The State of Technology in Trades Education

Education in the Construction Trades is generally faced with a narrowly defined socio-economic group. The apprentices (referred to as ‘rednecks’ in the U.S.) usually grow up in the business, a family business. The expectations placed on them from a young age is that they will take over the company. Other apprentices are friends of family. It is very difficult for a young person from outside of the group to gain access unless he or she knows someone on the inside. And employers generally look for good strong backs.

In our experience at Algonquin College (Ottawa), there is a marked Digital Divide. Not many of  the apprentices get along with computers, few have laptops, and many do not have internet access at home. They like video games and Smart phones because there are no glitches, they work all of the time, and they offer instant gratification. E-learning still has growing pains – slow internet connections on campus, spotty Wi-Fi, compatability problems (Mac vs. PC), Blackboard system is down, etc. Delays and detours leads to disgust and disengagement.

I think that there might be hope for the tablet if we can get the system to work equally as well with the I-pad as with Android devices. Or we could just supply the tablets. Either way, the cost will be greater for the tablet plus the E-texts. Some mechanical trades use laptops and tablets on the job, but not so in construction, at least not for the apprentice. They come to school to learn what is not taught on the job site, to fill in the gaps in their knowledge and skill. Their Certificate of Qualification Exam is paper-based and so it makes sense that their training should be paper-based.

The professors are all tradesmen first and teachers second. There is significant resistance to adopt technology in the classroom since they fear that the learning curve would be too great. There is little incentive to make the change since the work is required to be done on the professor’s time. I think that they would respond well to well-packaged course materials that they could tweak to their own liking. And that will require investment by the college management and by the province. That is why ‘hybrid’ courses are so popular – little investment and less classroom time. But they have generally degenerated to mean less instructional time and more homework.

The conclusions made by Bates ring true. E-learning serves some groups better than others, as noted by the doctors taking Pathology 417, mature independent learners. It is important that a cost-benefit analysis be undertaken to determine if it is well-suited to a particular group, and then to recognise that the production of appropriate learning strategies and materials would require skill and discrimination and  a team of instructional designers, media producers, professors, and students.


Leave a Reply