IT Teachers: Lonesome No More
No stranger to, as he calls it, "the lonesome cowboy" situation for many teachers, especially Information Technology (IT) instructors, Headmaster Joachim Maiss was quick to institute Cisco Networking Academy at the Multimedia Vocational School in Hannover, Germany, when the school opened in 2001.
Before his position as headmaster, Mr. Maiss' career included teaching at a vocational training school, working in economics and IT, and working at the German Ministry of Education, where he first learned about Networking Academy. Mr. Maiss says, "It was a great opportunity for me when I was offered the job of headmaster at the Multimedia Vocational School. Including Networking Academy courses at our school was a way to have a view to the future and eliminate the 'lonesome cowboy' element of teaching."
IT Colleagues for Previously Solo Teachers
In the past, teachers were alone at the front of the classroom, dispensing facts and figures to their students. These instructors often felt, according to Headmaster Maiss, as if they were preparing their lesson plans in a vacuum. This situation was particularly difficult for IT instructors.
In the roughly 140 vocational schools in the Lower Saxony section of Germany, there are only one or two IT instructors at each school. In the past, they had very few opportunities to connect with other teachers to find out about new developments in IT. "The IT world is turning very, very quickly," notes Headmaster Maiss. "These instructors were always running behind the new developments. But with Networking Academy, they have a group of other teachers who have the same challenge of keeping up-to-date. They meet three times a year. Cisco provides many activities to bring them together and provide current information so they become a big network of IT professionals."
Team Teaching Fosters Teamwork in Students
Another recent departure from the old approach in the classroom is team teaching. Now groups of teachers do a project with the class over several class periods, rather than just presenting 90-minute lessons.
"As a 21st century skill, teamwork is hard to teach, if you don't practice teamwork yourself," Mr. Maiss says. "It's difficult for some teachers, especially older teachers who have worked in their job as the 'lonesome cowboy' for about 20 years. It's a big transition from teaching alone to being part of a team of teachers." Now, working together in Networking Academy, they plan the timing and content of the courses, including projects to be organized by the team and the students.
Both Schools and Companies Teach and Train
In the German vocational education and training system, called the Dual System - most students have a job in a company. Most of the students range from 17 to 22 years old, but some are 35 or older and are changing jobs. Students work at a company four days a week and go to school one day a week. It is the job of both the vocational schools and companies to educate the students and provide them with their qualifications.
Of the Multimedia Vocational School's 2500 students, about 2100 are in the Dual System. However, the majority of the 1200 IT students are in what's called the IT-Block System. These students alternate throughout the year between two weeks at school, followed by four weeks at their company, and then back to school again.
Both systems are not only effective, but also economical. The companies pay the fees for the students, and the funds for the school, for the teachers, facilities, and materials, come from the government.
Hand-in-Hand: Theory, Practice, and Projects
The goal of the Multimedia Vocational School is to make all their classes relate closely to the students' jobs. Lessons include practice and real, work-related projects. Hands-on projects cultivate interest in the students. Projects include planning and executing the IT infrastructure of a classroom in the Multimedia Vocational School or another school. "About 30 percent of the computers at the school are built in classroom projects. The students become motivated to learn more and attain their qualification," says Headmaster Maiss.
Networking Academy is a combination of e-learning, work in the laboratories, and a special system of tests, which Headmaster Meiss says students consider particularly desirable: "For Germans, certificates are very important. Instead of asserting what you can do, it is sometimes much more important to have the piece of paper that certifies your qualification. The students know Cisco CCNA coursework is a qualification factor for their future."
Unique Features of Networking Academy
Headmaster Maiss believes Networking Academy is in a class of its own: "Cisco's program has special curricula, which is tested and updated. It has special e-learning in the background. It is a qualification and certification system, so it is a full service vocational training system. Other technology companies' programs are not part of a total quality management, e-learning system."
The international aspect of Networking Academy is also appealing to both teachers and students. The students discover that if they work in IT, many of the companies are international. Mr. Maiss says, "It is necessary for the IT students to be flexible, to be willing to go to another country, to work outside Germany. With international certification, Networking Academy opens the door for global activities in IT."
Impending Shortage of Qualified Workforce
Like many other developed countries, Germany will lose a significant amount of its workforce to retirement over the next few years. As a result, Headmaster Maiss notes, "Soon, all through Germany in IT, we will have a big problem getting highly qualified workers."
Also, in the past, it was easy for companies to recruit students. During the next five years that will change significantly. Headmaster Maiss stresses, "There will be about 55,000 places in the companies for students, but there will be only 35,000 students. Companies will have to work very hard to find enough students to fill their positions."
Headmaster's Advice to Other Educators
The headmaster suggests that educators around the world can prepare for their future workforce needs by following Cisco's example: "We must change the way we teach and learn using the model of how Cisco developed Networking Academy. We must bring more practical exercises and projects into the classroom and more international elements into the schools. Then we will better prepare our students for their future."