Friday, January 22, 2010

Are You Lecturing in Russion?

We have our fair share of acronyms in the HVAC/R industry. Used properly; acronyms speed up communication by reducing long polysyllabic phrases to a few letters. For example, speakers would get a bit winded if they used the phrase “heating, ventilating, air conditioning, and refrigeration” repeatedly in a conversation. The abundance of industry specific acronyms and the use of more than one acronym for the same item can be truly bewildering to students. For example, one major valve manufacturer uses the acronym TEV to represent “Thermostatic Expansion Valve,” while another uses the acronym TXV for the same thing. They do not represent two different types of components, just two different ways to abbreviate the word "expansion."

When introducing a new topic, using acronyms can lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Worse, students can start to pick up the jargon, but use it incorrectly. It can be difficult for teachers who have had years of experience with HVAC/R techno-speak to remember that the acronyms we casually throw around often have no meaning for our students. Imagine listening to a lecture in which every important concept was in Russian! For example: “The evaporator delta T is controlled by the TEV adjustment, the return air wb, and the CFM.” Now I believe that most any air conditioning instructor understands this sentence, but it is essentially unintelligible to many air conditioning students. It might as well be in Russian! Replacing the HVAC/R specific jargon with the wingdings font it looks like “The evaporator delta T is controlled by the TEV adjustment, the return air wb, and the CFM.” THAT is what this sentence looks like to a new student!

In general it is a good idea to resist using an acronym for something until that item or process has been discussed. Otherwise, the acronym will appear to students to be a mysterious grouping of letters used by air conditioning shaman to communicate with each other. The acronyms and jargon are like a secret language which they are not familiar with. I believe that language which is largely acronym free promotes better understanding, but some acronyms are so common that students really do need to eventually learn them. It is much easier to remember an acronym if you understand what the letters stand for. When using an acronym for the first time make sure and explicitly spell out what the letters represent, this will increase student’s understanding and retention of the term.

Of course, students must still learn the HVAC/R language. Having a solid grasp of the terminology is necessary to make use of essential technical literature produced by equipment manufacturers. In Fundamentals of HVAC/R, we always use the complete word or phrase before introducing an acronym. It helps to explain concepts plainly, and then introduce the technical terminology that is used to refer to the concept. The students are more likely to remember the terminology if it is logically connected to something they understand.

Fundamentals of HVAC/R has a unique abbreviation and acronym dictionary to help students learn the language of HVAC/R. The acronym dictionary is very useful when students are reading industry literature and need help with a particular abbreviation or acronym. They can find out exactly what is meant by a particular acronym or abbreviation in Appendix C which lists the definition of common acronyms and abbreviations used in HVAC/R.

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