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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 61· No. 2 > NHI Charts New Course For the Future

Sept/Oct 1997
Vol. 61· No. 2

NHI Charts New Course For the Future

by Jacqueline M. Richardson

Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater and Julio Cesar Caballero, director of the Argentinian Portland Cement Institute.

Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater presents Julio Cesar Caballero, director of the Argentinian Portland Cement Institute (Instituto de Cemento Portland Argentino), with a plaque, making his organization a permanent Certified Technology Transfer center of the Pan American Institute of Highways on Sept. 5, 1995.

"Reinventing government" has become the norm in the 1990s. Without a doubt, public agencies have had to change the way they operate.

In the transport sector, this change has stemmed not only from fiscal considerations, but also from the desire of the public agencies to work closely with private organizations and academic institutions to advance the application of new technologies. This collaboration is vital, for example, to introduce new technologies, such as Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and Superpave, into the mainstream practice of current and future transportation professionals.

Public agencies, such as federal, state, and local transportation departments, have also expressed the desire to exchange information with foreign transportation organizations -- both public and private. For the United States to compete effectively in international markets, its organizations will need to learn about transportation systems abroad and to seek ways to integrate those with U.S. systems.

The collaboration of public transportation agencies with the various groups has clearly heightened the need to share information and to "transfer technology" through high-quality, diverse training and education.

The National Highway Institute (NHI) sees its role as facilitating this transfer of technology through workshops, seminars, training courses, fellowships, and professional exchanges. NHI is already the leading source within the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) of comprehensive technical training and education programs for transportation professionals. However, NHI is expanding its reach to other customer groups. For example, NHI is strengthening its ties to universities throughout the United States and providing them with course materials that can be incorporated into their curricula.

Course Design, Delivery, and Medium

Hands-on demonstration on measuring aggregate properties at the Superpave Regional Lab center of the University of Nevada, Reno.Participants from FHWA's Washington State Division and from the countries of Zimbabwe and Colombia attend hands-on demonstration on measuring aggregate properties at the Superpave Regional Lab center of the University of Nevada, Reno. The demonstration was part of the conference entitled "Pavement Distress Identification and Techniques for Rehabilitation and Design" that was held from April 28 to May 8, 1997.

NHI is working with its experts to design courses that are focused on learner results. Based on the theory of Instructional Systems Design (ISD), the approach is to design courses based on what the participants need to learn, how they will use the knowledge they gain, and how they can best retain what they have learned. NHI is making its courses more interactive by building more interaction between the instructor and the class and among class members. Moreover, NHI is including multimedia presentations, group and individual exercises, and tests in its training courses.

NHI is also developing a certification program for instructors. Instructors, many of whom are industry experts, will enhance their presentation skills by applying adult education principles that will improve the effectiveness of the newly designed training courses.

To better reach its customers, NHI is using state-of-the-art technology, such as distance learning (e.g., teleconferencing, satellite broadcasts) and computer-based training (e.g., CD-ROM), as well as instructor-led classes. For example, in March and April 1995, NHI's distance-learning course "Load and Resistance Factor Design for Highway Bridge Substructures" was transmitted via satellite simultaneously to 22 state departments of transportation, two technology transfer centers, one city government, and one university. The course was so well received that it was taught in a classroom setting 18 times through the spring of 1996. Likewise, in April and July 1996, NHI presented the "Seismic Bridge Design Applications" course via satellite to 20 state departments of transportation. An estimated 534 transportation professionals participated in this course.

Personnel

Meeting the needs of its international customers is another challenge that NHI is meeting head on. To better communicate with its non-English-speaking customers, NHI recruited multilingual professionals who speak Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Czech, German, Finnish, and Vietnamese. Already, NHI staff and instructors travel to other countries to give technical assistance, hold technology transfer seminars, and deliver training courses in the native language of the country.

NHI also has a new organizational structure in which each staff member is part of a team. Five disciplinary teams represent the areas of concentration -- program development, infrastructure and civil engineering, transportation engineering, international training, and universities. Four cross-cutting teams -- marketing, process improvement, delivery and fiscal management, and curriculum delivery and media selection -- work to improve the customer outreach, effectiveness, and quality of NHI services in each area of concentration.

"This organizational structure reflects our team approach to developing and delivering innovative training and education programs," said NHI director Moges Ayele.

Lastly, NHI is increasing the number of instructors from within the FHWA to enhance the technical competency of the staff. The FHWA staff is the agency's greatest resource, and NHI can provide opportunities to augment and sustain their expertise.

Customer Service Focus

Responsiveness is a key ingredient to delivering excellent customer service. Recognizing that, NHI is developing tools to solicit and measure customer feedback to its workshops, seminars, courses, fellowships, and professional exchanges. NHI has already reduced its response time in implementing customer requests. NHI can now develop a course in a matter of months; previously, the process could take years.

NHI is also tailoring course materials to the needs of specific groups. It is developing courses that present the same material in a different light, depending on whether the audience includes technicians who actually use transportation technologies, managers who choose to adopt the technologies, or policy-makers who plan to use the technologies and include them in their budgets.

The 1994 Transportation Research Board Special Report entitled Highway Research: Current Programs and Future Directions recognized education and training as being "as important as research in improving highway transportation." The report added that "more must be done because the value of R&D products can be jeopardized by the inability of highway engineers and technicians to adopt and use them properly." The National Highway Institute shares this belief in the importance of training and education and stands prepared for challenges ahead.

For more information about NHI or to subscribe electronically to the NHI monthly newsletter, please consult the web page at www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov

Jacqueline M. Richardson is the marketing specialist for the National Highway Institute. She manages media relations, writes articles, and designs advertisements promoting NHI products and services. She designed the new NHI web page, which has launched the NHI Public Awareness Campaign.

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