I’m (slowly) coming around….

Before reviewing the Week 5 readings and videos, my first-instinct answer to “what forms of student/student-instructor interactions do you plan to implement” would have honestly been NONE!  The course itself is online, asynchronous, with on-demand enrollment all year, and very brief.  At only 2-3 hours long, it’s unlikely that two students will be “online” at the same day and time to facilitate interactions. Participant feedback from past safety courses was also very unfavourable towards synchronous teaching.  (Perhaps my target audience is primarily introverts, and/or from cultures that are uncomfortable challenging instructors or other students as noted in Teaching in the Digital Age.  Professors are also often uncomfortable taking the same classes as their students.

In any case, after reviewing the readings and videos, I can see that there is exceptional value in these interactions.  How I can effectively introduce them into my own course is still a bit of a challenge, given the course format, enrollment situation and audience; I want the interactions to work towards the learning objectives and be seen to have value.  Given that this is a blog post, I’m very much looking forward to feedback from my classmates – surely there are some great ideas out there!

Once approach I can take (which is admittedly out of my comfort zone) is introductory videos.  I can certainly relate to Michael Wesch in his video Make Super Simple Videos for Teaching Online.  Like him, I am very uncomfortable in front of the camera.  However, I do see the need to personalize my online class, for the class itself and for my role as Safety Coordinator in general.  My past online instructors at Columbia Southern University were required to post an introductory video, and in many cases, this was the only ‘personal’ interaction (even if it wasn’t actually interactive).  Too often, I get to know our graduate students via name and email alone.  An introductory video with some personal facts and my connection to the class would hopefully encourage other students to post the same introductory videos, or at least feel comfortable reaching out in other ways.  Individuals could record videos of themselves on FlipGrid (still to be explored), or possibly Zoom or simply with the video feature of smartphones, whichever ultimately aligns best with participant needs and UR Courses:

This would go a long way towards encouraging students to reach out to me if they have problems with the class, other problems beyond the class, or to simply say hello when we see each other in the hallways or labs.  Relationships are a critical part of safety culture, and we have clearly missed these opportunities in prior course offerings.  Video introductions should also encourage students reach out to each other, especially among those in the same engineering program or lab.  A introductory survey to ask students about themselves may have similar value, as suggested in Building Community in an Online Course.

Another approach I will attempt is a forum of some kind, either on Discord or within UR Courses.  (Engineering students tend to be quite fond of Discord, however I’m unsure whether the older generations may be uncomfortable with this.  I have not yet used the UR Courses forum feature, so this remains to be explored as part of my decision making).  As part of the course, I can encourage participants to post questions on the forum, ideas for discussion, case studies that they may be aware of, and so on.  I’m unsure at this point whether to make it mandatory; brand new students with little experience might not have much to contribute.  More experienced students and professors may be leery of disclosing anything that could look unfavourably on their research group or disclose research “secrets”.  Perhaps there will just be encouragement with an explanation of value, or perhaps there may be bonus points for participation.  At the very least, a student completing the course by themselves would still benefit from questions posed by past participants.  To help ensure the content is meaningful and engaging, I would post targeted prompts, rather than leaving the content open-ended.  I would also establish clear goals, monitor content, and add additional probing questions where needed to clarify posts and perhaps encourage deeper thinking.  Much like the course itself, I would focus on critical thinking, using existing engineering skills to anticipate what went wrong or what could have gone wrong, how to prevent incidents, and so on.

The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science already has a list of guidelines for online student interactions, much like described in Teaching in a Digital Age.  In terms of my own interactions with the students, I intend to regularly monitor the forum (whether Discord or UR Courses) and provide feedback as needed.  Direct contact with me will be available through UR Courses email or university email.  In-person office hours and location will be posted in UR Courses, as will drop-in Zoom times (these are commonly used by student advisors).  While I hadn’t considered this previously, 6 Strategies for Building Community in Online Classes emphasizes opportunities for real-time meeting.  Visits in-person or on Zoom could also be arranged by appointment as needed.

Of course, throughout the online component, feedback will also be given directly to students in terms of their short and long answer questions in each module, and ultimately, the final Safe Operating Procedure (SOP) that is progressively developed by each participant.  Participants will be strongly encouraged to not proceed to the next module until the first module is graded by the instructor (or perhaps the course format will be set up to force this).  The intent is to provide feedback when needed, and ensure the SOP development remains on track.

