It’s a New World

Early in March, I was at a training meeting for Search & Rescue in my county. One of the first topics discussed was the upcoming training. In early March there were only 2 people who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the county. Still, I felt we should be proactive, and postpone training for March and April, just in case things changed. There was also an Assistant Professor from a local medical college in the meeting that strongly supported my suggestion. Wow! Have things changed.

The world seemed to transform in days, with growing concern about some virus in China, to denial that this was anything other than the flu, to escalating into a worldwide pandemic. Planned events started being canceled, including one we were all looking forward to, the IIAR conference in Florida. Plane trips I had planned, were canceled as processing facilities struggled to figure out what to do to limit exposure and possible spread of COVID-19. Also, all training events I was going to be part of were canceled.

As time has gone on, my family has really put texting to work. Recent reports on cellphone usage show a massive increase as people everywhere try to remain “connected”. One brief text from a daughter really hit home, it read “Congratulations you successfully made it to April! Welcome to Level 4 of Jumanji”.

In this world that now seems like Jumanji, what are we doing? What can we learn?

One of my other daughters has a blog focused on hiking and climbing, and she recently had a quote that I think is very applicable to what everyone is experiencing and how individuals might react. The quote read, “When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”

As my, and most everyone’s normal travel has been greatly cut back or postponed, I along with many others have been looking at ways to continue contacting people, doing work, and learning. The internet has been a live saver, and using the internet has the potential to be a great help, as long as the internet can handle it. As you can imagine the usage of the internet has gone way beyond expectations. Internet providers do expect yearly growth, but we have far exceeded those projections. So far, the system has been able to handle the expanded use, with only a little slowdown, and sometimes that isn’t even noticeable. Hopefully, it stays that way.

One useful means to continue learning is to attend webinars. What is a webinar? The word is actually made up of two words, “web” meaning the internet, and “seminar”, shortened to “inar”. Thus, webinar, is a web-based seminar.

Since 2014, IIAR has used webinars to provide helpful information and learning to its members. Plans are in works to provide a means to get what we all missed at the canceled March conference, through webinars. You have likely noticed the large increase in other organizations, groups, schools, etc. that are now offering webinars and online classes. How all of these online events will work out I am sure will be a learning experience for everyone, as we all figure out what works and what doesn’t. All of IIAR’s existing webinar’s work well. As a member of IIAR, you can access webinars back to 2014.

I considered providing an online means for doing ammonia refresher classes. I had all of the learning modules, PowerPoints, and videos, which I could use to instruct classes through some platform without actually physically being there. Then I started thinking, if I was someone attending one of these types of classes, what might it be like? Well, for an 8-hour refresher class, it would be like trying to sit through an 8-hour, low-quality movie. That’s not happening. Online presentations would have to be broken into lengths that people could stand to absorb, which might be not much more than 1 hour in length, like the IIAR webinars. You can usually get continuing education credit for webinars viewed.

ASHRAE and RETA both offer online courses on various topics. Most of these have a fee, but you can get PDH or other continuing education credits once you fulfill the course requirements. Many manufacturers and equipment suppliers are now offering webinars or links to access YouTube videos that can also be great ways to continue our education.

Another possibility would be learning at your own pace, coming back when you’re ready for more. You can find many webinar presentations that are “at your own pace”. A few I recently took were on the FEMA Independent Training website at The FEMA independent courses are free of charge.

One of the challenges with distance learning is the interaction between the instructor and students, as well as between students. Most webinars will let you submit questions, which may be answered at the end of the webinar, or in follow-up communication. Very few, if any webinars offer a live connection between the presenter and the student. The challenge is that as the viewing audience increases in number, so does the interference (background noise) for everyone viewing the webinar, but I am guessing this hurtle will be quickly overcome as more and more schools move to online classes. Maybe that’s what “mute” is for?

Webinars offer a great means to continue learning, especially during this time of limited interaction with other people, which you get with face-to-face meetings and conferences. Some of the lack of direct face-to-face interaction at classes and/or meetings can be overcome.

Several platforms allow group meetings, even very large groups. I would guess that most of us have at least participated in online meetings. Although, as I just recently learned, some people have never participated in online meetings. Through a group meeting, documents (Word, PDF, etc.), PowerPoints, and videos can be shared and viewed by the entire group. One person acts as the “host” of the meeting, and everyone can view what is on the host’s computer. A switch can also be made to another host for viewing additional information.

Due to my recent, self-imposed “stay at home” exile from the world (this must be what it feels like for an astronaut living on the International Space Station) I connected with three different companies Chief Refrigeration engineers, none of whom had ever participated in an online group meeting. Even for these people who hadn’t done this before the process was nearly trouble-free.

Are you taking advantage of online meetings, or can you expand the use of such meetings? Are you continuing your education and learning by participating in the many available webinars? Hopefully, you answer “Yes” to these questions, even in this Jumanji world, and make windmills, not walls.