Angela D. Harris

When considering new technology for the HVACR industry, cutting edge education tools should not be last on the list of things to invent. Printed books and a ruler-wielding instructor used to be enough to inspire learning. But in the age of smart phones, Wii, and iPads, a classic textbook with a few extra diagrams isn’t going to be enough to interest the next generation in spending long hours of study to learn how to repair or replace HVACR units. Taking HVACR education to the next level isn’t going to take better information. If the industry is going to attract the next generation to its highly demanding and rewarding ranks, it is going to require a better presentation.


As technicians and manufacturers, the industry knows that installing or repairing any unit is more than slapping a piece of equipment in place or running a few tests. Among other things, it takes skills and knowledge of multiple principles including heating, cooling, refrigerant, electrical, etc.

To learn these skills, manufacturers, distributors, contractors, and trade schools offer instructional classes. Some of these are hands-on instruction, but much of the knowledge is conveyed via lecture and printed instructional material. Occasionally there will be a video or two, but this is not enough for the potential technicians who have been using computers since they were four. What they require is connectivity and interactive learning experiences so that they can engage and acquire the knowledge at a new level of understanding.


Fayetteville Technical Community College (FTCC) in Fayetteville, N.C., is leading the charge of making interactive learning and design a common offering among technical and trade schools by teaching and using interactive three-dimensional (i3D) technology. This technology has been in use by the military and government for quite sometime, but the cost has previously been prohibitive in education and general populous applications. It is not necessarily a new technology, but its availability to the common market has increased exponentially. Seen in films like Avatar, i3D is no longer science fiction.

Education professionals at all levels are investigating the possibilities to improve classroom instruction and what many are finding is that students now expect that when they see something it will react.

In the Advanced Visualization and Interactive Design Center located in the Harry F. Shaw building at FTCC, students are learning different trades via i3D. Currently these special programs have been designed and implemented for dental technologies, funeral services, computer information technology, and criminal justice programs. More are in development, but i3D curriculum is only at its humble beginnings and widely unavailable. Some say it is like having a printing press with no books to print.


FTCC is not only creating this curriculum, but it is training a new technical community of professionals as it instructs and grants i3D degrees to Simulation Modeling Technicians. These students attend multiple classes as they learn to understand and manipulate not only the 3-D world, but also the i3D world. As part of their final classes, some will participate in a final capstone project that requires them to interact with the real world and create an i3D world for a new classroom setting or environment.

This amazing technology has some interesting possibilities in the HVACR industry. Imagine a student tearing down a complete a/c unit to visualize and inspect the way it fits together and works. Consider what benefit an immersive learning laboratory that allowed an HVACR student to do a complete visual walkthrough of his first install or repair call without ever leaving the building could provide both the student and the contractor.

As the industry preaches better technology and higher standards, it should consider what message it continues to send with old school training techniques.

What would happen if the HVACR industry threw its hat into the i3D world? The outcome is unclear, but disregarding its value to training the next HVACR generation could leave us looking for some new rulers and possibly a blinking light or two.

Publication date:06/21/2010