CAUT Report

UniServe Science News Volume 7 July 1997




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Chris Trevitt
Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods, The Australian National University

Towards Resource-Based Learning in Australian Fire Management

Chris Trevitt
Chris.Trevitt@anu.edu.au

Context

Dry labs are to science education as simulation decision-making is to management education. When the course you are teaching relates to the physics and chemistry of combustion, the biology of fuel supply in natural lands, the meteorological influences on rural fire propagation, and the design and implementation of plans for rural and forest fire protection and suppression, then the imperatives to draw on computer-based approaches to support learning are almost overwhelming.

In seeking support from the CAUT it was noted that there is a critical need for improved education and training for Australian rural fire management. Support was sought to develop new approaches based on computer-based materials to support this, both at the ANU and elsewhere. These approaches and materials were required to help students taking the ANU undergraduate unit Fire Science and Management acquire surrogate practical experience in a subject where it is frequently impossible to timetable safe and appropriate field work.

Approach

The project made advances on two broad fronts, called here Materials and Methods.

1. Materials

The first objective was the development of high quality graphics and digitised versions of unique slide libraries held in CSIRO and elsewhere, and their integration with existing and new course notes. To a large extent this has been achieved, with the equivalent of many 100s of pages of text, more than 110 line drawings and maps, and some 460 copies of 35mm slides being digitised. In addition, ten quicktime animations have been designed and developed to help students with difficult to experience and/or visualise scenarios in planning for prevention and suppression in Australian rural fire management.

These materials have been structured into a hypermedia library of text, colour slides and graphics for access on the world-wide web from the ANU student computer laboratories. A significant proportion of them are also accessible nationally and internationally using the FireNet communication network (http://online.anu.edu.au/Forestry/fire/firenet.html).

2. Methods

The second broad objective was to continue developing and evaluating innovative teaching practices in order to discover how best to use the new digital materials for improved student learning. Issues relate to the importance of moving away from a knowledge transmission conception of teaching to embrace student skill development in information management and filtering (eg Brack and Trevitt, 1995; Trevitt et al., 1995a), simulation management planning and decision-making (eg Trevitt and Sachse-Åkerlind, 1994) as well as oral and written communication (eg Trevitt and Pettigrove, 1995; Trevitt et al., 1995a). One consequence of such changes has been the need to pay close attention to the stresses for students induced by the new and unexpected (Åkerlind and Trevitt, 1995).

Outcomes

  1. Development of new classroom techniques and approaches; and dissemination activities.

    In the work leading up to and including the CAUT project, we have:

  2. Some specific student evaluation results obtained during this CAUT project.

    As noted in Trevitt (1996) student comments obtained during the end of course evaluation are illuminating for the insight they offer. One statement for which written responses were sought was: 'Please comment on how well the Assessment, Course Resources and Classroom/Field Activities fitted together and supported each other.' Student comments included:

    • 'They all fitted together like fingers on a hand. The assessment was relative to where the course would take us. The course resources were very thorough and helpful. Field work and class room activities also were relevant to where the course would take us.'; and
    • 'Course resources were useful in filling in gaps left by class work activities.'

    Another question asked was: 'Overall, what do you feel are the best features of the unit ?' Responses included:

    • 'The innovative assessment was an outstanding feature of this unit. The internet is also a great idea.';
    • 'Knowing that there is still a lot more to be learnt. Preparing us for the job situations we are seeking. Making us think about things rather then read facts. Fire is not a text book element.'; and
    • 'Simulated real world conditions (eg in management exercises). Assessment of relevant skills (eg job application) and not just memory.'

    The final question for which answers were sought was: 'Do you have any suggestions on how the unit might be improved ?' In this case responses included:

    • 'Because the course resources are so comprehensive, at times it can be daunting. Maybe a system whereby [the] more important information available on the course resources could be highlighted [should be developed]. Sometimes you get so deep into the system you forget where you are going.'; and
    • 'Provide greater insight in what is required of the course resources.'

    As noted by Trevitt (1996), many of these comments offer important hints for further improvement. Many also confirm that there is much about the existing course design that is now sitting comfortably from a student perspective.

Conclusions

Students' abilities to articulate novel key features such as the important distinction between assessment of memory (rote learning) versus assessment of relevant skills, and the comprehension of how much more there is to learn (and what could be a greater asset in terms of contributing to safety when working with rural fire?), suggests that some at least are developing skills in understanding and assessing their own learning, and are becoming capable of making astute assertions regarding what works or is important for them and why. This gives us satisfaction that valuable learning outcomes are being achieved, at least for some students.

