This report presents the findings from an evaluation of Mitchell Technical Institute's Technical Education at a Distance Program, a TAACCCT grant that includes a speech-language pathology degree program and a geospatial technologies certification program targeted at Trade Adjustment Assistance-eligible and low-skilled workers in South Dakota.

“Mitchell Technical Institute (MTI), located in Mitchell, South Dakota, was awarded a four-year federal TAACCCT grant in September of 2012 to implement the Technical Education at a Distance Model (TED) program….[The] grant involved two programs[:]….the Speech-Language Pathology Assistant (SLPA) [Associates of Applied Science] degree program and…the Geospatial Technologies (GST) certification program” (p.3).

“The purpose of the…TED…model was to create a unique mentor-supported, hands-on, hybrid distance learning model to support [Trade Adjustment Assistance]-eligible and low-skilled workers in South Dakota. The GST program component was added in order to enhance the skill set of current MTI students as well as professionals working fields which utilize geospatial technologies” (p.3).  

“The main goal of this program evaluation was to collect information from a variety of sources to inform adjustments to the program and to estimate its overall effectiveness” (p.3). The evaluation included an implementation and outcomes study.  

“[Q]ualitative data sources to assess the implementation of the program” (p.12) included interviews and surveys with stakeholders, site visits, and a review of program documentation. Implementation evaluation questions include:

  1. “How was the particular curriculum selected, used, and/or created?
  2. How were programs and program designs improved or expanded using grant funds?” (p.11).
  3. "Was an in-depth assessment of participants’ abilities, skills, and interests conducted to select participants into the grant funded programs?” (p.11).
  4. "What contributions did each of the partners…make…?” (p.12).
  5. "What contributions did the project make to the overall objectives of [MTI] and to the online delivery systems that will be used in the future” (p.12)?

The outcome evaluation utilized MTI program participant data and employment and wage data from the South Dakota Department of Labor. Outcome evaluation questions include:

  • “Which outcome measures met their targeted goals and which did not?
  • Was the project equally effective for all participants?
  • What components were most effective?
  • What significant unintended impacts did the project have?
  • Is the project sustainable?” (p.13).

 (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)


Major Findings & Recommendations

Implementation Findings:

  1. An instructional development team, comprised of a technical support technician, instructional media developer, SLPA instructional designer, curriculum coordinator and instructional strategist was hired to develop the TED-SLPA program.
  2. MTI developed a Virtual Classroom that could be used asynchronously to share instruction to include speech pathology scenarios and other instructional materials.
  3. The Geospatial/GST certification training and a curriculum was developed and piloted with students in the fall of 2014.
  4. 21 activities were fully implemented for the TED-SLPA program and 3 additional activities were fully implemented for the GST component of the grant.

Outcome Findings:

  1. MTI met its targeted goal for all outcome measures except outcome measure # 9, which reports the number of participants retained in employment in the second and third quarters after program completion. Due to a waiting period to acquire employment data from the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation of up to six months, it is possible that the target for outcome measure # 9 will be met, once that data is available.
  2. 142 individuals completed a grant-funded program of study. Collectively, those individuals earned a total of 189 credentials in the fields of Speech-Language Pathology Assistant or Geospatial Technologies.
  3. Students found the most effective components of the TED model to be the regional labs where they met for face-to-face instruction; practice with mentors; the use of VoiceThread, an online tool which facilitates interaction among students; their classmates; and the instructors.
  4. Students gave high marks about the sufficiency of technical support necessary to engage with the technological components of the program.
  5. From technology tools to curriculum simulations to support systems, the TED project’s “recipe” for student success continues to be an important design element for other online programs. 

Conclusion 

  • Although the time to establish a robust infrastructure which was compatible with MTI’s learning management system and various digital applications was underestimated by program leaders, it was a critical factor in the success of the TED model. 
  • The TED model is an important resource for addressing the needs of rural America and its application to other technical fields and settings warrants further research and funding.