So about a month ago, I attended the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis. During the HOT Classes, and other training sessions, there seemed to be a common theme which was floating around all the classes and instructors. It was an emphasis on how fire service instructors must embrace technology, find new ways to teach firefighters, and do something called “flipping the classroom”. It seems that someone has suggested that there is a better way to teach firefighters other than “Death by Powerpoint”. REALLY??? Say it isn’t so!!!
I find the concept of flipping the classroom very interesting. The concept is really a common sense approach of how to make the instructor led sessions of training more efficient. The basic idea is that an instructor will provide student materials via a web portal, blackboard, online learning service, or other method before the actual classroom/practical sessions begin. It is the student’s responsibility to study this material, and be prepared to participate in training based on the ideas and concepts presented in the material prior to class. When the actual “class” begins, the instructor has less teaching to do because students already have knowledge of the material and simply assists students as they complete the classroom segment. In some cases, this concept may eliminate a classroom segment altogether and will simply begin with practical training. Sound good to you? Here are some pitfalls that must be overcome:
First, How to motivate students to do the coursework prior to training. This can be done several ways. A test will gauge the knowledge of the student and make sure they have the minimum required knowledge to continue with the next segment of the course. Student participation can also be monitored using a variety of computer based learning tools (CBT). Currently, programs such as Target Solutions (formerly Target Safety), Centrelearn, and others allow the instructor to track student progress and only allow students to continue within the curriculum when they successfully complete certain sections of material/end of course quizzes. If you are dealing with a career organization, the motivation is quite simple. Do it or else. There is always that “do you want to work here?” card you can pull. Probably not the most effective method however.
Second, The instructor(s) must re-tool their courses to accommodate this delivery method. Having the knowledge to convert standard powerpoint into a movie format which can be uploaded to the various delivery mediums discussed in the last paragraph. Making the presentation engaging to where the students will not loose their drive to breath and their pulse as they continue through the material. There are many new ideas/methods of how to improve today’s presentations. Any of which can greatly improve the student experience when using standardized curriculum from a vendor or institution.
Third, Instructors are going to have to be ready for intense training and be sure to make good use of the students time. The students have already spent time and effort to learn the concepts on their own. As instructors, we must encourage the students to engage and make the training fun and to train like it’s real. Of course, there is logic which says that the instructor must also verify the knowledge level of the students is adequate and if any relearning must occur, try to be efficient in this effort.
So, the real question is does it work? I think the overall answer is yes. This concept has come from educators in our school systems and in that application the concept has been very successful. Anyone who has been a fire service instructor has come to realize that adult learners are a different breed from our primary and secondary education counterparts. The other issue here is that students must embrace technology. Students who in their daily lives are plugged into the world using smart phones, IPads, notebooks and other devices are communicating through Facebook, Twitter, and other ways. These students will easily adapt and embrace this method. For the “old dogs”, this will certainly be a stretch and most likely will not work for this group. Who are the “old dogs”? They know who they are. Those who still have a “dumb phone”, still pay for an AOL account, just to name a few qualifying items. So where does that leave the fire service?
CHANGE! It may be slow at times but it must continue at a steady pace. At this point in our profession, I do not see that all training courses and topics will qualify for this approach. However, basic, entry level topics such as Vehicle Rescue, Ventilation Techniques, fire streams, foam application, and other courses that have a few basic concepts will lend itself to this type of delivery. Student will learn concepts and then receive a solid, hands on training evolution to apply the concepts they learned online. With practice and fine tuning courses for this delivery concept, more classes can be transitioned into this training format. At the same time, the students who will learn from this delivery technique will also change and will adapt to this method. However, no mater how cool the latest gizmo is, how much chrome you put on it, how bright it flashes, training concepts just like everything in the fire service has to be deliberately changed but at a pace where ideas are embraced, new techniques are employed, and the safety and well being of today’s firefighters is always the primary focus of training.
In the coming months, the regional training association which I am a part of has agreed to “Flip the Classroom” for a delivery of a basic firefighter topic. In the meantime, we will continue to work on transitioning the curriculum to a format where students will access the information in an online delivery prior to classroom/practical skills training.
If you are interested in participating in a pilot of this delivery format, be watching the media outlets for the Greene County Regional Fire Training Association. The outlets are:
Facebook: Greene County Regional Fire Training.
I will be interested to see how this concept works and if we can make it work in “The Show Me State”. I think it will. For the sake of those students who are half my age and will continue to out perform me in my ability to embrace technology, I will have to change and keep training interesting, and valid for tomorrow’s fire service. Do this or my ability to share my knowledge and experience will be left in the dark ages. This simply cannot happen. I will not allow it.
So for now, be thinking about “Flipping the Classroom”. Google it. Get more information on it. Once you start looking at what it is and how it works, you too may begin to think, “I wonder if we could do that here?” Many are doing exactly that. As we struggle for volunteer and career firefighters, if we expect to have people ready to respond, we are going to have to find new ways to engage our new firefighters and give them the same rookie spark we all had early in our careers.
Hope to see you soon when we flip the classroom locally.