A word of advice

This past Saturday, I served as a Volunteer Examiner at the finish line of a "Ham Cram". The Middlesex County Office of Emergency Management offered the day long session in order to allow CERT members from various municipalities throughout the county the chance to earn their Technician licenses. There were twelve participants, and at the end of the day, half of them had earned their licenses.

All of these people were all enthusiastic and determined to become Amateur Radio operators. So what went wrong? Why wasn't there a higher success rate? What went wrong was a lack of lead time and mis-communication.  Some had learned of the Ham Cram session only three days beforehand. The information about the session was directed to the participants through their local municipal OEM directors. Middlesex County OEM did their due diligence by sending out the information in plenty of time, but we all know that information that goes through the chain-of-command can travel particularly slowly, especially if the "powers that be" aren't all that familiar with the information they are passing on. Not realizing that this information was time sensitive proved to be a major handicap.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, or the concept, a Ham Cram is defined as a six or more hour long session where prospective Hams are crammed with the info they need to earn their license.  Think of the all-nighters you may have endured before a particularly tough exam in college. The concept is the same.

The problem with the Ham Cram concept is that many people think they can walk into one as a blank page, and will then walk away as a book filled with all the knowledge they need to pass the license exam.

For the Ham Cram concept to work (and it works remarkably well if implemented correctly), the students need to get their hands on a license manual and read and study for six to eight weeks prior to the Cram session. The Ham Cram session educator needs something to work with. It's highly improbable that someone can walk "cold" off the street and earn their ticket after only six hours of cursory study - unless of course, you have a photographic memory.

Again, going back to the "all-nighter" session in college.  That exam prep marathon came after an entire semester of classes.  You were, in essence,  reviewing what you had hopefully learned throughout the proceeding months. We all know that if you waited until that evening to crack open a book, then you were toast.

Or if you want to think of it another way, the Ham Cram instructor is like a diamond cutter. With a raw diamond he can produce a work of art. Give him a piece of coal and he'll be out of his element. So if you know of a prospective Ham and he or she is talking about participating in a Ham Cram, then the sagest advice you can impart upon them is that they should begin the studying process WAY in advance (weeks/months).  Then they'll arrive at the Ham Cram as a rough diamond ready to be polished into a prized jewel.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP - When you care to send the very least!
Larry Makoski, W2LJ, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from New Jersey, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

4 Responses to “A word of advice”

  • Larry, there is so much wasted energy here. Why is everybody reinventing the wheel with these courses? Where is the evidence-based pedagogy?

    I’ve been a CPR instructor (off and on) for over twenty years. These courses are essentially in-person, instructor-led video-based learning. The instructors are on hand to answer questions and help participants drill on the material and they proctor testing.

    We need a standardized and free (open source) “canned” video-based program that any radio amateur with a reasonable amount of experience can confidently present in modules to a small group of learners. The CPR class model would work — it’s worked for decades now.

    I’m NOT talking about recording a local class — I’m talking about creating a real program from the ground up.

    Creating a free (or very low cost) program is the single best thing that the ARRL could do to move our hobby forward. The SINGLE BEST THING.

    If the League won’t do it, then maybe a Kickstarter?

  • Bill Taylor KC5DPJ:

    I have to agree with W1MST. I would like to see a program like that for all license classes. It would be best, in my opinion, if it were free and accessible to anyone interested. A computer program that could be viewed on any operating system. There are a lot of people from youth on up that simply cannot afford all the wonderful publications that are out there. Maybe in time they could but they are faced with getting their license then a radio that will hold their interest while they upgrade. I know HT’s are cheap now but there are people that don’t live in a repeater area accessible by a HT and rubber duck. Just my opinion…Good article and love receiving these articles daily.

  • Scott W9VHE:

    Free or VERY low cost would bring more success in just passing the exam. Once we get them in, how are we going to keep them going, or give them the basics of going further? “Here is how you hook up to the car battery to power your Blinkenlightn 400 radio.” Plenty of that information around the Interweb, but seems like getting it all to one..repository, not just web site or organization, but into a format/package with the simple basics. Just as a driver’s license is the entrance to learning how to drive, someone has to show new drivers how to change a flat tire, etc. How do we do that and keep it free or near free?
    (Sorry, didn’t mean to rant, keyboard has a life of its own lately)

  • Daniel Lindsley N5AGG:

    I am a VE in Maine. I have noticed that most people require several months of study before passing an exam. Others merely scan the material and pass the first time. Somehow, we need to accommodate both types.

    de N5AGG

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