When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it forced the closure of most non-essential businesses and education facilities. The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) was no exception. All in-person classes and trainings were halted based on orders from the Governor and the Texas A&M University System. But for the Emergency Services Training Institute (ESTI), this was an opportunity to transform many face-to-face courses into online deliveries.
“We already had some online and blended learning opportunities, but when COVID-19 started shutting down businesses and keeping people in their homes, we felt we could still make a TEEX difference by providing some training for our customers that may be stuck at home and need some training hours,” said John Burge, TEEX Private Sector Program Director.
What came next was a complete team effort from TEEX. The instructors started looking at the current course offerings, and determining which courses had content that could easily be broken out into 1 hour, live-instructor-led classes. It was challenging, but with everyone’s help, they put together almost 40 classes in short order, with another 50 classes on the horizon.
The need for these classes was evident, and TEEX saw the need very early on, according to Gordon Lohmeyer, ESTI Division Director.
“Our customers needs drive TEEX’s training mission. They have many regulatory drivers including those of OSHA, TCFP, TCEQ, FAA and adhering to NFPA standards. During this very uncertain time, amplified by COVID-19 and low Crude Oil prices, the majority of our customers are faced with budget restraints, travel restriction and managing staffing,” Lohmeyer said.
For TEEX instructors who were tasked with creating the classes from already established face-to-face curriculum, the challenge was how to take all the information from a 40-hour course and narrow it down to 1 hour. On top of that, with limited interaction with students to drive your instruction, it was an even bigger challenge.
”All of our Instructors are experts in their field, and teaching is what they love. But teaching it to a pin point camera on top of your laptop has had its challenges,” said Burge. “It’s a lot different than teaching in a live class room where you read and react to your students. what they are understanding with nods and what they missed with funny looks, pinched eyes and looking at their neighbor. You don’t realize how much your pace is dictated by a live classroom and the ebb and flow of it moves with the knowledge of your students until you set down in front of a camera and try to set a rhythm without any feedback.”
Once face-to-face classes can begin again, the plan is to keep these online courses going as way for emergency responders to supplement their learning. It benefits the students by allowing them the chance to keep their knowledge up when they can’t get to College Station, which offers another benefit – cost savings.
“Another big reason is the savings that can be realized by the plant using some of our blended learning options. Instead of sending your 20 team members to College Station for 5 days to take the Pro Board NFPA 1081 Advanced Exterior class, the students can take the first 24hrs online at their own pace over a predetermined time period like a month. Then to complete the 40hr Pro Board course, you show up for the last 16hrs of hands on, written test and team burns. The course was the same price but the company saved on three nights hotel charges, per diem and travel cost. That’s a nice savings for their training budgets and can make their training dollars go further,” said Burge.
All of the online courses currently being offered are available via the TEEX website at teex.org/online. More are added every week.