College of the North Atlantic’s School of Industrial Trades provides learners with the skills and knowledge they need to become apprentices and journeypersons in their chosen trade. The Heavy Duty Equipment Technician (HDET) is an Interprovincial Red Seal trade. Graduates can, upon successful completion of their apprenticeship and the Red Seal exam, work as Journeypersons anywhere in Canada. Traditionally, HDET apprentices complete five eight‐week ‘blocks’ of training (totaling 40 weeks), each followed by a mandatory number of hours spent working in their trade. They usually complete their apprenticeship training in three to four years. Apprentices are indenured to a particular employer and paid a specific percentage of the Journeyperson wage rate. Apprentices return to the college on a regular basis to receive further education in their trade while maintaining their employment.
An apprentice learns his or her trade through a combination of (traditionally) classroom‐based technical training and on the job experiential learning, all under the tutelage of a Journeyperson. The Journeyperson, as an expert in the field, actively directs and guides the apprentice in developing the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to succeed in the trade.
The HDET Apprenticeship Blended Learning Pilot
The CNA campus in Labrador West does not offer the HDET program, and therefore HDET apprentices in the Labrador West region of the province have had to travel outside the region to complete their blocks of training. These long‐term absences cause personal hardship for apprentices and their families, and hardship for their employers as they struggle to maintain operations without adequate staffing. A 2011 labor market survey showed that approximately 42% of the HDETs employed in Labrador West are apprentices and that more than 18% of positions remain unfilled. Therefore, any movement of existing apprentices out of the area to study, even in an eight‐week block, puts additional strain on an already overtaxed system.
To help alleviate this burden, CNA campuses in Bay St. George and Labrador West, in cooperation with industry, launched a pilot program in October 2012 to deliver a new type of blended apprenticeship training. In this new model, HDET apprentices from Labrador West remain in their community to complete all of their classroom and a portion of their practical training, under the direct supervision of an HDET program instructor at the Bay St. George campus in Stephenville, some 1600 kilometers (1000 miles) away. The Labrador West apprentices receive their training simultaneously with apprentices at the Bay St. George campus.
Apprentices at both campuses and their instructor were brought together via a state‐of‐the‐art blended learning environment which included:
- A high‐definition two‐way Polycom™ video conferencing unit at each of the two campuses.
- SMART Board™ interactive whiteboards with Bridgit™ conferencing software to broadcast lectures to up to 25 simultaneous screens, allowing engagement from all students.
- A high resolution document/imaging camera so remote apprentices in Labrador West could clearly see the heavy duty equipment components being demonstrated by the instructor in Bay St. George.
- Internet‐enabled “clickers” for student participation and response.
- A learning management system (LMS), Desire2Learn™, which housed course notes and materials to ensure apprentices could access them on‐demand. The LMS was also used to host selfassessment quizzes which apprentices could use to check their learning, as well as summative assessments at the end of each course.
Students learn by doing. That is a central tenet of the apprenticeship model. Apprentices are mentored by a Journeyperson as they learn the skills of their trade. Although the apprentices in Labrador West were not in physical proximity to their instructor, they could interact with him virtually in a number of ways. The classroom portion of the training is primarily theory based, but apprentices were exposed to any number of heavy equipment components in the first eight weeks of classroom instruction. For example, the instructor dismantled a hydraulic actuator, using the video camera to zoom in on what he was doing. After he successfully modeled the activity, the apprentices at each location would duplicate his effort. The instructor closely monitored his apprentices via the video link and was quick to offer help
and suggestions as necessary. Students in one location could complete tasks while students in another watched in real time.
The instructor delivered a three hour session to the networked sites every morning (of the eight week block) from his location at Bay St. George campus. Throughout the morning sessions, at a random but constant pace, drill and practice questions appeared on the interactive whiteboard, testing the apprentices’ grasp of the basic principles they need to understand before they work with dangerous (and expensive) equipment. This enabled the instructor to continually assess the amount and depth of the learning acquired by the apprentices and provided a window into his own teaching style and delivery; correcting and modifying as the course moved forward. The instructor, Greg Ryan, describes his system as “constant assessment creating constant engagement, which often sparks great conversation on course material, igniting camaraderie between the students in various locations.”
One collaborative activity favored by the instructor was to have an apprentice at one location start a diagram on the interactive whiteboard and ask a student from another location to finish it, thus creating interaction amongst students across campuses. Another activity involved an apprentice from one campus wiring images of electrical components together using the interactive whiteboard markers. The instructor then asked an apprentice at the second campus to assess the first apprentice’s performance and make any necessary corrections.
In yet another activity, the instructor disassembled an electrical component such as an alternator, and performed an electrical test of its components while apprentices remotely controlled his video conferencing camera to zoom in to read his multimeter screen. The results of the test were then interpreted. In another scenario, the apprentices disassembled and tested a component while the instructor controlled the camera. The instructor provided coaching and mentoring throughout, until the
apprentices could correctly assess the state of the alternator sub‐components.
In addition to synchronous instruction, the instructor also provided course notes, supplementary learning materials and self‐assessment quizzes in our LMS. These asynchronous tools were accessed ondemand by apprentices to reinforce their learning.
A Flexible Community of Practice
One of the goals of this pilot was to demonstrate that CNA can provide apprentices with high‐quality learning experiences regardless of the mode of delivery. We flipped the existing paradigm on its head. Rather than adapt an existing face‐to face course to allow distance learners to participate, we used the tools and technologies of online learning to provide our local apprentices with the same opportunities and experiences as the remote learners. Ultimately, we aimed to provide both sets of apprentices with a learning environment that nurtured the mentoring relationship so crucial to trades training. The use of technology was the key to our success in bringing all participants together in a community of practice to share their experiences and insights.
The video conferencing suite, which provided the ideal ‘open window’ between the two classrooms, allowed the instructor to not only monitor the apprentices’ attempts at solving physical problems, but to monitor their demeanor for signs that they may need assistance. It allowed the students in Labrador West to zoom in on an item on the instructor’s table so they could see it in detail. It also enabled apprentices at both campuses to interact with each other to collaboratively solve problems.
The clickers used in the pilot transmit over the internet, and enabled apprentices from both locations to interact and learn from each other and the instructor. When the instructor asked a question, apprentices in each location had an equal opportunity to respond anonymously. The clickers also helped the instructor to
teach the students strategies to succeed when writing the high stakes, provincially mandated exams they must pass to enter the next phase of their training. The clickers provided a means of practicing certain skills, such as using a process of elimination to solve problems.
The Bridgit™ conferencing software was used with our SMART Board™ interactive whiteboards to ensure that each location displayed exactly the same material ‐ in real time ‐ with seamless interaction between sites. The apprentices in either location could manipulate items (graphics, hydraulics diagrams, etc.) on their
interactive whiteboard and have the results displayed on the other whiteboard. We used this ability to have the apprentices ‘try out’ behaviors or modifications before they worked with the actual piece of equipment.