E-Learning and the Adoption of the 2010 Manila Amendments

Apr 4, 2011 12:00 AM
Lieutenant Jerry L Smith Jr. is the prospective commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thunder Bay (WTGB-108), and currently serves as a master training specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Professional Maritime Studies Branch. Lieutenant Smith earned his undergraduate degree in geography from the University of Delaware and his master’s degree in International Transportation Management from SUNY Maritime College.
He has held and active merchant license for over 10 years.
 
The views here are his own and not those of the Coast Guard Academy or other branches of the U.S. government.
 
E-learning is a viable option for certification of knowledge and skills proposed under the Manila 2010 Seafarer’s Certification, Training, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Amendments and for the 21st Century mariner; it is long overdue. Computer based Technology (CBT) is growing across college campuses as a method to augment classroom instruction and deliver addition information beyond contact hours. The method of instruction, in the training or education realm, offers a significant reduction in infrastructural, overhead, travel lodging costs, and flexibility.
 
Almost all campus based e-learning requires facilitation by faculty and is not meant to replace the instructor. It is important to note the distinction between e-learning and e-training. Assessment of skills is difficult to achieve using computer based technology. Even with web video technology, infrastructural challenges, identification, and verification of attendance remain obstacles to overcome. Finding an e-learning solution that balances the competition of cost, time, and valid assessments of competence remains a challenge.
 
Online learning can be categorized as self-study; instructor led, or blended learning in either an asynchronous or synchronous environment.
 
Self-study computer based system is used extensively as a low-cost alternative, at the student’s convenience, either in a web or CD-based format. In one format, the student has the option to test-out for retained knowledge or complete an abbreviated course for noted deficiencies.
 
In another format, the student listens and watches a video for a configured preset time. This is a common format with many state remediation driving programs. Periodic questions are asked at unspecified times to verify student attention. If the student fails to answer the question in the allotted time, the program logouts and the student must repeat the section. This keeps contact hours with the student in line with the approved program duration. Still this system usually offers some flexibility by allowing the student to complete each module on their own time with a maximum completion timeframe.
 
In a third format, an increasingly familiar scenario, students complete a self-paced, web-based course for Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel -100GRT licenses in a prescribed amount of time. All methods are asynchronous allowing flexibility by the student.
 
Blended learning is a mix of e-learning with classroom contact by an instructor. This is increasingly popular solution with college campuses who offer course management systems, such as Blackboard or Angel, in conjunction with synchronous instructor-led classroom contact hours.
 
SUNY Maritime College offers a Port Security course that emphasizes the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS) and Chemical, Biological, Radiological Defense (CBR-D) in an instructor-led, asynchronous online format. Students take comprehensive examinations in addition to mandatory readings and discussion posts. During the capstone project, students critique a maritime port near their location. Students are graded and given feedback by the instructor. To earn the ISPS and CBR-D certificate, each student attends an 8-hour instructor led, classroom seminar on the college campus emphasizing core curriculum components and a capstone evaluation of threats, vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the facility.
 
With the Manila Amendments entertaining the possibility of CBT for STCW requirements, blended learning offers the only negotiable alternative to classroom learning. The challenge is finding the right solution for the audience and subject matter without lowering the Knowledge, Understanding, and Proficiency (KUP) standards. Blended learning offers the opportunity to test Knowledge and Understanding while meeting the practical demonstration of competence required under STCW. The process is two dimensional: the approved facility schedules periodic times to test proficiency with the CBT training certificate serving as a prerequisite for enrollment.
 
This process is evolutionary. Refresher training, recommended by the 2010 Amendments, could serve as a test platform for the near future since these students received initial classroom training and are seeking recertification of knowledge and skills. E-learning for flag state and STCW is long overdue, but stewardship should remain the forefront for safety and sustainability.
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