EMS education technology: 7 questions to answer before buying

EMS educators can implement the right technology for their classroom if they know what to look for

Classroom technology may offer great opportunities for students to engage with course materials in new and better ways, simplify work flow for teachers and administrators and much more, but how can an educator know what technology is worthwhile and what to avoid? Here are the seven big questions EMS educators must answer before they adopt new technology.

1. What exactly will this technology improve?

Much of today’s educational technology is marketed in a way that emphasizes the flash and entertainment value of the product without a clear and direct connection between what the product does and performance benefits to EMS educators and students. Simply being a different and flashier way to deliver information to students is not a guarantee of long-term performance.

EMS education technology should ultimately result in improved student competency and performance. (Photo/Vermont Department of Health)
EMS education technology should ultimately result in improved student competency and performance. (Photo/Vermont Department of Health)

First, consider what it is that you are trying to improve with the use of this product.

  • Are you looking to deliver information in an easier, more convenient or more digestible format?
  • Are you looking to help students integrate lecture information into skills practice or putting-it-all-together scenarios?
  • Are you looking to streamline your classroom administration so that you can focus on engaging more directly with students?

Whatever the goal, keep in mind that the technology, such as electronic learning management systems, real-time student collaboration software and classroom administration apps should ultimately result in improved student competency and performance in a real-world environment.

2. What is the total cost?

EMS educators must consider more than just the financial cost of new technology. They must consider the costs that will be expended to acquire, implement, utilize and maintain the product.

Beyond the monetary costs, educators must consider the time, effort and expertise that will be needed. Much of today’s low-cost to no-cost technology requires significantly more investment in time, effort and expertise compared to turn-key solutions with greater up-front fees.

For example, open source learning management systems such as Moodle offer tremendous power and flexibility for classroom management, but offer steep learning curves. Often, as with Moodle, such technology will have strong peer-user support offering help, but educators should not underestimate the time and effort to input class information, set up grading systems, enter course assignments, and so on.

When calculating costs, educators should make sure that they are not looking at what it will take to simply bring the technology on board. They must evaluate what costs will be incurred for the technology to fully accomplish the desired goal.

3. Who is the user?

While this may be an easy question to answer, it has far-reaching implications. Whether the answer is students, educators, facilitators, administrators or other consider if this technology will be accessible to all the people that you would like to use it. Before implementing, for example, real-time collaboration software such as Near Pod and Concept Board, or digital mind-mapping software such as Mind Meister and Spicy Nodes, or any other types of EMS education technology you must answer these important questions:

  • Will all users be able to use it where, when and how they will need to accomplish your intended goal?
  • What will the costs be to the users themselves?
  • How motivated will users be to expend time, money and energy to use the technology to accomplish the chosen goal? Will use of the technology be mandatory or optional?
  • Will each and every user in a category, such as every student or adjunct instructor, be expected to use this technology?

The answers to these questions are important to keep in mind when answering the next important questions.

4. What resources are needed?

It can be easy to focus on the individual piece of technology that you would like to implement, such as student collaboration or virtual workspaces like Google Docs and Slack, but you must ask the following questions about the supporting technology they will need to run.

  • Does your educational program have the infrastructure and capabilities that this technology requires to operate?
  • Are there regulations or restrictions in your teaching environment that might prevent you from using the technology in the way that you want?
  • Will additional or upgraded resources be required?
  • Will the necessary resources be available everywhere and every time the technology is expected to work?

Keep in mind that as an educator or course director, you may have special support available to you that might not be available to everyone in your teaching environment. For example, software and websites may work for you, but may be unreliable or blocked on the openly available internet access points that your students and teachers will be using.

5. How will the new EMS technology be rolled out?

In the anticipation of improving the classroom experience, it can be easy to forget that new technology does not simply get installed and go to work. The implementation process itself has to be fully laid out and carefully considered.

In some cases, the student or other users may already be familiar with the concepts that the technology uses and roll-out may be simple. For example, student polling software such as YawnBuster, Remind, Socrative, and Poll Everywhere are highly intuitive and can use A-B-C-D choice answer structures with which students are already comfortable.

In cases where the technology involves teaching something new or teaching something in a completely new way or when the technology itself requires expertise to use, the roll-out and costs associated with it may be extensive. For example, high fidelity patient simulator systems are not only expensive themselves, they take significant training to properly set up and operate and even require orientation for students to participate in simulation sessions.

Keep in mind that roll-out is not simply a one-time event. New users coming in to class as well as technology changes and upgrades will make roll-out a continuous process to at least some degree.

In some situations, students may be introduced to the technology for the first time just prior to using it. In these cases, ease of use of the technology as well as the ability of the educator to roll-out and address troubleshooting issues in class must be considered. This may be the case when teaching a one-off educational session such as using a student polling app during a conference presentation.

6. Who will manage new EMS technology?

The person or persons in charge of the technology must be identified from the outset so that it can be clear to anyone connected to it who to contact for questions, clarifications, problems and suggestions for improvement.

As with any aspect of emergency services, unclear lines of reporting are a recipe for disaster, especially when technology does not work as expected or fails in the middle of class. Questions to answer early on include the following:

  • Will students be responsible for troubleshooting the technology at their end or is that a task for the educator teaching that day?
  • Is the course director the only one with the proper access and resources to resolve issues?
  • Will the IT department in the teaching facility be asked to assist?

It is important to do more than decide who is responsible. It is crucial that everyone involved in using the technology knows to whom they should reach out when issues arise, as well as how to get in contact with them.

7. How will success be evaluated?

The central question must be, "Did adoption of the technology produce the desired outcome for the students?" In addition, other questions must also be evaluated.

  • Were the final costs of implementing the technology as expected or less?
  • Who is actually using the technology?
  • What resources wound up being necessary for the technology to function properly?
  • Is the ongoing roll-out effective?
  • Is the technology properly and effectively managed?

These are questions without simple "pass/fail" answers. Even technology that proves to be effective and efficient may have opportunities for improvement discovered through the evaluation process. Because of this, the process of critically evaluating the use of the technology must be built in from the beginning.

While flashy technology products now arrive – and depart – at a dizzying pace, these seven key questions will help educators avoid costly mistakes. Not only will answering these questions help decide if a technology is right for the classroom, it will also aid the process of selecting a specific product and the answers will help lay out an effective implementation and evaluation strategy once a specific product has been selected.

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