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BCIT School of Construction taps into new e-learning methods

Jean Sorensen
BCIT School of Construction taps into new e-learning methods

Imagine being in trades training and wanting to know the safety guidelines or correct use of a piece of trade equipment and finding the information in a video after a few taps on your cell phone.

That’s one of the new e-learning techniques that have become a legacy of COVID-19 at the B.C. Institute of Technology’s School of Construction and the Environment, along with other strategies employed to ensure students and apprentices can get the skills information needed when outside the classroom. 

“We are making a big effort in the Institute to add quality to the e-learning models we are already using and trying to make some new application that are very effective,” said school dean Wayne Hand. The applications include on-line teaching modules, videos, simulators, Zoom, and greater access to presentations that aid learning.

Hand said the feedback from students has been encouraging and many of those same techniques can be utilize in the future as needed.

“We are hearing a lot of positives and that is what we will take out of this and keep moving forward,” he said. Apprentices have had classroom time reduced as more e-learning occurs, which is a benefit for out-of-town students. “They are down for a month rather than seven weeks,” he said.

One of the new learning experiences now includes making a 360-degree video of each trade shop. “Similar to what realtors do of a home and have on their website,” he said.  Only rather than showing only rooms, each piece of equipment in the shop is high-lighted, such as a chop saw for example.  Videos can be accessed via cell phone setting out operating guidelines and safety protocol for the chop saw or other pieces of equipment within the shop. There are also videos on YouTube. 

While this new video process began in the joinery shop, it is moving through the other trade areas, Hand said. The advantages are numerous; students arriving at the school will have prior knowledge of the shop’s equipment but will also be able to refer to the videos throughout the course program. The process does not lessen the role of the course instructor who will also go through the same process, said Hand, but the videos serve as a resource for students and apprentices.   

Another example where trade areas have used new teaching methods is in the electrical shop, Hand points out. The electrical trade people were able to shift a good portion of their course material on-line when COVID-19 hit, but there was still some hands-on learning required. “They came up with a way where they can remotely control equipment in the electrical lab,” he said, as students used   programmable logic controllers. 

Adapting new strategies and new ways of dealing with COVID-19 has helped the school come through with minimal disruption to trade students and apprentices, Hand said. COVID-19 hit in March and the impact on the school was varied. “We have real diverse group of students,” he said, adding that diploma, degree and technology students were nearing the end of their term and were easier to shift into on-line learning as opposed to the trades.

But there was approximately six to eight weeks when there was no one on campus. It provided a window for the Institute to determine how it would deal with the trades and apprentices that needed to come back for hands-on training.

The trade program challenges included a tighter time frame within a year-round calendar and staggered classes for apprentices with different start and stop times. The enrollment included two types of students: apprentices coming back for class time and foundation classes for students wanting the fundamental training in order to go out look for a job. 

The school designed sectional work areas, dedicated space and tools to one student, as well as rigorous cleaning protocol and dedicated cleaners and adherence to COVID-19 health guidelines.  

The first trade back on campus the joinery shop, seven students came back where normally 64 would be in the class. It has gradually been increased to 16 students.

The carpentry program followed and had both apprentices and foundation students (in a six-month program gaining industry entry level skills). “The apprentices were working towards their Red Seal,” said Hand. The school launched an assessment of the classroom, yard and shop space.  The decision was made to put foundation classes on hold so that COVID-19 spacing guidelines could be followed. “The apprentices were working and we decided let’s keep the apprentices going,” he said.

The last program back was welding and five aisles with eight workstations and dedicated traffic flows created on the floor plan as wearing masks was not a feasible solution. There were three shifts – with capacity reduced approximately 50 per cent. The school has been able to increase capacity as not all workstations are used.

Providing more e-learning modes has also shown there is the potential to provide trades training to a larger number of students and apprentices in the future, said Hand. 

E-learning, though, doesn’t diminish the critical role the shops play in providing practical training in trades. “We are very much focused on hands-on training,” he said as the school will continue to follow and find balance in a blended model of e-learning and shop time.

Hand said the school will continue as it is doing until spring at least. “Then, we will look at what are the requirements (under COVID-19 health guidelines),” he said. There is the possibility that the school can expand its capacity in the summer as it is possible to stage more training outside.  

However, there is not a large back log of apprentices waiting for class time as they have remained on the job rather than travel to the Lower Mainland, Hand said. “There has been a reduction in the numbers coming back to go to the next level.”

For an example of an online video used as a teaching aid, including questions for students, see


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