Talking with a school committee member tonight, I was reminded (quite rightfully), how important it is to consider the community in which we live as we design courses. She was very concerned that I had eliminated CAD from our course offerings in favor of programming and advanced web design courses, leaving a potentially valuable skill-based course for students who won't be headed to college off the books.
Since we live in a town built around a manufacturing economy, it's quite likely that a number of our graduates won't head for college and instead need to be prepared to enter the workforce. While it might seem like this should be the job of a vocational/technical school, in fact our voc-tech programs are highly competitive, shutting out students who can still really benefit from whatever pre-employment 21st Century skills we can offer.
Yet if I simply offer CAD as we teach it now, I'm doing it at the expense of the programming courses another subset of our students desperately needs. I could reduce the number of sections and attempt to strike a balance, but the licensing for AutoCAD is fairly expensive. Is it worth the price at 20-30 students per year?
There are free and open source drafting tools, but they don't come anywhere close to the capabilities of AutoCAD. So what do we do? I would suggest that we change the CAD course to be "Technical Project Management." We could, at the same time, change the focus of the course from teaching a tool (AutoCAD) to teaching students to communicate well in a technical setting. How do we get our ideas across to one another? How do we ensure that our ideas are translated into working products? Through drawings. In this sense, free diagramming tools would be very appropriate as they are a piece of a much larger pie.
What if the course were project-based? Design, test, and produce a product. This would require detailed drawings and schematics, but the communication with classmates graphically would be much more important than a particular tool. We could also incorporate budgeting, design tradeoffs, marketing, and sales, making the class accessible and usable for a far larger group of students.
Will students be able to walk out of the class AutoCAD-certified? No, but they will be able to walk into a job and translate ideas to paper and ultimately to action. They will be able to read blueprints and understand scale, while also building teamwork and communication skills. This seems like a far more valuable set of skills than AutoCAD alone while still drawing heavily on the graphical documentation and communication so vital to modern manufacturing.
What do you think? Is this a worthy compromise, or should CAD stay in a school centered in a manufacturing economy?