Roll away the floor plan and log onto the laptop 3D technology by keara

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									Roll away the floor plan and log onto the laptop: 3D technology allows home buyers to ‘virtually’ experience their future houses
A lack of visual or spatial skills will no longer be a frustrating handicap for everyday people trying to picture their future dream home, with many building and construction workers and sub-contractors now using sophisticated 3D computer-based technology on site to allow their clients to „virtually‟ experience a range of design options. With the click of a button, building professionals can help their clients to fully visualise and accurately plan the height, depth, style, size and dimensions of their home, minimising the chance of any future disappointment at the final lock-up stage. The rapid shift towards the use of computer-based technology by building professionals is a trend that‟s happening from the bottom of the pecking order. New apprentices - the sub-contractors of tomorrow - are now acquiring cutting edge computer literacy as part of their standard apprenticeship training. Today‟s apprentices are the link to the future and their technology-based skills and knowledge are being quickly recognised by their more experienced but non-computer literate bosses. As a result, a growing number of traditionally trained sub-contractors are deciding to „top up‟ their formal training so they can keep up with their younger apprentices. More construction workers are using sophisticated 3D computer-based technology to accurately map out floor plans, walls and roofs on site are relying just as heavily on their laptops as their traditional tools of the trade. Two training visionaries with extensive knowledge and experience in the construction industry have laid the first „building blocks‟ of the building and construction apprentice training „revolution‟. Brian Gepp and Roger Parry, both trainers in Building and Construction at Douglas Mawson Institute of TAFE (DIMT) in South Australia recognised long ago the importance of being able to anticipate market needs and the professional skills of the building industry. What they understood most critically was the integral role that technology would play. What they were also keenly aware of was that if training providers were to be truly flexible, they had to understand and meet the unique training demands of the building industry. This means being available to provide training at unscheduled „down times‟ when, for example, wet weather prevents apprentices from doing their on-their-job work. The potential for offering this „drop in‟ option hinges on the availability of learning and management resources for accommodating a large number of students at one particular time. This is a future initiative that Brian and Roger are currently investigating. On the technology front, Brian and Roger and their team at DMIT developed the first online training product of its kind for building apprentices. Building Blocks to Reality is a series of instructional frameworks that teach building and construction apprentices and pre-vocational learners how to build a virtual timber framed dwelling using computer software.

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The frameworks provide learners with the basic skills necessary to use an industrystandard architectural building package. Building Blocks to Reality uses ArchiCAD software and was developed with funding and support from the Australian Flexible Learning Framework (Framework). It supports the delivery of Certificates I, II and III in General Construction. Students use Building Blocks to Reality in conjunction with the architectural 3D drawing package ArchiCAD to construct:  subfloors  timber walls  hip and truss roofs The Framework was established in 2000 to support the vocational and educational training (VET) system to meet the rapidly increasing demand for flexible learning and e-learning from industry, enterprise and clients. The Framework is a five-year national strategy collaboratively funded by the Australian Government and all State and Territories to achieve a shared vision of a skilled Australian workforce. Because of their initiative and drive to address this important industry vision, Brian and Roger were both named Flexible Learning Leaders earlier this year. Flexible Learning Leaders are selected by the Framework through a competitive process. They represent many public and private organisations within the training system and are provided with funding and support to lead change within their own organisations, and are available to share their knowledge and experience with the education and training community. Knowing how to use the Building Blocks to Reality technology will equip today‟s apprentices with the skills they will need to meet growing demand from clients for visual representations of how their homes will look before purchase. According to Brian, today‟s clients are no longer satisfied with looking at traditional paper-based drawings. They want to be able to actually „walk through‟ a virtual house. “One of the things that always stuck with me was that our director said „one day people will build virtual houses‟ – and everyone laughed,” Brian said. “But I took that on board and when I started to see ArchiCAD computer-aided drawing software it gelled with me that we could actually build virtual houses, and that the technology was available. “I know a site manager in Adelaide who takes his laptop on site and connects to the Internet. Everybody sees the way he is functioning – the big firms are employing guys like that today and they realise the importance of becoming computer literate. But it‟s the sub-contractors who are struggling with it, and the only way that you will get to the subbies is through their apprentices,” he said. That‟s not to say, however, that all building apprentices find computer-based training easy. “We have some students who come in and sit down in front of the computer and it frustrates them – they get „bum rot‟ because they are used to being out in the field hammering nails or being active and their computer skills are lacking.

