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Maintaining meaningful CTE experiences remotely

by Bruce Sievers
Associate Director for Accreditation and School Improvement
NEASC Commission on Public Schools

The pandemic has forced those of us working in education to confront new challenges with creativity and adaptability. I commend the entire career-technical education (CTE) community in New England for their ability to pivot quickly to a virtual learning platform to provide an integrated educational experience that remained engaging and relevant to the students. Replicating a meaningful “hands-on” experiential learning environment via Zoom or Google Meet was a heavy lift for all teachers, but one that has produced many innovative approaches. In a number of schools and centers, the students have continued their work-based learning internships and many CTE programs have been engaged in community-based activities: for example, culinary arts programs providing meals for those in need and construction programs renovating town properties for community usage.

I’m proud to say that the NEASC Commission on Public Schools Committee on Technical and Career Institutions (NEASC-CTCI) has continued to assist and support our members in the improvement process throughout the pandemic. The Committee took a flexible approach in granting many schools’ and centers’ requests to reschedule their accreditation visits to post-pandemic.

A challenge for the Committee has always been to find enough volunteer peer visitors to fill the teams which go out to review schools. Our accreditation protocol is based on providing skilled evaluators to make observations and  provide feedback on the school/center’s alignment with the standards for accreditation within both the career technical programs and the academic programs. In most cases, the schools and centers undergoing a visit request an evaluator for each trade and academic program. Because NEASC member institutions range widely in size - from as few as six trade programs to schools with 20 plus trade programs - the requested number of visitors can quickly outpace the availability. This ongoing challenge has been exacerbated by the pandemic and the steep drop-off in available substitute teachers.  As a result, a “bubble” was created in 2022-2024 of too many visits for us to reasonably accommodate, so some schools will be asked to move to a later year to even out the schedule.

This past year we successfully conducted four decennial accreditation visits and five focus visits - all conducted virtually. Educators who joined NEASC virtual visiting teams provided the host institutions with a thorough and meaningful visit using technology creatively to observe instruction and to view evidence of student learning in trade programs and academic classrooms. I extend my sincere gratitude to everyone involved for their dedication to their craft and for their continued support of school improvement through standards-based accreditation.

As the nation emerges from covid-imposed restrictions, the essential question is now “to what extent do we return to “normal” practice?” This past year has emboldened many educators to question the accepted ways that learning has been conducted and provoked us to imagine new paradigms. At NEASC-CTCI, we will be re-considering our protocol and looking at a different approach to conducting both school/center self-reflection and visiting team peer-review. 

NEASC / May 2021

Image: virtual CTE student working online

"I commend the entire career-technical education (CTE) community in New England for their ability to pivot quickly to a virtual learning platform to provide an integrated educational experience that remained engaging and relevant to the students."