No more PowerPoint lectures

Clare Constant
British Safety Council
13 Mar 2017
Practicals bring environmenal and safety lessons to life at the British Safety Council. Photograph: iStock / AntonMatveev

One of the best parts of being a teacher at the British Safety Council is feeling ignored by a room full of people; the students are so involved in the student-centred learning activities.

Some would say that, as a teacher, you want to have all the attention of the class, however, active student- centred learning is at the heart of all British Safety Council’s new classroom courses. It ensures students learn efficiently, have fun and achieve high pass rates. This teaching methodology is a far cry from the PowerPoint lecturing style still prominent in adult training sessions across the UK.

Our latest course, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management (IEMA FCEM) goes a step further in the way we teach. What are we up to?

Life experience ensures no adult is a blank page – whatever the topic, people either have some previous knowledge to apply or the ability to deduce the basics from a carefully crafted challenge. For example, we investigate clues on a popular chocolate bar’s wrapper to discover the impact of its life-cycle, and organise a jumbled pack of cards into the four main chemical flows keeping our planet healthy, before going on to discover how these become pathways enabling pollution sources to cause significant environmental damage.

Working in teams, students engage and benefit from each other’s experience and have the opportunity to formulate initial thoughts and opinions.

As part of the active learning, the students also correct errors and add unfamiliar content to their existing knowledge in a way that also builds multiple, strong, neural pathways ready for super speed retrieval – like a library or computer hard drive.

There are numerous engaging ways to achieve this in our classrooms – for example, by contrasting preconceived ideas with new information or discovering it as part of an investigation. It’s during this stage we also move from familiar to less familiar contexts. For example, in the Foundation Certificate in Environmental Management, we analyse which change management techniques successfully reduced plastic bag use in the British supermarkets, while seemingly similar initiatives failed in other countries such as Mexico.

For most students, the priority is passing their exam and recalling and applying what they have learned in their current and future jobs, so our final consolidation phase is designed to ensure the memory or skills are readily recalled through challenges that gives the students practice in using their new learning in the same way they will need to after the course ends.

The exact method depends on whether their exam is ‘open book’ multiple choice, like in the IEMA FCEM, or memory-dependent written exams like in NEBOSH National General Certificate 1 and 2. For the latter, we explicitly teach memorisation strategies and then build in spaced recall opportunities through the remainder of the course, whereas the IEMA FCEM course provides lots of practice recognising which information is relevant and recalling it quickly from the brain and learner notes.

It is no surprise that the feedback from people benefitting from our methods is so positive. We are always delighted to hear how relieved they have been that health, safety and environment courses can be engaging and enjoyable and that whatever their preconception of themselves as learners, success is within their grasp.

See details of the courses at: www.britsafe.org/training

Clare Constant is education manager at the British Safety Council