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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 68 · No. 4 > Internet Watch|
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-003
by Keri A. Funderburg
Staying Informed: Training without Travel
According to a 2003 study by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Americans make more than 405 million long-distance business trips per year. A recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute found that in addition to all that travel, U.S. drivers sit in traffic for an average of 46 hours per year. This is 30 hours more per year than just a few decades ago. With so much time spent on business trips and commuting to and from work, busy professionals are looking for ways to reduce their travel requirements so they can lead more balanced lives. In addition, many agencies and organizations face limited travel budgets that require managers to reduce spending.
To help transportation professionals spend less time on the road and help agencies reduce their expenses for business travel, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and many other organizations are turning to Web broadcasts to conduct meetings, conferences, and training sessions. These Web-based events enable personnel located across the country to access video and audio broadcasts, share documents, e-mail comments, and interact with other participants online by logging onto specialized Web sites.
Web meetings and conferences offer numerous benefits. In situations where face-to-face communication is not vital to the outcome of an event, a Web meeting can save participants and agencies time and money, in addition to increasing participation of people who otherwise might not have attended because of the longer time commitment due to travel. Such events also can potentially boost productivity by giving employees more time to attend to pressing matters in the office. And Web events may be a step in the right direction toward helping to reduce congestion. These benefits help explain why Web events are becoming increasingly popular alternatives to conventional meetings.
Teaching Lessons Through Talking Freight
For more than a year, FHWA's Office of Freight Management and Operations, in partnership with the Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty, have jointly hosted a monthly seminar series via internet and telephone called "Talking Freight," led by a variety of government and industry experts. A component of FHWA's Freight Professional Development and Transportation Planning Capacity Building programs, the Talking Freight seminars provide current information, new training opportunities, and noteworthy practices on various freight planning topics, targeting those in the public and private sectors who are responsible for planning, designing, building, managing, and operating the transportation system. FHWA held the first seminar on July 23, 2003.
Each seminar lasts 90 minutes, with 60 minutes allocated for presentations by transportation planning experts and 30 minutes for questions from participants. FHWA provides instructions to registered participants on how to view the speakers' slide presentations using Web-conferencing tools. Participants can listen to the audio portion of the seminar by calling a designated teleconference number. Recent seminar topics have included freight security and urban goods movement and planning.
"The feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive," says Scott Johnson with FHWA's Office of Freight Management and Operations. "Our partners have told us repeatedly that training resources are becoming more and more constrained, so they appreciate that we listened and responded to their concerns with this free and flexible delivery approach."
According to Eloise Freeman-Powell with FHWA's Office of Planning, customers also can access archived Talking Freight presentations at any time after the seminar. "This is one of the great advantages to using webconferencing technology for training purposes--it accommodates our customers' busy work schedules," she says. "In fact, about one-third of our total audience has accessed the archived Talking Freight presentations from our joint FHWA Freight Planning Web site, which demonstrates the value of this feature."
Due to the positive feedback, the planning and freight offices are exploring even more opportunities to deliver freight planning training via webconferencing technology during 2005.
For more information on the Talking Freight series, visit http://talkingopsandfreight.webex.com.
Real-Time Web Courses Generate Real-World Success
FHWA's National Highway Institute (NHI) offers several courses that rely on Web capabilities. For example, NHI soon will offer the Web-based course Statistical Resources and Performance Measurement. Targeted at research directors and managers from State transportation agencies, the course will instruct participants on where to find relevant materials and how to use various statistical techniques to measure roadway performance. Instructors will teach the course via the Web and connect in real time to participants across the Nation.
Although NHI offers both real-time (synchronous) and self-paced (asynchronous) courses, the reviews of the asynchronous courses have been mixed. "Research and experience have shown that having a synchronous component increases the completion rate for the course," explains Debbie Gwaltney, with FHWA's Office of Professional Development.
NHI and FHWA's Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty are developing an asynchronous course to serve as a prerequisite to the existing course, NEPA Transportation Decision Making (#142005A). The advantage of an online prerequisite course is that instructors can be certain that all participants will have the same baseline knowledge because each will either have taken the course or tested out of it.
According to Gwaltney, "This asynchronous course will enable the instructor-led course to delve deeper into the subject than currently is possible without covering material that some participants already may know." For more information on NHI's e-learning opportunities, visit www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov.
Connecticut DOT Hosts Web-based Meetings
Aside from FHWA, State departments of transportation (DOTs) also are broadcasting meetings and training via the Internet. The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) hosted a live Webcast of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) recent National Research Advisory Committee meeting. While researchers from 40 States and staff from AASHTO and FHWA attended the meeting in person in Mystic, CT, many others participated online. During the 4.5-day meeting, remote users were able to upload live video and pose questions and comments by sending faxes or e-mails. Meeting officials estimate that an average of 25 simultaneous connections was typical throughout the event.
In addition to the AASHTO meeting, ConnDOT has held several other Web events. In July 2004, the department hosted a 1-day workshop on modified asphalts for the Association of Modified Asphalt Producers. ConnDOT held the workshop at its materials testing facility for a live audience of about 35 people and for an online audience of 14 viewers. To access the agenda and on-demand streaming video, visit www.ct.gov/dot/AMAP.
In August 2004, ConnDOT hosted a 1-day Webcast of an FHWA-led conference entitled "Introduction to NCHRP 1-37A (Mechanistic-Empirical) Pavement Design Guide." This well-publicized event resulted in more than 110 users simultaneously connecting to the Webcast throughout the day. According to Drew Coleman of ConnDOT, user feedback was overwhelmingly positive. To view streaming video from the event, visit www.ct.gov/dot/pavement101.
Web-based learning quickly is becoming a valuable way to provide transportation professionals with a wealth of knowledge. For agencies and individuals, the Web can save time and money, and reduce the hassle of travel.
Keri A. Funderburg is a contributing editor for PUBLIC ROADS.
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