In order to achieve divine in-the-field success, students need to be engaged in a lab environment that challenges them to think and perform in the three domains of learning: affective, psychomotor and cognitive. Some educators argue authentic lab experiences are at the very core of any results-driven education. Blending authenticity with a little ingenuity can build a powerful environment that leads to students’ success.
Here are seven tips that should be considered in creating that authentic education:
1. Test students as leaders and followers. Put students in stable squads, and constantly change their roles within the squad to give everyone a chance at each job. A student may be the team leader one day, the recorder the next day, and then the triage officer on another day. By the end of the cycle, all students will have taken on roles that test how they serve as a team leader and how they serve as a team member. Build confident leaders who understand you can’t be a great leader without being an even better follower.
2. Require portfolio testing. It’s good to have peers evaluate each other before they test with instructors. Students should test a skill until they successfully pass it at least 10 times, recording both their passes and failed attempts. If a student then fails while testing with an instructor, the student and their peer-testers must start the testing process over. This keeps students honest and focused on the skills testing process, and forces them to be accountable for one another.
3. Practice, don’t pretend. Students must use real equipment including body substance isolation equipment during all lab sessions. If we don’t practice the way we play in both word and deed, we’re teaching something else entirely. Students must develop good habits that will stay with them even under extreme stress.
4. Take students outside. Too many of us can’t afford an updated simulation lab, and therefore the real world must become the simulation lab. Taking students outside to a busy street or a local business and running calls can illuminate the realities the student will have to deal with once on the streets. The sounds, the curious crowds, the congestion and the stress are all part of the EMS landscape—let students experience this before they graduate.
5. Switch up the equipment. Why have only one brand of monitors and one brand of AEDs? We don’t know where our students will go, so expose them to different makes of equipment. Obtain two or three brands and rotate them among the squads every 30 days. Using several varieties is a great way to keep students learning about their equipment. Borrow extra equipment from providers or invite salespeople to loan their equipment for student use.
6. Document the sweet spot. Educators fail to keep track of how many times the students practice certain skills in our labs. Many of us don’t know how often we need to practice a skill before the students reach a level of precision. Take the guess work out and record all experiences: How many times did the students put on a traction splint? Or the paramedic students intubate the manikins? If we document training sessions more, we can begin to reliably find the sweet spot of teaching and know when most students will begin to reach an acceptable entry-level command of a skill.
7. Be patient with each student. All students reach a level of precision at different times in their training and education. Mastery of skill requires years of experience; however, many students will reach precision and can help those who are struggling. Peer tutoring is a powerful and underutilized tool that can create a synergy of untold wealth in the EMS classroom.
We can all take simple steps to ensure learning is at the center of everything we do as educators. It’s the simple things that make the biggest difference, both in our lives and our labs. Follow these suggestions to create your own slice of heaven in the classroom.