Upon completion of the online asynchronous component, students will proceed to the in-lab instruction with their research supervisor/professor.  As much as possible, to encourage interactions and peer-to-peer learning, professors will be encouraged to provide this instruction to several students at the same time (at least where schedules allow; this depends entirely on how many new students need training and when they arrive).  At minimum, professors will be asked to include a senior student in the lab session, as this may be more comfortable for the participant and they may benefit from that interaction at least.

Ultimately, the value of the course as a whole, including the peer interactions, will be assessed (particularly early in the implementation) through course feedback surveys, interviews with attendees (those who participated well and those who did not), feedback from professors, and so on.  If participation is poor in terms of peer interaction and engagement, it is hoped that course feedback (and possibly ideas from other blog posts) may yield some new, more effective techniques.  In large, the value of the overall course effectiveness will be assessed through compliance monitoring of compressed gas safety practices.  Much data already exists (pre-course implementation) that will help assess if training helped solve the identified performance gap.

 

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Compressed Gas Safety: Teaching the “Experts”?

ANALYSIS

Course Justification

The University of Regina currently has an excellent Chemical & Laboratory Safety (CLS) non-credit course, which includes WHMIS.  (This is the “Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System”, which high school instructors may be familiar with).  The course is blended or hybrid, in that the online theory is presented asynchronously online; this is followed by a 2.5 hour in-person classroom session for hands-on activities. Sessions are limited to 12 participants due to classroom size.  We do mock chemical spill cleanup, mock chemical storage exercises, and practice donning and doffing personal protective equipment.  The best and most entertaining part is a fire simulator, which realistically simulates the use of a fire extinguisher:

CLS is mandatory training for anyone using a chemical lab – no lab keys are provided until we see that certificate!  Training is renewed every three years.  The participants can include MASc and MENG students, PhD students, post-doctoral fellows, and principal investigators (PIs). The Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science also has a mandatory general safety orientation online, which supplements the CLS training.

While the CLS training is worthwhile and necessary, it is still just a general introduction to most lab hazards. Training does not go more in-depth due to instructor limitations, limitations on classroom availability, lack of a “training laboratory” on campus, and feedback from participants (who really wants longer training?) Current practice leaves the burden of lab-specific hazard training to the supervisors (PIs). However, in some ways, this might be setting up the PIs and students for failure. Students enter the lab not really knowing what questions to ask or what to be concerned about.  They are ill-equipped to develop adequate safe operating procedures (SOPs). PIs are certainly subject matter experts (SMEs) when it comes to their own research, yet we’re unfairly assuming the PIs are experts about all hazards. We’re also unfairly assuming they have the required resources and skills to pass along to their lab users during their site-specific lab orientations.

This has become particularly evident when it comes to compressed gas safety. Safety practices (transportation, use and storage) have consistently been cited in research safety audits, both internal and external. Audits have included lab inspections, review of near-miss reports, review of SOPs and policies, interviews with PIs and students, and surveys of graduate students.  Action items from these audits have led to the creation of various job aids, updated procedures, educational communications, and micro-learning opportunities. While these efforts have made improvements, compressed gas issues continue to be cited during inspections.  Students and many PIs, through no fault of their own, do not seem to understand nor appreciate the risk of injury, and work practices reflect this.

(Most people are probably like I was in my early career; we see gas cylinders of helium at Dollarama and propane with our BBQs and think, how harmful can they really be?  Grant Higgins in Understanding by Design – Overview of UBD & The Design Template asks “what misunderstandings are predictable”?  This is a common one. Truth be told, a damaged or leaking gas cylinder can cause significant property damage, injury, or death, not to mention disruptions to research and reputational damage. Criminal charges can also be laid in instances of serious neglect. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports approximately 20 deaths and 6,000 injuries annually due to compressed gas accidents).

