Center Slope Radar Monitoring Course Goes Online

What started as a COVID-19 adjustment to a Geotechnical Center of Excellence short course has become a high-quality template for online courses

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real aperture radar
Real-aperture Radar

June 2020
The “Radar Monitoring Short Course” was GCE’s first class since it was formed about two years ago as a stakeholder-led organization. Input from industry partners drove the center to offer the professional development course. While not a new technology, use of radar for slope stability monitoring of open pit mine highwalls has grown in the last decade. More mining companies started considering systems after slope radar monitoring led to the successful evacuation of Utah’s Bingham Canyon Mine in 2013 before it experienced North America’s largest non-volcanic landslide.

Product-independent and unbiased knowledge

Typically, vendors of radar slope monitoring equipment train personnel that will use that specific product, said Brad Ross, GCE’s director. Each system is different, so users may have narrow knowledge overall. “Part of the idea of this class is to really bring up the capabilities of people using them,” Ross said. “We focused on the technology and utilization of the system,” he said. “Students learn how to use it appropriately and effectively. We’re an unbiased resource.”

The course included talks by eight experts from private and public sectors. Case studies presented best practices and failure analysis. The original event was a three-day, in-person class beginning April 1. It drew 30 expected attendees. The COVID-19 pandemic affected the ability and willingness of participants to travel to Tucson, and delaying the course was considered. Instead, with speaker support, the GCE decided to create a seven-week online course that combined videos and documents with weekly live Q&A sessions and a mini-seminar finale.

“Actually, our original idea was to develop content that we would ultimately make into an online class,” Ross said. Circumstances squeezed the timeline from a year to about 37 days, resulting in significant efforts by the team to create 30 hours of content. Speakers from South Africa, Italy, Canada, Chile and throughout the U.S. recorded their presentations and sent material that ultimately turned into the online version that GCE aimed to create.

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Highwall showing movement

Worldwide audience follows online class

The course was now available to a wider audience, not only as it unfolded, but for students who could tap the recorded version. That attendance list of 30 grew to 70 after the first week and ultimately to 170 worldwide. The live sessions consistently drew 50 to 65 students.

The final product drew good marks. One professor-attendee wrote, “I’m really impressed with the high quality.” Two companies have asked to use portions of it for their own trainings. Presenter Derek Hrubes was pleased. “It’s a great way to get more information out to a broader audience,” said the senior geotechnical consultant with BGC Engineering Inc. “I think they did a very good job.”

The course will be available online on demand, and every year the online class will be scheduled to include new live sessions. Ross believes three or four online training presentations can be developed from the short course. “Our vision,” he said, “is we will slice and dice these into different modules based on what the needs are.”


The course is now available on demand. For details, please contact the Geotechnical Center of Excellence, gce@arizona.edu


Meet the people behind the course in GCE's video.