References

Åkerlind, G. and A.C.F. Trevitt (1995) Enhancing learning through technology: when students resist the change. In: J.M Pearce and A. Ellis (eds) ASCILITE'95 conference proceedings, 4-6 Dec. Univ of Melb. pp1-9.

Boyle, P. and A.C.F. Trevitt (1997) Enhancing the quality of student learning through the use of learning plans. Higher Education Research and Development (In press).

Brack, C.L., and A.C.F. Trevitt (1995) Accessing the data to create the knowledge: a case study from forestry. Interpersonal Computing and Technology Journal, 3: 9-16. To retrieve a copy send the message GET BRACK IPCTV3N1 to LISTSERV@LISTSERV.GEORGETOWN.EDU

Pettigrove, M, A.C.F. Trevitt and R.A. Nelson (1994) Negotiated learning plans: towards student autonomy in forestry education. In: Pettigrove, M. and Pearson, M. (eds) Proceedings of the Higher Education and Development Society of Australia annual conference, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, 7-9 July. pp835-847.

Smith, A. and A.C.F. Trevitt (1995) IT-based curriculum development using students - under contract. Poster presentation at University Teaching Workshop 4-6 Dec, University of Technology, Sydney.

Trevitt, A.C.F. (1996) Reflections on the design, development and use of web-based course resources for teaching and learning. Invited (sponsored) paper presented at the Apple Universities Consortium Academic Conference, 'From Virtual to Reality', 24-27 Sept, Brisbane. 8pp (Proceedings published on CD-ROM and on the web at: http://www.uow.edu.au/ ).

Trevitt, A.C.F. (1994) Computer-facilitated learning in forest fire management. In: M. Ryan (Ed) Proceedings APITITE94 Asia Pacific Information Technology in Training and Education Conference and Exhibition, (Volume 2) 28 June - 2 July, Brisbane, Australia. pp723-728.

Trevitt, A.C.F. and M. Pettigrove (1995) Towards autonomous criterion-referenced assessment and self-assessment: a case study. Invited paper at 2nd European electronic conference on assessment and evaluation: recent and future developments, Feb 6-10. European Association for Research into Learning and Instruction, SIG Assessment & Evaluation (EARLI-AE) List. Administered via: listserv@nic.surfnet.nl (Copy available at: http://online.anu.edu.au/Forestry/fire/ACFT/assess-TP95.html)

Trevitt, A.C.F. , C. Brack, M. Ryan, C. Hilliker and S. Hedenstroem (1995a) Forestry education and information technology at ANU: tools, toys or a turn-up for the books ? In: L. Bren and C. Greenwood (eds) Applications of New Technologies in Forestry, Proceedings of the 16th Biennial conference of the Institute of Foresters of Australia. 18-21 April, Ballarat, Victoria. pp169-178.

Trevitt, A.C.F., M. Ryan, J. Gould, P. Hutchinson and J. Coleman (1995b) Australian conflagration-scale wildfires: a World-Wide Web hypermedia presentation for education and training. Presented at International Union of Forest Research Organisations workshop on Internet applications and electronic information resources in forestry and environmental sciences. 1-5 August, Joennsu, Finland. (See: http://www.anu.edu.au/Forestry/fire/IUFRO/IUFRO.html)

Trevitt, A.C.F., G.S. Åkerlind, C.L. Brack and M. Pettigrove (1995c) The role of student assessment: to gauge students' performance, to enhance learning and professional skills, or to inform program evaluation ? In: Little, P., M. Ostwald and G. Ryan, (eds) Research and development in problem based learning. (Vol 3). Australian Problem Based Learning Network. Charles Sturt University Press. pp435-447.

Trevitt, A.C.F. M. Ryan, K. Colls, T. Casanader, K. Batt and P. Dunda (1994). Australian severe fire weather - a case study of Ash Wednesday, February 16, 1983. An electronic education and training module for use with Mosaic. A CD-ROM module published under the auspices of the Computer-Aided-Learning (CAL) Working Group of SCHOTI (the Standing Conference of Heads of Training Institutes of National Meteorological Services) and supported by the World Meteorological Organisation.

Trevitt, A.C.F, and G. Sachse-Åkerlind (1994) A District Fire Committee Simulation in the professional forestry curriculum: a case study of computer-facilitated problem-based learning. In: S.E. Chen, R. Cowdroy, A. Kingsland and M. Ostwald (eds.), Reflections on problem-based learning, Australian Problem Based Learning Network, Sydney. pp 347-369.


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