Western Electrical Contractors Association, Inc.

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An Inside Take on WECA's Online Apprenticeship This Summer

Thursday, July 02, 2020

WECA's Apprenticeship program has had a significant ambassador this summer in longtime WECA Apprenticeship instructor Rick Mortensen.

Mortensen, based out of WECA's San Diego facility, came to WECA in 2011 after a successful thirty-plus year career in the electrical field—including a stint as owner of Active Power Electric. Mortensen initially started out as a Get Wired instructor, primarily teaching online, before pivoting over to the historically classroom-based Apprenticeship program.

As of late, he's taken his teaching back online—officially teaching Apprenticeship courses online due to the COVID-19 crisis, and dispensing advice and sharing resources on all things electrical via social media.

“I like to keep my Facebook and LinkedIn pages current [in regards to what I'm currently teaching],” says Mortensen. “When we have an event at WECA, such as adapting our curriculum delivery for online instruction, I will post on those sites. And all the instructors spend time online looking for resources to use in the classroom and to share with each other.”

Mortensen continues, stating that “It [teaching online] is different than teaching in a' brick and mortar' classroom. However, in past years I have benefited from training presented by Dan Bierly [the Get Wired Training Manager] in the Get Wired program. Input from other online and Apprenticeship instructors has been immeasurable to me, and the experience has been very gratifying.”

Despite the inherent challenges of teaching a hands-on profession to students online, Mortensen reports that the instructors are positive about the experience, and meet every couple of weeks to share their online teaching experiences. Additionally, the instruction team is in frequent contact online, posting useful documents, conversing, and sharing information.

“[To teach Apprenticeship online], preparation is key,” says Mortensen. “Review your material with an eye on how to modify your presentation. With distance learning, there is a need to make sure you are keeping the students engaged—ask direct questions, poll the classroom, and use breakout groups for group discussions and projects. And it's great to hear a student say “Hey, we missed break” because everyone was focused on a topic or project.”

Whatever Mortensen—and WECA's instructors as a whole—are doing must be working, because the reviews are in, and they're stellar all around.

“WECA has received many comments about the quality of our instruction, regardless of the platform,” says Mortensen. “I attribute that to two factors. One is that our curriculum is second to none—WECA is always updating, modifying it, and making it better. The second is the instructors—in the expanse that is career training, our instructors are shining lights in an otherwise black void of mediocre presentation. All members of the instructional team are dedicated to being the best, and all of us have been shown how to reach, stretch, and grow in ways that I personally did not know I was capable of.”

And when it comes to the students, Mortensen says that the students have adjusted to learning in an online format as well.

“Some are intent on learning, and others need to be nudged, while a few will try to use the distance learning to their advantage. It is really up to the instructor to set the environment in the virtual classroom as a place of learning, with the respect due in any setting where a group of individuals has gathered with a common goal: to learn. The students have—and should continue to—enjoy the experience,” says Mortensen.

So, how does Mortensen advise that students best prepare for success in a less-traditional classroom environment? He says that students should review reading material in advance, ask questions, have good equipment, and most of all, take their educations seriously.

“Learning is like a bank account,” says Mortensen. “You can only get out of it what you put in!”