Building Bridges with Career Pathways Courses
By Janet M. Paulovich
Over the past year and a half, I have had the unique opportunity to work closely with a national team of educators and employers, along with a design team from Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI) and The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), to develop an innovative online STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Readiness course in an open educational format. The course is designed to strengthen “key skills” for workers who are retraining in new STEM Careers, and it is meant to quickly refresh basic skills in math, critical thinking, workplace communication and professional skills. Our team was able to work closely with a number of employer partners to help us design the course modules as realistically as possible. Students taking the course practice dealing with a variety of problems and situations that they will encounter on the job. The STEM Readiness course is currently available on Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative website for anyone to use and would be appropriate for a wide variety of learners, not just those interested in STEM Careers.
The National STEM Consortium (NSC) is a collaborative of ten leading community colleges in nine states funded with a U.S. Department of Labor grant to develop nationally portable, certificate-level programs in STEM. The technical teams are working closely with industry partners to design technical curriculum in composite materials technology, cyber technology, electric vehicle technology, environmental technology, and mechatronics. In each pathway, the NSC is developing a “best in class,” nationally portable, one-year certificate program that is in demand by employers and can be disseminated quickly and widely to community colleges throughout the United States.
One of the most unique features of the project is the development of the “STEM Bridge,” which is designed to bypass traditional developmental education by embedding developmental support within the technical curriculum. I served as STEM Bridge Team Lead on the project and pulled together a team comprised of educators from ten colleges in nine states and a number of STEM industry partners from across the nation to develop the “STEM Bridge” for the project.
One of the biggest challenges that the team faced at first was to identify the “common core skills” that were essential for students on the job in all five of the STEM pathways. These core skills would then be incorporated into the interactive, online Open Education STEM Readiness course that I mentioned above. This course would be designed to run along with the credit cohort STEM certificate programs to strengthen student skills while students were in their credit classes. We surveyed the curriculum development teams who were designing the technical curriculum and their industry partners and developed a master set of common learning outcomes that everyone considered to be essential for all of the STEM careers in the NSC. However, these common core skills are also applicable for a wide variety of non-STEM related jobs as well
The course is designed in a modular format with specific learning outcomes for each module. Students “Learn by Doing” throughout the course and receive immediate feedback when they submit answers to the activities in each module. There are end of module quizzes and data on student performance feeds into a “Learning Dashboard” that the instructor can use to evaluate how well each student, or the class as a whole, is mastering specific content in each section of the course. Each of the modules is designed in a specific STEM industry scenario and each module allows students to practice real life skills that they will need in their new careers.
Janet M. Paulovich, Contributor
STEM Bridge Team Lead, National STEM Consortium
Anne Arundel Community College