 

These research safety audits and subsequent initiatives have (unintentionally) served as a training needs analysis, and indicate that dedicated compressed gas safety training is necessary (Instructional Design on a Shoestring).  These needs have already been presented to the Faculty Administrator, Associate Dean of Research, and the faculty’s Local Safety Committee; all have provided their full support for this initiative.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) actually publishes two environmental, health and safety (EHS) safety training standards: ANSI Z490.1 relates to all delivery methods, and ANSI Z490.2 addresses online EHS training. Common to both of these standards is the use of the training design and development methodology known as ADDIE, where A = Analysis, D = Design, D = Development, I = Implementation, and E = Evaluation.  The ADDIE model (Instructional Design on a Shoestring, among many others) was subsequently used to methodically analyse the student population demographics, including potential benefits and challenges. In the analysis phase, a course overview was also provided, along with a description of the learning environment. The design phase led to creation of course-level objections, instructor approach, and decisions related to major platforms, educational technologies, specific learning objectives, assessment methods, and learning materials.  The ADDIE template (analysis and design stages only for now) for compressed gas safety training is included here.

Target Audience

In some ways, all members of the target audience have strong similarities.  All are engineers (at minimum, an undergraduate degree), all have completed the CLS training, and all have completed the faculty’s general safety orientation.  Despite this, there will be varying demographics and levels of experience. A large majority are international students with English as an additional language, and may face some language barriers in learning.  Ages will vary considerably, ranging from new graduate students to principal investigators who may be in their 60s. Level of experience with the subject matter will also vary.  Some graduate students may have had few hands-on labs in their undergraduate studies. Some graduate students may have years of experience in academia and/or industry.  At the other extreme are PIs who have conducted lab-based research for decades, who may already believe that they are SMEs in this area.  Or, they may believe that there are no significant hazards, as they have never had an accident.  This is a common barrier in safety training, and will likely be the greatest challenge in course development and implementation. (How do you teach someone who thinks they know everything already??Attitudes towards additional mandatory training will likely vary with experience).

As with any target audience, there will also be differences in learning styles, or mental health issues or exam anxiety that may interfere with performance; some students may have academic accommodations already in place.  Some may also struggle with motivation (Teaching in a Digital Age), although the need to access their research lab should adequately motivate most students. Motivation may be a bigger issue for the PIs. It is also important to remember that some students and PIs, especially with the initial roll-out of training, may have taken CLS training up to three years ago; their memory of fundamental WHMIS concepts may have lapsed.

Course Overview

To effectively influence safe work practices, it is necessary to teach theory and fundamentals regarding WHMIS and how it applies to compressed gases. Specifically, it is critical that participants understand the physical and health hazards, as well as non-WHMIS mechanical hazards. Based on these hazards, there are fundamental concepts, hazard control measures and safe practices related to transport, storage, disposal, and emergency procedures.  There are also special considerations for certain commonly used gases (oxygen, acetylene, hydrogen, toxic gases, cryogens, etc.) that must be conveyed.  Training would not be complete, however, without hands-on activities as well. For instance, safe transport can certainly be introduced in a lecture, however a person cannot properly be deemed competent without a supervisor or course facilitator observing them in practice. (We can watch videos all we want, but it’s an entirely different story to personally maneuver a bulky, slippery, 1.5m tall cylinder that can weigh 40kg or more. Some individuals simply cannot do it, and will require lab-based accommodations).

Because the course will require a significant amount of theory, and will also require some hands-on lab practice, the course will be blended/hybrid as described in Teaching in the Digital Age.  (Limitations regarding instructor availability and classroom availability also help justify this format. Participant feedback from years ago, when CLS training was offered entirely in-person, was also not favourable and difficult to coordinate given teaching/class schedules). The theory will be presented online and asynchronously, as students require training throughout the year, on demand. Once the online component is complete, the hands-on lab sessions will be coordinated.  These will be one on one sessions with the individual’s supervisor, in the individual’s own lab (obviously following train-the-trainer sessions for these PIs, which will be provided by the online course facilitator).  In some situations, if a PI has several new students simultaneously, this hands-on training may be provided to multiple students at the same time. Such arrangements will be encouraged where feasible, as students will benefit from peer interactions.

Learning Environment

As much as possible, the course content will be designed to appeal to engineers and academics, and will use different methods of presenting materials to appeal to different learning styles.  Grant Higgins asks “what provocative questions will foster inquiry, understanding, and transfer of learning?”  Provocative questions will certainly be a priority. Our students and PIs are strongly motivated by the “why” – they want to know the science behind the safety requirements as opposed to a long list of rules and regulations. According to Training and Development for Dummies, adults in general need to know why they should learn something before investing time.  (By the way, there is absolutely no shame in consulting this book!)

