Monday, March 12, 2012
In the military, the classroom was a unique experience. The instructors were often military personnel who were tradespeople in their own right, but had been picked out of their normal role and thrust into the role of teacher for a few years. Because the military is all about expediency, even if you've never taught anything in your life, instructors are prepared for their new role with 2 weeks of intense 'how to teach' training. If that sounds bizarre, trust me - it is. In their new role, they should already know their subject (because it is part of their job), and they had lesson plans to guide them to the topics that needed to be delivered. The main issue was that not everyone knows how to communicate effectively. So although instructors that had all of the resources they needed to do the job, if they weren't a natural at explaining things, a student might have a rough time if they didn't get the jist of things quickly. But for all of its potential faults, military training was delivered at a very high standard thanks to one crucial element. Consistency. How did they achieve this consistency? Every training facility had a team of people called Training Standards. The job of Standards was to make sure that every course was delivered according to the master plan.
This was accomplished through master lesson plans, managed exam banks and constant monitoring of classes. If the Standards checker thought you were skipping content, they let you know. If they thought you were wasting students' time with irrelevant content, they let you know. If your teaching technique was wanting, they let you know. Standards conducted the students' tests with a random collection of questions that Standards picked, not the instructor. The questions were collected in a manner that every topic was tested. If students had a problem with a question, Standards would evaluate the fairness, clarity and relevance of the question and if the question didn't pass muster, the student got credit for the answer. This motivated Standards to evaluate the exam bank of questions and improve on them constantly. I was an instructor in the military for 9 years, plus have trained off and on during the last 11 years of my ongoing career. I have to say, that as much as Standards were a potential thorn in my side, they were what kept the quality of training up.
Outside of the military, I ended up back in the classroom as a student, then eventually as an instructor. Was I ever in for a culture shock. No Standards. Now I have to admit, where I worked in my first job out of the military, it was up to individual instructors to maintain the quality of their training material and exams. I found that the quality was high. Not surprisingly, the instructors were mostly ex-military. But outside of where I worked, I began hearing what learning environments were like in the rest of the real world. I made friends with past and present college students, university students and the story I was hearing indicated that there were no standards to speak of across the board in post-secondary education. I won't go into details of who and where, but I was hearing about training materials that were obsolete, incomplete, error-ridden, never mind that the content was poorly communicated. Tests were worse. Questions were confusing, poorly worded, unclear, obsolete, irrelevant, didn't match the content of the course and so on. Whenever students complained en masse, they might get credit for the faulty questions. But the people responsible for maintaining the tests didn't fix the issues promptly, or at all. Instructors (or professors, or teachers) were not reviewing their course materials to make sure they were error-free. Students were subjected to erroneous content and made to wonder if they even understood the material. I assumed these kinds of situations were isolated incidents, but the more I asked people about it, the more I heard that this kind of thing was common. How should I know? I never went to college or university. I got almost all of my training from the military.
Now I understand even more why I get compliments from my students, especially those who have come from other learning institutions. I may not be a university-trained educator, but I love what I do, I take pride in the preparation of my training material and tests, and I do everything I can to fix problems with the content of my courses and my delivery.
[Pictured: Me in 1988, instructing at CFSCE Kingston]
Blog'd by Karl Plesz at 8:21 PM