Running Your First Ham Radio Technician Class
I have a crazy idea. I want to run a ham radio technician class at the community center in my small town. I’ve never done anything like this before.
I told you it was a crazy idea.
I need your help. I want to hear from people who have successfully run technician license courses. I’m also looking to hear what DIDN’T work so I can avoid those things. I’m most interested in:
- How did you decide what book to use? There seem to be many good choices including the ARRL book and Stu Turner’s HamRadioSchool.com. There are also some free (and low cost) PDF texts available online.
- Did you use a specific curriculum, or did you kind of follow along with the book you chose?
- What multimedia did you use? Again, so many choices here including Andy Vellenga’s Ham Whisperer videos. I worry about putting them to sleep with PowerPoint.
- Was there just one instructor (you), or did you utilize several members of your club to offer other points of view?
- Did you let everyone in who expressed interest, or did you have some sort of selection criteria?
- How did you choose a venue for your class? I’m thinking maybe the local fire station or community center.
- What did you find works best for a class schedule? I’m debating between running the class over two weekends versus one night a week for 8 weeks. Both have their pluses and minuses.
- What percentage of your students finished the class, and how many of those successfully licensed? I’ll be pretty depressed if I start with 15 students and only one gets their ticket.
- What’s the most important thing you wish you’d known before you did it, and what would you change because of it?
No reply is too short or too long. Address all of the questions, or just one. I appreciate any insight you can offer.
Matt, I did this 8 or 9 years ago for a group of folks from the University of Minnesota when I was a grad student there. These guys were students at the University, and so were very good at passing tests (a large percentage ended up technical PhDs). I started out with the usual lecture-style classes set up over a period of weeks, but it turned out that two sessions of 2-3 hours on a week night plus a cram session before the exam were sufficient. I think I used ARRL’s Now You’re Talking as the textbook and let them read a couple of chapters and then we would discuss them.
I think KB6NU’s “No-Nonsense Study Guides” are pretty good, especially when coupled with some hands-on demonstrations. They would benefit from a few more figures, which may be a problem for some learning styles. But, on the other hand, they are no-nonsense.
People can watch videos on YouTube. I think your mission is to help with the things that the books and Internet cannot do for them. That’s going to be different for different people. But, one good example is to tell (brief) stories about times when something you learned for the exam actually helped you build or operate your station. Tie the test material to something tangible.
I’ll be philosophical, but the ham exams are just supposed to be enough to make sure you’ve thought about the gravity of what you’re about to do and to understand enough to get started successfully. From that perspective, I think a three class sequence is ideal: 1. Introduction to amateur radio (this should weed out the ones who aren’t serious), 2. Cram for the exam, 3. So, you’re a ham, now what?
Keep the classes short, lively, and engaging—like you say, slide decks will, as my boss likes to say, “make them lose their will to live.”
A few disjoint thoughts…
Matt, thanks for mentioning my new book. Obviously I believe it to be the best way to go for teaching a technician class! But to answer your questions…
I’ve been teaching the WØTLM Technician Class along with Bob Witte KØNR and Paul Swanson AAØK for a few years now. We were never really satisfied with the more popular books and resources on the market. The G.West book was too focused on memorizing test questions without really understanding, and many students came away with no practical understanding of how to get on the air. The ARRL manual was too technical and dry for many of our students, especially if they did not have a technical upbringing. So, I wrote what we had wished were on the market and that is now the HamRadioSchool.com Technician License Course. It has a companion web site and test app that are fully integrated/coordinated with the book organization to help affect efficient study. It uses simple language, analogies, and examples to provide a good intuitive understanding of amateur radio concepts. And of course, it covers and highlights the content of all 394 techician exam pool questions. I hope you’ll consider using our learning system because we really think it’s good for helping folks to GET IT, not just memorize brainlessly.
We have alway run our courses following the organization of the book used. In September we’ll be using the HamRadioSchool.com system for our next class offering and following it’s building-block organization section-by-section.
We generated our own ‘multimedia’ for previous courses, including powerpoint charts, doing in-class demonstrations and activities, and a couple of choice videos. With the HamRadioSchool.com book and system we’ll be using the online media that we’ve generated specifically to support the book, keeping some of our zaney in-class demonstrations and exercises, and I am developing fresh new original charts to go along with the HamRadioSchool.com organizational plan. We are currently discussing making these charts and other support available to course instructors who wish to use our learning system. Please, please, please… beware of anesthetic word charts! Death by powerpoint lies yonder.
Bob, Paul, and I rotated presentations in our previous course offerings, and we plan to maintain that format, as well as introducing some additional “characters” into our approach. More on that in future HamRadioSchool.com postings on Facebook and our web site.
We allowed anyone who signed up into our class. No special screening beyond suggesting that age 11 is probably a minimum age for the course format. We’ve maintained well over 90% pass rate with our 2-day, pre-study course format, and many, many comments that the classroom information was the most valuable “glue” that cemented the memorized answers together and provided confidence to go transmit. We anticipate a big enhancement of those effects now that we’ve got the learning materials we always wished to have with our coordinated book, web, and app.
Our venue is our local fire station classroom, holding about 24 students max. Our club is a fire association-affiliated club, so we have a great relationship with the firefighters and they offered its use for our classes. It is a very good venue since it is easy to find, has all the classroom amenities built-in, and the size is right for our course format, but other types of locations can work just as well. That said, I recommend keeping class size small, 25 or less, to maintain some personal interaction and to keep it friendly in the classroom. Lecture hall formats with large numbers are impersonal and inspire snoring.
We have always stuck with the 2-day cram session on two consecutive Saturdays. This has worked well for us, providing a day’s introduction to content (with expected pre-study by students) and providing the students a week in between sessions to process the first day’s content and come back even more prepared to take advantage of the classroom environment on day 2. We VE test at the end of day 2.
As noted before, we’ve had well over 90% of our enrolled students pass the exam in this day 2 VE session. We have had less than a handful — perhaps only two that I can recall — drop out after the first day and not try the test. I think the small class, friendly and personal approach that I mentioned helps to promote this kind of success in lieu of dropping out. Make that personal connection with each student and they will stick with you.
What do I wish I’d known? That’s a tough one, because I have many years under my belt as a professional educator for a military academy and I’ve seen a lot of different learning styles and needs. Perhaps I wish I’d have known how popular this course was going to be in our community, and how poor most folks would consider the available learning materials to be. (Prior to HamRadioSchool.com, of course!) For the individual who is unaccustomed to being in front of a classroom, with little public speaking experience or other instructional background, I think the thing to know is that it isn’t always easy getting inside the heads of others to figure out how they think and to know what teaching method will work best for them. You have to really try to get inside their heads and have an arsenal of many different approaches for the difficult concepts. What works for one student, or even most students, won’t work for the next or for all. Further, you have to be good at thinking on your feet with alternatives and good at interpreting comments and expressions to know whether or not the student is ‘getting it.’ Sometimes you can literally see the lightbulb when it pops on over a head.
Good luck, sir! Again, I hope you will consider using HamRadioSchool.com for your learning materials, and please do not hesitate to contact me directly if I can be of any assistance to you with the class. I’m glad to help. Take care, 73.
Stu Turner, WØSTU