Relevant engineering case studies and scenarios applicable to research activities will be used whenever possible. Additional, optional readings will also be included to appeal to those curious participants who truly wish to learn more. (Appealing to the experienced PIs will be the greatest challenge, however it is hoped that the case studies and additional readings may be relevant to their own teachings, for this course and others). Given the on-demand need for training, asynchronous online instruction cannot be avoided without causing unnecessary delays in training and lab access. While there are benefits to synchronous instruction and peer connections, the asynchronous format will appeal to those who like to space out their learning sessions, need additional time due to language barriers, have learning accommodations, or simply have busy schedules and need flexibility. As mentioned in Teaching in a Digital Age, the online learning format is also well-suited to more mature students, students who already have a high level of education, and students who also have employment and/or family commitments.  These characteristics describe the vast majority of course participants.

Canvas and Google Classroom were explored as possible Learning Management Systems (LMS) for the online component (thanks so much to classmates who provided advice and demonstrations in this area – especially Amber)!  While the features and overall appearance of Canvas appeared to be superior to UR Courses, UR Courses (Moodle) was ultimately chosen as the LMS for this course. The pros simply outweighed the cons: students already have access and are familiar with this LMS, all safety (and credit) courses are on UR Courses, and the facilitator (me) is familiar with the basic features of this system. The university Information Services department can also provide student and facilitator technical support, content backup/security, and bulk enrollments as needed.  Secure storage of safety training records is also a legal requirement, so this level of security is vital.

It is expected that the course itself will be built using Lumi, in combination with features on UR Courses.  This will facilitate use of interactive videos, activities (such as matching games), and other Lumi features that will become familiar in coming weeks.  UR courses also has features that will be useful in formative and summative learning assessments (short answer, long answer, true/false questions, and a glossary feature that will be useful for students struggling with language barriers or limited lab experience. Even for students proficient in English, they may be unfamiliar with technical terms used in Safety Data Sheets or SDSs).  Where appropriate, openly sourced YouTube videos, case studies, photos and animations will be used. Additional videos and animations may be created using We Video, InVideo (AI-generated videos, to be used with caution!), Doodly, and/or Powtoon (thanks again to classmates who provided advice for these apps as well).  Wherever possible, video closed captioning or transcripts will be provided to aid those with accommodations, different learning styles, and/or language barriers (Instructional Design on a Shoestring). UR Courses will also facilitate contact between the students and the course facilitator, as will the facilitator’s open office hours.

While the online instruction is asynchronous, it is still possible (and likely) that multiple students will be studying the material at the same time.  As Discord is popular among engineering students and used in some of their credit classes, this will be an optional activity for compressed gas safety training. Because the course is asynchronous, monitoring will require more dedicated time by the course facilitator (The Landscape of Merging Modalities – Valerie Irvine). However, it will give students and the instructor opportunities to engage and interact, posting questions and suggestions related to the course content. The more veteran students and PIs will also be encouraged to share their experiences, case studies, near-misses and lessons learned to Discord; this will help show participants that their experience has value.  In practice, the course content will be periodically updated for continuous improvement; this input on Discord will ultimately help ensure course content is as relevant and beneficial as possible.

The learning environment for the hands-on sessions will be the individual’s own research lab. This will ensure the student is receiving training that is directly applicable to their own workspace, using gas(es) and equipment available to them during research. As Wiggins suggests, the intent is to impart authentic performance tasks so students can demonstrate their learnings.

There are multiple reasons to have PIs provide this hands-on component within their own labs, as opposed to the online course facilitator. First, the online course facilitator simply does not have time to provide these individual sessions, even if a “teaching lab” did become available.  Research labs are used by hundreds of people at any given time, and the time commitment would be unreasonable.  Second, PIs still have a legal responsibility to provide (and document) site-specific training to those they supervise; they should be doing this anyway (but currently need support with this aspect).  With PIs providing the training, it will also be an opportunity to answer questions directly related to the individual’s upcoming research.   (The online course facilitator is a SME in compressed gas safety, but not an expert in individual research projects. These are questions that the course facilitator typically could not answer). It is hoped that by training the PIs to teach this component themselves (as they should be doing anyway), it will also promote good working relationships between the students and their supervisors.

Access and cost are not expected to be limitations. Training will be provided to anyone who needs it within the faculty, free of charge. (Other online compressed gas safety courses are available online, with external providers, but would place an unfair financial burden on students. These courses are also too generic for application to our research labs, and do not include the essential hands-on training).