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“Some mature age students only have „single finger‟ keyboard skills. But by providing and developing our materials online, and with more homes now having computers, the students are now really realising they will need to spend more time sharpening their skills to ensure they will be able to work competently with clients in the future.” Apart from pleasing clients, planning a building using technology also saves subcontractors an enormous amount of time. It is, for example, far more efficient – both in terms of time and materials – to identify an error in a virtual home than a real one. “Previously, apprentices would have gone out and into the construction area and built in reality,” Roger said. “With that is the associated „I measured that wrong‟ and „I cut that piece too short...bugger!‟ and that has big implications on financial resources and time, and having to redo things. ArchiCAD allows apprentices to manipulate these principles in order to accommodate new materials, new techniques and new design factors. “The business of being a sub-contractor is very hard. If you can show apprentices a method that is more effective and efficient in utilising their time, and it increases their competitiveness and quality, then it does start to have an impact.” Mature-age carpentry apprentice Dave Furlong believes that acquiring computerbased training in a flexible way has given him a head start by providing him with the essential computer skills he needs for both his training through DMIT and his future business opportunities. After recently completing his first pre-vocational year, 27-year-old Dave said he had always been a “hands on” person, but found he lacked important computer skills. “Everyone needs to be computer literate,” Dave said. “On the construction site, plans are all drawn up by computer now, and it‟s much easier to read them and make adjustments. On the site, you don‟t always have the exact quantities of materials written on the plan, so you need to be able to calculate the correct quantity, and the computer program can tell you that.” Dave said clear explanations for using ArchiCAD software, and good support from his teachers has made his apprenticeship training experience very rewarding. “I got much more out of web-based learning than using text books because it was so interactive. The books get boring fairly quickly. Using computers makes it far more interesting, and the layout keeps the brain more active. It also seems to be a lot more up to date than books, and more visual, so it‟s easier to relate to the workplace. “I‟ll probably end up becoming a sub-contractor one day, and my ultimate aim is to have my own business. Computers make all the paperwork and administration so much easier. “Being computer literate also gives you a greater variety of learning tools, professional software and access to information on the Internet,” Dave said.

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With the assistance of an ArchiCAD workbook and additional course-specific material, today‟s apprentices can see whether they have succeeded in measuring and cutting materials correctly by creating a two-dimensional drawing in ArchiCAD, which is then converted to a 3D image at the push of a button. Before implementing flexible learning, Roger said the main difficulty DMIT faced for resource development was providing relevant training for staff. But after DMIT successfully bidded for funding and support from the Framework‟s professional development LearnScope Project, they were literally able to „buy time‟ for training. Brian and Roger‟s vision was shared and supported by DMIT management, who provided the necessary computer hardware and IT support. “It became impossible to get people to have time off during the day to be able to do something like this, and so the LearnScope funding created time and support for people to undertake training and feel more comfortable with the direction we were leading them in,” Roger said. Roger said the continued involvement of staff in flexible learning approaches had given everyone the chance to experience a similar learning process and future vision. The growing need to highlight the importance of computer literacy skills for today‟s apprentices resulted in Roger and Brian presenting a paper at the first National TAFE Construction Conference, hosted in South Australia three years ago. Since then, Brian and Roger have been conducting industry sessions around Australia to show TAFE teachers the potential of this technology. Together, they will present at the National TAFE Construction Conference 2004, a key national event for TAFE construction teachers to address issues associated with implementing nationally endorsed training packages, and the effects of any technological change on construction techniques, equipment and materials that impact on building and construction training. The three-day national conference will be held in Brisbane from September 13-15, and aims to inform and inspire practitioners within VET to embrace innovative learning practices, showcase their achievements, network with others, and discover new learning techniques and technologies. A feature of the conference is the Trade Exhibition, which provides sponsors and other organisations with an opportunity to promote their products and services to delegates and other invited guests. For more information on the National TAFE Construction Conference 2004, contact James Knynenburg phone: (07) 3259 4359. For more information about Building Blocks to Reality, visit: http://flexiblelearning.net.au/buildingblocks For more information on Flexible Learning Leaders, visit: http://flexiblelearning.net.au/leaders For more information on LearnScope, visit: http://flexiblelearning.net.au/projects/learnscope

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For more information about the Framework's other products and resources, visit: http://flexiblelearning.net.au For further information about this story contact Framework Communications, phone: (07) 3247 5511 or email: flexenews@flexiblelearning.net.au

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