NCR FSMA partners draw upon their network to move trainings to remote delivery during COVID-19 pandemic

computer screen with eight participants in an online meetingProduce Safety Alliance Grower Trainings are some of the many events that the coronavirus pandemic has affected.  When it became clear that in-person trainings couldn’t safely be held for many weeks, the PSA staff decided to temporarily allow remote delivery of the grower training. 

In Wisconsin, they decided to hold a remote training both for people who had signed up for a cancelled spring training and for those who were located far away from any previous training.  While most growers who attended the training were from Wisconsin, they did have two from neighboring states. 

According to Kristin Krokowski, PSA lead trainer, “The remote training went really well.  Thankfully, everyone’s internet worked pretty well.”  Her co-worker, Jay Dampier, handled the technical aspects of the training in addition to leading several modules.  Krokowski and Dampier both work for the University of Wisconsin Madison Extension.

The biggest hurdle was making sure everyone had a manual before the training occurred, according to Krokowski.  One participant had to have a manual shipped overnight, but it was there before the training began.

While the evaluation process caused a few issues, most people had no problem uploading their completed forms to the PSA website.  Wisconsin also decided to include a pre- and post-test, like they would have for an in-person training.  The Qualtrics survey link was emailed to participants ahead of the training, and those who hadn’t completed it were encouraged to take the pre-test during the first break.  Their Zoom call continued after the training as people filled out the post-test, to encourage that to be completed as well.

Annalisa Hultberg, Extension Educator from the University of Minnesota, had offered a similar training just before the one in Wisconsin.  She was willing to share her communications, and the Wisconsin trainers were able to easily adapt those for their training. 

Hultberg also met with Patrick Byers (University of Missouri Extension) and Cal Jamerson (Kansas State Extension) before their training.  Don Stoeckel, from the Produce Safety Alliance, helped coordinate the meeting.  This meeting helped Byers and Jamerson understand the new PSA remote training policy requirements for a certificate of completion.

It can be challenging to keep a training interactive when it is offered remotely, but NCR FSMA partners shared ideas of how they engaged participants. Hultberg was willing to share simple questions that the Minnesota trainers had used in virtual polling.  Byers and Jamerson appreciated them, as it’s more difficult to interact effectively during a remote training.  “You really have to force the interaction when you’re not able to see the participants,” Byers explained.  He suggested trainers pre-plan questions to ask for each module.  Having multiple trainers also allowed them to ask questions that they regularly hear during in-person trainings.

The Minnesota team used virtual break out rooms (through Zoom) to do activities with participants, for example identifying the risks associated with different soil amendments and then discussing with the larger group. Participants mentioned that they really liked the small group interactions in the break out rooms and it was a great way to encourage participation.

Byers and Jamerson collaborated to host a training for several growers from each of their states and FDA staff from around the country.  They chose to hold the course on two different afternoons, instead of one day.  Additionally, taking a break between each module helped re-engage participants, even if it was just a short break.

The NCR FSMA provided assistance with the technology for the Kansas/Missouri training.  “Having someone handle the technical details helps the trainers focus,” explained Jamerson.  “If there are technical difficulties, it’s not the trainers’ credibility at risk.”  Hultberg agreed having someone to manage the technical issues, polls, break out rooms, and monitoring participants’ videos is very important so that trainers can focus on leading the content.  This has been general feedback from the early remote training courses across the US.

The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing grower trainings to happen in new ways, but PSA trainers’ commitment to produce safety and working collaboratively remains the same. Current understanding is that covered farms require this training in order to feed the US, regardless of travel restrictions, and NCR partners are working together to allow this to happen.