Teaching Machine Experiment in Fire Training
A recent announcement by the International Association of Fire Chiefs that an electronic teaching machine is now being employed in a fire training experiment has created interest among fire service officials. Most of the initial comment centers around the simple question, “What is it?” In common with most elementary questions, the answer, or series of explanations to be more precise, is not very simple. While a more detailed explanation of the application appears elsewhere in these pages, the following seems to be a summation of this startling development.
A machine for teaching purposes was introduced in a simple form late in the 19th Century and the idea has been advanced and improved in many ways up to this time. Most of the early developments were ahead of their time and until the birth of the electronic era following World War II, none was very practical. However the modern device is a combination which projects visual information on a screen and presents the instructor’s voice, recorded on magnetic tape, to the student. He, in turn, absorbs the intelligence and then answers questions posed by the machine. Only a correct answer is accepted and the score may be recorded if desired. Most units, and there are several currently available, resemble modem table-model television receivers capable of black and white or color reception.
At present, the fire service experiments in the use of the device are limited to material lending itself to true or false-type questions and answers. Modifications of the machine being used in the fire training program permit written answers or oral statements to be accepted depending on the educational method desired for the purpose at hand. At first glance, the idea appears excellent, but educational experts warn that until complete evaluation is made, caution should be exercised.
One of the nation’s foremost adult educators, long experienced in technical and scientific fields, is directing this pioneer fire service project and closely evaluating the effectiveness of the medium. He believes that teaching machines, coupled with good lesson plans which present the material with clarity and simplicity, will make learning much easier for the students. The preparation of the curriculum in the form of sound lesson plans is, in his opinion, the key to success or failure of this new method of instruction. The nature of the broad technical knowledge required by fire fighters is believed to lend itself ideally to the type of instruction which is readily imparted by the machine. The receptiveness of firemen and fire officials is an unknown quantity which will receive careful scrutiny during the experiments to determine if fire fighters can profit by such programs.
Educational experiments to test the machine curriculum have been carried out recently in other fields. One research project of this nature was under the direction of a team of educators working at the University of California at Los Angeles in cooperation with the Santa Monica Schools System. Two groups of firstgrade children were selected and given elementary training in molecular theory. The test group was taught by machine while the control group received instruction from a teacher in the normal manner. When the instruction was completed, both groups were interrogated and the educators report that the machine-taught pupils were significantly superior in their knowledge of the subject.
Experts in the design and construction of the machines, as well as educators skilled in curriculum development believe that by 1965 the practical field for this new method of instruction will open up. By that time, scientific and technological advancements will have benefited from the experience gained in experiments now under way or scheduled to begin shortly. Full advantage can then be taken of the knowledge of strong points and shortcomings of the method.
Certainly the fire service will have benefited tremendously during this period with a promise of even greater things to come. Cooperating in a research project of this nature could well lead to a revolution in present fire training methods if success is achieved. In any event, the concentration on proving methods presently employed against a radical development will, in the long run, result in more soundly trained firemen to better serve the public. This can be considered an ideal situation for regardless of the results, only good can be derived.