We Turn Private Boat Owners into Private Boat Captains
Vincent Pica Commodore, First District, Southern Region (D1SR) United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
The United States Power Squadrons® (USPS®) and the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary are increasing and broadening their coordinated safety efforts to assist boaters in learning as much as they can about their boats, good seamanship, and the environment in which they run.
Acquiring knowledge takes a commitment of time, and in our busy society, some folks don’t have the time to attend nearby scheduled classes, and want online education at home or in the office. In this article we take different tacks, even though we both recognize that there are advantages to each learning style (and above all, want everyone to be safer boaters). With deference to William Shakespeare, we ask, To study online or in class? That is the question…
The Case for Interactive Classroom Study
By Peter TenBrink, SN
Past District Commander
United States Power Squadrons District 3
Given a choice between taking a boating safety course online or in a classroom setting, I would always choose the latter. This is primarily because, as adults, we are usually far removed from attending school. The process of learning and (gasp!) taking an exam afterwards is often enough to have many of us quaking in our boat shoes.
As an instructor, I prefer it when my students are face-to-face with me (and with the other students). I believe that it makes learning easier and more enjoyable. Students have the opportunity to ask questions and we can have open discussions about topics being presented. Graphics used to illustrate points may be customized for the situation at hand. Instructors can relate actual experiences to create better understanding among the students. When, after explaining a topic, the instructor sees blank stares from the students, he/she will know that further explanation is needed; that can’t be done on-line.
Our attention span is, by nature, limited. Whether we’ve spent the day at work, school, or some other pursuit, we can only be expected to absorb so much at any one sitting. High school and college class sessions are usually two hours or less, so I prefer two-hour classes over completing an eight-hour course in a day or even two half-days. We want students to learn the material so that they become safer boaters . . . not so that they can pass the test!
Along with covering the curriculum, the experience of being in a classroom with a knowledgeable instructor and fellow students is unique and invaluable; we love boating and this is a chance to be with others who feel the same. The interaction between students and their instructor actually enhances the learning process and, I believe, it makes it more enjoyable.
Please know that in New York State, you must take a proctored exam in order to earn your certificate of completion. So, at some point you will have to come to a classroom anyway.
100% scores for 100% of the Students Boating Safety - The Argument for Online
Comparing today’s online classes to those stilted ones offered just a few years ago is like comparing today’s classroom experiences to those of the 19th century. Everyone is doing a better job in delivering content – but the leaps and bounds of how far online classes have come is astonishing. As a case in point, Stanford University recently offered their machine learning class, normally well attended with 400 students, as an online course. 100,000 people signed up for it. This column is about that.
250 Years Later Yes, it would take that unnamed Stanford professor 250 years to reach as many people as could now be reached by putting the class online. If you are interested in safety of life at sea (SOLAS), whether you are a teacher, boater or regulator, that statistic should be a “prolonged blast” on the ol’ fog horn.
But, as with most material that makes the leap from the conventional world to the online world, you can’t just scan the book into the computer, add some Q&A and be done with it. That is the old way – and why classroom was so much better. Then.
Now, course material can be broken into modules of 10-15 minutes with content-linked Q&A interspersed with the information. The computer never gets bored, angry or condescending, no matter how many times a student needs to go over the same question or concept. How many students don’t ask a question because of fear of being wrong? Online? No fear whatsoever. It is just the student and the “avatar”, i.e., the sense that there is an instructor behind those screens.
What Has Changed? We’ve come to not only realize that no one learns from passively watching videos as well as they do from some form of interactions (like with a teacher) – but we have the technology now to create an engaging, interactive course. It enables each student to try and try again – student by student.
Something else has changed – that these courses are designed to impart knowledge, not stratify the students into cadres of A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s and… F’s. If you are interested in SOLAS, you should want all students to leave with 100% on the test. Can’t be done conventionally – takes too long. Online? 100% scores for 100% of the students is possible – and that is good for safety of life at sea.
This “mastery-based” system, i.e., you have to master a section before you go on to the next section, leads naturally to higher achievement levels by students. Take a look at exhibit A.
It shows how scores go up dramatically as individually-based interactivity, i.e., tutoring, and mastery are applied. Online classes are now designed to link “mastery” (you can’t go forward until you master the current section of material) and “tutoring”, i.e., the tireless computer focused only on you, the student.
Exhibit A: courtesy of TED and Dr Daphne Koller
The Subject Matter Matters I wouldn’t suggest that all subjects are suited for online classes. In subjects where critical thinking is required, this subject matter is not well suited – yet – for online classes because interaction with fellow students and the teacher is critical. If you’ve ever been in a chat room with more than 5 people, you can see how difficult the “traffic-cop” job is.
But SOLAS is perfectly suited for this style of teaching since it is fact-based – it is the student and the material.
Welcome to the Brave New World 100% scores for 100% of the students is here. Sign on!
BTW, if you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at JoinUSCGAux@aol.comor go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at DSO-HR and we will help you “get in this thing…”
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