Poster Presentation for SIGCSE 2018


With an expanding need for a diverse STEM workforce, community colleges play an instrumental role in filling the need with qualified technicians. This research project will identify and synthesize the experiences of developing and implementing online course components in technical education programs, including information technology and cybersecurity, with an emphasis on projects supported by the National Science Foundation’s Advanced Technological Education program (ATE). This study presents findings from a multiple case study of seventeen community colleges programs. The research questions guiding this study include 1) how online education is being used in technical courses and programs and 2) how challenges and benefits are perceived from implementing online education.

Two participants from each project (PI and Faculty) were interviewed and program artifacts were collected. The interviews were thematically coded and data were analyzed to determine how hands-on work occurs in online technical courses including key challenges and benefits. The findings include descriptions of synchronous vs asynchronous models, use of didactic and lab based curriculum, fidelity of experience and teaching strategies. Benefits and challenges experienced by both faculty and students are discussed. Findings from this study contribute knowledge about how colleges are implementing online technical education including broader changes that occur concerning structure and philosophy.

Significance and Relevance of the Topic

Jobs that require technical degrees are among the fastest growing in industry (Jepsen, Troske, & Coomes, 2014; U.S. Department of Labor, 2014), and this trend is predicted to continue. Technical education is viewed as a strong return on investment for community colleges, states, and industry (Kotamraju & Mettille, 2012). Despite the continuing enrollment growth in online education (Lokken, 2016) and the national emphasis on career and technical education (CTE) as a means of boosting the economy (D’Amico, Morgan, Katsinas, & Friedel, 2014), relatively little is understood about the scope and impact of online CTE at the community college. Only a small number of empirical studies have been conducted in relation to online CTE in community colleges (Benson et al., 2008; Githens, Crawford, & Sauer, 2010).

Preliminary Results

This presentation will focus on three themes culled through preliminary analysis: how hands-on work occurs in online technical courses, key challenges, and primary benefits.

Each project implemented online education differently. The online options ranged from enhancing face-to-face courses through requiring the use of online simulations to hybrid courses with didactic portions online and in-person labs to fully online courses. However, even fully online courses often required students to spend physical time in a lab setting. Most of the projects used a hybrid mode for courses that involved some online instruction, and possibly simulation, with required in-person labs. Some programs offered all courses completely online.

Key challenges emerged around serving students. A challenge that all institutions struggled with was how to best support students academically. In particular, most colleges were challenged by supporting students considered nontraditional, those who work full-time, are older adults, or who have families. Another great concern was about the continuing digital divide, particularly for students who are poor or live in remote locations and do not have reliable Internet connectivity. This lack of reliable online connections is important given the role community colleges often play in providing opportunities to rural and remote students and to people looking to retool their skill set in hopes of improving their career opportunities.

Colleges found a variety of benefits to implementing online technical education. Benefits were found in the areas of teaching and learning, serving industry, and partnerships. Many felt that they were better serving working students and those with families in limiting the time that they had to spend on campus and providing flexibility in course and homework options. Faculty members felt that students were able to learn material more fully once it was put online because they could revisit lecture material as needed and spend more time on areas with which they had trouble, and they could move forward at their own pace. As a result, more face-to-face time (for hybrid and face-to-face classes) was spent on application and answering specific questions that students had.


This poster will consist of three panels. The first will include an overview of the project including rationale behind the research, research questions and methodology. The second will include the results of the research including major findings and recommendations. The third will include an overview of the projects studied and the works cited in the review. In addition, a hand out will be provided with an overview of findings from the research.

This project is the result of a collaborative research supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No 1501794; 1501683; 1501541. The full research team includes Regina Garza Mitchell, Western Michigan University; Brian Horvitz, Western Michigan University; Cheryl Calhoun, Santa Fe College; and Amanda Hatherly, Santa Fe Community College.

Cheryl Calhoun currently serves as Dean of Educational Centers and Director of the Blount Center for Santa Fe College. Her experience includes 20 years as a professor of Information Technology education and Coordinator of the Networking Services Technology program at Santa Fe College where she has developed numerous online information technology and cybersecurity courses.


Benson, A. D., Johnson, S. D., Taylor, G. D., Treat, T., Shinkareva, O. N., & Duncan, J. (2005). Achievement in online and campus-based career and technical education (CTE) courses. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 29(5), 369-394.

D’Amico, M. M., Morgan, G. B., Katsinas, S. G., & Friedel, J. N. (2014). State director views on community college workforce development. Career and Technical Education Research, 39(3), 191-211.

Jepsen, C., Troske, K., & Coomes, P. (2014). The labor-market returns to community college degrees, diplomas, and certificates. Journal of Labor Economics, 32(1), 95-121.

Kotamraju, P., & Mettille, III, J. L. (2012). Using return on investment (ROI) and other related tools: Guidelines for measuring career and technical education (CTE) internal efficiency and external effectiveness. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from:

Githens, R. P., Crawford, F. L., & Sauer, T. M. (2010). Online occupational education in community colleges: Prevalence and contextual factors. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from:

Lokken, F. (2016, April). 2015 distance education survey results, Trends in eLearning: Tracking the impact of eLearning at community colleges. Washington, DC: Instructional Technology Council.
U. S. Department of Labor. (2014). Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Grant Training Program. Retrieved from: