Sheet metal training schools find success in e-reader pilot program

Centers in three locations participated in six-month plan to bring tech to education

FAIRFAX, Va. – For the last six months, union sheet metal training centers participated in an e-reader pilot program with the International Training Institute (ITI), the education arm of the sheet metal and air conditioning industry. The program, which officially included three U.S. training centers, provided a partial reimbursement of funds to the participating schools to introduce tablet devices to apprenticeship classes as a way to access textbooks and other educational materials in lieu of paper resources.

Sheet Metal Workers Local No. 12 in Pittsburgh; No. 2 in Kansas City, Missouri; and No. 104 in San Leandro, California participated in the program.

“By design, the ITI offered very little instruction to each training center involved and allowed them to choose how to roll out the program,” said Jonathan Umscheid, ITI software development manager, in a report detailing the pilot program.

In general, across the United States and Canada, textbooks can currently be viewed through the Apple iOS application as well as Windows, which can also run on computers, and the ITI’s Read, or web-based version, which can be accessed from any device with proper login and Internet connection at http://read.sheetmetal-iti.org. The application taps into the same TotalTrack user account and electronic book framework. All apprentices in good standing have access to electronic books using their own devices.

Local No. 12 and Local No. 104 chose Microsoft Surface 2 RT, but the San Leandro local also purchased keyboards. Local No. 2 in Kansas City had started its own e-reader program but joined the ITI’s pilot program and chose the Google Nexus 7 Android-based tablet.

In Pittsburgh and Kansas City, apprentices were responsible for a portion of the cost, and in San Leandro, where the tablets were purchased through the center’s associated college at an educational discount, students are able to purchase their own tablets at the same rate the training center received.

Students were allowed to take home their tablets in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, while tablets in San Leandro remained in the school classrooms.

On all the campuses, wireless routers – and other technology – were needed to make the program successful. In San Leandro, the program showed Ben Rivera, training director, the flaws in the school’s Internet technology.

“It definitely identified challenges for us, more logistical challenges. Is our Wi-Fi up to capacity? Was our server a content server?” Rivera said.  “Overall, it was very positive.”

Apprentices at the three locations had the option to use the best technology for them, including continuing to use the paper books in conjunction with the e-readers and learn additional programs aside from the e-reader applications.

For instance, Rivera’s training center purchased 22 Surface 2 tablets to be used by first- through third-year apprentices while in class. Assignments, books and online training such as foreman certification and HVAC Fire Life Safety I and II are all made possible by the tablets. Also, the ability to teach Microsoft Word and Excel as well as AutoCAD is invaluable to the students, he added.

“Apprentices told us every foreman in their company was using a tablet,” Rivera said. Even when they’re away from campus, apprentices can access their books from any device with an Internet connection through the ITI’s Read application. “They see their foremen using tablets for those programs on the job. So, that was a big deal. And, when they’re on the job, the apprentices have a complete library with them because they have those books.”

The goal is to have the program ready for rollout at additional centers by the new school year, which begins this fall, said Larry Lawrence, ITI field representation and instructional development specialist.

Overall, positive attributes of the program included: students could carry all the books at once in a small, digital package; the books are available immediately on tablets; training directors can shut off accessibility to books by dropouts, and tablets are useful for other applications such as the calculator, TotalTrack, AutoCAD, office applications and a camera, which can be used in coursework.

“The three schools have represented their satisfaction of the e-reader as diversified tools for education,” said James Page, ITI administrator. “We are considering running a second pilot program of the e-readers at additional training centers starting next fall. We would like to hear from some more schools that would like to be considered for a possible pilot program at their school.”

If schools are interested in possibly hosting a second round of the pilot program, contact Umscheid at jumscheid@sheetmetal-iti.org.

More than 15,000 apprentices are registered at 153 training facilities in the United States and Canada. The ITI is jointly sponsored by SMART, the International Association of Sheet Metal Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (formerly the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA).

ITI supports apprenticeship and advanced career training for union workers in the sheet metal industry throughout the United States and Canada. Located in Fairfax, Va., ITI produces a standardized sheet metal curriculum supported by a wide variety of training materials free of charge to sheet metal apprentices and journeymen.

For more information about ITI, visit www.sheetmetal-iti.org or call 703-739-7200.

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