Three Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming An EMS Educator

This week marks one year since I began teaching with a community college paramedic program full-time.  It has been overwhelming and a lot of fun at the same time, much like when I was a new paramedic.  I had taught occasionally in the past, though never understood the theory behind adult education.  Over the past year I  have learned so much, both about the material I have taught and different ways to teach it.  This has been through instructional design and technology offered by my school, advice from my colleagues, and two Coursera MOOCs, Instructional Methods in Health Professions Education and Learning How To Learn.  Here are three of the big things I have learned so far:

1. I’ve forgotten a lot since paramedic school, and there are new ways to study now.

I read a lot and write about clinical topics.  I thought I knew my stuff until I sat in on a colleagues neuro lecture my second day, and came to the realization that all my reading and writing was about topics I was interested in.  The cranial nerves did not make that cut, nor did many other conditions that I was now responsible to teach.  I’ve read more in the past year than I did when I was in paramedic school, and spent several late nights studying about the topics I was scheduled to teach the next day.  If I expect my students to read before coming to class, I have to be able to explain what they read about.  When I give an exam, I have to be able to explain the answers.  In addition to reading the textbook, I also search JEMS, EMS World, and EMS 1, the Khan Academy, and Rob Theriault’s YouTube channel to prepare.

2. Complicated topics should be broken into chunks

One of the adult education principles I have learned about is chunking.  This involves breaking topics down into small segments and making connections between the segments later.  Chunking was heavily emphasized in both of the Courseara courses as being more effective than presenting a large amount of material in one long chapter or lecture.  For the topics that are most important for students to master, I assign “chunked” journal articles,  blog posts, YouTube videos, or podcasts for students to complete in addition to the textbook.

In the genitourinary textbook chapter, for example, renal failure appears in the middle of A&P, UTI’s, and kidney stones.  Since renal failure is such an important topic to master, I assigned Collopy, Kivlehan, and Snyder’s 2013 EMS World article  about it to read, and this Flipped EM video to watch before reading the textbook.  In addition to the popular EMS journals and websites, I have also asked them to listen to EmCrit, Pedi-U, Medic Cast podcasts, and to watch videos from One Minute Medical School,  Flipped EM, and Dr Larry Mellick.   I try to incorporate a variety of mediums that require a short amount of time to complete for the most complicated topics.  My students so far seem to like this, and contradictions between these assignments and the textbook have lead to some lively discussions.

3. Class time should have less lecture and more problems solving.

One of my goals when I started teaching was to become a dynamic speaker and to design better PowerPoint slides.  Since than I have since heard several educators, EMS and non-EMS, share that lecturing from slides may be a good way to teach, but it is not the best way for students to learn.  This is passive learning, where teachers give the information to students.  The problem is that students often get distracted during lectures, and only retain a small amount of what they do hear.  With active learning, students are coached to learn the material on their own, often in groups, through problem solving.  The teacher is an active participant in the process instead of the center of attention.  The “flipped classroom” is all the rage now, where students do the traditional class work at home, through reading or watching videos, and do the traditional homework in class, through group projects and discussions.

For the renal failure example, instead of me lecturing on the complications associated with a dialysis patient missing a treatment (among everything else in the chapter), I broke the students into groups and assigned them cases on white boards.  One group was assigned a patient with signs and symptoms of hyperkalemia, and another for a patient with pulmonary edema.  They were expected to have read and watched videos about these conditions before class, and had 15 minutes to develop a treatment plan based on the information they were given.   They plot it out on the white boards and present it to the class.  I have an outline prepared beforehand to fill in any details that may get missed during their presentation.  Then we take a short break and move on to other topics.

Dan Limmer, Health One EMS, and NAEMSE all have excellent webinars that discuss ways to implement a non-traditional approach to learning.  The students seem to like this approach and do well on the test questions that were covered in group cases.  It is still a work in progress for me, though.  I don’t have these activities prepared for every lesson and speak from slides more than I like to.  This is one area I’m looking forward to getting better at.

These are three of the biggest things I have learned, and I plan to write about others in the future.  There is so much more about teaching that I do not know yet, and welcome any advice from the educator bloggers as I enter year two.




  1. jack Sullivan says:

    Things have sure changed since I was in school. I would love to have you as a teacher.

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