The lockdown disrupted education as teachers, instructors, students, and families had to get used to learning outside of the classroom. There was no how-to guide on how to ensure engaging and accessible education online. The shift has been particularly challenging for construction education as it often relies on an experiential, hands-on curriculum.
However, the past six months have brought new insights, methods, and outcomes to online instruction. Procore’s social impact team has created a variety of classroom content, including plan reading activities and a scavenger hunt using Procore’s BIM Viewer.
In the blog series entitled, Virtual Construction Education 101, Procore partners and education specialists share their challenges, results, and silver linings of continuing education through the pandemic.
ACE Mentor Program of America
Founded in 1994, the ACE Mentor Program of America (ACE) is an award-winning after-school program designed to attract high school students to careers in the Architecture, Construction, and Engineering industry, including skilled trades. ACE is a federation of more than 70 affiliates (chapters), operating in 37 states, which deliver the program for free to more than 10,000 high school students each year.
Jobsite recently spoke with Diana Eidenshink, President of the ACE Mentor Program, and Paulette Dallas, ACE’s Western Regional Director, to discuss the organization’s shift to the virtual environment.
JOBSITE: What in-person activities has the ACE Mentor Program offered for students in the past?
Diana Eidenshik: In-person activities have always been the cornerstone of the ACE Mentor Program. The program has always been conducted in person; it’s a group of mentors meeting with students. Really, it seemed the in-person aspect is what has made this program so special—the students and the mentors are able to develop really good, strong relationships. Our affiliates hold bi-weekly or weekly meetings and do a lot of events and site visits. Many of our affiliates have so-called “Trades Day,” where they take the students to a trades facility and show them various trades. The program, up until recently, has been entirely in-person.
J: Has it been difficult to transition these activities to a virtual environment?
DE: Yes, it has. In early March, we received a call from our Seattle affiliate saying that their schools were closing. Within two weeks, we had the majority of the schools across the country closed. We worked as quickly as possible to convert as many programs to virtual as we could—it was a whirlwind.
Once we realized that this situation was here to stay, we created ACE at Home. The program is full of virtual activities that the students could do over the summer. All summer, we were building a virtual curriculum, and we created the tools so that the program can be solely virtual in the fall.
J: How have your students felt about switching to these virtual learning opportunities?
DE: We surveyed students who had transitioned to a virtual program in the spring and asked their opinion. Many of them said, “use video when meeting virtually, ask questions, and keep us engaged.” They also asked to make sure that everyone was introduced at the beginning of the meeting so they knew who was on the call.
Paulette Dallas: I just pulled up the student survey, and it’s surprising: The students like the Zoom breakout rooms. I was also listening to an interview with a couple of ACE students who virtually attended the Fallingwater Summer Studio [a program where students learn about Frank Lloyd Wright’s design philosophy for Fallingwater and explore careers in fields like design and architecture]. They said that unlike doing the in-person course, they didn’t have to worry about being around a big group of new students. Instead, they were just able to focus on the lessons.
Students also enjoyed Procore’s live-virtual construction activity workshop (part of the ACE Summer Series). They really liked being a part of it. The students want more of these activities and they want to go into depth on these topics.
J: What advice would you give to other programs that are having to take on the virtual classroom experience?
DE: The words we’ve been using are patience and flexibility. We’ve told our affiliates to have patience while being flexible, knowing that we’re not going to do the program the way we’ve done it. We understand that they’re all trying to figure out their own lives, too.
Also, the other piece of advice—something I’m so glad we did—is to survey the participants. Asking them how they feel it’s going was eye-opening for us. We thought they wouldn’t want the webcams on; that they wouldn’t want to sit through introductions or to be called on. Those three things came out in the survey, with the students telling us, “yes, please do that.”
J: Any good learning lessons or stories that have taken place since transitioning over to virtual learning?
DE: We got a phone call from a cyber high school in Pennsylvania that has 13,000 K-12 students with 4,000 high schoolers. They saw something we posted and told us that they hadn’t engaged with us in the past because of our in-person meetings. Their students are located all over the state. We realized that transitioning to virtual activities has opened the door for those who hadn’t been able to physically attend the meetings before. We definitely now see the potential to reach more students.
PD: I agree; I think we’re going to be able to reach more students and extend our outreach this year to lots of new places.
J: What are some of the upcoming virtual activities you have planned for students this fall?
DE: We are going to be doing a variety of national programming for our ACE affiliates. We’re going to be doing activities like a virtual visit to the Raiders’ new stadium in Las Vegas, and we’re going to have a team from there show us around. We’ll also be working with the architect of the U.S. Capitol to talk about the history behind the building.
PD: We’re trying to build in more attention-grabbing sessions – like our brand new “ACE Ventures” series. This series will take students on live-virtual field trips to explore virtual reality, drones, and new technologies.
DE: The biggest thing that we want to do is make sure that the students know that we’re here for them, and we’re not going anywhere.
As the social impact arm of Procore, Procore.org is committed to empowering the construction industry and the communities it serves. Procore.org donates Procore’s construction management platform to hundreds of schools, trade associations, and nonprofits like the ACE Mentor Program.
Read the Rest of Virtual Construction Education 101:
Learn how the community-based nonprofit United Way brought their summer learning program online for 350+ students in Keeping Students Engaged Through Virtual Construction Training.
In How to Recruit and Retain Top Construction Talent Online, we engaged with the HITT Futures program, an internship talent pipeline for a top general contractor, and how the company managed to recruit through the pandemic.
The final interview, Embracing Virtual Workforce Training, discusses how AGC training programs are more accessible and equally valuable while remote, as told by Procore’s Construction Education Specialist, Ben Ashburn.