TRAINING & EDUCATION - Mobile classroom takes skilled trades training on the road

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by Peter Kenter last update:Aug 16, 2014

It pulls into Nova Scotia parking lots with the stealth of a Decepticon, looking like little more than a bulky truck trailer.
TRAINING & EDUCATION - Mobile classroom takes skilled trades training on the road

But, have no fear, this Transformer is one of the good guys, expanding into a generously sized mobile classroom, full of virtual reality teaching aids.

The new Mobile Learning Centre has been making the rounds this year on behalf of its owner, Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC).

It's the only unit of its kind operating in Atlantic Canada and the aim of the tour is to demonstrate the trailer's capability to teach trades to students anywhere in the province.

The 53-foot unit was supplied by Innovative Trailer Design in Mississauga, Ont.  which specializes in the design and construction of educational classroom trailers.

The trailer can be easily adapted to teach a range of skilled trades including welding, pipefitting, machine shop, plumbing, millwrighting, woodworking, electrical, automotive and small engine repair.

Once parked, the unit takes a little over a minute to expand into a generously sized 1,200-square-foot classroom, powered by twin generators and outfitted with a Smart Board and cellular modem.

A second smaller trailer carries supplies and materials.

"Most of the province's apprenticeship programs are centered around Halifax and Sydney," said Kevin Gerrior, manager, apprenticeship at NSCC.

"With the Mobile Learning Centre, we'll be taking the classroom to the apprentices in their own communities in places like Sheet Harbour, Truro and Chéticamp or any one of the NSCC campuses across the province.

"It could remain there for a full semester or just a few weeks to satisfy the requirements of an apprenticeship block."

The trailer can be outfitted for instruction in a range of trades using real-world equipment or simulators.

To teach welding, for example, the classroom can be outfitted with real welding torches, welding curtains and exhaust ventilation, or with virtual reality equipment.

These modules can also be switched out for anything from electrical panels to vehicle engines.

"On the current tour, we've been demonstrating the capabilities of our virtual welding simulator and our virtual paint spray booth," said Gerrior.

"Both of these virtual training labs can be loaded up in road cases half the size of an average refrigerator."

The welding simulator operates in a number of virtual environments chosen by the instructor.

A favourite scenario involves welding iron on a highrise tower under construction, with a crane operating below.

"People put on the hood associated with the simulator and complain that it's so dark, they can hardly see," said Gerrior.

"That's of course because it's exactly what a welder experiences just before work begins. Once you strike the arc, you can hear the sound of the arc in stereo and watch the welding rod burn down. Once you've finished your task, you receive a score based on such factors as speed, accuracy and porosity of the weld."

While Nova Scotia faces the same shortfall in construction workers as other provinces, the virtual reality equipment appears to be inspiring some younger tour visitors.

"One young man in shorts and sneakers who couldn't have been more than 13 years old was fascinated with the virtual spray booth that allows you to paint anything from an I beam to an automobile," said Gerrior.

"You could see how carefully he was concentrating with a paint hose raised in his right hand.

"His mother eventually had to boot him off the equipment."

Gerrior admits he was intrigued enough with the welding simulator to engage in a head-to-head competition against an NSCC welding instructor.

"My father was a welder and I learned to weld with an old stick welder before I could drive, so I took up the challenge," he said.

"I got in there and scored a 92... but the welding instructor managed to outscore me with a 93."

The Mobile Learning Centre was purchased through a $2.3 million grant from the government of Nova Scotia.

This funding included $1.5 million for the trailer and $775,000 for mobile training equipment.

last update:Aug 16, 2014

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