Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.
August 1, 1998
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New York Local Roads Program Explores the Training Potential of the World Wide Web

In 1996, the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) in New York State explored the possibility of using the Internet, specifically the World Wide Web (WWW), to provide information and training on road-related issues. Traditionally, CLRP has provided its audience with information and training through a variety of means, including a quarterly newsletter and about forty one-day training workshops each year. The newsletter was the most-used means of getting information; at the same time, attendance at the workshops had been declining because of travel distance and time constraints. Amy Dreher, Resource & Information Assistant for CLRP, and Lynne H. Irwin, Director of CLRP, documented CLRP's design of a training tutorial for the WWW in their paper "Adult Education and the World Wide Web" prepared for the Transportation Research Board's 77th Annual Meeting in January, 1998. CLRP's "goal was to create a short, 5-10 minute training module on a subject that would be easy to produce" and easily understood by a wide audience.

BACKGROUND

Dreher and Irwin researched the unique qualities of adult learners, the characteristics and needs of the CLRP audience, and the features of the WWW. As a rule, adult learners "are more active and goal-oriented in their learning process" than younger learners, and they want useful, job-related information and training. Like adult learners in general, the CLRP audience has limited time and a range of educational backgrounds, though for most part they do not have "formal training in highway engineering or management."

The authors viewed the WWW as an effective way to circumvent the distance/time problem of workshop training. However, a number of factors had to be considered. Access to the WWW, and even access to computers, might be difficult for some audience members in rural New York State. In addition, lack of computer knowledge, fear of computers, and the perception that the Internet is largely for "entertainment" could create problems, particularly among older highway officials who were accustomed to getting information in more "traditional ways." The WWW itself also presented concerns. Because the WWW is unregulated, "misinformation and superficiality can be problems." Also, "simplicity and consistency" are key components for successful use of the WWW. As a result, "inconsistency in design" and "a lack of continuity can lead to confusion and chaos on the Web."

These potential disadvantages were offset by distinct advantages in using the WWW to receive information and training. As senior highway officials retire, the new generation of technology-minded, computer-literate personnel will expect to gain information from computers. In addition, access to the WWW should improve, since most likely all public and school libraries will soon have access to the Internet and the WWW, and many local highway departments are updating to "Web-ready computers." In evaluating the CLRP audience, Dreher and Irwin also found "that the use of computers and the Internet has increased significantly in the home and office in the past several years."

Moreover, certain characteristics of the WWW are inherently advantageous and are particularly advantageous to adult learners. The WWW is easy to use and offers users the opportunity to access up-to-date information. Adult learners are in control of the computer and their learning experience, meaning they can work independently--at their own pace, at their own level of expertise, and in their own time frame.

DESIGN FEATURES OF THE CLRP TRAINING TUTORIAL

For their first training tutorial subject, CLRP chose work-zone flagging, "a method used by highway officials to control oncoming traffic while maintaining or building a road in use." This primarily visual subject translated well to a visual medium like the WWW, and comprehensive material existed on the subject. In addition, instead of using the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), New York State (NYS) uses its own version, for which training is "generally unavailable." As such, the tutorial was a way "to provide a training medium related specifically to the NYS MUTCD."

In preparing their "totally experimental" tutorial, CLRP staff reviewed several existing Web pages to get a feel for what worked and what did not. They decided on a "simple, clean and consistent" format of two columns, with the left column the table of contents and the right the text of the lesson. Flexibility within the design was a significant factor because of audience. While the primary audience would be CLRP personnel, anyone with access to the WWW would be a potential audience. Therefore, the goal was to reach the primary audience, and to "make the tutorial easily understood by those who had no prior knowledge of flagging and traffic control." While the tutorial's design allows flexibility based on user needs and expertise, it does not include links to other sites until the resource page at the end. The reasoning behind this format was twofold: the focus would then be on the training material, and users would be less likely to get lost in other sites.

The resulting tutorial includes four, five-to-ten-minute lessons--each with its own stated objective. Most information is in writing because some users might be using a "text-only browser"; however, images are included in lessons that could benefit from them. The first two lessons are designed for those with less knowledge and experience with work-zone flagging; more experienced users can skip those lessons and go directly to the third and fourth lessons. Each lesson includes review questions, and users can send questions and comments by email to CLRP technical assistance personnel.

The staff will ask several sources to assess the tutorial's effectiveness, including evaluations from the FHWA, the New York State Department of Transportation, and local highway departments. Initially, users of the tutorial will also evaluate it.

CONCLUSIONS

The CLRP training tutorial is one example of a distance-learning, multimedia tool that can fill a need for training without creating travel and time problems. As training needs increase and training budgets decrease, such tools allow highway officials, particularly those in rural areas, to conveniently, independently, and inexpensively access quality, up-to-date information and training. In addition, future use of tools such as bulletin board forums will allow users to "chat" and interact with one another, which "will serve to further bridge the distance barrier between highway superintendents."

EDITOR'S NOTE

You can see the tutorial on work zone flagging the Cornell Local Roads Program produced and put online by giving your World Wide Web browser the address: http://www.cals.cornell.edu/dept/aben/localroads/intro.htm. Click on this link if you would like to visit the tutorial right now.

Copyright © 1998 by TranSafety, Inc.



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