Home Energy Rater Training - A New Approach

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Student in a HERS rater training class during an interminable  Powerpoint presentation.

What images come to mind for you when I say 'home energy rater class'? The word class (or classroom), as used here, usually evokes images of desks in neat rows, with students attentively looking at the teacher standing in the front of the room. It's also the kind of education most of us grew up with.

The problem with this mode of education is that although it's an efficient way to deliver information, it's a terrible way to learn. It's a product of the mass production approach. Don't believe it? Read Education and the Cult of Efficiency by Raymond Callahan, and you'll see how the efficiency ideas and methods of F.W. Taylor were applied to education. (Taylor was the first 'management consultant,' who developed methods to make factory workers more efficient.)

The good news is that modern research into the brain and learning, as well as the methods and results of education pioneers, show us that there's a much more effective way to teach. One of the most important ideas is that education should involve the learner completely.

Think about your recent experiences with learning. Maybe you've been to a presentation or taken some type of training course as an adult. Perhaps you're working on a college degree. Most likely you sat and watched passively as the instructor went through their presentation. How long could you fully pay attention before your mind started to wander? Here's how it might go:

"House as a system, yeah, that makes a lot of sense...air barrier, insulation...keep the heat out...Maybe that's why my bedroom is so cold in winter...Would I be able to use less covers on my bed?...That old comforter is getting kind of worn, you know...Should I take it to the cleaners?...Maybe I should just get a new one...Oh, man, that restaurant I went to at the mall the other day was so good...I hope they're serving something good for lunch today...Heat flow by radiation...I wonder what he said before that?"

In a typical class, a student sits in a desk, surrounded by - but isolated from - his or her classmates, listening to an instructor discussing slide after Powerpoint slide. It's no wonder your mind wanders. The instructor is totally involved, but you aren't. In addition to wandering-mind syndrome, students sometimes just fall asleep.

When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors would ask students to teach the class occasionally, and I think that's when I first heard the saying, 'If you really want to learn something, teach it.' Recently I've discovered a complementary saying, 'The one doing the most talking does the most learning.' 

Much of the education world doesn't seem to understand this, though, or we wouldn't still have so many classes where the students get to watch the teacher do most of the learning. I've been fascinated by education philosophy, teaching, and learning theory for a long time and have implemented learner-based methods as much as possible in the teaching I've done over the years.

To this point, the home energy rater training classes that I've taught haven't been my own curriculum, but that will change this summer. Energy Vanguard will be a RESNET accredited HERS training provider by mid-summer 2010, and I'm really excited about the curriculum that we're putting together. Here are some of the principles on which it's based:

  • Learning is an activity. Students learn by doing and need to be totally involved in the learning process. Watching the instructor do something doesn't go nearly as far as the students working through the problem on their own.
  • Learning activities appeal to all learning styles: Somatic (using the body), auditory (listening & talking), visual (observing), and intellectual (using the mind).
  • Learning is something created by the student, not given by the teacher. 
  • Collaboration and cooperation foster more learning than does competition. Students will spend most of their time working in groups and will know their fellow students when they leave the class. The classroom will be arranged into learning centers, not the traditional classroom arrangement.
  • A positive learning environment is crucial. One of the most important keys to success is feeling good about the process and the potential for a positive outcome.

I've been studying education methods and philosophies for over 20 years and have a wide range of teaching experiences, too. Some of the biggest influences on me have been the writings of A.S. Neill, John Holt, and Neil Postman, and recently I discovered Dave Meier and the method he calls Accelerated Learning. It falls right in line with the education philosophy I've developed over the decades and is a big force in the HERS rater training curriculum we're developing now.

If you're looking to take become a home energy rater and want to take a HERS rater class this summer, I hope you'll consider Energy Vanguard. To find out how you can be one of the first to sign up for our classes this summer, see this page on our HERS rater training class.

Comments

Sam Bagwell

Allison, I think this is a good idea. I haven't experienced any of your proposed techniques, but they certainly sound like ideas that I would be interested in trying.

Jamie

Great to hear. 
 
Your experience with education and knowledge of building science made it easier for me to listen and retain the material you taught me. Choosing the right person, or group, to receive this information from is crucial. Anyone thinking of getting into HERS would be making a good choice going with Energy Vanguard and you.  

Allison Bailes

Thanks, Sam and Jamie. Keep an eye on the blog here for updates about our training in HERS, BPI, and more. We'll be offering our first class in late July or August.

charles

At the age of 58 I may not be able to keep up with the class. I would so much love to be involved. This is an area of green energy that hits the nail on the head.

Sam Bagwell

Charles, not a problem. I took Allison's class when he was teaching at Southface. I was 61 and nobody called me "old man".

Brian Chernoff

Allison, 
Great article. Thank you. Glad to see you taking such an integrated approach to instruction!  
-Brian