For the online component, students and PIs would have access to stable internet and computers within their campus offices/lounges and likely at home as well, given the nature of their studies and teaching duties. If all else fails, the library is available. The primary limitation, from the perspective of participants, is likely their time, particularly for the PIs. However, attempts will be made to recognize prior knowledge, segment learning, and condense information as much as possible while still meeting learning objectives.

A potential challenge for the hands-on component may be the willingness and availability of PIs for this training.  However, as mentioned, site-specific training is a critical aspect of their supervisory duties and necessary before students can proceed with their research anyway (regardless of this course).  Effective communications and strong support from the Dean and Local Safety Committee will therefore be essential to implementation.

DESIGN

Course-Level Objectives

The course-level objectives are as follows, as obtained from the ADDIE template:

  1. Understand the purpose of this course, and potential consequences of no training;
  2. Understand the policies, codes, and regulations that apply to compressed gas use;
  3. Define what a compressed gas cylinder is;
  4. Understand WHMIS classifications and safe precautions;
  5. Locate the SDS(s) for compressed gas(es) in use;
  6. Determine the potential physical, health, and mechanical hazards of compressed gas(es) in use;
  7. Learn the safe handling practices for transport, usage, and disposal;
  8. Learn the emergency procedures related to compressed gases;
  9. Develop a Safe Operating Procedure for each compressed gas in use, which addresses purchase, transportation, usage, disposal, and emergency procedures;
  10. Competently display an ability to complete the hands-on laboratory activities, including transportation, storage, regulator use, leak checks, and emergency procedures.

The first two modules of the course, for the purpose of EC&I 834, will address the first six learning objectives.

Instructional Approach

Specific learning objectives, paired with the assessment techniques and learning materials, are detailed on the ADDIE template. To summarize:

Module 1 will address learning objectives 1-5, and will essentially be a “back to the basics” unit, to ensure all learners are on the same page regardless of background and experience.  It will introduce the rationale for the course, policies, codes and regulations, define “what is a gas cylinder” (just to be clear), and an optional WHMIS pre-test.  If experienced participants think they are already knowledgeable in this area (perhaps if they just previously completed CLS training), they may take a short quiz to test their knowledge. If they pass, they can skip the subsequent WHMIS review. As emphasized in Accessible Elements: Teaching Science Online and at a Distance and Training and Development for Dummies, recognizing prior learning is crucial for adult student motivation and ultimate buy-in.

The WHMIS review will be followed by a critical thinking exercise, which will appeal to the more experienced participants and curious students. An engineering accident case study will be provided, and participants will be asked to postulate (based on what they know so far) what went wrong, and how the accident could have been prevented.

This will be followed by an “apply your knowledge” exercise to locate the SDS of the gas(es) they intend to use (with an alternate gas suggested if students are unsure), using the university’s ChemFFX database.  (A limitation at this stage is that ChemFFX must be accessed from on-campus). Short answer questions will relate to the type of gas and hazard classifications.  This information will then be populated into the SOP template, to be expanded upon in subsequent modules.

Throughout this module, there will be frequent videos, lab “what-if” scenarios, and interactive formative questions for students to “check their knowledge”.  Automatic and explanatory feedback will be provided, so students can learn from their wrong answers.  There will be a summative quiz at the end of the module to ensure comprehension; a minimum score of 80% will be required to proceed. Multiple attempts will be allowed, however.

Module 2

The second module will address learning objective number 6, specifically the physical, health and mechanical hazards of compressed gases.  Again, there will be lectures and videos illustrating how the hazards can cause damage, injury, or death.  Every attempt will be made to use case studies that are relevant to engineering programs and research, and to explain the science behind the hazards.  Again, there will be similar critical thinking and apply your knowledge exercise, where students speculate about how the hazards could be controlled in a laboratory.  There will be formative quizzes and activities with immediate response, followed by a summative quiz again at the end of the module.

As for the SOP development, students will again refer to their SDS and add information about the three types of hazards.

Remaining Modules

The overarching goals of the course are learning objectives 9 and 10 (module 9 online, and module 10 in-person).  Each progressive module and learning objective will facilitate this by methodically building on theory and background knowledge. There will be an opportunity at each stage to complete a new section of the SOP template, thereby slowly and methodically building a SOP that can be used during hands-on training and during subsequent research. (Note that quality of SOPs was another issue cited during research safety audits; this training will help address that issue as well).

