Upon returning home from the final night of teaching an EMT refresher course, I thought about which aspects of the course went well and which ones could have gone better. It dawned on me that the aspects that went well during the recently completed class, along with those that went well from past classes, could be largely tied to one of three areas that I controlled as the course instructor:
Could it really be that simple? As I thought about classes in which I have been the student, it became clear that the courses I got the most out of could also be largely tied to these three Ps. The concepts of preparation, presentation and participation as key components to providing quality EMS education can help instructors improve the educational experiences their students receive.
Having spent the majority of my life around athletics in one role or another, I have heard on numerous occasions coaches attempt to motivate athletes with some variation of the phrase, “You play like you practice.” When using this phrase, coaches are attempting to make their athletes realize that the effort they put in during practice sessions is what prepares them for success in competition. While success in competition does not always come to those who put in the most effort in practice, there is a strong correlation between the two factors.
Although it is not a competition, teaching quality courses in EMS can also be linked to the time and effort put in by the instructor prior to the course taking place. Taking time to prepare adequately in delivering material to students more often leads to a better presentation. When an instructor is well prepared, there will be less stumbling over lecture material that has not been reviewed and less delays during class while the instructor figures out the next move.
The second aspect of delivering quality EMS education is the actual presentation of information to the students. It is no secret students do not respond well to a “Ben Stein” style monotone lecture. Simply reading to students from a PowerPoint lecture that came with the course textbook is not likely to leave a lasting impact. Delivering information in a more animated fashion results in more attentiveness from the students and less rhythmic snoring across the classroom.
Some instructors naturally have an animated personality and this part of presentation comes very easy. Some of us, however, must occasionally go outside our comfort zones and act a little goofy in the classroom in order to improve our presentation of information. Getting students on the edge of their seats wondering what you will do or say next keeps the students focused on you, and they might even learn something important as a result. Even for those instructors who are not animated, varying your methods of delivery can go a long way toward maintaining students' attention and increase learning. Demonstrations, case discussions, occasional “war stories” and soliciting student participation can all contribute to enhancing the presentation.
The third component is participation. As mentioned above, soliciting student participation can enhance the presentation of material, and is yet another way to keep students engaged. At some point along the way EMS instructors most likely received training on educational methodology and were taught that people learn by hearing, seeing and doing. Most people, in fact, usually learn by a combination of all three, and garnering student participation in class helps the instructor appeal to those methods. Asking questions, discussing real or simulated cases from the field, small group activities, peer teaching, hands-on skill practice, and staging “real-life” training activities are ways to involve students more.
There are certainly numerous factors that determine how well learning occurs for each individual student, but preparation, presentation and participation are areas EMS instructors can control and can significantly contribute to quality EMS education.
William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” As EMS instructors, our role is not to simply inundate our students with an abundance of information, but to stimulate our students to participate in their own education. While we certainly have a responsibility to prepare our students to be entry-level EMS providers, the ultimate success as an instructor is giving students the tools to continue to educate themselves throughout their careers. It is that desire and motivation to continue learning that will help students progress from entry-level EMS providers to experienced veterans.
Brian Potter, MS, ATC, EMT-B, is a member of the Upshur County Emergency Squad and a West Virginia Emergency Medical Services instructor, and serves as adjunct instructor for West Virginia Wesleyan College.