Monday, February 15, 2010

Learning welding

The first project in the multimodal research programme is called ‘Learning a trade @ CPIT: Learning welding’ where we will try to understand a little about how students learn how to weld. Specifically to find out how they link their learning of the theory on the effect of heat on metal to the actual practice of adjusting a welding machine to allow for different types and gauges of metal.

Having only ever used ‘welding’ techniques to construct gingerbread houses and pastillage models, I have put in some time into learning a bit about welding. So over the summer break, I borrowed a few books from the library, looked at some videos on the www and visited the welding workshops at CPIT to get a feel of what welding is about.

As with all trades, there is more to it than most people think : )  Firstly, there is the language of the workshop, flux, slag, weldpool etc. including a slew of acronyms MMAW (manual metal arc welding), GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding), GMAW (gas metal arc welding), OAW (oxyacetylene welding). Additionally, there is the unfamiliar equipment with the welding machine linked to various gas cylinders and a series of more new concepts with amp ratings, OCV (open circuit voltage). The star wars trooper workshop uniform made up of welding helmet, very uncool leather aprons and super sized, stiff gloves. Plus a whole host of safety regulations to be aware of when working in the workshop to gather research data using digital recorders and videos.
So to begin, Flip & I have selected 2 performance criteria (PCs) and broken them down using a suggested technique by Graham Nuttall to drill down into learning outcomes. These PCs are part of unit standard 2682 – weld steel in a downhand position to a general purpose standard using the manual metal arc welding process, which is the foundation skill set learnt by welders and engineers at CPIT. Therefore, it is the first welding course students in engineering - light fabrication / structural steel undertake.
The above unit standard is taught in a workshop learning environment mainly through students watching a demonstration by the tutor and then practicing the skills in individual welding booths. There is a comprehensive and well laid out workbook which is part of the NZ modular training scheme for the joining of materials produced by the NZ Welding Centre (which is part of the Heavy Engineering Research Association – HERA). This workbook contains written information on the MMAW process, has many diagrams, uses a ‘fill in the blank’ approach to revise concepts and terms introduced and practiced in the workshop sessions and formative assessment in the form of multiple choice questions.
The learning environment for welding is therefore very much reliant on students learning not only the skills of welding but to learn how to work independently. From the first stages of their welding career, students have to learn through imitation and kinaesthetic awareness / comparisons of their own postures etc. with what is expected of a welder. They have to learn how to adjust their own control of the welding torch, adjust the welding machine to allow for the type of metal they are welding, choose the correct welding rods etc. All this is done pretty much via self-directed learning with small individual guidance sessions from the tutor (one tutor to 16 students!) & peer interaction whenever the students leave their individual welding booths to move into the wet room (to cool their welded sample down). My first impressions lead me to think that preparing / orientating welding students to make the most of the specialised learning environment, which emphasises self-learning, could be something to explore with the welding section.

No comments: