#VoTech #TechEd & The Importance of A #PLN

#VoTech #TechEd & The Importance of A #PLN

Learning networks & apprenticeships are key to
success with models like Big Picture Learning

Under the Obama administration, federal funding for vocational and technical education declined in favor of allocating funds to education that could lead to increased college graduation rates. With our new president there is a shift. Donald Trump is a president who's victory came in part because he saw people who worked in the trades that felt unseen by previous administrations. Trump himself is the “Apprentice” king. A method popular among those working in the trades. It stands to reason, that with a #TrumpEducation, we are likely to see a rise in popularity of these type of schools that lost favor in a “College for All” political climate.

I had the opportunity to meet a graduate of one of these schools. A school I knew of from my childhood. Back then, it was called VoTech. Today it called Southeast Career Technical Academy (SCTA). During my stay in a large, traditional public school, I always wondered what happened at such schools. I wanted to know what the experience was like and I found out.

Here is what I learned from the viewpoint of one alumni.

This SCTA graduate studied autobody to learn how to repair or refurbish cars. He was looking forward to pursuing a career in the field and was anxious to pursue this area of study. He saved money and with the help of his father purchased an old car because the school allowed students to work on real projects.


A school that allows students to pursue a passion and buy a beat up old car to fix up as part of the class. Now this is learning.

But, he warned me to curb my enthusiasm. He explained.

Classes have a lot of students. The teachers focus on the top two or three who they can use to show themselves off and the bottom five who they have to keep in line or else chaos ensues. The majority of students are just left on their own to flounder.

He shared that in fact he didn’t learn much of anything at all.

But, he did have this old car and he was looking for some guidance. For that he ended up turning to a guy his family knew from the neighborhood. This guy was on disability from an injury, but he knew autobody. The teacher had no time but on his own, this student became the apprentice to someone in the community. He, and his dad, learned from this mentor what they needed to know to get their car looking spiffy.

Unfortunately, even at this school where students pursue study in areas of passion, the teacher was set up in a situation where he has to control the problem students and has to find the students whose work will make him shine.

But, in this system, whether general ed, or vocational ed, few students win.

If we really want to do right by students, what we can do is help them build their learning networks. Finding apprenticeship opportunities is a technique that Big Picture Learning schools do very well. Not only that, but in the age of the internet and livestreaming any expert can be brought into not only our neighborhood schools, but also into the palms of our student’s hands.

While teachers may be put in a situation where they can’t be effective for every student, today, the teacher doesn’t have to be the only person students learn from. What they can do instead is empower their students find their own learning mentors who can help them shine, thrive, and achieve success in their area of interest.

Lisa Nielsen writes for and speaks to audiences across the globe about learning innovatively and is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Passion (not data) Driven Learning,” "Thinking Outside the Ban" to harness the power of technology for learning, and using the power of social media to provide a voice to educators and students. Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities to support learning in real and innovative ways that will prepare students for success. In addition to her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator, Ms. Nielsen’s writing is featured in places such as Huffington Post, Tech & Learning, ISTE Connects, ASCD Wholechild, MindShift, Leading & Learning, The Unplugged Mom, and is the author the book Teaching Generation Text.

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.

Lisa Nielsen (@InnovativeEdu) has worked as a public-school educator and administrator since 1997. She is a prolific writer best known for her award-winning blog, The Innovative Educator. Nielsen is the author of several books and her writing has been featured in media outlets such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Tech & Learning.  

Disclaimer: The information shared here is strictly that of the author and does not reflect the opinions or endorsement of her employer.