Radiation Safety Training in The Age of Coronavirus

Historically, the NV5 Training Academy faculty has offered our 40-hour Radiation Safety Officer (RSO) courses in an in-person classroom setting. Computer-based RSO training is not something that we’ve done in the past as we value the ability to interact individually with students face-to=face, conducting hands-on exercises, and demonstrating properties of radioactivity with a variety of survey meters, radioactive sources, and shields. Recently, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NV5 Training Academy had to be creative on how to present the RSO course since it could not be held in an in-person classroom setting.

The arrival of the pandemic has not stemmed the need for RSO training. Radioactive material licensees continue to work with radioactive materials and x-ray generating devices. Companies and universities continue to apply for new licenses to possess radioactive materials. Existing radiation safety officers change jobs or retire and their replacements require RSO training. Recognizing that the training market remains robust, and after not holding classroom classes since April, we resumed RSO training in June using the GoToMeetings platform.  Initially I was concerned; specifically, I was wondering if students would register, and would the technology allow for high quality audio and video connections when as many as 20 people joined a session?

Through September, we have delivered four RSO classes and two Medical RSO classes. Demand has been similar to pre-pandemic numbers, as we have averaged approximately 15 students per class. Having completed several virtual classes, we can accurately conclude that course quality remains high; this has been consistently reflected in the course evaluation forms we ask students to submit upon completion of training. But commenting as an instructor, I will concede that the virtual format poses some new challenges that we will need to address in the near future:

  • Face Time. Lack of the ability for students and instructors to see each other. Face time is important during training.
  • Time Zones. We begin our day at 8 AM and wrap up around 5:30 – 6:00 PM. In the virtual world, we have people who may be attending from three different time zones (same is true for our instructors). Based on feedback from students, we have decided to split the difference and start our day at 9:30 AM Eastern. And so far, this seems to be a workable solution for everyone.
  • Less Interactivity. We are getting fewer questions from students in the virtual classroom, some may raise their virtual hand and once I finish my thought, I will call on them. In the virtual classroom, we are working on how to make the class more interactive. I need that student to stop me and ask questions since I cannot see him or her. I’ve found that no matter how many times I encourage them to do so, the number of questions asked has decreased considerably.
  • Interaction between students and instructors is not the same as in-person classroom training. Many people learn more effectively when they are able to discuss things face-to-face.
  • I miss show and tell time. We have so many interesting radioactive items, instruments, and related radiation safety items that we handle, pass around, etc. when the training occurs at one of our training centers.
  • My dog doesn’t care that I’m conducting a training session online. So when the FedEx truck pulls up in front of my house, my students and I have to deal with the loud barking competing with my voice as I continue to present my materials.

Radiation safety training is an important part of our business, so first and foremost, it’s great that we are able to continue to operate the Training Academy virtually. But when the pandemic no longer dictates how and where we can teach on a day-to-day basis, we will be happy to be able to reopen our Rockville, MD and San Diego, CA training centers. At that time, we will be offering training in both formats, in-person classroom and virtually.  We will continue to work out kinks so that we have a better training experience for our students.