Once a year, IT industry association CompTIA hosts a meeting of the minds, dubbed Partner Summit. The goal of CompTIA Partner Summit is to bring together the IT educators who guide students toward CompTIA certifications and the training providers who create learning and study materials to facilitate that aim. The exchange of ideas helps both instructors and training providers improve what they do.
As with many such gatherings, another important element of Partner Summit is to recognize various accomplishments of those in the community of participants. At this year's Partner Summit, held July 26-28 in Orlando, Fla., high school teacher Walt Jaqua was among those honored, taking home the first-ever award for Most Active Member of CompTIA's Instructor Network.
Jaqua, 55, teaches IT and IT certification at James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend, Ind. He's been teaching CompTIA certifications since he started at Riley High School in 2009 and has been an enthusiastic supporter of CompTIA's Instructor Network since its inception. "When I received the call from CompTIA to talk over the possibility of an instructor network, I was determined to help make it happen in any way I could," Jaqua said. "I had been searching for some type of instructor network for years, but nothing existed that was truly focused on instructors."
A support group that brings educators together to share ideas, CompTIA's Instructor Network features webinars, newsletters and teaching resources. One of its most valuable aspects, however, is to function as a medium for peer interaction. Jaqua said the network is "an excellent collaboration tool for instructors around the world. We exchange best practices and ideas for the classroom, insights into how to present a particular objective, how to configure and teach a lab, free and paid tools to use in the classroom, discussions on changes to an exam, and discussions with industry experts. Any instructor can begin a discussion on any topic that may be on their mind."
Jaqua said that he doesn't spend more than a handful of minutes per day participating in the Instructor Network, but that he tries to participate on a regular basis. "Most instructors, including me," he said, "do not have much spare time. My goal is to be consistent in my participation and do whatever I can to make sure the network is a success."
One secret of Jaqua's own classroom success is using the online certification courses offered by IT training firm TestOut to help his students learn. At the Partner Summit, Walt told a Q&A session that TestOut's LabSim teaching tool is the cornerstone of his students' 100 percent pass rate on CompTIA exams. Jaqua first learned about TestOut's products from a colleague during exactly the sort of exchange that the Instructor Network exists to support.
While preparing for his first year at Riley High, Jaqua was directed to meet with Kevin Kelly, a seasoned IT instructor at McKenzie Career Center in Indianapolis, Ind. "Kevin showed me the TestOut product and how he was utilizing it in the classroom. I had it in place for my students by the first day of class that first year." Jaqua said that TestOut's CompTIA-aligned courses thoroughly cover the certification exam objectives with real-world, hands-on simulations and a blend of instruction techniques that includes videos, review sheets and practice questions.
Though some educators have questioned whether high school students learn effectively by getting certifications, Jaqua said that combining certification with an emphasis on building job-ready IT skills is "the only way to go." He said that everything he does is intended to first, help each student become an "excellent IT professional," and second, help them get certified.
"Becoming an excellent I.T. professional includes having the technical knowledge but it can't stop there," Jaqua said. "They must have professional skills, soft skills, life skills, conceptual technical knowledge, and practical real-world hands-on skills. Employers are begging for candidates who can think critically, problem solve, communicate, take what they know in their head and apply it to the real world."
Thanks to the dedication of educators like Walt Jaqua, the number of highly qualified professionals headed to the IT job market is on the rise.