest of the classroom. Instructors can also further address privacy and security issues in a shared learning environment with its application and Internet metering features that enable them to control and monitor student access to appropriate PCs, programs, and information relevant to their course of study.

While the privacy control features were key for SVI students, other features were also useful. For example, faculty for the medical and dental assistant programs often need to share web sites with complex URLs that link to important forms. The student toolbar, which is fully configurable and easily accessed by instructors, provides a quick way for students to access resources required for a given lesson—including web links.

The Human Factor

With about half of the faculty using the classroom management console, the IT department also needed to address the human factor of introducing new technology. When you introduce people to new technology it’s easy for IT to see how it will help them, but it’s not always that easy for them to see it. For example, people will typically grab onto just a few features - like the ability to post links - but might not appreciate 80 percent of what is available.

"As instructors use it more and more, they each find little features that they really like. And while they may be the only person using a specific feature, that’s okay with us—it really speaks to the versatility, flexibility, and value of the solution," Baker commented. "What is most important is that they can expand the use of this classroom management console as they need to."