February 12, 2009

IREC/DOE Sponsored PV Workshops For Solar Energy Educators Held in Southern California

Brian Hurd’s, “Hands On Solar, Inc.,” in collaboration with IREC, just offered two two-day solar energy training events for educators and trainers in San Diego and Santa Monica last month. Fifty educators from 40 different institutions attended his power-packed training, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The PV Systems Course Development Workshop featured the…

Brian Hurd’s, “Hands On Solar, Inc.,” in collaboration with IREC, just offered two two-day solar energy training events for educators and trainers in San Diego and Santa Monica last month. Fifty educators from 40 different institutions attended his power-packed training, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The PV Systems Course Development Workshop featured the complementary talents of Dr. Jerry Ventre, an engineering consultant for the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, Inc. with over thirty-five years of experience in various aspects of engineering, including research, development, design and systems analysis, and Dr. Barbara Martin, an expert in instructional design and theory, development, and educational technology.

The San Diego event was held at the California Center For Sustainable Energy on Jan 20 & 21st in cooperation with Miramar College and was a collaboration between IREC & Advanced Transportation Technology and Energy. Host Greg Newhouse, Director of ATT&E at Miramar College, and Brian & Catherine Hurd of Hands On Solar, Inc. administered the event. Twenty-three participants enjoyed two information packed days of training.

On January 22nd & 23rd Santa Monica Colleges’ Patricia Ramos, Dean of Workforce Development, welcomed twenty seven participants to the school’s Bundy Campus facility. The Santa Monica portion of the week was administered by Hands On Solar, Inc. Brian Hurd contributed by making a presentation on the successful inner city NABCEP Entry Level PV program he initiated at East Los Angeles Skills Center, LAUSD.

Hurd is a vocational instructor at the East Los Angeles Skills Center (ELASC), an employment preparation and training center serving a diverse community. Recognizing that the demand for photovoltaic installers was poised to explode, Hurd developed a course of study to prepare ELASC students to enter the growing field. “The main reason we started our photovoltaic installer program,” said Hurd, “was to partner with solar contractors to provide a well-trained entry-level work- force to help meet this growing demand.”

“Brian Hurd’s expertise and instructional leadership at the East LA Skills Center has shown us how best to combine training set to industry standards with the realities of teaching a group of students with various backgrounds and skill sets.” said IREC’s Jane Weissman. “The East LA Skills Center’s PV program is a city model with national reach.”

Hurd’s PV Installer Program at the ELASC is a two-part instructional series:

  • Photovoltaic Installer: Introduction, a 100-hour competency-based course in solar electricity introduces students to the field of Photovoltaics (PV), including solar electrical theory, PV safety, related vocabulary and terminology, types of PV systems, basic load analysis, system sizing, components and hardware, code issues, rebates and incentives, basic cost estimating, net metering laws, and employment opportunities in the industry. PREREQUISITES: None
  • Photovoltaic Installer: Certification Preparation, a 300-hour competency-based course in solar electricity will prepare graduates for entry-level employment in the PV industry. Successful participants will also be qualified to sit for the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Entry Level Certificate of Knowledge examination. This hands-on training program includes solar electricity fundamentals, PV safety, site analysis, PV system sizing and design, required components and equipment, product installation, troubleshooting, net metering laws, and National Electrical Code (NEC) PV requirements. This course also includes instruction in employability skills. The competencies in this course are aligned with the California High School Academic Content Standards. PREREQUISITE: Enrollment requires the successful completion of Photovoltaic Installer Introduction course.

Hurd’s doing his part to train installers, and the two-day workshop with Martin and Ventre are doing their part to train qualified instructors.

“The students were gung-ho from the get-go,” declared Martin. “Most of them were ready to begin offering courses and programs ASAP, and were eager to learn both additional technical and instructional design skills.”

Martin and Ventre’s training was designed to enhance existing solar energy courses. Emphasis was placed on the process of integrating strong content materials into course instruction through appropriate analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.

“The students were almost unanimously eager,” agreed Ventre. “All were committed to teaching courses or developing programs, and all wanted to learn as much as they could. They asked good, relevant target questions.”

Like the conversation about prerequisites.

“There was a good deal of talk about how to integrate the various courses and programs across age or school groups,” said Martin. “What should high schools teach that would feed into technical school and community college offerings. Are certain prerequisites needed? How should (or should) offerings at technical schools and community colleges differ?” According to Martin, the workshop participants were interested in instructional and curriculum development from a big picture perspective-how to build a workforce–as well as what they should teach in their individual schools or colleges.

Which presents a bit of a challenge.

“Finding the right balance of teaching technical and instructional design skills,” said Martin, “is a real challenge. “While it’s expected that the participants come in with significant PV technical skills, that’s not always the case. And in order to design good instruction you must have a pretty good grasp of the technical skills. Still, we want to include as many instructors and trainers as we can to promote workforce development — we don’t want to turn anyone away. So the challenge is to help those who need technical skills gain some of those while at the same time teaching them how to design and develop good courses and programs.”

