Today’s HVAC Instruction Bucks Tradition
Classrooms Feature Mix of Traditional, Online Learning Techniques
In most classrooms, teachers are no longer writing on a chalkboard or using transparencies to get their points across. Instead, instruction has progressed toward a myriad of technologies, many times in conjunction with each other, to teach students and techs, whether the instructors and students are in the same room or not.
And it’s not just teachers at secondary and post-secondary schools using the latest gizmos. HVACR contractors are using various technologies to better educate their installers and service technicians, too.
Old and New, Side by Side
Today’s educators are equipped with numerous devices to help them convey their messages in a more efficient manner.
That being said, the traditional way of teaching — where the teacher lectures and answers students’ questions — is not extinct. For example, instructors still commonly select textbooks so students can read and learn more on a topic than what is covered in a lecture. But, in addition to the paper version, this information is likely available for download in an eBook form.
Brian McDonald, general manager, Outer Banks Heating & Cooling, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, said he still distributes handouts and printed manuals, which can be carried in the service vehicles. On the flipside, he also offers digital versions of this information to be stored on employees’ tablets.
Technologies that have been around for more than a few years, such as CDs and PowerPoint slides, are still being utilized.
Dick Wirz, assistant dean, AIR Program, Northern Virginia Community College — Woodbridge campus, said he uses PowerPoint presentations and the instructor CDs from Refrigeration Training Services LLC, which complement the textbook used in the class, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Technologies. The CDs contain animated pictures (the instructor controls the animation) which, Wirz said, “engages the students and makes my job as a teacher much easier.”
Hybrid learning, a mixture of face-to-face classroom instruction and online learning, is growing in popularity among teachers. The online portion allows students to learn topics in ways other than just reading the material from a textbook, while still allowing for learning in a traditional setting with the teacher and other students present.
Michael Corry, program director/faculty HVAC/FAC, industrial technology division, GateWay Community College, Phoenix, said he uses simulation software on laptops, which is easier on the equipment in the lab when students are learning to troubleshoot. This approach also enables him to acquaint students with other types of equipment not found in the lab. He said that, because students are not as comfortable with the simulation software, it does take a bit more time and patience to use.
Carter Stanfield, program director, air conditioning technology, Athens Technical College, Athens, Georgia, utilizes a learning management system called MyHVACLab, which is built around the textbook he coauthored, Fundamentals of HVACR. Because MyHVACLab is online, it can be used in class or by the student on his or her own time. Stanfield said students can use it to watch videos, online animation, and interactive materials when they want. Most students didn’t view any of it on the system before it was required, admitted Stanfield.
For those times when the instructor wants to examine a microscopic piece of equipment or a graph, document cameras can be put to use. Like old overhead projectors, document cameras magnify and project items. But, unlike overhead projectors, document cameras can do this with document as well as 3-D objects, not just transparencies. “Instructors will sometimes wire small circuits on the document camera table, and students can follow along visually,” said Stanfield. “I don’t draw on the board anymore — I draw on the table of the document camera.”
Video projectors and a computer with an Internet connection are among other technologies Stanfield said educators in his program use.
Steve Coscia, president, Coscia Communications Inc., said he uses Skype to communicate with clients across the U.S. and as far away as Dubai.
YouTube videos are widely used for instructional purposes by instructors at schools and contractors alike. Joe Kokinda, president and CEO, Professional HVAC/R Services Inc., Avon, Ohio, said his company uses YouTube and other videos for their biweekly mandatory safety training. He said there are a number of videos that detail the proper ways to do things, but, because there are some videos that don’t show the correct way to install or fix something, he’s quick to identify appropriate videos to his staff. He also said streaming has come a long way, and he’s found that the millennial generation “relishes easily accessible technology. If it’s an interesting video, they seem to get the message.”
Some of the older videos Wirz commonly played don’t appeal to students any longer. He now ties YouTube videos into the class because they “are short and specific, and they offer appropriate material.”
Michael Rosenberg, president, Rosenberg Indoor Comfort, San Antonio, said his firm uses YouTube videos provided by vendors during sales training to educate technicians on the products, thus making them easier to sell.
Video training is also beneficial because it saves time and money.
McDonald said he uses videos from YouTube and other sources because, with his training program, he “was not going to try to redesign the wheel. By using materials already developed by others, it makes it easier on ourselves.” The company shows the videos using a projector, a laptop computer, and a drop-down screen in the training room.
Rosenberg’s insurance company offers streamed safety videos, which are shown at the contractor’s technician meetings. Rosenberg Indoor Comfort also uses webinars for technical, sales, and safety training. The training room there contains a PowerPoint projector and stereo with speakers connected to a computer with Internet access.
Wirz employs Blackboard, which “allows instructors to provide articles, documents, YouTube videos, review questions, and even quizzes for the students.” He has uploaded past semesters’ taped lectures to it. Wirz said class was cancelled several times this winter because of snow, but students were still able to watch the lectures through the Web.
Kokinda said with video exchange, he can share information he’s gotten from different LinkedIn groups with his crews. Also, his company uses Dropbox and other cloud-based exchange programs to load files too large to share via email.
Learning while on the job site can prove as valuable as learning away from it. Matt Rutland, HVAC Service Manager, Brothers Air, Heat, & Plumbing, Rock Hill, South Carolina, said tablet computers with mobile hot-spot devices are on all of the company’s service trucks. In addition, he said most of the techs use smartphones, which permit video conferencing, group messaging, and remote email access, in addition to HVAC-specific apps that assist them in their work. According to Rutland, the devices allow for training on the spot when the technician needs it at the job site, “because it allows us to be able to see what the technician sees. Now, instead of just delivering tech support to the techs, we are able to really take the time to show them on their specific site what needs to be done,” even giving step-by-step guidance, if it’s needed.
Rutland said using the technology this way has raised the “level of professionalism, and, in many cases, you are teaching your technicians to help themselves. You are making sure they have the technology to either do their jobs or find out how to do their jobs. After a while, many of my technicians become comfortable with using the technology to reach the information needed to provide the right service for the customer.”
Rosenberg said the technologies they use make it easier to train their employees, who love training. And, as a result of the training, “they become more confident and better at what they do. We see the results in higher sales dollars, bigger spiff checks, and better service to our clients.”
Because of the amount of HVACR work performed using gauges, monitors, sensors, etc., learning to use the latest tools and instruments is highly beneficial. Stanfield said his program has some digital gauge sets, manometers, anemometers, and combustion analyzers for student use in order to prepare them for what they will be working with in the future. Though most students won’t be able to purchase these instruments right away, he said. “If they are familiar with them and understand how smart digital tools can save them time and improve their productivity, they are more likely to get them sometime in the future.”
The degree of familiarity with various technologies differs from person to person. Corry said that most of his students are in their 30s and older, so “using technology as a tool is still new to them, and they are sometimes afraid of using something new.”
An instructor should be familiar with the technology when teaching its functions. Wirz recommends taking a class on how to use classroom technologies and to try different applications. But, in the end, the instructor should pick what works best for his style of teaching. He also suggested to “not overwhelm yourself or your students with the latest technology, just because it’s new.”
Rutland echoed that sentiment, saying: “My advice is, before you invest in technology, make sure you are prepared to invest in your people. All of the computers, phones, videos, etc., in the world will not help if your people do not feel comfortable using them. Be prepared to take time to educate your crew on how this will make their jobs easier and the level of service they are capable of providing better.”
Publication date: 7/14/2014