Overall Comments

As mentioned before, the course will be developed using Lumi and housed on UR Courses.  Educational technologies will include YouTube, We Video, InVideo, Doodly and Powtoon.  More may be added as the course development progresses.  SDS acquisitions will use the university’s SDS database, ChemFFX.  Discord will be used to facilitate peer/instructor communications and course input whenever feasible.

The in-person component will be conducted in the individual’s own research lab, with their own supervisor. To support this activity, various job aids will be developed to guide the in-lab instructors.  This will likely include resources developed on Canva , open-source content, and an evaluation checklist developed using iAuditor.

Ultimately, in order to receive a certificate of completion and obtain access to their research lab(s), students will need to upload their site-specific orientation checklist (including the hands-on compressed gas safety activities) to UR Courses.

Future Developments

As always, this ADDIE template is subject to change as new technologies are discovered, and new challenges or limitations are encountered. It is hoped that much can be learned by providing feedback on the plans of classmates (and from feedback that is provided for mine!)

While EC&I 834 only requires development of two modules, the intent is to develop the entire course for implementation as a mandatory requirement in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Course development and potential platforms/technologies have been discussed with one of the Software Systems Engineering instructors in our faculty. Plans are in the works to develop a proposal for subscription to Adobe Captivate, for use in a future version of compressed gas safety, and future credit and non-credit courses. (An older Adobe Captivate version is already used by this instructor, and has received many positive reviews; it also integrates well with UR Courses).  One attractive feature is the ability to incorporate virtual reality, which would be ideal for safety training applications. This idea will be proposed to the Fall 2024 software engineering capstone students as a possible final project.

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Hidden dangers….

Question of the week:  What are my experiences and perceptions related to blended learning and or technology integration in my professional context?

History

When I began my career in occupational health and safety, safety training was strictly a synchronous, in-person event in a classroom setting.  Technology was limited to power point presentations and a few videos.  While this afforded many opportunities for the necessary hands-on activities, much of the time was spent passively listening to lectures about theory and safety regulations.  This presented numerous challenges, primarily the amount of time required for such an in-person event. Attendance and resulting safety compliance was often poor, as it was nearly impossible for a full-time student or professor to find eight consecutive hours for training purposes. Such an approach often did not meet the diverse needs of students; many spoke English as an additional language. Classes consisted of first-year students with no prior knowledge of the subject matter, along with professors who may have completed the training numerous times in the past.  There was no recognition of prior knowledge, and no possibility for students to learn at their own pace.

Bored students…

Current Status

The modality of safety courses at the University of Regina has evolved much like the history described in The Landscape of Merging Modalities .  Today, a few of the optional safety courses on campus are fully online and asynchronous; these are highly accessible, convenient, and allow learning at one’s own pace. Such a format is common for continuous professional development courses, as mentioned in Teaching in a Digital Age (Chapter 10). These courses are typically outsourced however, and there are costs incurred by the university and sometimes the students themselves. These online courses may be appropriate when the learning objectives do not include hands-on skills development.  However, most mandatory safety courses are now offered in a blended, hybrid format. Students asynchronously complete course pre-requisites on a Learning Management System (UR Courses), and then attend two-hour in-person sessions where essential hands-on skills are mastered. Online course content includes videos, interactive “test your knowledge” exercises, links to external sites for further reading, and online exams to confirm course completion and comprehension.  Course animations are also particularly beneficial for safety training applications, as they can safely demonstrate what not to do, and what can go wrong if safety requirements are not met.

Adding this technology and teaching in this format has streamlined safety training considerably, making the best use of both the instructor’s time and that of the students. As opposed to the traditional classroom models Teaching in a Digital Age (Chapter 4), participants are able to complete the course prerequisites at their own pace, and access additional readings if unfamiliar with the subject matter or terminology.  According to course feedback, the online prerequisites are less stressful and more engaging than attending a full day lecture, and more accessible to those with scheduling and language challenges.  A challenge with this integration can be familiarity and comfort with technology, along with access to technology. This could be a significant issue in some workplaces, but in the university setting is rare.

Hidden Dangers…

As educators in EC&I 834, our class discussion yielded many different opinions of what online and blended learning actually means. Valerie Irvine, in The Landscape of Merging Modalities, notes “On today’s higher education campus, there are likely a dozen new terms being used to describe different configurations around the modality of courses”.  We have to remember that our audience will have different perceptions and expectations also.

A “hidden danger” – literally – to changing course modality (at least for safety training purposes) is the potential for changes in learning outcomes and unmet expectations of students.  This has been particularly evident when synchronous, in-person safety courses moved to the other end of the continuum, as described in Teaching in a Digital Age (Chapter 10), and became fully online.  The pandemic spurred many of these changes in safety education, as in-person training was no longer considered safe, but some form of safety training was still necessary.  A flood of online courses became available over a short period of time. As mentioned in this book, many instructors and institutions have simply transferred existing classroom content online, “often with poor or even disastrous results”.

One example is H2S Alive, which the university outsources to external training providers.  H2S Alive is considered the training standard for the petroleum industry, some industrial environments, and some applications in environmental engineering.  This is an eight hour synchronous, in-person class which is renewed at least every three years (or annually for some employers).  While the course covers a great deal of theory, there are many practical skills that must be learned and practiced repeatedly.  These include the use of a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), use of electronic gas monitors, rescue techniques, and first aid.  Failure to meet these learning objectives could be fatal.

With in-person H2S Alive courses suddenly inaccessible or unwise during a pandemic, asynchronous “H2S Safety” courses became an option for online training. These online courses typically include the same core theory of H2S Alive, but are for usually for awareness purposes only.  In course development, Teaching in the Digital Age (Chapter 10) noted the importance of identifying the main skills to be taught, and analysing the most appropriate delivery mode for each learning objective; this seems to be lacking in the H2S Safety courses. They do not meet the critical learning objectives related to SCBA, monitoring, or emergency response, yet this is often not made clear in course descriptions.  The online course alone is not sufficient training for those in Canada who could encounter lethal concentrations of this toxic gas.

The danger is that many employers or supervisors and students assume the two classes are interchangeable.  The online courses place the onus on the employer or supervisor to essentially create a blended format on their own, by providing the hands-on learning themselves when they are often not qualified to do so.  If these learning objectives are not made clear, consequences could be lethal for the trainee and potentially criminal for the employer.  As mentioned in The Landscape of Merging Modalities, “higher education institutions offering courses today must do more to communicate course offerings and their modality to potential learners up front and may be required to do so more than once, to ensure comprehension”.  Simply “delivering the same design online does not automatically result in meeting changing needs” (Teaching in a Digital Age, Chapter 4). Providers of these courses must be clear about what the training is, and what it is not.

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Welcome!

Welcome to my blog (my first!) for EC&I 834, “Designing for Online and Blended Learning”.

A little about me….well, I am not a school teacher, unlike most of my classmates.  (I have four daughters, and have nothing but the utmost respect for you all!  You have one of the most difficult jobs out there in my opinion.)

I started out my career as a research chemist, working in various industries and then in the UofR’s Greenhouse Gas Technology Centre.  Workplace safety was such a significant part of my experiences in industry, so I decided to pursue formal education in Occupational Health & Safety.  Eventually, through distance education, I obtained a certificate from Toronto Metropolitan University.  (I had young children at the time – kudos to my classmates who are juggling these priorities now!)  My employer recognized my efforts, and a new position was created for me: I am now the Health and Safety Services Coordinator for the Faculty of Engineering & Applied Science.

HAZMAT Training

With my new position, I decided to pursue (again) more formal education.  This time, I obtained a Master of Science in Occupational Health and Environmental Management.  This program was also entirely online, from Columbia Southern University in Alabama.  I also completed two online graduate courses from Tulane University in New Orleans, within the public health program.

So how did I end up a student in the Faculty of Education?

There are three reasons:

  1. I’ve realized that it’s great to be a “subject matter expert” in health and safety; BUT, I have a responsibility to teach our students and colleagues HOW to work safely, and how to foster a strong safety culture among our future engineers.  Development of engaging training content is a must.
  2. I have completed close to 20 online courses as a student.  In most cases, the subject matter itself was interesting, but the content was entirely based on power point or word documents; the class format also did not allow for any engagement with the instructor or other students.  There has to be a better way.
  3. Several years ago (pre-COVID), I attended a conference of ATD International.  It truly opened my eyes to the possibilities involved in online and blended learning.

That sums up why I’m here.  Looking forward to learning from you all!