Shot of a engineer using a digital tablet on a construction site

Digital curriculum opens up learning to all members

Nothing is built and installed in the sheet metal industry without plans and specifications (or specs). Where a piece of duct fits into a plan, how the ventilation is created and where the fine details of a decorative hood belong in a project are all designed according to plan. And for decades, those plans — and the curriculum that taught them — were on paper.

Technology in the industry is constantly evolving, and the bridge between what apprentices were learning in the classroom and the technology they were using on the jobsite had to evolve as well.

RPS Student Manual coverAs of this summer, the Reading Plans and Specifications curriculum has gone digital, complete with textbook, plans, instructor guide and student manual; quizzes and tests in TotalTrack; review questions in an e-learning format; and ready-to-use presentations for instructors.

“The old way, the way they were being taught, didn’t reflect how they were doing it at work anymore,” said David St. Peter, director of research of the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the unionized sheet metal, air conditioning and welding industry. “You want to be as close to reality as possible, and the reality is they’re not flipping paper on the jobs. You’ve got to evolve.”

During the summer, a class was held to get instructors familiar with the new platform. This was followed up by three classes in September, which included about 90 instructors from across the country.

Unique features of the curriculum include the ability to search for certain specs and almost instantly find what you seek. In the past, students highlighted important specs in the book. If a member of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) is looking up a spec on the jobsite, flipping back and forth — not to mention carrying the book — is time consuming and cumbersome. Going digital solves that problem, said Carl Simons, ITI field staff representative.

Because of the digital format, video interviews with subject matter experts are included in the curriculum with a link, where DVDs were previously used. Tony Belluardo, Sheet Metal Workers Local 33 in Ohio; Julie Fifield and Emilio Mariscal, Sheet Metal Workers Local 104 in central and northern California; Sylvester “Wes” Wright, Sheet Metal Workers Local 28 in New York; and Quintin Morales, Sheet Metal Workers Local 105 in Southern California, share how certain chapters of the curriculum relate to real-life sheet metal work, using their personal experiences.

All features of the curriculum can be utilized on iPads, which are issued to apprentices via the ITI iPad program. Although some training facilities may lack updated internet capability, they can apply for an ITI standard grant, which pays 50% up to $20,000 for just about any type of applicable training or equipment, in order to supplement that cost, Simons added.

The new digital curriculum also speaks to the generation of apprentices currently applying to programs and those who have yet to walk in the door.

“In today’s world, anything you can institute that is technology driven is going to be attractive to this generation,” said Mike Harris, ITI administrator. “If you look at all the statistics out there, they’ve grown up on a device. For a lot of them, that’s second nature to them. They’re going to adapt to it.”

A digital curriculum also means the information is more accessible to everyone — from apprentices either living in rural areas or cities far from their training centers to seasoned journey persons who want to brush up on their skills.

“Of course, you want a student to sit in front of an instructor, but with e-learning, any member can take the class online and have a pretty good knowledge of reading plans and specs,” Simons said. “You could essentially teach this class 100% online.”

“Plans and specifications cover everyone,” St. Peter added. “It touches everyone in some way, no matter if you’re an HVAC or architectural specialist. It affects your career.”

For additional information, visit the ITI website.

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