(WACO, Texas) – Texas State Technical College continues to meet students’ needs through online technical education.
“We are always in a state of continuous improvement,” said Cindy Kimbrell, TSTC’s associate provost for online learning. “We are always looking at things to improve our programs online.”
Thursday, Sept. 15, is National Online Learning Day, which brings awareness to the technology used in extending learning beyond the traditional classroom. Forty-eight percent of the nation’s undergraduate students attending two-year public colleges were specifically enrolled in distance education courses in fall 2020, according to data released in May 2022 by the National Center for Education Statistics under the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.
Like other higher education institutions throughout the country, TSTC had to adjust quickly to online learning in spring 2020 during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The college moved lectures for all programs online, with labs later conducted in person in a hybrid format for some programs. This was done to enable students to learn safely without a long pause in their studies.
“We have always had a great product, and that we can still have that quality online I think is wonderful,” Kimbrell said. “There was some resistance at first. Some of the faculty thought it could not be as good.”
Some programs continue to be offered completely online, including Business Management Technology, Chemical Dependency Counseling and Health Information Technology. The all-online programs are part of the TSTCYou initiative, which is an accelerated and flexible performance-based education (PBE) model that works with busy schedules.
In PBE, students work with an enrollment coach to develop a schedule in two-hour time blocks. Lectures, videos and other learning content is on Canvas, a learning management system. Instructors also do mini-lectures during the day, with tests being demonstration-based, either online or written.
JoLynn Hightower, statewide chair of the Business Management Technology program, said students must still abide by assignment and examination deadlines, even as they learn at their own pace.
“Graduates from our program are skilled in business management, bookkeeping, and the use of office software including spreadsheets, word processing, presentations, and database creation and entry,” she said.
Starting this fall, TSTC added a hybrid format to the already all-online Computer Networking and Systems Administration, Cybersecurity, and Drafting and Design programs. Faculty in the programs were assigned to teach on campus or be present online. Kimbrell said this was done because some students are interested in taking these programs in face-to-face labs.
Emanuel Palacios, TSTC’s statewide chair of the Computer Networking and Systems Administration program, said he has seen an increase in nontraditional students who work in addition to attending classes.
“Faculty spend countless hours creating video lecture content,” he said. “We also host live drop-in sessions for students to join who have questions, need guided assistance, or simply want to chat about tech and information technology.”
Online learning is not just for college students. More than 200 high school students throughout Texas are taking part this year in all-online technical programs through dual enrollment, said Kadie Svrcek, TSTC’s director of internal operations for dual enrollment. For the first time, high school freshmen are taking college-level online coursework.
“It helps for our education partners that are farther away from a TSTC campus to jump on board with career and technical education programs of study that are not able to take students to one of our campuses,” Svrcek said.
TSTC uses software that tracks students’ online progress while enrollment coaches and PBE mentors help solve problems.
For more information on TSTC, go to tstc.edu.