Shifting the Pedagogical Paradigm for Public Safety Telecommunications Education
Employee after employee failing the initial job training despite variance in demographic characteristics does not represent individual failure. This is a clear indication of systematic failure and a factor that has contributed to a staffing crisis for our nation’s 911 centers. As a writer for officer.com aptly implied, emergency operators qualify as an endangered species.
A few years ago, I represented PowerPhone as a member of the committee that created the Recommended Minimum Training Guidelines for Telecommunicators. We analyzed every significant training program in the nation – including the primary training vendors, professional associations, and government entities. A list of training topics that should be taught to ensure the standardization of the fundamental training for the profession was created from the analyses. However, the pedagogy of the training programs was not considered. Said differently, we created recommendations for what should be taught but did not recommend how it should be taught.
Experience at the national level with training in this industry has shown that the approach is content focused with teacher- centered instruction. The national training guideline validates this observation. There is standardized content that is transmitted by the teacher or trainer who is an expert in relation to the student or trainee.
I have spent the last three years experimenting with the education of adults seeking employment as Public Safety Telecommunicators with a program that is state certified. As a new instructor at Elgin Community College, I took the recommended training guidelines and designed ninety-six hours of instructional content. I started with the traditional teacher-centered approach of instruction. Student engagement with the content was minimal. Some students grasped the concepts, though many struggled to perform in simulation as desired. This trend matches that which we see with on-the-job training programs. I tweaked my methods with a complete redesign of the course over the last year. I was excited and amazed by the results, such that changes made in how I taught the content significantly impacted learning.
We cannot specifically train new telecommunicators for each incident that they will encounter. Emergency incidents, and even sometimes non-emergencies, are often dynamic scenarios. The broad training goals are the retention of information and application of knowledge to novel situations. However, the current instructional approach for training does not sufficiently support the attainment of these goals. To illustrate, the current approach is like putting a toddler at the start line of a marathon and expecting the tot to navigate the 26.2 miles to the finish because they’ve been shown how to run. I have hypothesized that the methodology of training fails in the development of the critical thinking skills needed for the successful navigation of the profession.
Some trainees will ‘get it’ despite the quality of training. Though, we need to cast a wider net due in part to the aforementioned national staffing crisis. The perpetual cycle of hiring is expensive. Those that have stayed in the profession are being burn out with the massive load of overtime work. It is time to think differently. I have designed an agile three phase training program model that will in theory inspire the intrinsic motivation of learners, develop critical thinking skills, and encourage autonomous performance. To use the fancy words, the philosophy of the model is based in constructivism with a student-centered approach to instruction. This is a paradigm shift in pedagogy – a shift in how content is taught. It is a bit of an extrapolation at this point to suggest that what has been working in the sterile environment of my classroom will also work in the messy environment of a live 911 center.
I am pleased that I have found a group of adventurous souls that are willing to go on a piloting journey with me. Cook County Sheriff’s Office will be piloting my training model at the beginning of 2019 with a cohort of newly hired telecommunicators. Cook County is the second largest sheriff’s department in the nation and the communications division is ever growing due to the state mandated consolidation of centers. Size does matter in research. This is also an ideal pilot site because they aren’t shackled to an industry standard training program. I look forward to working with the staff at Cook County Sheriff’s Office Communications and sharing our success.