Moving any portion of your EMS education online can be challenging to everyone, from educators to administrators to IT staff to, most importantly, the students themselves. Whether you are a technophile or technophobe, some universal rules apply when integrating technology in the classroom. These top 10 tips and tricks can help you avoid costly and frustrating missteps.
Make sure you are integrating the technology in a way that improves student experience, student performance, or achievement of educational objectives. If the technology does not measurably advance one of these three things, do not implement it.
Partner with a small group of stakeholders, including at a minimum your resident IT expert, a fellow educator other than you, and at least one student. Determine the top 5–10 technical issues students and educators are likely to encounter when using the technology or doing the online work. Prioritize this list by the largest impact each issue will have on the program.
Build on this by using the same group to create a list of 5–10 frequently asked questions students and educators might have. Your goal is an easy-to-read list of simple and straightforward answers to common questions. This should not be a step-by-step user guide—that should be a separate document.
Even if it is not your responsibility, expect to provide some level of technical support. Learn how to troubleshoot common issues and prepare a list of solid contacts who can help you (or students directly) with more complex issues.
Set clear expectations for your availability. Whenever possible make sure that availability lines up with student assignments. For example, don’t schedule Sundays as offline days when students have work to hand in first thing Monday. If your availability changes, make sure everyone is aware and, where possible, have someone else available who can help answer course and/or technical questions.
Centralize and organize instructional resources. Students don’t want to search all around a website to find instructions on how to upload their assignment, nor do they want to have to search through the digital equivalent of a binder three inches thick to find the document that tells them how an assignment will be graded.
Survey the students during the course. Just as you provide them with frequent feedback to help them improve their performance, ask them honestly what you could do to improve their experience. Simple, short surveys work best. Surveys should add the smallest possible amount of “extra” work for students. Use simple open-ended questions, such as, “What is the best thing about this part of class?” and “What might we do to improve?”
Don’t be afraid to pull the plug on something that looks like it just isn’t going to produce the desired results. Many a well-meaning educator has worked hard getting technology to work only to find it produces no significant educational outcome.
Keep good notes every step of the way. This version of your program may not get everything right, but it’s just version 1.0. Good notes will help you take opportunities to make quick fixes as you go and at the end will help you improve the program as a whole.
The key is to stay focused on the student experience as it pertains to their performance. It can be easy to get distracted by whiz-bang features of the latest quiz program or learning management system, but it is all a waste of time, money, and effort if it doesn’t increase students’ satisfaction, engagement, and ability to achieve measurable performance outcomes as they move through the course. Educators who keep that in mind as they bring new technology into the classroom or use technology to bring the classroom to students will speed toward success where others simply spin their wheels.
Rommie L. Duckworth, LP, is a dedicated emergency responder and award-winning educator with more than 25 years working in career and volunteer fire departments, hospital healthcare systems, and public and private emergency medical services. He is currently a career fire captain and paramedic EMS coordinator.