When the TEEX Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Technician I Class #47 graduated in May, they earned a unique distinction. They became the first class of Unexploded Ordnance Technicians to go digital – instead of lugging around two 3-ring binders, the students were issued iPads loaded with all of their study materials.
Each student in the UXO Class checked out the electronic tablet, housed in a rugged, water-resistant OtterBox to use during the intensive four-week program. Typically, students have two weeks of classroom sessions and ordnance identification followed by two weeks of hands-on field exercises on the demolition range and UXO grid.
“If students are trying to identify a piece of ordnance on the range, they can pull up the image on the iPad or their iPhone, and enlarge the image to focus in on details,” said TEEX Public Safety & Security (PS&S) Training Manager Ed Fritz. “They couldn’t do that with the printed course manual.”
Has the paperless classroom of the future arrived? Officials estimate the division could save $100,000 over three years by converting to digital course materials, even after accounting for the cost of the iPads.
Although the students ranged in age from 30 to 53 and grew up using printed textbooks, they had no problem using an iPad, Fritz said, adding that turning the page is similar to turning a page in a printed book. Other added bonuses include the ability to adjust the font size and expand graphics. The ePub version of the UXO Tech I manual also allows students to highlight text or add their own notes and the Table of Contents has an active link to each chapter and subsequent chapter headings. The battery life of the tablet is up to 10 hours so the students just have to recharge at night.
At the end of the course, each student returned the iPad and received a TEEX flash drive with a protected PDF for printing or use on a reader of their choice.
The conversion of the course manual to digital book was tackled by PS&S Curriculum Coordinator Ron Bilyk and Instructional Design Specialist Rebecca Donnelly, who began working on the project in October 2010, once Fritz and Instructional Design Specialist Lori Cagle had updated the course content.
The team purchased WebWorks, a software program that helped with the conversion, but Donnelly still had to update formats, and adjust each one of the 1,000-plus images in the manual to ensure the students were able to expand the images on the iPad.
“We relied on Rebecca’s computer savvy,” Bilyk said. “She experimented and learned step by step using the WebWorks software.” Donnelly added: “It took at least six months to format the print curriculum, which contains 32 modules, into an ePub. But now the process will be much more streamlined due to lessons learned.”
Digital Rights Management (DRM) issues with intellectual property were a concern, Bilyk said. The division has worked closely with TEEX Chief Technology Officer Vince Riggins to select the best DRM system to support encryption of the ePub files for the iPads, ensuring the protection of TEEX’s intellectual property.
“We came out of this process with a top-notch course,” Fritz says. “We already had a great reputation in the UXO remediation industry, but now with our updated curriculum and digital manual, we’re several steps ahead of our competitors.”
Bilyk and Donnelly are already looking ahead to the next version of the iPad and discussing ways to integrate interactivity and videos into the course materials. “There are tons of things we can work into this course manual,” Bilyk says. “Instead of a one-dimensional book, you can have interactivity; you are actually touching the materials.” This gives TEEX’s reputation for hands-on training an entirely new dimension, Bilyk adds.
“The division spends over $120,000 annually printing manuals in support of our courses,” said PS&S Division Director Tom Shehan. “By utilizing eReaders in place of manuals, not only are division cost efficiencies realized and shared across all program areas, customers are able to see our capabilities in the eLearning training world as truly cutting edge.”
The division has a goal of completing four ePubs by the end of the year, including Forensic Photography I and II and the Advanced Ordnance Recognition for Law Enforcement, a course that is delivered to members of bomb squads across the country.