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Home > EMS Products > Education
July 26, 2011
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

EMS education tool brings flash-cards into digital age

As the digital age continues to advance at breath-taking speed, newer technologies expand upon age-old educational methods

By Arthur Hsieh

Disclosure Note: The author is an author and learning consultant with McGraw Hill Publishing.

As an educator, it has been fascinating to watch the rise and evolution of non-paper based learning tools in EMS. Long gone are the days of the textbook being the sole source of all knowledge. The classic workbook has become a quaint anachronism, nearly relegated to the generation of teaching tools that include ditto machines, chalk boards and tape recorders.

This is not to say that the teaching principles behind these older technologies are all washed up. As the digital age continues to advance at breath-taking speed, newer technologies expand upon age-old educational methods and take them to a new level of engagement.

Take flash cards, for example. If you are like me, you probably spent a lot of time creating, organizing and memorizing dozens or hundreds of index cards. On the front would be a name of a drug or concept; on the back would be salient points or facts to remember. You sit down with the mass of cards and go through them, one at a time.

As you looked at the font of the card, you recalled the important information out loud before turning the card over and validating your answer. As you became familiar with that information, you could put aside the card and focus on the cards that you were less familiar with. In other words, as your answers became more accurate, you became more confident in your ability to recall the information.

These are great retention devices. Lightweight and portable, one could refer to them almost anytime, and anywhere: waiting for a bus, while on shift, or even while deep in, ah, thought in the bathroom. I'll bet that many EMS students continue to use them today.

McGraw Hill Publishing has evolved the concept of flash cards with the LearnSmart system. Using online technologies, LearnSmart organizes virtual flashcards by topic, or decks. Instructors can assign the decks well in advance of the lessons, to give their students the opportunity to learn differently. The students begin by engaging a deck and answering the questions as they appear. The responses can take the form of a multiple choice answer, or a simple fill-in-the-blank answer. The program tracks the progress of the student, and adapts questions appropriate to the student's level of accuracy.

Now, here's where it gets interesting. In addition to answering the question, students must also choose whether they feel very confident about their ability to provide the right answer. How does this help? For example, a student looks at a flashcard question. If she easily selects the right answer, and also indicates that she thought that the question was simple to answer, the student can infer that in fact, she "knows what she knows." On the other hand, if another student thought that he knew what the right answer was, and also indicated that the question was easy, BUT in fact got the wrong answer, then he just showed himself that he "does not know what he doesn't know."

That may surprise him, and he may be more motivated to really learn the information. From an educator's perspective, the added motivational value of the Learnsmart system is one more tool that can help the student gain greater command of the knowledge needed to be a competent EMS provider.

About the author

EMS1 Editorial Advisor Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. Since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at an EMS service in Northern California. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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