The first day of the virtual Bus Technology Summit is already cultivating discussions and reengaging industry leaders after in-person conferences were postponed due to the new novel coronavirus.
Ten or even five years ago, hosting a virtual conference would have been met with blank stares and confused participants. However, people are becoming more accustomed to online opportunities and training that are available.
While some technical challenges persisted in the morning with regard to navigating the platform, connectivity to the site, and using headset microphones, transportation leaders are becoming more comfortable with online meeting technology, especially during the pandemic. It has become one of the only ways to communicate with staff due to social distancing guidelines, aside from phone calls, emails and text messages.
Ian McKerlich, the president and CEO of Zonar Systems, said Monday morning during his opening Tech Talk that the educational sector has traditionally been slow to adopt new technology, but COVID-19 has hastened that evolution. But the technology isn’t solely available for the students who are online learning during this time. It has also become a necessary tool for school district staff that is working to keep in touch with co-workers and still hold training sessions.
While many schools have started the school year virtually, or some in-person with social distancing policies in place, keeping staff trained remains paramount in the student transportation industry.
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Michael Shields, the recently retired director of transportation for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Oregon, presented in the “Let’s Talk: Driver & Staff Training,” session on this very topic. He said while some staff members at Salem-Keizer are feeling anxious, especially due to lack of communication, his department combats this by encouraging an open dialogue with leaders, virtually of course.
He advised that when developing virtual training, soliciting feedback from staff is important. So, too, is the attention to the details of lighting, backgrounds and even presenters’ facial expression. Attendees shared that they too are engaging employees virtually by using programs such as Zoom and Google Classroom. Many also said they are creating school bus safety videos that can be shared with staff, others are using programs such as SafeSchools to stream first aid, student discipline, and board of education training.
Don Todd, the transportation supervisor for Washington Township Schools in Morris County, New Jersey, shared via the chat that his district created videos for pre-tip training for the trainees to watch and memorize. Then they came to the facility in small groups walkarounds or individual behind-the-wheel tests, with social distancing and disinfectant practices at work.
Rhonda Lyons, director of transportation for Wayne-Westland Community School District in Michigan, shared she provides similar training at her district. The staff there receive pre-trip videos as well as utilizing their insurance company’s library of training videos. She said her drivers are tested after each video for information retention. Once completed, their sign-off sheet is printed and placed in their employment and training file.
Shields reminded attendees that buying technology and training platforms is one thing, but training staff on how to use it is another part of the puzzle. He advised transportation departments to work with other departments, especially the district’s IT department, to host Q&A sessions and give staff a chance to share their complications.
Shields also shared that many OEMs and manufacturers, as well as state and national associations, have training on their websites.