The Art of Instruction: How the Web is Changing Culinary Curriculum

Mar 12, 2014

There's no doubt that culinary education caters to the creative. Art can be expressed through food in a plethora of outlets, from the creative flavor combinations savory chefs compose to the intricate designs pastry specialists sculpt in sugar.

So how do you channel all this creativity into a structured, measurable education program? Chef Antony Osborne, Academic Dean at Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, found the perfect balance.

The Art of Instruction: How the Web is Changing Culinary Curriculum

Over the last two years, Chef Osborne and his team have worked with Pearson Custom Learning Solutions to develop MyCulinaryLab, a highly customized web portal for students and faculty. Everyone at Culinard is given a username and password to access day-by-day lesson plans and notes, creative learning tools, and a library of recipes, photos and how-to videos.

"We call it a creative technology," said Osborne. "Chefs are passionate and artistic people. Having a lesson plan and structure helps them become more consistent and confident in the classroom. For students, it keeps them engaged."

This step towards a web-integrated education is in line with research conducted by Pearson. They concluded that today's average student might read for an hour, if you are lucky. However, students average 3.5 hours online. Culinard made the decision to meet students where they are, finding the best avenues to help them learn.

The result is a cutting edge program that keeps students engaged. Beyond the basic notes and class structure, there are practice tests for each section, along with flashcards and learning games like Hangman and Jeopardy. The detailed daily "prepare" and "perform" entries can be used as a substitute for note taking, allowing students to be more hands-on in class or practice over the weekend, if they wish.

Overall, the technology has proven immensely popular. According to a recent survey among Culinard students, almost 70 percent of them take advantage of the program. MyCulinaryLab doesn't replace the hands-on learning required for a quality culinary education, but offers a supplement to it.

Brie Day, a former college cheerleader and current Pastry Arts student, is an active user. She noted the organization and ease of access as the primary reason she uses the site frequently. "I can log onto MyCulinaryLab, search the day, and everything I need will be grouped into a category," said Day. "It makes it a very quick process; you don't have to spend hours searching for what you need."

Students use the Lab as a hub for class material, past and present. "MyCulinaryLab has everything you will need for class and it makes it easy to look ahead. That way you can prepare for what you will be learning in the future," said Day. "It also allows you to access stuff you have already made, allowing you to brush up on some older recipes and techniques."

Day notes the videos her most-used feature. "They give you a great visual on how to prepare things! It's super helpful when it's something you are unfamiliar with."

The site is far from stagnant. "This is a constant work in progress," said Osborne. "As the industry evolves, so does our curriculum. We can make the changes on a dime."

Most recently, the Culinard team has been hard at work on the pastry section of MyCulinaryLab. The team meets each week, reviewing the curriculum as it progresses in real time throughout the quarter. This translates into future written material for the site.

For the tutorial section, camera crews were present at a recent pastry workshop. The Greensboro, N.C., event featured experts from all the Culinard campuses. As the chefs demonstrated their latest techniques, film crews were carefully documenting each step on film. Their tutorials on new pastry and sugar techniques are being edited and will soon appear on MyCulinaryLab, allowing the expertise to be shared among campuses.

"This site touches everyone," said Osborne. "It offers reinforcement, and allows students to process material on their time schedule and at their pace. Developing it has been rewarding for us all."

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