Food Safety Training Gets Boost in Video iPod Study

Graduate classes test cutting-edge technology delivery to improve certification training.

Since its introduction six years ago, the iPod has dominated the portable-music-player industry. Its simple interface, navigational scroll wheel and iTunes software program make it relatively simple to use. And, it’s precisely those easy-to-use features that have now drawn the interest of safety instruction experts.

Sponsored through a grant from the International Center for Food Industry Excellence, researchers have spent the past year testing the potential of using the sleek, high-tech units to deliver certification curriculum to those working in the food industry, such as hazard analysis for beef packing plant employees.

"Our ultimate goal is to be able to certify people at a distance," said Todd Brashears, an assistant professor with the Department of Agricultural Education and Communications. "Portable electronics like iPods are perfect in cases where instructors are unavailable to do on-site instruction and workshops. They’re also good in instances where there isn’t ready internet access."

In such cases, safety workshops could simply be loaded onto the iPod’s large hard drive and sent to the business where employees could complete their safety training requirements using the iPod alone, and then return the unit after course completion.

"We’ve started the testing phase in three of our graduate classes – both on campus and at a distance – to determine if they’re the educational equivalent to face-to-face or internet-based instruction," Brashears said. "In these iPod-enabled classes, we’re looking at teaching effectiveness, as well as individual enjoyment and technical issues."

In evaluating the project’s 100 iPods, instructors are able to monitor downloaded courses, lectures selected, viewing times and frequency of viewing, as well as other iPod features including music and video. "We want to know if they’re really adopting the technology, or just using it for the class," Brashears said.

iPods vary greatly in feature capability. Models the Texas Tech researchers chose for their project were high-end units with audio and video capabilities. In most instances, class instruction was presented in the form of a PowerPoint presentation of lecture notes with an audio background. Presentation length varied, depending on the topic, from a five-minute demonstration to an hour lecture.
"I really enjoyed using my iPod," said Laura Lemons, a Texas Tech graduate student studying agricultural education. "You could study anywhere. I’ve listened to it while I was riding the bus, walking across campus, even when I was working out."

Researchers expect to complete their iPod analysis this summer, and results should be incorporated into on-going food industry safety instruction programs by next fall.

CONTACT: Todd Brashears, assistant professor, Department of Agricultural Education and Communications, Texas Tech University, (806) 742-2816, or todd.brashears@ttu.edu.