Instructor to Explore Virtual Education

September 6, 2001
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For years, online and distance learning has been hailed as the next big thing in hvacr education and training. In fact, years is what it took for Chris Compton, hvacr instructor at North Idaho College (NIC), to launch his online courses.

Although distance learning via the Internet has been a hot topic for quite some time, not many associations and programs have taken the idea and successfully developed it. The United Association (UA) has a very sophisticated online learning system and a few associations have run correspondence courses for some time, but Internet learning has not taken off as expected.

Compton found that the idea could alleviate many problems that he has seen in the industry. But while he was on his journey to set up online hvacr education at NIC, Compton found why it has been an uphill battle for the industry.



A Slow, Slow Process

Compton’s endeavor began close to five years ago when he attended a conference on distance learning in Scottsdale, AZ. The conference focused on Internet courses and how they are used for a variety of subjects. Almost every course that can be taught in a classroom can now be taught by simply logging on to the Web. But Compton found at the conference that hvacr, including many other vocational trades, were not represented.

“In my opinion, there is no reason why it can’t be done,” Compton said about learning the trade online.

He also said that after spending the day at the conference, he was fired up and wanted to find a way to get his profession on the Web.

“The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense,” he said.

The instructor began to realize that online learning could solve many contractor problems. One major complaint is that contractors cannot find a way for employees to be trained, and Compton began to see that online learning offered through NIC could be the bridge the industry needed.

To start, Compton says that he enrolled in a two-summer course at the Teletraining Institute in Stillwater, OK. It offers an acad-emy consisting of two intensive, two-week, 60-hour-a-week curriculum to educators interested in learning how to set up online curriculum.

Compton says that he learned how to create web pages, how to do video instruction, and how to design courses for the Web. The courses even taught the psychology behind online learning, which teaches how to make the courses feel like any other course for the students.

After taking the telelearning courses for two summers, Compton says that he worked with more professionals at Ohio State University. During that time, he went looking for funding. Now that he knew how to startup an online program, he still needed to find a way to get it paid for.

In order to get funding, Compton said, “I went to the industry manufacturers. Everyone thought it was a great idea, but no one anted up.”

From that, Compton had to find a new way to fund his project. He then applied for a government grant that specializes in distance learning. Compton came very close, but in the end, he was not awarded the grant.

Finally, after more than three years, Compton’s project was noticed by a funding agency called the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. After applying for the grant, Compton was awarded $30,000 to begin his endeavor. With the money, Compton was able to hire a Web team that set up the pages and create the animation and artwork. According to Compton, the process was time consuming and while his team worked on the site, NIC decided that a national scope project was not in the mission of the college. NIC released the project to Compton to do as he wished. Since then, several models have been created. Compton will offer the courses for credit through his program at NIC to Idaho students only. Other schools may use the program as the hvacr technical theory portion of a certificate or associate’s degree offering. Students not interested in a certificate or degree may enroll for the online courses through several entities that will be announced.



Helping Local Contractors

Students throughout the region, nation, and around the world will be able to take courses at hvacreducation.net beginning Sept. 17, 2001.

Hvacreducation.net will offer four, two-credit courses. They are, HVAC/R Fundamentals 1, HVAC/R Electrical 1, HVAC/R Systems 1, and HVAC/R Refrigeration 1. The classes are arranged in six-week modules. When the student has completed one of the courses, s/he then move on to the next.

Each course is like any other course a student would take at a high school or university. Stu-dents must study a new lesson each week online. Every lesson has reading assignments, homework, as well as tests and quizzes that are submitted electronically.

The course also allows for interaction. If a student has questions, s/he can e-mail Compton. If the student wants to interact with other students to discuss lessons, they can also e-mail each other or participate on the site’s forum and chat rooms.

Compton explains that students working together and asking each other questions is vital for any classroom to succeed, whether it be a traditional course or an online course.

Students can take part in this opportunity in one of three ways. The first is to be a registered student at NIC. Those students do their online reading at their pace, on their own time. The hands-on learning is done with Compton at the campus lab.

The opportunity is also available to non-degree seeking students through Spokane Community College. Students enrolled there can take part in hvacreducation.net as a continuing education effort for the industry.

Finally, students enrolled at Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC) in Kalispell, MT, can take part in hvacreducation.net. The arrangement with FVCC is a unique one, and aims to help local contractors find qualified employees.

Bill Roope, director of Tech Prep at FVCC, explains that contractors in Kalispell and the surrounding regions approached him about setting up hvacr courses. Previously, FVCC had no hvacr curriculum, and contractors said the college needed to provide one so that they could train more potential employees.

“I was looking for a way to implement hvac curriculum in the Valley because we can’t find qualified employees. So we went looking for a way to offer it,” said Roope.

Coincidentally, shortly after Roope had met with the local contractors, he received a call from Compton inquiring as to whether FVCC would be interested in participating in hvacreducation.net. According to Roope, a number of students are already lined up to take the online courses when they begin in mid-September.

But what about the hands-on aspect of learning the trade?

“I don’t think you can learn the subject online,” said Roope. “But you can learn the theory.”

The other component to learning the subject matter, the hands-on portion, will be done through those local contractors. Compton explains that 50% of the curriculum will be spent online, while the other 50% will be spent with a contractor learning the hands-on. This arrangement gives the students the physical experience, and also gives contractors the extra help they may need.

A variety of students will be taking the online courses at FVCC. Compton says that some are individuals who are looking to change their career path, and the online learning will allow them to take the courses on their own time. Other students will be high school juniors and seniors, some will be eligible to take the online class and later apply them towards college credits.

Compton explains that hvacreducation.net is a pilot program. As time goes on, more courses will be added. He also says, that even though the online program is just beginning and will be somewhat experimental at first, he has high hopes. In fact, Compton says that hvacreducation.net has been aligned with industry standards, including the North American Technician Excellence (NATE) and the Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Institute (ARI).

But more importantly, Compton feels that his online courses will solve some of the worker shortage that contractors are suffering from.

“By offering classes over the Internet, which is already a proven method in academics and other vocational fields, we can enable employers to send their technicians to school without losing them from work and spending thousands of dollars,” Compton said. “Students wishing to enter the hvacr field will be able to save time and money while becoming prepared to be qualified technicians.

To preview the site, go to www.hvacreducation.net (website). For any questions regarding the online courses, contact Compton at ccompton@hvacreducation.net (e-mail).

Publication date: 09/10/2001

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