AS002 Remote workshop bench practicals for Electrical Lineworkers and Technicans

Background

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Media Coverage


Read the Flex-e-News article on this project

Project Summary

In this pilot project we aimed to enrich distance training for regionally-based students in the electrical industry (from regional NSW) by offering "live" access to remote bench-based equipment. The students in this case benefited from being able to complete a significant part of the practical requirements of their training package Unit without the need to travel long distances and stay away form home. Students were able to go online to experiment with “real” equipment. This allowed them to practice skills safely and reduce the frequency of travel to physical workshops. We used cutting-edge but accessible technologies to provide access to actual equipment such as circuit boards, oscilloscopes and multi-meters. Students booked individual sessions or joined an online class for demonstration sessions. The online practical sessions were complemented by providing students with inexpensive kits of basic equipment, plus class-based physical workshop sessions and final assessment. The actual physical workshop sessions were shorter than usual because the students had been able to "practice" online and with their own kits.
The success of this project is being used to promote advanced "live" interactive e-learning to other power utilities and RTO’s.

How will the project improve learner access to improve employment outcomes?
Almost all students (approx. 10 to 15) for the pilot project are employees located in regional NSW (Essential Energy services regional areas rather than Sydney metro). E-learning by nature provides efficient delivery but our aim is to enrich delivery with remote access to equipment, which will certainly improve students’ value to the employer.

How does this project align to the jurisdictional and national priorities?
Electrical Lineworkers are identified (34221 ) as a priority occupation federally and the Certificate III in ESI – Distribution (UET30209) is a “high” priority on the NSW 2011-12 Skills Priority List, as is the Diploma (UET50109).

Consultation with stakeholders
The students are part of a joint project initiated by Essential Energy. One object of this project was to measure the outcomes of this group of students and compare to a traditional "block release" group.

Intended outcomes from your project

What do you hope to achieve with the funding?
Students achieved near completion of a Unit (UEENEEE003B) from the Core of the UET09 training package towards their Certificate III.

Students will be able to complete a larger portion of the Unit remotely by completing interactive practical sessions on “real” equipment online, reducing physical workshop attendance by increasing e-learning effectiveness.

The EIT will develop additional capacity with advanced e-learning capabilities, and this will be demonstrated to other RTOs and employers (in fact, the part of the project is to offer “demonstration” classes online for employers in the electricity supply industry).

Actual Outcomes resulting from this project

What was done?
We used Blackboard Collaborate to deliver live lectures, supplemented by tutorial sessions (also with Blackboard), plus the Moodle learning management system to deliver assignments and most course materials. As the students progressed through the Unit we provided access to the remote equipment by using the application-sharing features within Blackboard Collaborate, and eventually moved to the “Remote Laboratory” software we have previously developed. This was the ultimate aim of the project: to provide students with remote access to equipment, not just via simulation software but by utilising video feed of actual equipment that they can manipulate via the simulation software. They get to see "real" results.

The remote workshop software is an add-on to the Electromeet webinar software. Electomeet s freely available here: Electromeet and the software required to set up a "lab server" is available by writing to kim.li@idc-online.com.

Students had remote access to equipment such as multi-meters as shown in the second demonstration video below.

For an edited video (6'54") of an actual class in the early stage of this trial click the photo here:

Class.JPG

To watch our short demonstration (3'45") of remote access to workshop equipment click the photo here:

Workshop.JPG

A major outcome of this trial was that the students only need to attend a technical college for 2 days to complete the assessment for the Unit compared to the 5 days or more using traditional methods. And everyone was pleased to see that the students passed their assessment, with scores ranging from 74% to 93%.

These links and this page are being publicised to the Electricity Supply Industry in the hope that by sharing this information we can encourage other providers to develop similar methodologies.

Benefits experienced by

Lead agent: Staff at the Engineering Institute of Technology have been able to refine the method used to deliver the practical sessions. We have been able to develop comprehensive "how to" guides for our own use and these can be made available to others who want to develop their own remote workshops and labs. We've also refined the software and improved the use of video feeds so that students can readily watch the results of their experimentation remotely.
Partner(s): The cost of travel and accommodation is significant when students (employees) are geographically spread over a large area. This pilot has demonstrated the potential to gain measurable efficiencies when training is offered which may otherwise have been thought of as 100% workshop-based. This has provided a model for "blended" delivery; not replacing the practical sessions but delivering them by combining online and physical class-based sessions.
Learners: As noted above, in the final assessment of the Unit the students obtained test scores ranging from 74% to 93%. The students did not need to lose as much time in travel and overnight stays.

Reflections and Suggestions

Software:
As expected, we needed to test and rehearse, then test again before presenting the practicals in a live online environment.
We were also surprised that some of the students, given the experiences of their generation and young age, required extra guidance until they became comfortable with the software - we cannot assume computer literacy.
Most aspects of the webinars went well, but the use of video requires bandwidth of 150kBits/s and above as a minimum if it is to be most effective.
Human factor:
We certainly achieved efficiency of delivery and achieved the "business" aims. One factor which surprised us was some disappointment amongst some students because the full "block release" model that some of their colleagues experienced is accompanied by travel allowances, use of company vehicles, and overnight hotel stays, all of which can be attractive to young students. These apparent benefits to the students need to be weighed against the efficiencies of remaining at the workplace for a longer period.
Workplace acceptance:
Some minor intervention at individual students workplaces was required to ensure that when they joined online sessions they were given a "quiet space" in which to participate. Initially some had to join live online sessions in noisy environments with some exposure to the elements.
Kits essential:
We could not rely solely upon the live online practical sessions to prepare the students for their actual workshop session. We needed to put together and send basic kits to individual students. These kits contained an inexpensive multi-meter, basic circuit board ("bread board"), and basic components. This gave students the ability to practice online then continue practice with their own equipment. It is our hope that as remote workshop software develops and broadband capacity improves we will be able to provide access to more sophisticated (and expensive) equipment without the need to provide "kits".

Sustainability of project outcomes

We intend to move onto delivery of other Units for this group of students this year and to assess the final outcomes in a few months' time. It is in our interest to promote successful use of eLearning technologies, and we have already made two trips to other states in Australia to promote the technologies used in this pilot to other power companies.
As the NBN rolls out we believe that blended delivery such as this will become widely accepted as part of the normal delivery of many Units.

We have presented an overview of this project to other RTO's involved with this project, and we are publicising the project to the training departments of major power companies across Australia. We have also presented a summary as part of the Training Providers Forum in May 2012.

You can download a PDF copy of the presentation here:


For a copy of the detailed instructions about how to set up remote workshops / labs please follow this link.

We encourage other RTO's to contact us.

Acknowledgement

This is a an Access to Skills project output, developed by Engineering Institute of Technology and Essential Energy with seed funding from the National VET e-learning strategy.

For more information

For more information from Engineering Institute of Technology

Ric Harrison
Engineering Education Manager
08 9321 1702
ric.harrison@eit.edu.au

For more information from Essential Energy

Graeme Unicomb
Learning Resource Developer
02 6588 4572
Graeme.Unicomb@essentialenergy.com.au


For more information on the Access to Skills program:

Phone: (08) 9229 5200
Email: accesstoskills@dtwd.wa.gov.au
Website: www.flexiblelearning.net.au