Participants in the International Training Institute’s Fire Smoke Damper Technician and Fire Life Safety Level 2 for Instructors class recently played a game of Jeopardy before the end-of-the-week presentations.
Typically, a computer running PowerPoint would be up at the front of the room, and one-by-one they would give their presentations in a classroom simulation. But this is the new normal.
From their homes in Alaska; Salt Lake City; Springfield, Illinois; Spokane, Washington; St. Louis; and Louisville, Kentucky, class participants made their presentations to the class via Zoom, using PowerPoint on shared screens.
Originally scheduled for Sheet Metal Workers Local 88 in Las Vegas the week of March 30, instructors Lisa Davis and Darrell Garrison, ITI field staff, had little time to transform the class from in-person to virtual. But they didn’t need much time.
They implemented the flipped classroom, which requires participants to cover the content, complete the ITI’s Moodle site classwork and reading, go through the student and instructor manuals and view required videos on their own time. The class met every day that week to review unit questions and go over any discussion points, available resources, curricula planning, networking opportunities and legislation planning and strategy for fire life safety, Davis says.
“I think it was really successful, not just in spite of our current crisis situation, but also as a technique for learning in the future,” she adds.
While much of the world scrambled to figure out how to work remotely once stay-at-home orders were in place, the ITI easily pivoted and adjusted classes, such as this one, in order to continue education for members.
For years the ITI has been using Moodle and online classes — such as business development — to educate journeyperson members across the country from the comfort of their own chairs. And when they’re done, their return to life is steps away instead of a series of flights and car rides.
“It happened pretty quick,” Garrison says. “Had we not already had an online training portal, it would’ve been very different. We’re fortunate we had this technology before we had to do this. I think this worked out better. We use the same materials, and they complete their homework at their pace with life happening all around them.”
The success of online courses during the pandemic is not lost on the field staff members present for this course. Distance education works. Online courses also open the doors for instructors and coordinators in rural areas or from locals that lack funds to pay for their members’ travel.
Incorporating technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality and live webinars into courses was in the planning stage long before COVID-19, Garrison says.
The main takeaway: “There’s a use for this,” said Len Liebert, ITI field staff. “Given the current situation, it’s opening people’s eyes.”
While participants in the class adjusted to working from home compared to their local classrooms, they agreed the platform worked for this course.
“I really like it. We’re looking into implementing fire life safety into our curriculum, period,” says Craig Reehten from Local 36 in St. Louis. “With what’s going on, it’s good to be able to keep up with classes.”
For the time being, online courses will be how the ITI keeps moving education forward for its members.
“We’re not working from home,” Davis says. “We’re at home during a crisis making it work.”
For additional information on the ITI, visit the website at www.sheetmetal-iti.org.