Teaching Beyond PowerPoint
“The work we do is shaping the future of emergency care; doing it well is worth the effort.”
Gary Heigel, chair of emergency services and paramedic program director at Oregon’s Rogue Community College, presented “Death of the PowerPoint: It’s About Time” at the National Association of EMS Educators Symposium on August 10 in Washington, DC. Heigel discussed tools and methods other than PowerPoint to use in the classroom to promote learning in paramedic students. He also discussed social barriers in the classroom and methods of mitigation and inclusion to build strong students and teams.
Focus on Learning, Not Teaching
Heigel began by noting that PowerPoint is only one tool to use in the classroom, and it’s often used poorly. He encouraged EMS educators to focus not on the action of teaching but on students learning. He referenced the National Training Laboratories’ “learning pyramid” that demonstrates average retention rates of students for a variety of teaching methods.1 Traditional passive teaching methods such as lecture and reading have 5% and 10% retention rates respectively. Participatory teaching methods such as group discussion or practice of a skill have retention rates of 50% and 75% respectively. Students learn by a variety of methods and are best served when they learn by the method best for their understanding.
Heigel encouraged EMS educators to ponder what expectations students bring with them to class about their roles and expected participation. Be clear at the beginning of the class about participation standards, expected interaction among students and between students and instructors, and consequences related to poor participation and behavior. He posited all students should participate in classroom discussions and suggested using small groups to offer less-intimidating opportunities for participation. He also highlighted the necessity of clarity in how class participation will be rewarded (whether by points, grades, positive feedback or other method).
Heigel questioned the concept of bullying in the EMS classroom. He discussed several possible bullying scenarios and challenged educators to ask themselves if they might be the bully or complicit in bullying by not addressing it. Students won’t participate openly in the EMS classroom if they think other students (or the instructor) will tease or torment them. He also advised educators to consider how students perceive the stature of their instructors—words and behaviors have power, particularly with impressionable students just learning their craft.
Creating the Environment
Heigel continued by detailing how to create a safe and productive classroom environment.
Create clear rules for class and decide which rules are non-negotiable; assign consequences for their violation. Suggestions for rules by class participants included no sleeping, punctuality, no profanity, no fraternization between instruction staff and students, use of uniforms or specific details for class-appropriate clothing, and no ad hominem attacks during discussions.
Have students define acceptable behavior for the classroom. Involve the entire class in coming up with 5–10 words defining professional EMS behaviors, then break down in groups and develop standards for class. Use these standards to evaluate student performance.
Assigned seating arrangements should be changed up regularly. Think about various students’ learning styles and make sure everyone can see the screen or whiteboard comfortably when rearranging seating. Working with different students throughout class encourages bonding and participation and breaks down cliques.
It’s a Team Sport
Heigel asserted that powerful learning happens in small groups, with both strong and weak students benefiting from participation. He referred back to the learning pyramid, which shows 75% learning retention from doing and 90% from teaching someone else. He suggested the educator choose the groups and define specific roles to be filled within them (team leader, homework officer, equipment officer) but allow students to actually fill the roles. Students should be held accountable for their performance of their assigned role and responsibility to the group. Roles within the group and group members can be rotated within class as needed.
Heigel concluded by discussing tools and games to increase participation in class and invited participants to volunteer tools they use in their classes. Some tools suggested were:
- Thumb balls and other catch-and-reply items. Heigel recommended asking the question prior to tossing the item so all students contemplate the answer and having students who answer incorrectly remain standing;
- Audience-response systems (e.g., Socrative, Poll Everywhere, iClicker);
- Poster or whiteboard roundtables with 4–6 topics for variety among groups;
- Games (Jeopardy or quiz compilations).
Heigel closed by reiterating that educators should focus on students learning more than educators teaching. He acknowledged that updating methods of teaching and how educators prepare for class isn’t easy, but if what we’re doing now isn’t working for students, we need to make the effort.
- Fashion Institute of Technology. National Training Laboratories’ Learning Pyramid, https://www.fitnyc.edu/files/pdfs/CET_Pyramid.pdf.
Amy Eisenhauer is a dynamic presenter at EMS conferences nationwide, raising awareness on topics such as provider suicide, response to hoarding events and career development for EMS professionals. As a certified emergency medical technician, she has served the New Jersey emergency medical services community as a volunteer and career provider since 1995. In addition to providing high-quality medical care, Amy has taken on challenging roles as an EMS educator and training officer. She also hosts an interactive blog at TheEMSsiren.com, committed to improving the EMS community as a whole.
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