TSTC Automation and Controls Technology instructor Troy Powledge explains the virtual conveyor system that he and fellow instructor Douglas Clark built using Factory I/O. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)

(MARSHALL, Texas) – The instructors and staff of Texas State Technical College’s Marshall campus have been asked before how they introduce digital tools in the learning environment. TSTC knows that as technology continues to evolve, the classrooms’ resources must evolve as well.

Throughout their previous careers, Automation and Controls Technology instructors Douglas Clark and Troy Powledge never knew if the programs they wrote for automated machinery worked until after the necessary equipment was purchased. Now, as instructors, the duo utilizes the space- and money-saving virtual program Factory I/O to simulate real-life machinery for their students.

Clark and Powledge created a basic virtual conveyor system that their students can work together to control. Using real programmable logic controllers, the conveyor detects two different sizes of boxes and arranges them accordingly.

“This machinery in the real world would probably be $60,000,” Powledge said. “With (Factory I/O), you can build it on here and prove if it’s going to work or not before you go out and buy all of the machinery. It’s literally a programmable blueprint.”

TSTC’s Diesel Equipment Technology instructors feel strongly about the benefits of digital tools in the classrooms. Their students work their way up from basic tools like digital multimeters to engineering-level tools like PicoScopes.

Program team lead Bradley Hayes said learning the digital tools that a technician uses goes hand in hand with understanding the basic systems of diesel equipment.

“It’s important for the young technicians and students to embrace the current technology and be open to learning new (technology) because it’s a constantly evolving field,” Hayes said. “The digital tools are just as important as the hand tools.”

Virtual technology benefits TSTC students in other ways as well. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, TSTC’s Career Services department used the program Big Interview to continue offering TSTC’s interview practicum sessions. The program is still used by TSTC’s performance-based education students.

“For students looking to branch out on their own, Big Interview hosts an array of video lessons on interviewing, job searching, negotiations, and now to navigate the first 90 days on a new job,” Jena Corley, a Marshall campus Career Services representative, said. “It could be beneficial for students eager to pursue an added layer of career readiness.”

For more information on TSTC, go to tstc.edu.

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