One of the many challenges facing traffic operations engineers today is maintaining their knowledge base on the growing number of models and procedures available to assess the performance of traffic facilities. This challenge can be viewed from several perspectives.
New procedures are being developed to solve the complex operations problems faced by traffic engineers. For example, a new version of the Highway Capacity Manual, complete with multimedia features, will be released in summer 2000. A new version of the CORSIM simulation model will also be released. This version features a newly-designed input module that greatly increasing the usability of the model. These new procedures are all computer-based, thus doubling the learning requirements. Users not only must learn the procedures but also need to master the software implementation of the procedures.
The problems faced by traffic engineers are more complex than ever, with an increasing number of areas experiencing oversaturation and queue spillback. The traffic engineer must understand the basis of these problems, how the problems can be modeled, and the implications of varied of solutions.Advanced control techniques are being developed that provide solutions to complex arterial and freeway problems. Again, traffic engineers need to learn about these control technologies and how they can be applied to local problems.
While the need for training is increasing, engineers have less time available for travel to training sites. In addition, for engineers in rural areas or small cities, access to training often requires out-of-state travel. This makes the necessary training even more difficult and expensive. A need exists for training that deals with these new problems and procedures and is available to engineers who are unable to leave their job sites for even short periods of time.
Distance-based learning is being promoted today as a solution for placed-bound students who are unable to travel to more traditional learning sites to complete standard university training or to participate in continuing education courses. Many educators and industry leaders have promoted Internet or computer-based training as a possible solution. Unfortunately, as we are learning today, computer-based training materials are often very expensive to develop and maintain, and the materials rarely provide the cost savings that have been promoted for this technology. In addition, while we know that computer technology can provide important benefits in the learning process, we also recognize that periodic face-to-face interaction between student and instructor is critical to the learning process.
NIATT has participated in two training environments over the past two years that merit further development. First, we have worked with Oregon State University and Portland State University to develop computer-based laboratory materials for the junior level course in transportation engineering, which is taught as part of most civil engineering programs. These materials will be released on the Internet shortly for use by faculty and students throughout the US. After a year of testing and evaluation, the materials will be expanded and modified, based on the feedback received.
Second, we have initiated a periodic short course for Idaho Transportation Department traffic engineers, focusing on traffic operations software that is most appropriate for their technical work. This working group meets every two to three months for one to one-and-a-half days. More traditional short courses may meet from three to five days with no follow-up. This traditional approach makes retention more difficult.
This project will support the development of computer-based training material for traffic analysis that will include the following components:
- Development of training materials for the Highway Capacity Manual 2000 for selected problem categories that are available on a Website
- Development of a Website that allows interactions between users and trainers
- Establishment of a practitioner-based advisory board for this project
- Commitment to periodic interactions between instructors and students through live, video, or audio communications