Instructional Design Tips for Virtually Teaching Practical Skills

Article excerpt

Introduction

Many of the challenging computer-based training projects undertaken by the Group for Advanced Information Technology (GAIT) at the Technology Centre of the British Columbia Institute of Technology have taught practical skills. These projects have been initiated because clients or instructors have identified those areas as being problematic. In other words, there are some significant limitations when the skills are taught via traditional methods. There are numerous limitations: ??Learners may not be able to attend teaching/training locations. This is an inherent problem in distance education. Many learners can learn the theory online or through other distance education solutions. However, they may not be able to learn the needed practical skills at a distance. Virtual labs can solve this problem. A demonstration version of a product that teaches both the theoretical and lab components of the reaction kinetics portion of high school chemistry can be downloaded from http://www.tc.bcit.ca/gait/projects/chemistry.shtml

* There may be an inability to teach some content well such as topics requiring simulations. For example, one project was teaching piping students how to test and troubleshoot backflow prevention assemblies. A demonstration version of this project can be downloaded from http://www.construction.bcit.ca/trades/piping/computertraining.shtml

* Logistical challenges can also be problematic such as when experts do not have enough time to travel around the country to teach (i.e., their fulltime job does not leave them with enough time to provide training). One project entailed capturing the expertise of personnel in a spinal cord injury centre of a major hospital on how to move an turn patients with a spinal injury. The resulting program was then freely distributed on CD-ROM and web download to those who needed the training around the world. This award-winning project can be freely downloaded from http://www.tc.bcit.ca/gait/projects/spinal.shtml

* Costs for live training can be prohibitive such as when numerous participants are required to travel to a workshop. One project involved training aircraft mechanics. Costs typically included salary for one day to travel to the workshop location, two days at the workshop, and one day to return home as well as travel, accommodation, and per diem expenses. The resulting CD-ROM allowed mechanics to learn when and where they wanted in approximately one-quarter of the time needed in the workshop.

* Equipment can be a limitation. For example, one way to teach troubleshooting involves taking components out of functioning systems, breaking them, putting them back in, and letting students determine the problem. However, this is impractical because of the time it takes to remove, break, and install components, the cost of later repairing the components, the problem that this needs to be done to many components, and the time required to have all of the students individually determine the problem for each broken component. One simulation was created to address this type of equipment limitation. It entailed teaching piping students how to troubleshoot hot water heating systems. A demonstration version of this project can be downloaded from http://www.construction.bcit.ca/trades/piping/computertraining.shtml

* There may be a requirement for just-in-time learning. One common example is when instructors are hired in post-secondary settings. It is not unusual for the individual to have had no training in how to teach as they are mainly hired for their subject matter expertise. However, they often have to begin teaching before a workshop is available or any formal training can be delivered. GAIT is currently developing a highly-interactive product to deliver basic instructional skills where and when an individual needs it.

The instructional challenge in these projects has been to ensure that the practical skills taught via the computer transfer to the real world. …