Programmed Film for Ladder Work

Programmed Film for Ladder Work

Camera crew gets elevated views of fire fighters raising a 35-foot extension ladder for New York State Division of Safety programmed movie.



President Johnson has said that the last six years will be remembered as the age of education. It is certainly true that there has been not only something of a revolutionary change in educational technology, but also in methods of teaching and training.

A few years ago Dr. B. F. Skinner, as a result of his work in the Harvard Psychological Laboratories, established certain rather revolutionary laws of learning. This led to the development of programmed instruction.

Herbert Kerkow, producer, and the New York State Division of Fire Safety felt that the best type of teaching machine or program learner was the sound film motion picture projector, but that it had to be used to take advantage of Skinner’s findings to be most efficient. This is done in “Ground Ladders,” a 16 mm sound color film that was recently introduced into the New York State standardized training program for general fire training use.

Three principles

Stated simply, programmed learning in its first principle makes a careful analysis of where the trainee starts and where he is to go. Then it gives him the material in the film in small, logically evolving steps.

The second principle is to have the instructor ask direct questions of the trainees at appropriate points in the lesson’s development. This achieves the feedback or student response that is so important in programmed learning.

The third principle is that of reinforcement. Thus, after the instructor asks the question, he waits for the trainees in the audience to answer. The narrator then gives the correct answer. Thus, those who answered correctly are reinforced. Those who didn’t know the answer are immediately given the answer and the reasons why. Now when all know the correct answer, they can all move further into the lesson’s development.

Trainees become part of the teaching action

The essential key to these three points is a high degree of trainee participation. In this connection, the Ford Foundation has said: “The film should keep the student active, not passive before the screen. It should invite discovery on his part, rather than foreclosing discovery by giving all the answers. To do this, it has to be willing to stop talking and let the viewer take part; it has to stop telling him and listen to him; stop trying to fill his mind and let him exercise his mind.”

This became the basic philosophy of the 30-minute training film, “Ground Ladders.”

This film achieves a high degree of training participation by:

  1. Having the on-camera narrator (in the person of a chief training officer) ask direct questions from the screen to stimulate narrator-trainee question and answer dialogue.
  2. Letting the local instructor take over after a moderate teaching dose. Key scenes with no sound track are repeated (with leader between each). The instructor turns the projector on and off as he uses these scenes for review and to ask trainees questions.

Questions asked

The on-camera narrator from time to time asks questions of his audience relating to the material that they have just seen or to special scenes photographed to pique their interest.

He says, for example, “I am going to ask you questions from time to time. Please speak up so your instructor can hear your answers and judge how well the film and I are getting over.”

As the trainees watch the film, a question is asked. After a pause for the trainees to answer, the narrator gives the correct answer. Thus, those who answered correctly are reinforced. Those who didn’t know the answer are immediately given the answer.

After the film has run about 10 minutes, the on-camera narrator says, “Your instructor will now take over to review what you have learned and to help you apply it to your local conditions.”

At this point, the key scenes in the first section are ready for the local instructor to run without any track. Some are quite short; some full length. At this point the local instructor is given full details on how he should use this review material. In some cases he projects a scene and asks questions during and after. In some cases he projects a scene, then reverses the projector to the beginning of the scene. Now the instructor asks one of the trainees to explain the high points as the repeated scene unfolds. He uses some of the scene to amplify other ways of doing the same activity. With others, he stops and freezes a frame, making the comments suggested by the instructor’s manual.

After this kind of review and discussion, the local instructor runs the second part of the film. Again at the conclusion, the instructor takes over and uses his special film highlight review section in the manual to localize and emphasize. Finally he runs the third and last section, which has in turn its own special film review as before.

Feedback awaited

The Division of Fire Safety expects that as the film gets out in the field there will be much feedback from instructors on interesting and novel ways they have used this review section of film highlights. Once this feedback has come in, it is intended (with the help of the film’s producer) to supply each instructor with a test for each of the three film sections.

This test will have high emphasis on the visual and will ask all questions by means of numbered pictures. At the end of the test, the students will take a break. Then by means of a template, the instructor can quickly check the answers to determine if there are any areas in which there is lack of understanding and need for review.

It is hoped that through this careful and thorough approach, every fireman will be thoroughly trained in how to use ground ladders.


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