By: Brian Shreve

With the current COVID-19 pandemic and members trying to find ways to keep divers active and income flowing in, this is a very common question for the training department right now.  While distance learning technology shouldn’t be used exclusively, it can fill a need. The purpose of this article is to give some guidance on how and when you can use distance learning technology in conducting your courses.

The Technology

First, let’s look at what you and your students need in order to use the technology.  Obviously, you’ll need a web-enabled device at each end along with some means of communication through both audio and video.  The instructor will need software that also allows for screen sharing so students can see PowerPoint presentations, examples, and so forth. Experience with numerous software platforms has led to a few basic suggestions:

  • Integrated speakers and microphones tend to cause echo
  • Headsets are much preferred. If you don’t have a headset, a speaker phone can be used
  • Video is a must – your students need to see you, and you need to be able to see them
  • Because video is needed, a good internet connection is required for this technology to be used successfully
  • Laptops or desktops tend to work better for distance learning than mobile phones due to screen size. If you do use a phone, place it on a tripod or holder so there is not a lot of movement.
  • All software is not created equal, so do some research. Ask friends, family and colleagues which software they use for their video calls and why they like it.  Some companies will allow you to demo their product. Take advantage of this.

Be familiar with the platform you’re going to use. We recommend teaching the class you plan to conduct remotely to a friend or family member first as a dry run.  This will be a good time to discover any potential problems, obtain good feedback and adjust any issues for the real lesson.  You can also record yourself teaching the lesson and use that to evaluate your presentation and what you think might work better for the actual class.

Can I use (fill in software here) to teach my courses?

The short answer here – it depends. Academic sessions can all be easily done using remote learning platforms. We do that all the time for the “in-person” crossover session for our administrative crossovers. It can work very well if you can see your students, they can see you and your presentation materials, and everyone remembers some basic rules:

  • Only one person can really speak at a time and be understood
  • Have some way to indicate when someone has a question – with video, raising a hand works well, as does the integrated chat feature many platforms have
  • Anyone not speaking should mute themselves when not speaking. Ambient noise can be a real issue when not using a headset
  • You should go over a basic set of ground rules and etiquette for the course at the beginning of the first session to address all the above. Have them written down and distributed prior to the first session to save time.
  • If you’re going to record your sessions, keep in mind that most states/countries have privacy laws that may require informing all recorded parties, having the students sign model releases, or meet other requirements – you’ll have to be familiar with local law. Also keep in mind that such recordings are discoverable and submissible in court should something happen.

The key point to remember in all of this is that to certify a student, ALL course skill performance and graduation requirements must be met by the student as specified in the individual course standard. So, any practical components of the course must still be learned and performed by the student prior to certification.  This means that for most courses, only the “classroom” academics can be taught using distance learning technologies.

How do I use (fill in software here) to teach my courses?

Preparation is the key here, even more so than when teaching in a physical classroom. In simple terms, distance learning technologies are simply a virtual classroom. You still need to prepare. Releases still need to be completed and reviewed prior to starting the course. You still need to have visual aids. Those props that you are used to passing around in person don’t work as well in the virtual world, though they can still be useful for demonstration purposes. You need to think about how you’re going to show them to students in a way that is meaningful and useful in supporting the given lesson.

Let’s Talk Logistics

Your presentations may need to be broken up into shorter bits. You still need to schedule breaks and may need to schedule more frequent (but shorter) breaks than normal, depending on the length of the class.  An orientation to the technology may be needed so that students are more comfortable with how to use it, and again, you should practice with it to be familiar prior to your first course using distance learning technology.

Be sure that your students can see you and you can see them. Any skill performance must be able to be seen clearly by students, and evaluated by you, the instructor, as if you were right there in the room with the students. Clearly, many courses have skills that make this impossible. For most courses, distance learning can only be used for conducting the classroom/academic sessions, reviewing and remediating eLearning course reports, or for show & tell sessions.  This is a good thing though.  Have you ever wanted more “classroom” time with a student but due to their busy life, or yours, that was not an option? Well now it is – people have more time on their hands and want to do something with it.

Any skill performance and graduation requirements listed in the course standard will still need to be completed by the student, so almost all courses will require a practical session or sessions to do that.  So, while distance learning can certainly be used successfully, it isn’t a panacea for the pandemic. It can, however, be a useful tool to provide training in challenging times, keep divers interested, and keep income flowing.

One final tip

Speaking from experience, make sure before you start your session you know what the students will see in your video, i.e. what’s behind or beside you. Also make sure if teaching from home or even in your dive center, the other people near you know you are teaching and have a video camera going. Interruptions are not only unprofessional; they can also be embarrassing.

There are a number of resources online that can give you more information on application, techniques and approaches to engage your students when using distance learning technologies. This article is meant as a primer to get you jump-started in using this technology in your courses.  We’d love to hear how it works for you!

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