A few years ago, Pete Hosmer bought two cameras with the idea that someday he’d be able to use them to offer A+ Driving School’s classroom instruction for novice drivers online.
The problem was state law didn’t allow for it. And he wasn’t sure if “having a talking head on a video screen” would go over well with parents.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the cameras came in handy.
With the blessing of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), driving schools like A+ can use teleconferences or other methods of video distance learning in a live setting to teach the next generation of drivers.
“If the kids can’t go to school [where A+ conducts most of its driver’s education classes], then we can’t do our jobs,” Hosmer said. “The adaptation of the law keeps kids on a path of some normalcy so once the state opens up they can get a permit. That’s a big step in becoming an adult.”
Hosmer previously used the cameras to make training videos for new instructors. But he put them into action last week as his licensed instructors gave their first live virtual lessons to nearly 200 students.
“I became a TV producer overnight,” he joked.
Students can see, hear and interact with instructors who still write on whiteboards, show videos and use PowerPoint presentations. Students print off study guides to follow along and can ask questions in real time in a chat room.
“It’s the same thing they get in class,” Hosmer said.
AAA Minneapolis last week started using the videoconferencing platform Zoom to hold classes. For now, sessions are only offered for enrolled students who missed an earlier class and needed to make it up. But AAA is preparing to offer classes for new students should the stay-at-home order be extended beyond May 4, said Chris Claeson, AAA’s driving programs manager.
The challenge, she said, is to keep instruction nearly identical to that offered in person. That includes arranging for speakers from police departments and from organizations specializing in organ tissue donations who normally come into classes integrated into online formats.
“We want them to come into a Zoom meeting and do it from wherever they are if agencies allow their people to do that,” Claeson said. “Quality is important even if it’s delivered a bit differently. We are trying to keep as many components intact. It’s never been taught this way.”
Live online courses won’t be allowed once the stay-at-home order is lifted. Driver education programs will have to immediately resume classroom-setting training and may not offer teleconferencing in place of classroom training, said Megan Leonard, a DPS spokeswoman.
Novice drivers who complete the required 30-hour classroom course either online or in person still face a wait to take behind-the-wheel training, Claeson said.
With physical distancing likely to remain a way of life even when orders to stay home expire, Claeson said AAA is looking at how to proceed when it gets the green light to resume on-road training. That might include students and instructors wearing masks and sanitizing cars after each lesson.
AAA Minneapolis already offers online refresher courses for older drivers to hone their driving skills and possibly earn car insurance discounts. Those will continue, Claeson said.
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