“Right,” said Ventre. “For this training, the attendees didn’t quite fit what we expected in backgrounds. We like them to be well versed in PV, and a number of them are relatively new to PV. In fact, one of them had no concept about PV at all. For those attendees, I don’t think this particular workshop suited them well. But we’ve done other workshops in Florida that’s a better fit for those who have little or no PV experience or knowledge.”

Ventre says there are three different audiences out there for this type of training:

  1. those who’ve taught in construction trades (at community colleges or high school vocational education). They know how to use tools, but they’re new to PV. Those need much more PV training than what Ventre and Martin can give in two days;
  2. those who are familiar with PV, who may have designed or installed systems before. Community colleges may hire them as adjunct faculty. This is the caliber of attendee Martin and Ventre are targeting. They know PV well, but may never have taught it; and
  3. those who teach courses in things like building sciences, maybe computer science. Something that’s not construction related, is more design related, but never taught PV. This is another tough group.

“We get all three,” said Ventre, “and the biggest challenge for us is to make sure that we’re inviting those who understand what’ll be presented and we know who we’re dealing with. Then it’s a good fit for us all.”

According to IREC’s Jane Weissman, the Faculty Development Workshops that Dr. Jerry Ventre and Dr. Barbara Martin are leading are for instructors who are already well versed in photovoltaic systems. “The two-day workshop provides faculty not only with a set of curriculum materials,” she said, “but also with expert instruction on how best to use these materials to successfully develop high quality courses.”

What surprised both Martin and Ventre were the number of high school teachers at the training. “The high schools in California are making a real effort to include PV in their curricula,” Martin said. “They want to teach content that will help students succeed who intend to continue their education at technical schools and community colleges.”

“I think we were expecting primarily community college faculty,” said Ventre, “and I was surprised at the number of high school teachers there who were trying to establish articulation agreements with community colleges to better prepare the community college programs. We saw this in New York and Florida who really support the idea of starting them at young age, even at middle school.”

So what’s the most important thing for trainers and educators to know? How do you focus on the need?

“It’s crucial to know how to design and use high quality tests,” says Martin. “It’s imperative for instructors and teachers know if their courses and programs are successful. The best way to do that (before sending students out into the workforce) is to test them to see if they have the knowledge and skills to be successful on the job.

“If you look at what’s needed from faculty perspective when developing courses and programs,” said Ventre, “they really need:

  1. Instructional systems design from someone like Barbara;
  2. A strong focus on PV training. Most of them haven’t had what they should have. This facet involves taking the basics of PV, going over all the topics, from basic solar radiation to site assessment; and
  3. Actual teaching materials like Power Point slides, course outlines, Task Analyses, so that when they’re in the classroom, they know what they’ve got to work with.

“We give them the first and third parts at our two-day workshop,” said Ventre, “but we don’t give them the detailed PV training. That’s one of the biggest things we need to address. I’m not suggesting we replace this two-day course we’ve developed, but develop another course that will be better PV training for faculty.”

The idea of working with faculty to train trainers is a key role for well-established PV training centers, like the Florida Solar Energy Center, Solar Energy International, Lane Community College, Diablo Community College. But not everyone is able to afford, in time and dollars, to attend these well-respected training schools. The more effective model is to offer this caliber of training locally.

“The intent of what we’re doing is right on target,” says Ventre. “We’re happy with the training progress we’ve made so far; still, we know what we’re missing is the PV training portion. We’re looking at ways to modify our current model to include PV training.”

Martin and Ventre have conducted these workshops in Florida, New York and in Pleasant Hill (CA). “Those attending those had already been through a week-long PV training course, so all they needed was Barbara’s instructional systems design,” said Ventre. “Then they got the content material, which is what I do. Those worked well, from targeting perspective. The workshops in Florida were outstanding because we were able to combine FSEC’s week-long training program with our training.”

Based on workshop evaluations, those who were well versed in PV and had some experience with the technology responded favorably in the evaluations. Ventre said a handful in the last two workshops said they needed more PV training.

Attendees reported an overwhelmingly positive training experience. “There’s even planning in the works for future workshops to be conducted later this spring.”

The attendees weren’t the only ones who rated Hurd’s efforts exemplary.

“I think what Brian Hurd is doing is absolutely inspirational to everyone,” said Ventre. “Working with young people who don’t ordinarily have many opportunities, and who are becoming successful with Brian’s program, well, I can’t say enough good about Hands-on-Solar and what they’re doing. This is one of the most up-lifting things I’ve done in my lengthy career. He’s really gone the extra mile; the things he’s doing are what we need to share with others, and we can all learn from his successes. He’s my hero.”

Note: A related article from the 2/10/09 Los Angeles Times: L.A. Unified launches solar energy program: The school district announces a $350-million goal of putting enough solar panels on schools and other district buildings to generate 50 megawatts of electricity by 2012 and lower its electricity bill (by Mitchell Landsberg)