Delivering Courseware via a CD-ROM Website
Educational Services Manager
This paper outlines the issues involved in the production of a training program delivered as a website via CD-ROM. It explores the process of determining delivery needs, working within strict time and resource constraints, and designing alternate delivery programs on a shoestring budget. The challenges faced and the chosen solutions are discussed in a case study format.
Early in 1996, Georgian College's Civil Aviation Institute was asked by the airline industry to develop a cost effective method of training their flight dispatchers to meet new certification regulations. Analysis of the industry pointed to the need for a training program that: could be completed anywhere, anytime; covered a great deal of material from a beginning to an advanced level; met the needs of varied learning styles; provided evaluation and feedback; was simple to use; allowed individuals to fast track based upon personal knowledge and experience; and could be offered at a cost that was competitive with current traditional classroom delivery.
The college responded by providing a program utilizing CD-ROM and Web based technology, supported by paper based materials and online computer conferencing. The developers of this training program were recently awarded the Georgian College Board of Governorís Innovation Award.
In May of 1996, Georgian Collegeís Innovation Centre began developing a distance education program for Canadian Flight Dispatchers at the request of the Canadian Aviation Institute, which is another department within the college. This paper will take a case study approach in the examination of the development of this program, the challenges faced, and the chosen solutions.
Over the past few years, as government funding cuts have put a strain on the operating budgets of Canadian educational institutions, more and more departments within these institutions are attempting to look to the private sector for new opportunities. The Canadian Aviation Institute (CAvI) at Georgian College has had fairly good success at developing a reputation for quality education within the aviation industry. As a result of this reputation, the Canadian airline industry approached CAvI early in 1996 to ask if the institution planned on creating a training program for Canadian flight dispatchers. As an employee of an airline, the flight dispatcher is responsible for a flight from the time it is scheduled until it reaches its destination safely. New Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) require flight dispatchers to obtain certification. The only exception made for existing dispatchers was the provision of a two year window of opportunity within which they must complete the certification process.
The airline industryís main concern was that all the newly developed dispatcher training programs ran for 6-10 weeks at a time, cost between $6 000.00 and $10 000.00 in tuition, plus an additional cost for residency, as well as the extra cost of replacing the employee during the training period. This was not a viable option for any but the largest airline in Canada. CAvI responded to the industry request by preparing a business plan to determine the viability of developing a more cost effective training program.
The business plan revealed a very small target market of about 300 potential customers who would need some form of training over the next 2 years. These companies varied greatly in terms of financial position and through an analysis of the market, it was determined that production, marketing, and distribution costs could not exceed approximately $30 000.00. Georgian Collegeís Innovation Centre was approached to develop the program. The Innovation Centre, whose mandate is to aid in the development of alternate delivery strategies, had recently been formed and was anxious to sink their teeth into a meaningful project. Even though they were concerned about the budget aspect, the Innovation Centre embraced the project with a commitment to finish it regardless of financial constraints.
The Innovation Centre proceeded with a needs assessment to decide upon what types of delivery were to be used for the program. Direct feedback from the industry indicated their desire for a program with the following characteristics: current and high quality information; flexible delivery; prompt availability; low cost; convenient; consistent; and most importantly, would prepare dispatchers to successfully complete the government mandated exams. This final point was key, since the consequences of failing either of the two exams is severe. Upon the first failure, a dispatcher is suspended for 14 days, after which the exam can be attempted again. If the dispatcher fails again, a suspension of 28 days will result and further failures will continue to result in the doubling of the suspension period. Needless to say, the industry wanted a course that taught directly to the exam.
The needs assessment also indirectly revealed some other important industry factors, including: a variety of learning styles; different levels of computer literacy; varying levels of dispatch experience; and the use of both PC compatibles and Macintosh. All of the factors revealed by the needs assessment presented challenges that needed to be dealt with effectively and efficiently.
Challenge #1: Currency and Quality
Upon further discussions with industry representatives, it became obvious that their definition of currency and quality was directly related to how quickly their dispatchers could successfully complete both exams with a minimal amount of effort. They had very little interest in any educational value the program might provide their employees. Their primary goal was to conform with the new regulations with little financial consequence. As a result, the currency and quality challenge became one of focusing on material that was directly related to the government exams.
This challenge was significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, Transport Canada, the agency responsible for aviation safety, made it perfectly clear from the beginning that they would not release the test bank of questions to anyone, including education and training institutions. Secondly, the document that they did provide as a guideline, lacked specific learning outcomes and contained only general topic areas with a basic indication of the level of knowledge or skill required in each. This made focusing only on necessary material difficult, if not impossible.
To complicate matters further, it became apparent that the information regarding the amount of curriculum relevant to the program that already existed within the college was inaccurate. Instead of having approximately 80% of the curriculum already developed, it was discovered to be closer to 10% developed.
