When I was a journalism student many, many years ago, we had what now seems a rather strange way of learning. I used to walk from my dorm to various classrooms on campus, and sit while the teachers lectured and I took notes by hand … with a pencil … in a notebook, with actual pieces of paper. Then I’d walk to the building where the daily campus newspaper was published to write stories on a manual typewriter, and edit stories using an actual pencil.

Then I went back to the dorm to study, by opening books and underlining certain passages again with a pencil. If I needed to do additional research, I’d trek over to the library and look up information in books called encyclopedias. (Look up the term. There really were such books. They were kind of an early generation of Wikipedia.)

Having intentionally avoided college campuses in the intervening years, I don’t know quite how learning is done these days in those places; but while there may still be classrooms, I’m pretty sure pencils and paper are relegated to museums or maybe for emergency use should a laptop computer crash.

This whole issue of ways of learning was brought to my attention when a press release crossed my desk a few weeks ago from a company called Mainstream Engineering out of Rockledge, Fla. The company manufactures aftermarket service and maintenance products. One aspect of those products certainly shows how high tech learning has become.

The company said it has introduced “the industry’s first interactive EPA Section 608 CD-ROM study aide, which includes an electronic study guide, reference manual, and practice test for EPA’s Section 608 of the Clean Air Act.

“The CD-ROM is now part of Mainsteam Engineering’s existing, 13-year-old Qwik608™ fast-track learning program, which allows users to quickly prepare and practice the EPA 608 certification test at their own convenience. The four-color CD-ROM includes a computerized version of Qwik608’s 142-page ‘Environmentally Safe Refrigerant Service Techniques for the Next Generation.’

“The CD-ROM also includes preparation tests that interactively signal incorrect practice answers and then automatically displays appropriate sections in the Qwik608 manual that address the question.”

The press release includes references to proctors and ways to get grades quickly. But my mind was starting to turn into mush just typing (on, yes, a laptop computer) the above three paragraphs in quotes. You can visit (don’t you love that word) the company’s Website (www.qwik.com) for more information.

While my college days date back to the late ’60s and early ’70s, what caught my attention was how things have changed in just the past 20 years, during which that 608 certification test - that was (and is) required - first appeared in the HVACR industry. The early days of preparing for that exam included day-long seminars, sometimes at distant locations, then taking the test by hand, usually onsite at the end of the day.

The Mainstream method reminded me that new methods can be very high tech and way different from how it was done in the now really old days.

I know many other organizations and associations offer ways to learn more about the exam. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) itself has a Website for general guidance in this matter (www.epa.gov/ozone/title6/608/technicians/certoutl.html).

In fact, being the computer genius I am (yeah, right), I googled (another word to love) “EPA Section 608 Certification” and came up with 234,000 sites - of which Mainstream was listed fourth, by the way.

The main point is that technicians who handle refrigerants need at the very least to be EPA certified to do so. The ways to get that done these days are varied, and fairly easy compared to the early days of sitting in a classroom and taking a written test.

Just remember: Taking that test is required, and passing allows you to work with refrigerants. Fact of the matter is, even if you passed the exam, it wouldn’t hurt to use some of these new resources to brush up on your knowledge. It is getting too easy not to do so.

Publication date: 03/12/2007