COVID-19 = Trying Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating. Lives lost. Economies crushed. Misery and fear. While we here in Canada have not yet felt the full fury of this corna virus, its affects are already evident.

Passive House Canada, the not-for-profit advocacy group I lead as CEO, has been particularly hard hit. The majority of our revenue is derived from classroom education for building professionals and government decision makers. With hundreds of students suddenly wanting to cancel, we were in trouble.

Fortunately I’m blessed with fantastic staff and understanding clients. Our strategic plan had us moving many of our courses online by spring of 2021.

Boy, did we accelerate that!

Within one week, we were able to offer an important 24 hour course via webinar. It is going on right now – six days of four hours per day.

At Passive House Canada, we are familiar with video technology. We have staff in Victoria, Vancouver, Brazil, U.S., Toronto and Aurora, and work across three time zones. Video conference is a daily occurrence, as is the use of cloud based software.

My concern has been that online education has to deliver the same quality and outcomes as classroom education. That’s not easy when you’re moving to a new delivery platform. It’s not easy when delivering highly-technical content.

Here are a few of the things we’ve done to ensure a good educational experience:

1. The webinars are live and interactive. We have TWO Passive House experts on the webinar – one is instructing and the other is facilitating the event, answering text questions and making sure folks are heard when they have a question to ask.

2. The webinars are taped and students have access to them for future study, especially as they near writing their exam.

3. There are online discussion groups that past and current students can meet in to talk problems and share solutions.

4. Before we went live, we practised, practised, practised. No software fumbling on day one. No hesitant instructors either. (Although, ironically, the video of the CEO welcoming folks to class started without audio. It was like someone was telling me something. That was fixed for day two.)

5. We have great instructors and chose one for this inaugural webinar who knows how to present to the computer. To be good, they must be engaging, even though their students are spread across the continent. Teaching for 24 hours to a computer is tough.

Early feedback is good. One participant told me he enjoyed working alone in his room, able to focus on the course without distraction. Others have said they enjoy not having to travel to a larger city and paying for hotel and meals. One of the important reasons I included moving online is to offer our programs to those who don’t have the ability to travel to a large city for class. I thought northern and rural clients would love this most, but it turns out folks in big cities are very happy to stay home and go to “school,” too.

On the downside, it’s been noted that students who are quiet in the classroom are quiet in the webinar – but it’s harder to identify them. We’re working on that. As these students progress through our 120-series and take the Passive House Institute exams, we’ll be monitoring their success to compare it to students who took the in-class route. I have a feeling that, with good instructors and good curriculum, graduation rates will be the same.

In the meantime, we’re rolling out a full bundle of courses with a deep discount. Our Pathway to Certification program is now online. In today’s world of net zero, near zero and high-performance buildings – whatever you may call them – the clearest path to understanding and creating these buildings is by taking Passive House Canada’s 120-series courses that lead to certification as a Passive House Professional.

Here’s a writeup in the popular Passive House Accelerator newsletter about the launch of our new online series.

While COVID-19 has devastated the economy and shattered many lives, I am relieved that our staff remains healthy. At the end of the day, what matters more?

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