Challenge #2: Flexible Delivery at a Low Cost
The industry wanted the program to have as little impact on their daily operations as possible. They wanted their dispatchers to be able to study on their own time as well as during the quiet times of their shifts. This meant that they may or may not have access to a computer and/or the Internet. They also made it very clear that they could not afford the $6 000.00 to $10 000.00 cost per person that was being charged by other dispatch training providers.
Challenge #3: Range of Knowledge, Skills, and Learning Styles
Discussions with different sized airlines revealed quite a range in existing knowledge and skills in the areas identified as necessary to pass a Transport Canada exam. Given such a small overall market, the only viable option was to develop a training program with the assumption that the student had no prior knowledge or skills in the areas to be addressed. At the same time, forcing knowledgeable individuals to cover material that they were already experts in was not viable either. As a result, learner choice in approaching the content became a requirement.
A range in computer literacy also existed within the industry. Many dispatchers had only used a computer for specific duties such as flight planning, which uses proprietary software. This factor had to be considered in designing the method of delivery of the material.
It was also safe to assume that potential students would span the various learning styles. Therefore, it was important not to focus on one primary style of delivery.
Challenge #4: Cross Platform Compatibility
Although most airline computer systems are based on PC compatibles, there were a few Macintosh systems in use. Therefore, it was necessary to ensure compatibility with both platforms.
Challenge #5: Limited Development Resources and Tight Deadlines
Not all the challenges were externally driven. Georgianís Innovation Centre operates with very limited human resources and equipment. During the period of development of this project, the Innovation Centre was staffed by one full time media technologist, and a faculty member on a part time basis. Production equipment was limited to a Macintosh 7500/100, a Macintosh 7200/120, and a Pentium-166. The Centre is also home to a Umax scanner and a Dynatek CD recorder. The equipment and personnel were not dedicated solely to this project, since many online courses were running and being developed. The challenge was how to balance these limited resources without compromising the quality of any of the projects.
To further compound the issue of limited resources, the industry wanted us to work on tight deadlines. Although the government had granted a two year period for airlines to meet the dispatch regulations, most of the airlines were anxious to begin the process as soon as possible.
Challenge #6: Easy to Update
Canadaís new aviation regulations were created with change in mind. They are designed to be updated with a minimal amount of bureaucracy. As a result, the training program had to be easy to update as regulatory changes came into effect.
Challenge #7: Personal Evaluation and Feedback
Although the industry did not want their dispatchers to have to attend workshops or classes, they still wanted their dispatchers to receive personal feedback and evaluation of their progress from an industry professional. In essence, they wanted someone to be accountable for their success or failure.
Contract Consultants and Freelancers
One of the primary challenges to be dealt with was that of curriculum development. As it became obvious that very little material existed, a plan was needed to develop curriculum at the same time delivery methods were being designed and developed. Given the limited resources, our solution was to develop as much of the curriculum ourselves while hiring consultants to clarify and develop specialized sections. Since many of the regulations were paper based, permission to convert them into digital format was obtained from Transport Canada. A freelancer was then hired to scan, convert, and edit any paper based material. The freelancer also helped to research curriculum as deadlines approached.
During curriculum development, it became apparent that Transport Canada was not going to provide an outline that was any clearer than the existing one. The only option was to write the exams ourselves in order to develop some performance outcomes. Unfortunately, the exams were not ready until a short time prior to when the industry wanted the program available. When the exams became available, all of the production team completed the exams on multiple occasions, along with some of the consultants. Existing material was then edited and new, more relevant material, was developed. This seemed to be the only method for ensuring that the material met the direct needs of the industry with a minimal amount of delay.
A Website on CD-ROM
The decision to make a standalone CD-ROM the focal point of the training package was in direct response to many of the challenges. Firstly, it allowed for the efficient delivery of text, images, illustrations, animation, sound, and a limited amount of digital video all in one package. The problem was that multimedia development is extremely costly and time consuming. A significant amount of time and effort is spent designing and developing user friendly interfaces and learning scripting languages such as Lingo for Macromedia Director. This project could not afford the time or money to do this. The solution was to choose an existing interface, such as a Web Browser, which already had a built in navigation method and support for text, graphics, animation, sound, and video. At the same time, easy to use, full featured HTML editors were becoming available at a reasonable cost.
After a bit of research and experimentation, a deal was made with Netscape to license distribution of Netscape Navigator 3.0 for a reasonably low fee. Although it meant working within the limitations of HTML, this decision to create an intranet on CD, using Netscape as a browser, was crucial to delivering a high quality product while working within limited time and resources. Using HTML virtually eliminated cross platform compatibility problems, and reduced production costs meant that the training package could be offered at the competitive price of $3000.00 per student. It also meant that the content could be easily repackaged for other training purposes.
