EMS programs have been turned upside down due to the recent Coronavirus pandemic in just a few weeks. In fact, the majority (if not all) EMS instructional programs were brought to a dramatic halt. In less than two weeks, programs experienced the following changes: face-to-face labs were canceled, hospitals and EMS squads restricted access of students, and the administration of National Registry cognitive exams was significantly reduced or eliminated due to the closure of some testing locations. While many EMS classes have been canceled and/or delayed for different reasons, this is the first time that classes have been suspended for an undetermined amount of time due to a pandemic.
EMS professionals pride themselves on being able to respond to complex situations on the fly. The coronavirus has presented EMS educators with a situation that requires them to do just that. There are two options for EMS education institutions, suspend operations until the pandemic is over or adapt, where possible, and move forward. Hopefully, for the sake of EMS students and the industry, program directors will choose the later. In order to move forward, most programs are going to have to make some significant changes with how they choose to deliver information.
Most EMS programs are only offered in a traditional, face-to-face, format. Recently, there has been an increase in programs moving toward a hybrid education experience. While an argument could be made for the need of hybrid education for EMS students in the past due to work schedules and the effectiveness of traditional classes, the need now for non-traditional methods of instruction is obvious. The question is: what about those that have not adopted to non-traditional education methods? How can they respond to the continued need for EMS education and do so effectively?
Some, if not all programs have made the decision to halt the clinical components of their program during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this is likely the most common answer. Recently, the Committee on Accreditation of Educational Programs for the Emergency Medical Services Professions (CoAEMSP) issued guidance concerning simulations as a potential exchange for patient encounters, writing “paramedic educational programs may employ a broader array of approaches, including simulation, in determining competency in didactic, laboratory, clinical, field experience, and capstone field internship.”1
Simulation, like clinical rotations, would require students to interact with other individuals within close proximity. This will likely limit simulation as a possible replacement for patient encounters for the time being. However, programs should remember this if their reintroduction into a clinical or field setting is delayed.
A learning management system (LMS) “is a software application or web-based technology used to plan, implement and assess a specific learning process”2 and is often utilized to deliver non-traditional education. If an education institution has an LMS, the educator should become familiar with the functions of their LMS. For some, an LMS may not be provided at every institution or is something that is not currently available. Therefore, what will be discussed is how to utilize different platforms that will function like an LMS but are free and user friendly.
Google Classroom (more about this below) can serve as an LMS for EMS educators. Some of the LMS features of Google Classroom are documents can be uploaded by the educator for students to view, students can upload assignments, students can collaborate on the same document at one time, and educators can grade book online.
Edpuzzle is a lecture presentation website that does have an app that would allow for asynchronous lectures. Edpuzzle is free for educators (and students) to use and allows up to 20 videos or presentations to be added to their classes. Access to more videos can easily be obtained by sending an invitation to colleagues to create an Edpuzzle account (they do not have to utilize the account, just create it). Once an Edpuzzle account has been created the educator would instantly have access to tons of videos that have already been made on a wide range of topics.
If the topic of interest does not have a video that has already been created or an educator wanted to create their own, they could easily do so with a voice-over PowerPoint, saved as an mp4 file. One benefit of Edpuzzle is that previously uploaded videos or videos uploaded by the educator can have quiz questions embedded within them, they can be clipped for length, or a voiceover could be added to them.
WebEx has a free version of their program that will allow educators to hold synchronous class sessions with up to 100 participants. Students can ask questions audibly or through a chat feature. There is also the option to record those sessions which can then be stored on an online platform such as YouTube, for students to view later.
Another potential option to deliver synchronous lectures would be to utilize Facebook Live. This video would also be available for students to view later as well. Lastly, but certainly not the least, Zoom is another option to deliver synchronous lectures. Zoom allows for several participants to be involved with a live lecture at the same time. Paid versions of Zoom have unlimited meeting time lengths and the free version has a limit of 40 minutes. Zoom also allows the educator to record those lectures for use later.
Another way that quizzes could be assigned, outside of EdPuzzle, which could be graded or not, is with a program called Kahoot. Kahoot is a free app (and webpage) for educators and students. Educators can create a “challenge” for their students to do at home, which could be utilized as a quiz. If educators decided to host synchronous class meetings, then Kahoot could be utilized to “play live” as a quick quiz or way to take attendance.
Other than quizzes, common online assignments are discussion boards. Flipgrid is a free app that allows students upload video responses to a prompt. Educators can make a “grid” which represents the classroom. Once a grid has been created the educator can then choose to add a video, image, document, or multiple other possibilities as a prompt for students to view. Once the prompt, or “topic” as Flipgrid refers to them, has been created, they can be shared with students via a link or directly to Remind, Google Classroom, or Microsoft Teams.
This would be a great way to do knowledge checks, facilitate discussions, or have students conduct asynchronous case studies. Another option would be to create a Google Classroom and have students utilize their smartphones to upload video responses there. If that all sounds “too techy,” an educator could utilize email for shorter videos. Lastly, if educators have access to supplies, they could upload videos (to whichever platform they choose) of themselves performing skills, doing assessments, or other tasks and allow students to “grade” how their performance on the skill.
Recently, the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT) issued a statement concerning psychomotor exams across all provider levels stating, “the requirement for completing the psychomotor examination is suspended for the duration of the national emergency or until psychomotor examinations can be safely reinstated in the United States.”3
This policy allows for individuals to receive a provisional certification as long as they have completed all the other requirements. If an instructor’s students have not met the other requirements and are not eligible for the provisional certification, they could continue practicing for some of the NREMT psychomotor test by utilizing technology.
Flipgrid could be utilized to send out oral, dynamic, static, trauma assessment practice cases, and more. WebEx or Zoom could be utilized to host one-on-one oral scenarios, dynamic and static cardiology strips and scenarios, and trauma assessment practice sessions between lab instructors and students. While there are certainly limitations to the amount of skills that could be done utilizing the programs above, this is one way to complete some of the assignments in EMS education programs and to continue to move forward.
Remind is another free app (with payable upgrades) that can be utilized within a hybrid EMS education setting. Remind is primarily a communication tool which can be utilized to communicate to individual students, or an entire class. Remind also provides read receipts which may be beneficial in certain situations. Reminders can also be sent concerning assignments and educators and/or students can send attachments, such as videos, pictures, or documents. Also, WebEx and Zoom could be used for more than just lectures.
They could also be utilized to hold virtual meetings with an individual student or a group of students. This could be for general consultations or for helping students through difficult academic processes through screen sharing.
Since EMS professionals are able to adapt to situations as they occur, EMS educators must be able to do so as well. Class, albeit not as normal, can continue in some areas if educators are willing to think outside the box and utilize the tools available to them. EMS students deserve for educators to put in the required effort to keep them progressing toward their goals.
As mentioned above, the programs identified above are only examples of some of the programs that are available for educators to utilize during this pandemic. None of them are perfect and it is likely that other ways will be developed. Nonetheless, educators need to be flexible and use what is available to keep students engaged and moving forward.
1. CoAEMSP. (2020). Updated Statement Regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Retrieved April 14, 2020 from https://coaemsp.org/.
2. Rouse, M. (2005). Learning management system (LMS). TechTarget. Retrieved from https://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/learning-management-system.
3. NREMT. (2020). Psychomotor Examinations. Retrieved April 14, 2020 from https://www.nremt.org/rwd/public/document/covid-19?fbclid=IwAR29b6gqEsYAzsVokkCoCMY7mss1E5Tv2Grlwd8IEDXqVm-tvo4RvdaIW4U.