For students enrolled at J. F. Ingram State Technical College, taking an introductory computer course means spending time with Keith LaFrance.
A native of New Orleans and graduate of Xavier University, LaFrance began his career in banking. After nearly two decades in the private sector he turned to teaching, starting with middle schoolers before joining the faculty at ISTC in 2013.
In the seven years he has been at ISTC LaFrance has taught hundreds of students computer basics. Successful completion of a computer course is one of the requirements for a long-term certificate in 16 of the College’s 18 career technical programs, which means students in his classes are preparing for a wide range of careers.
Those students bring varied levels expertise and experience to the computer lab, and some find it hard to believe they will actually use the skills learned in the class when they enter the workforce. LaFrance pulls the disparate groups together with a simple philosophy, “everything in society is computer-driven” he tells students on the first day of class. “You need computers to succeed in life, not just at work.”
LaFrance says his primary goal for the class is to help students overcome anxiety about technology and learn basic skills they will need on the job. He employs an informal peer training process, partnering more advanced students with those who have little or no experience.
LaFrance credits the impact of his own learning experience for his affinity for teaching adult learners. “When I started out, computers were room-sized and COBOL was the industry standard,” he smiles. “I can relate to the students, because when I transitioned to PCs after all those years on a mainframe I had reservations, too.”
In 2019, ISTC expanded its computer offerings with the addition of a short-term noncredit SWIFT coding program. LaFrance, along with Office Administration instructor Valerie Pittman and Special Education Services Assistant Bryan Riggins, teach students the basics of coding in fully equipped labs featuring Apple technology.
When ISTC received a charter for its own chapter of Phi Theta Kappa national honor society, LaFrance was selected as one of two sponsors for the organization. Under his guidance, students have participated in community service projects benefitting the Prattville YMCA and the City of Prattville.
Asked about his experience teaching at ISTC, LaFrance says he is constantly reminded that there is always more knowledge to gain. “Just because you start teaching,” he said, “doesn’t mean you can quit learning.”
Photos: (TOP) Mr. LaFrance with students in the Swift coding lab, (BOTTOM LEFT) Mr. LaFrance with fellow PTK sponsor Alexis Owens, James Elliot, 2019-20 International President of Phi Theta Kappa, and ISTC president Annette Funderburk.