White Paper – Is it possible to conduct practical aerospace maintenance training when we are still reluctant to meet in person? – How to go from the Classroom to Online in a Covid World?

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit many industries hard, and companies have had to adapt to new ways of working. For specialist training, classroom face-to-face teaching became impossible almost overnight as government restrictions began to bite. However, while certain courses with a large hands-on component remain effectively on hold, certain training options can still be implemented effectively online. Here, AVoptics share some of their experiences in formulating on online version of their Fibre Optic Fundamentals course and the planning involved.

AVoptics Ltd is a UK based fibre optics company specialising in optical systems for harsh environments. Training is just one facet of their skillset alongside harness manufacture, research and unique product development. In 2017, they became the first European company to offer SAE and ARINC accredited training courses for Aerospace Fibre Optics in association with the ETA®. Currently, AVoptics offers the following courses: ARINC Fibre Optics Fundamentals (AFOF), Aerospace Fibre Installer (AFI) and SAE Aerospace Fibre Optic Fabricator (SFF). This latter course has also been adapted to offer a unique UK-relevant SAE/ARINC Fabricator course (SAFF) combining training content for both the civil and military aerospace sectors.

Dr Geoff Proudley, a key trainer at AVoptics explained the process. ‘We had to work out what was possible and what wasn’t, adapting and making some concessions as we went but always with the focus of maintaining a high quality and interesting learning experience. Teaching knowledge competencies is eminently deliverable over video conferencing platforms such as Teams and Zoom but adding in hands-on elements makes things a little more challenging. We had to go through a series of steps to see what was possible. Step one was to evaluate a number of these platforms for video quality, stability, cost and ease of use both for teaching and student perspectives. It’s easy to concentrate on the teaching side of the experience. But equally important is to consider what the student sees. The nature of the courses also meant that an online meeting format was essential as opposed to a simple knowledge webinar.

There was also the issue of class size. A trainer needs to be able to identify and address all students. Clearly two-way interaction is essential to give the student a feeling of inclusion and being able to ask questions. Class size limits are around ten for something like the Fundamentals course.

Course structure is also something we’ve had to consider. Classroom teaching is clearly more flexible in being able to immediately monitor and gauge student reactions, concentration and engagement levels. It’s more difficult online, keeping an eye on everything as we teach. Regular breaks are essential. Keeping the course interesting and students fully engaged is also of paramount importance. I’m sure we all have experience of fatiguing ‘wall-to-wall Powerpoint’ presentations! For that reason, we tend to mix the theory and practical elements throughout the day. It keeps things fresh. Plus, we can get feedback at regular intervals and the students see they are gaining practical knowledge in regular chunks as well as learning the theory.

What’s more limited in online delivery is the ability to touch, feel and use hardware; in our case fibre optic hardware and the equipment we use to clean, inspect and test. Our solution is to make sample packs available which can be sent out to students before the course. They can then handle some of the components as we talk about them online. The remaining elements we can demonstrate using additional close-up cameras in the course and some novel teaching tools. One such example is a novel MT microscope simulation tool developed by our AVoptics Lightworks team. This on-line interactive tool gives the student the experience of inspecting multiple fibres in an MT ferrule and making decisions on acceptable end-face quality of the fibres as per current standards.

We’ve also adapted some of the hands-on requirements to make them online friendly. A neat example is getting students to use their TV remotes to see the infrared emission (normally invisible to the naked eye) but visible on their webcams. It’s a simple way of demonstrating the visibility of different wavelengths and leads to a discussion on light source safety.

Finally, after content delivery there is the question of exams and qualifications. For this, we’re working with ETA and ExamRoom.ai to enable students to take exams remotely with online invigilation. This means they can schedule the exam after the course and take it at work or at home depending on their personal circumstances. It’s a practical solution when classrooms are currently unavailable.

In summary, we’ve embraced the challenges of the pandemic and now have online courses proven and ready to go. We are looking at extending the techniques and tools to elements of other courses. This could allow students to do longer courses such as SAFF in more manageable blocks, some of which are delivered online.’

By: Dr G.M.Proudley, PhD MIET, Principal Research Engineer, AVoptics LightWorks

For detailed course information and dates, please visit the AVoptics website: http://www.avoptics.com/service/fibre-optic-training or if you require further information please contact AVoptics on:

+44 (0)1935 471606 or email: info@avoptics.com

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