Students at the Applied Learning Lab at the New MarketVocational Skills Center in Tumwater, Wash., take applied math, science, andEnglish courses tailored to suit both their academic level and their chosenline of work. In addition to serving its own pupils, the center creates appliedacademic courses for students from 10 school districts in the South Puget Soundarea.
The center uses Pathware to manage these self-paced courses.Tests are administered using Question Mark for Windows software in the learninglab. Testing is done in both academic and vocational areas, helping students andinstructors determine the success of program placement and student progress.
“We need to manage multiple testing events that are going onbetween each student and his or her curriculum,” states David Forrester, theteam leader of the Learning Opportunities Center at New Market. Forresterworked with Georgia Requa, a Seattle-based educational consultant, to developthe software link between Question Mark and Pathware. “We need Question Markand Pathware to work as one management system. The software allows us to reachout more to students who need individualized support by offering customizedcurriculum and testing programs.” Forrester also works with a team of teachers,including Dana McNutt and James Bowers, learning advocate Jessica Shillander,and Technology Coordinator Derek J. Lohmeyer, who have contributed to thedevelopment of the program.
The center offers individualized courses to 700 studentsfrom 25 high schools in the surrounding area, and also supports 150 studentswho work full-time in the center’s vocational education programs to completetheir high school requirements. The Applied Learning Lab is unique to theeducational system because it can offer many students multiple level coursesand testing all at once, giving teachers the opportunity to work with studentsone-on-one to move them through a customized education program.
With the help of state grant money, Forrester and his team havedesigned computerized courses that allow them to manage a large scope ofcurricula, and organize it to fit each student’s needs. Students can takeassessments using Question Mark to find out if they are ready to move to thenext unit.
Forrester began working in the Applied Learning Lab sixyears ago. At that time, the lab ran the Pathfinder learning management systemon a DOS operating system. With the switch to Windows, the center receivedspecial funding from the district and put together a team to developmultimedia-rich Pathware courses using CD- ROMs, the Internet, and numeroussoftware applications, together with text supported material.
Teaching staff received Pathware and Question Mark trainingby working with educational consultants, and spent a summer buildingspecialized courses in science, math, and communication. They then developed Question Mark tests. The centernow supports eight self-paced courses: Earth Science, Applied Math, MathApplications and Connections, Physical Science, Algebra, Literature for Lifeand Work, Practical English, and Applied Communications.
Today, the center benefits from 40 workstations with 15”ViewSonic Monitors, P166 computers with 64RAM each, token ring NIC, and 16-32speed CD-ROM drives. The system operates using OS/NOS/Webserver Software,Novell 5.1, Windows 95 RevC, and Windows Server 2000 Webserver IIS SQL v7.0.
The center is the only school in its consortium of 10 schooldistricts with an open Windows-based learning lab that offers testing andcourses on an individualized basis.
“We have an open system, so we can modify and create newcourses as needed,” explains Forrester. “Many educational software companiesdevelop learning programs that are closed systems, so that schools buy apackage of curriculum and testing that can’t be modified or changed. We didn’twant to get stuck with courses that would become outdated, so we chose todevelop our own courses. That way we could stay current, be creative with ourcourse content and offer individualized programs.”
Although Question Mark is primarily used in thecomputer-based applied English, math, and science courses, Forrester hasdiscovered another avenue for its use as a learning tool. A number of studentshave used the software to create assessments for their vocational programs.
“Having the kids write their own assessments is a way tosupport the vocational programs on campus,” notes Forrester. “They enhancetheir own learning process by writing their own questions, and using thesoftware is a learning experience in itself. The kids really enjoy theactivity, and they are building educational blocks for future students who willcome to New Market.”
The center is now planning to pilot a number of Web-basedcourses using Pathware and Question Mark Perception software, with the aim ofenabling students to take online courses and quizzes from regular education andvocational programs in the area. Forrester sees real potential for usingWeb-based tests in the school system for pre-registration assessments, likethose used in colleges and universities, to determine if a student is ready fora particular program. Also, the Web-based system will connect communityagencies with school resources, creating a larger web of support and resourcesfor students and parents in the area.
“We could also use Perception surveys to find out how wellthe students, parents, and community rate the success of what our programd'es,” adds Forrester. “And we might be able to host tests for other schools inthe area who do not have the funds or resources to put up a networking computersystem.”