As the project progressed, it became apparent as to how flexible and powerful HTML can be. Through the use of frames and client-side image maps, a fairly simple and easy to understand navigation structure was created to aid students in browsing over a thousand web pages, with a minimal amount of confusion. Graphics were created using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, web pages were created primarily with Claris Home Page, with some editing at the code level, and animation was assembled with GIF Builder. Other programs used include Adobe Premiere, Quicktime VR, SoundEdit Pro 16, and Adobe Pagemill.
Another advantage in using the intranet on CD solution was that most potential dispatch students had been exposed to an Internet browser at some point during their life. This would decrease the learning curve that accompanies all new programs. Even if they had not been exposed to the World Wide Web previously, the browser skills that they would gain in using this program would be valuable in their own right.
The use of the CD-ROM also meant that students could complete the entire program without an Internet connection. This had to be a consideration if we were going to market to some of the small airlines in very isolated parts of northern Canada. The CD-ROM had the ability to deliver all the multimedia materials necessary to provide even a beginning dispatcher with the necessary knowledge to pass the written exams.
The content is divided into 14 distinct sections, 11 on the Operations side and 3 within Meteorology. The CD-ROM allows the learner to access any of the modularized material from anywhere within the program. This offers experienced dispatchers the ability to quickly focus on their weak areas without having to browse through materials they are knowledgeable in.
A significant disadvantage to the CD-ROM approach is the cost of updates. Housing a website on a centrally located webserver is obviously easier to update than re-issuing new CDs. Fortunately, it was determined that significant updates were likely to be few and far between, and compared to the benefits of the CD solution, the cost of updates were negligible.
Although all the material required to complete the training program existed on the CD, we felt it was necessary to provide support materials for a couple of important reasons. Firstly, as indicated earlier, not all of the dispatchers would have access to a computer during times they were free to study. Secondly, although we felt that the use of various media on the CD addressed the learning style issue, we realized that some people would prefer to read a book. As a result, a binder containing all the text found on the CD was prepared as part of the package. Also included along with the binder, are two textbooks which provide further information on many of the topics covered within the program. Specific references to these books are provided throughout the CD materials as a suggestion of further reading on certain topics.
Feedback and Evaluation
One of the issues not easily solved through the intranet on CD solution was that of feedback and evaluation. Feedback and evaluation was to serve two purposes. Firstly, an experienced dispatcher should have the opportunity to test his knowledge of a particular area in order to decide whether to spend a lot of time with the material contained therein. Secondly, a dispatcher should be able to test his knowledge of material just covered. We felt that this pre-test/post-test feature was crucial to the success of the training. Not only did it provide a benchmark for the students to measure themselves by, but it also provided them with a sense of achievement on a regular basis.
In order for the students to get maximum benefit from these tests, certain features seemed critical. The structure of the tests needed to match that of the exams. The exams were all multiple choice, four choices per question, with some questions requiring calculations or the use of charts. It was also important to allow the student to answer all questions within a given test prior to evaluation. Although it would have been easier to prepare a simple website to provide immediate feedback after each question, this would not have been as effective. Also, it was important to provide feedback beyond merely identifying correct and incorrect answers. Each incorrect answer should direct the dispatch student to the specific section of material that required review.
To complete the training package, it was important to give the dispatch student access to industry professionals as well as to his or her peers. With an Internet connection, the learner can use FirstClass computer conferencing to clarify material and request feedback from a facilitator, as well as from fellow students. It also allows the developers of the training program to garner feedback from the students regarding the delivery and content of the program.
Communication occurs in an asynchronous mode that is neither time nor place dependent. Although it is not necessary to make use of this service to successfully complete the exams, it appears to have been of great benefit to those who have utilized it. All necessary software is included in the training package.
The creation of this training program was an extremely valuable experience for Georgian College. Not only did it provide a valuable product for industry, but it explored a process not previously known within the college. It demonstrated that collaboration, hard work, and a little ingenuity now and again, could overcome significant resource limitations. Many risks were taken, mistakes made, and much learning occurred. The developers of the Canadian Flight Dispatch Training Program were recently awarded the Georgian College Board of Governorís Innovation Award for their accomplishments.
(c) George Mashinter and Rolf Kraiker
The author(s) assign to ASCILITE and educational and non-profit institutions a non-exclusive licence to use this document for personal use and in courses of instruction provided that the article is used in full and this copyright statement is reproduced. The author(s) also grant a non-exclusive licence to ASCILITE to publish this document in full on the World Wide Web and on CD-ROM and in printed form with the ASCILITE 97 conference papers, and for the documents to be published on mirrors on the World Wide Web. Any other usage is prohibited without the express permission of the authors.
This page maintained by Rod Kevill. (Last updated: Friday, 21 November 1997)
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