Brad Cooper has students he has never met, yet they are progressing steadily through the drafting program at Chattahoochee Technical College’s Appalachian campus. Online classes allow many of Cooper’s students to learn drafting from the comfort of their homes.
“People looked at me funny when I first mentioned teaching drafting online, but this was a rural area and gas was $4 a gallon at the time. I was wondering how to bring classes to students,” said Cooper, a drafting instructor at the Jasper campus.
Drafters prepare technical drawings and plans for all kinds of products across many different industries. They work for architects, construction companies, manufacturers, engineering companies, design firms and the government.
Cooper began his online efforts by crafting videos of basic drafting processes.
“I would literally take it step-by-step and reference the textbook for additional help. It was slow going, but once it was done, I could reach more students.”
In some cases drafters draw by hand, but most use AutoCAD (computer-assisted design) software. In classes on campus, students learn AutoCAD skills on computers anyway, and Cooper spends a lot of time explaining processes and answering questions over and over.
“Online, students can work at their own pace, and they can replay the video demonstration if there’s something they didn’t get the first time,” he said.
Cooper began offering the first hybrid (a combination of virtual and real classes) courses last year.
“A few classes are still best taught in the classroom,” said Cooper, “but 10 of the classes for a drafting diploma or associate degree in drafting are now fully online. Students don’t even have to come to campus for exams,” he said.
Previously, most of Cooper’s drafting students came from the Jasper area. Now the four-quarter program reaches four or five surrounding counties.
New tools have greatly enhanced online learning. Cooper can give individualized instruction and feedback through Elluminate and other software that enables real-time chats and sharing of computer screens. Students get assignments and submit drawings online. Cooper corrects and grades them without having to print them.
“My ink and paper costs have gone down to almost nothing, and I’m finding that videos and other online resources make the courses even better,” he said.
Online courses offer greater accuracy and precision in drafting instruction. Examples and models once examined by hand can now be scrutinized in greater detail on the computer.
“It’s a very businesslike approach,” Cooper said. “Just like in the real world, we use software that allows us to have virtual meetings and design applications that almost anyone in the industry is required to use daily.
“Students are not just learning the technology, but time and file management, and [they are] becoming accustomed to the daily requirements of the jobs they are seeking. You have to be tech-savvy and know how to use the Internet well if you’re going to work in drafting.”
When the economy was better, AutoCAD skills could get students in the door of almost all industries, Cooper said.
“There are so many different needs for drafting such as aeronautical, architectural, mechanical, electrical, etc. With the recession, civil and architectural drafting have been greatly affected by the decline in the building industry,” he said.
He expects job opportunities to pick up as the economy improves.
“We upgrade our AutoCAD software every year which keeps us all on our toes, and gives our students an edge,” said Cooper. “According to AutoCAD research, the average salary for a drafter is $42,000 a year, which is a good return on investment for relatively short-term training.”
Enrollment in online classes at Chattahoochee Tech has increased by 56.9 percent overall since last year.
For information, go to www.chattahoocheetech.edu or call 706-253-4593.
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