By Jane Pulaski
From the Solar Instructor Training Network website
The Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA) is using some innovative teaching methods for renewable energy teaching materials in its Midwest Solar Training Network (MSTN).
The Midwest Solar Training Network (MSTN), one of nine Regional Training Providers in the Solar Instructor Training Network, and led by the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA), is a group of technical and community colleges, non-profit organizations, universities, and industry partners building solar training capacity in the Midwest, in a seven state region that includes: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The MSTN is training instructors involved in PV and solar thermal installer training programs, and is using some innovative teaching methods, like a Wiki and Moodle, to develop renewable energy course materials, teaching modules and other resources for (and from) MSTN’s solar training network.
Wiki, Hawaiian for ‘fast’ or ‘quick,’ is a web portal for users to share, revise, and discuss information, is easy to use, and provides a central hub for users to share information. It’s especially applicable for instructors, because they can provide their students with all of their course materials before the course begins. They can also start a discussion with other instructors or students about the course topics.
Wikis encourage collaboration, both in real-time and over time. Because anyone can edit a wiki at any time, users can easily work together to ensure the content is accurate and up-to-date. Wikis enhance group learning.
According to the MSTN Wiki, its mission is to increase the capacity of educational organizations to train PV and solar thermal installers while working to advance regional strategic initiatives to grow both the residential and commercial markets for solar energy systems in the Midwest. “Since we began this work as a Regional Training Provider for the Solar Instructor Training Network, MREA has worked with 53 training organizations, training 123 instructors from seven states in the Midwest,” said Hylla. “This represents more than 4,200 contact hours in PV, more than 2,700 contact hours in solar thermal.”
That’s a lot of hours.
The MSTN Wiki is robust and deep. There’s an enormous amount of content for PV and solar thermal technologies, from general information to course syllabi, instructional teaching models, training labs and model training programs at regional community colleges. There’s an extensive list of instructors (and their expertise) for renewable energy business, PV, solar thermal, small wind, green building, sustainable living.
Instructional teaching modules for both PV and solar thermal technologies contain a variety of resources for instructors, including learning objectives, outlines, presentation materials, activity descriptions, worksheets, handouts, evaluations, and other supportive resources.
“These instructional modules are designed to be used as the building blocks of a curriculum,” said Hylla. “Depending on the needs of the audience and institution, instructors can select and sequence instructional modules to provide priority content and skills that define a specific training program. These training modules have been developed from some of the most experienced installers and instructors in their fields.”
But the MSTN Wiki site is only one part of the curriculum equation.
“We refer to the MSTN wiki site as the curriculum editing room; the Moodle site is the final copy.”
Moodle, aka Course Management System (CMS), or Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), is a free web application educators use to create effective online learning sites. MSTN is using Moodle for scope and sequence training. “That’s how we talk about curriculum,” says Hylla, “in terms of scope and sequence.”
According to Hylla, integrating solar curriculum into existing course work is the challenge, but the wiki and Moodle complement each other. “We could use a PV systems book, or a PV manual, but that’s not helping an instructor be really good at scoping and sequencing,” said Hylla. “We’ll take the teaching modules that instructors have shared in the wiki, and then scope and sequence them into fully integrated courses using Moodle,” said Hylla. “Integrated programs are the best models, and using the MSNT wiki and Moodle tools are exactly how we can do this.”
There’s been no slowdown in the demand for training, says Hylla. “Even with the rollback incentives and loan guarantees, we’re not seeing that affect demand for education.”
The Wiki and Moodle tools are available for use by partnering institutions in the MSTN.
“We’ve been requiring instructors to take our five—day institute before they launch into the Wiki and Moodle platforms,” said Hylla. “This year, however, we’re introducing an on-line curriculum development course that will be the gateway to the platforms. This is important because a Wiki works best with well-defined ground rules. Since the materials on the Wiki aren’t truly peer reviewed (though they are on Moodle), we want to make sure people understand the limitations of the sites and their role as critical reviewers. This new on-line curriculum development course addresses both of those issues.”
Hylla says there’s interest from both the U.S. Department of Energy and the Solar Instructor Training Network to figure out how the MSTN model can be integrated in the national platform. “We’re totally interested in doing that,” said Hylla.
For more information about the MSTN wiki and Moodle platforms, contact Nick firstname.lastname@example.org, 715.592.6595 x 107