Winter maintenance suite of computer-based training modules

R. Mark DeVries, Maintenance Superintendent, McHenry County Division of Transportation, Woodstock, Illinois, and Chair, APWA Winter Maintenance Subcommittee; and Steve Gannon, Owner, GanTek Multimedia, Colorado Springs, Colorado

How important is good training to your winter operations? We'll bet the answer is critical. Now if you were asked "How well is it budgeted?" or "How many opportunities exist?" we'll bet the answer is "limited to none." The truth is, most agencies want good training but options are limited. So here is a possible solution: computer-based training. Individual training that can be done at any time for a fraction of the cost of sending someone to a seminar.

Computer-based training has proven to be an effective method of training personnel. It does not replace practical hands-on experience but it provides the basis for new and seasoned employees to test and expand their knowledge on snow and ice operations and techniques. Once completed, new and seasoned students have the latest tools and techniques to apply to the duties they perform in winter operations.

The flexibility it offers is invaluable. Students can work at their own pace; leave and restart where they left off; reference sections already completed; and be tested on the materials they have completed. The materials covered are very diverse and useful to staff or supervisors alike.

In January of 2006 six individuals (Dennis Burkheimer, Leland Smithson, Bret Hodne, Tom Martinelli, Greg Parker and Mark DeVries) representing different snow and ice committees collaborated on the potential development of new computer-based training modules. Options were discussed and subject matter developed. Five modules and their related content were decided upon. A business plan and timeline were conceived. The program was set in place. Here is a synopsis of the program:

Clear Roads - A pooled fund research project aimed at rigorous testing of winter maintenance materials, equipment and methods for use by highway maintenance crews—in conjunction with the American Public Works Association (APWA), the National Association of County Engineers (NACE), and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)—has expanded upon AASHTO's successful Anti-icing/RWIS Computer-Based Training (AI/RWIS CBT) program by developing and distributing additional modules related to winter maintenance, including (in order of priority):

  1. Equipment Maintenance
  2. Proper Plowing Techniques
  3. Deicing
  4. Blowing Snow Mitigation
  5. Policy Management

Using contemporary multimedia technology, these self-paced programs will engage and evaluate the learner by means of a convenient, economical medium.

Why computer-based training?
There are some distinct advantages of computer-based training compared with traditional instructor-led training:

  • Self-paced
  • Addresses multiple learner needs—some students learn best by reading, others by listening, still others by watching. Most everyone learns best by doing—interactive multimedia training provides this.
  • Convenient delivery mechanism
  • Doesn't interrupt work schedules
  • Consistent training, both within the organization and across agencies
  • Research suggests interactive multimedia training provides better retention of material
  • Lower cost (particularly if travel is involved for classroom training)
  • Available anytime for a refresher
  • Easily updated

The programs will cover the following topics:

1. Equipment Maintenance
Unit 1: Pre-season Preparation
Unit 2: Common Types of Winter Maintenance Equipment
Unit 3: Mounting and Inspecting Snow Removal Equipment
Unit 4: Preparing for Each Event
Unit 5: Within-event Maintenance
Unit 6: Post-event Maintenance
Unit 7: Periodic Maintenance
Unit 8: End-of-season Tasks

2. Proper Plowing Techniques
Unit 1: Pre-season Preparation
Unit 2: Pre-trip Preparation
Unit 3: Safety
Unit 4: Common Types of Snow Removal Equipment
Unit 5: Roadway Plowing Techniques
Unit 6: Plowing Special Areas
Unit 7: Using Specialty Equipment
Unit 8: Cleanup

3. Deicing
Unit 1: Properties of Common Deicing Materials
Unit 2: How to Select and Order Deicing Materials
Unit 3: How to Prepare, Handle and Store Deicing Materials
Unit 4: Common Types of Deicing Material Applicators
Unit 5: Guidelines for Efficient and Effective Application of Deicing Materials
Unit 6: Application Techniques
Unit 7: Periodic Activities and Maintenance Procedures

4. Blowing Snow Mitigation
Unit 1: The Problem of Blowing Snow
Unit 2: How Snow Fences Work
Unit 3: Identifying Problem Areas and Determining Possible Solutions
Unit 4: Structural Snow Fence Design
Unit 5: Living Snow Fences
Unit 6: Working With Landowners
Unit 7: Road Design to Mitigate Blowing Snow

5. Policy Management
Unit 1: Selecting, Purchasing and Managing Materials
Unit 2: Operational Methods
Unit 3: Establishing Service Levels and Performance Measurements
Unit 4: Winter Maintenance Planning and Budgeting
Unit 5: Employee Issues
Unit 6: Liability Issues
Unit 7: Working With Other Agencies and the Public

On average, these programs will take the user about two hours to complete. The student can exit the course at any time and resume where he/she last left off during a subsequent session. Topics can be completed in any order.

All programs in the suite of winter maintenance training programs will include the following features:

  • Common graphical user interface
  • Login
  • Resume where last left off
  • Units/Topic menus (units and topics within each unit can be taken in any order)
  • Progress indicators (e.g., checkmarks)
  • Photographs
  • Custom illustrations
  • 3D animation
  • Tables/charts
  • Voice-over narration
  • Audio controls (on/off, volume)
  • Instructional dialog text panel
  • Sound effects
  • Digital video in Windows Media format
  • Digital video player controls (play/pause/resume, rewind, progress slider)
  • Glossary
  • Hot terms (allows user to see definition without having to go to the glossary)
  • Website links
  • Adobe Acrobat (PDF) document viewer
  • Printing of screen shots, various documents
  • Pop-up notepad
  • Intermittent review questions
  • Interactive exercises
  • Quiz (multiple choice, true/false)
  • Certificate of Completion
  • Recordkeeping of individual student progress/performance on each local computer
  • No hard drive installation required; program can be run directly from CD-ROM

Centralized records mean that training managers can monitor students' progress through an individual course as well as the suite of CBTs as a whole at any time.

As of early September, the development of this suite of training programs is as follows:

Equipment Maintenance CBT - Version 1 released in July 2007.

Proper Plowing Techniques CBT - Beta version distributed in July 2007 to technical working group. Version 1 released in September 2007.

Deicing CBT - Storyboard distributed to technical working group in August 2007. Version 1 expected to be released by November 30, 2007.

Blowing Snow Mitigation - Topic outline distributed to technical working group in August 2007. Storyboard expected to be distributed to group prior to October 31, 2007. Version 1 expected to be released by January 31, 2008.

Policy Management - Outline and storyboard yet to be written. Version 1 expected to be released within the first half of 2008.

These five modules will be available through the APWA Bookstore when completed. It is likely that local agencies will be offered the option to choose to purchase an individual module or purchase the entire suite.

A session is planned for the 2008 North American Snow Conference in Louisville next April to discuss and demonstrate this unique training opportunity.

Bonus Course
In addition to these five modules, Version II of the original Anti-Icing/RWIS CD has been developed and should be available to those who purchased the original CD through the APWA Bookstore in the near future.

Considering all the advantages to computer-based training and the focus of these modules, these are likely to be embraced by the snow and ice industry as one of the best training tools to enhance any agency's operations.

Mark DeVries volunteers for the Illinois Local Technology Transfer Program (LTAP), and teaches flagging safety and snow and ice removal for new operators for all local agencies in northern Illinois; he can be reached at (815) 334-4975 or at Steve Gannon is the owner of GanTek Multimedia, a multimedia consultancy specializing in Authorware development and training; he can be reached at (800) 478-3242 or