Changing things up in 2020 for virtual success

Changing things up in 2020 for virtual success

William Bennett is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who is now President at supporting and training the first responder community and others in the response to unknown chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive hazards. William always encourages those he teaches to begin any unknown substance investigation by maintaining good situational awareness and not overlooking the simpler analysis techniques before jumping to the fancy electronics. William is the co-author of Emergency Characterization of Unknown Materials (Second Edition).

I teach for a scientific technology company, training individuals how to safely and effectively use chemical analyzers to identify unknown chemicals. Most of the people I teach are first responders who respond to incidents involving hazardous materials, narcotics, and/or explosives. The in-person training in the use of the chemical analyzers is important for ensuring users understand the full capabilities and safety aspects of the analyzers but also to establish a supportive relationship should they have questions or problems later on. A typical training session is a half-day affair

A year ago, when the COVID-19 restrictions went full throttle, I recognized that purchasers would continue to receive their chemical analyzers from the factory and would not necessarily wait for the training prior to using the analyzer. The COVID-19 circumstances created both challenges and opportunities for presenting the training. I quickly determined that I needed to offer a virtual format for the training.

The first challenge was logistical. The in-person training is a combination of presentation and hands-on with the analyzer. Delivering the presentation remotely was a fairly straightforward proposition using one of the now numerous virtual meeting platforms. The hands-on portion presented a few, more complex challenges.

First, a key component of a successful virtual training session required customers receiving the training to also have a decent virtual meeting and demonstration interface on their end of the session. Anything less would degrade the critical interactive aspects of the training. So, I developed a list of customer requirements for consideration prior to agreeing to virtual training. I couldn’t control the network bandwidth other than to evaluate it potentially ahead of the training. Second, I developed a standardized small shippable kit containing the consumable supplies and surrogate chemical samples used during the hands-on portion of the training.

Figure 1. The original problem-fraught setup. Copyright William Bennett, used with permission. HUE used to analyze materials for science.
Figure 1. The original problem-fraught setup.

I conducted my first virtual training in May 2020. The training was successful but with lessons learned of course. First was video management on my end. How difficult could it have been? Right.

The presentation portion of the training was easy enough because I was able to use the built-in camera on my MacBook Pro. This worked really well. Difficulties arose during the demonstration and hands-on portions when I thought I could simply use my iPhone X as a webcam using a tripod (Figure 1). Also, realize I was trying to limit costs by using existing resources. I quickly learned that to use an iPhone as a webcam required a utility app which was a bit surprising. The app I used worked okay but was limited in options and functionality. The biggest issue I had was positioning the webcam (iPhone) over my instrument effectively to display the demonstrations for the hands-on training. The small tripod I used was not entirely up to the task. In response, I purchased an adjustable swing-arm to hold the iPhone where I needed it. The swing-arm holder proved further problematic because I could not get it to stay still where I needed it. Stymied, I began my search for a proper webcam for the task at hand. Enter my HUE HD Pro.

The HUE HD Pro resolved the video production issues I had been contending with. The issue of positioning the camera over the instrument and adjacent to surrogate samples for demonstration purposes was solved completely by the flexible arm holding the HUE camera. Additionally, the software interface worked great and was completely integrated into the virtual meeting platform I use. I am able to easily switch between video sources (MacBook Pro and HUE HD Pro) during virtual training and presentations.

Copyright William Bennett, used with permission. HUE used to analyze materials for science.
Figure 2. HUE HD Pro filming different chemical analysis techniques.

In addition to instrument training, I also present at conferences on behalf of the instrument manufacturer I train for. With 2020 being what it was, the conferences all went virtual causing me to switch things up again in a different venue. I faced slightly different challenges for the conferences because I now had to create recorded videos rather than live web content. The video content I created to support my virtual conference presentation displayed demonstrations of different chemical analysis techniques (Figure 2). Creating the video content to support my conference presentation was actually a lot of fun and I learned a ton. Even as a true amateur I was able to create the video content necessary for the virtual conference presentation. The video resolution and flexibility of the camera is fantastic!

Figure 3. A technique for analyzing highly volatile chemicals. Copyright William Bennett, used with permission. HUE used to analyze materials for science.
Figure 3. A technique for analyzing highly volatile chemicals.

As challenging as 2020 was, 2021 seems to be on-track for success. I am creating additional content for other training my company provides to the first responder community. Having the ability to effectively provide training in-person or virtually has been well received by those I serve. I believe I am better equipped for success now when the need for virtual training or presentation arises. Cheers!

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