Gov’t Turns to Online Education to Grow Nuclear Workforce

Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC) in Florence, South Dakota, is working to create an online course that will allow faculty and students to concentrate on nuclear energy and innovation without stepping into a classroom. The college has received a grant from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to develop new models to support a workforce in the regional nuclear power field, writes Erik Rancatore of Huffington Post.

The prototype physics course, “Power Up: High Tech Online,” is designed to address needs of working students who can have increased difficulty in getting to class and abiding by lab hours. The program is still in its pilot stage.

FDTC is hoping that this online nuclear program will attract a more diverse student population, as traditionally nuclear engineering is a predominately white, male field.

“We know the importance of using the online forum as a way to create a global environment, honing in on the global learner,” said William Beston, an instructor at FDTC.

Beston said that they will produce videos for the course and nuclear education clips with assistance from the University of Missouri at Columbia, recognizing that students increasingly have become more reliant on visual learning models. Students enrolling for the spring 2014 semester will see a variety of videos produced specifically for the course as well as nuclear education clips from YouTube.

The range of matters that current nuclear engineering students will face, such as national nuclear infrastructure, safety, and advances in medicine, requires that their training incorporate best practices from professionals across the world. The American Nuclear Society supplements educational programs, such as FDTC, by connecting students with professionals outside the classroom walls.

Connecting students and nuclear professionals within the course allows students to have specific questions regarding the current chapters and lessons that they are studying addressed. Beston hopes that the shared environment creates an enriched knowledge of the applications and deepened conversations on the discussion boards.

The constant development of the nuclear energy industry is one of the benefits of modifying some nuclear education programs for online practice.

“It is important for students to understand the global impact that nuclear energy has had and continues to have,” says Donald R. Hoffman, president of the American Nuclear Society. “The exciting part of having nuclear engineering academic programs that include online-based learning is the possibility to share these advances in the academic setting. Discussions and projects that are able to keep pace with the modernization of applications and changing policies in nuclear will better prepare students for real-world situations.”

The NRC will present a report on the FDTC program and several other grant programs at the American Nuclear Society’s 2013 winter meeting in Washington, D.C.

“This is a chance for the industry to have an open dialogue on the developments that will change the future workforce,” says Hoffman. “As a learning organization we are a champion of cross-sector interaction, most importantly when it comes to the benefits of our students. My mission is to give them the best opportunity to educate themselves, show useful application, and continue to become leaders in this industry.”