Texas Society of Professional Surveyors raises the bar on surveying education.
By Doug Loveday

A continuing education unit (CEU) course is about to get under way as land surveyors shuffle into a classroom, coffees in hand. They find a seat for the day’s lecture. Most are in good spirits, thankful to be away from the office for a day.

Enthusiasm is still high at the first mid-morning break, but not so much when the surveyors file out for lunch. They seem more relieved than excited. As the afternoon hours tick by, attention and interest wane … and retention and real learning suffer.

Finally, eight hours after the class began, the noise of squealing tires echoes around campus as vehicles race from the parking lot. Sound familiar?

State land surveying associations have presented CEU and paraprofessional classes for many years, and over the decades not a lot has changed in the process. Granted, dynamic speakers and hot-button topics can rivet an audience of land surveyors, but mostly education providers have fallen back on tried—and not-so-often true—methods of imparting knowledge and information to their students.

The Education Committee of the Texas Society of Professional Surveyors (TSPS) resolved to tackle, and remedy, this issue nearly a decade ago. And according to TSPS Education Committee chair Jim Gillis, the goal was far more complex than just finding ways to keep class attendees entertained and engaged. TSPS wanted to drill down deeper to enhance and unlock an education experience worthy of the land surveying profession in Texas.

“The Education Committee, and its sub-committees and members, have created a much stronger focus on providing the types of real education that are desperately needed in order to help all surveyors attain a high level of surveying and technical knowledge, as well as maintain a high degree of ethics in their business practices,” Gillis said. “It’s no longer simply a matter of rolling out new courses so that people can obtain their annual quota of CEUs.”

Gillis, first licensed to survey in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1973, has worked all across North and South America, in the Middle East, and Africa. He became an RPLS in Texas in 2003 and was appointed chair of the TSPS Education Committee in 2010. He now brings that experience to a very proactive and dynamic committee.

“This committee is more structured here in Texas than I’ve experienced in other places,” he said. “We work harder and have a broader mandate than most education committees I’m familiar with. And I’ve never been involved with a committee that actually creates courses.”

Improved Teaching System

In 2003, TSPS invited an expert course developer to lead a workshop on course creation for the society. The following year, TSPS curriculum coordinator and coach Shannan Carrozza and then-education committee chair Fred Crawford, an RPLS in Austin, Texas, took over the reins of the newly established Course and Speaker Development Program.

“We found our attendees were not gaining anything from the courses,” Carrozza said. “People were falling asleep, they weren’t coming to courses, and the competition was strong and increasing. Just the quality of educating and training of the professional was declining with these same, one-dimensional teaching courses. We weren’t improving the skill set of attendees, so we needed a different philosophy.”

They found one through the latest findings in adult learning research. Traditional classroom/lecture settings do not provide the best environment for learning, research shows, with many adult students in those settings failing to fully grasp and retain materials presented to them. A broader approach, defined by the acronym SAVI, is now viewed by experts (and the TSPS course development team) as having the best elements to enhance student learning. The most effective courses include these learning components:
  • Somatic (hands-on/movement)
  • Auditory (hear/talk)
  • Visual (see/imagine/draw)
  • Intellectual (process mentally)
Research also stresses the benefits of peer learning: gaining knowledge through the interaction with others, not just receiving data and information from one speaker. This is defined by the acronym PAR:
  • Peer learning
  • Activity based
  • Relate to real life
TSPS has resolved that all TSPS-developed courses must fit the PAR model, from conception to development and presentation.

“What’s made the program successful is that we are training subject-matter experts to develop courses that are interactive and relevant,” Carrozza said. “And these course materials are not just theory. Students will leave the class actually having had the opportunity to apply the knowledge in real-life scenarios.”

From beginning to final product, the TSPS course-development process takes about a year, according to Craig Alderman, chair of the TSPS Course and Speaker Development sub-committee and an RPLS in Midland, Texas. The sub-committee follows these steps through the process:
  • Assemble teams (subject-matter experts)
  • Hold course development workshop
  • Begin actual course development/writing
  • Coach teams through the process to completion
  • Hold a beta course presentation
  • Offer the course at the annual TSPS symposium
  • Make the course and facilitator’s guide available and “chapter-ready”
But before these steps are taken, course topics must be selected, Alderman said. Topic ideas have come from TSPS leaders and through surveys of the society’s membership, as well as by Course Development leaders.

“Once we’ve decided what course to develop, we create a course goal—just what people would walk out of the course with,” Alderman said. “And lately, we’ve been very specific about whom we recruit [as course developers/subject-matter experts]. We want to find out who’s really motivated.”

That’s extremely important to the process, which is estimated to demand 80 to 100 hours of a course developer’s time, Alderman said. Typically, following the annual symposium education event (usually held in February or early March), the Course Development group is gearing up for new projects. The committee has streamlined the process to focus on creating two new TSPS-brand courses annually. Teams selected to create those courses meet twice officially as a group and other times participate through GoToMeeting web conferencing. Using course and facilitators’ templates and guides, which have been streamlined and made easier over the last several years, the courses are normally ready to be beta-tested toward the end of the calendar year.

Loaded Course Catalog

What’s been the end result of these efforts? A loaded TSPS course catalog of chapter-ready CEU and paraprofessional courses. These are available for use, for a fee, by TSPS chapters around Texas. Many of these chapters enjoy the independence and freedom to host and present classes in their own regions, addressing specific topics of interest to their local members. Local chapters use proceeds from their events for their own endeavors, including funding scholarships for local land surveying students. Also, other state surveying organizations can use courses that are not Texas-specific for a fee.

The current TSPS course catalog includes 14 original, TSPS-brand classes, such as:

CEU Courses
  • An Expedition through the Act & Rules
  • Everyday Use of State Plane Coordinates by Texas Surveyors
  • Practical Application of Advanced Survey Technology
  • Procedures for Construction Layout
  • Professional Ethics
  • RPLS Boundary Retracement
  • RTK Basic Operation and Troubleshooting
  • The Art of Topographic Surveys
Non-CEU Courses
  • Basic Survey Instruments
  • CST Exam Preparation
  • Survey Math 101 (Basic Math Calculations)
  • Survey Math 201 (Intermediate Math Calculations)
  • Survey Math 301 (Advanced Math Calculations)
Two courses now in development and soon to be beta-tested are Land Surveying: A Learned Profession and 3D Scanning. These will also be presented at the 2012 symposium February 24 to 25 in League City, Texas.

TSPS has also created a Chapter Champions program to encourage chapters to send teams of developers to Austin to act as subject-matter experts and writers. Chapters that send teams will have licensing fees waived when using the completed, turn-key brand courses. These courses come with a facilitator’s guide that, when used by a qualified speaker, can allow local chapter members to present with confidence and authority the contents of the brand course.

Wide-ranging Benefits

Chapter members who take part in the course-development and speaker process gain even more valuable rewards. “I believe you get out of a professional society only what you put into it,” said Jack Avis, a Course and Speaker Development graduate and frequent presenter of his TSPS-brand course Implementing GIS in a Surveying Environment. A licensed surveyor in Arizona, he currently is survey and GIS manager of Baker-Aicklen & Associates in Cedar Park, Texas and is an academic advisor at Texas A&M - Corpus Christi and Austin Community College.

“This whole process allows the course developer to approach development from the audience’s perspective,” he said. “What are they going to get out of it? How is this information going to be used in a work environment, in work situations? It’s different than a normal presentation, just sharing information. The adult learning process is an interactive one, and the course developer has to really think this through.” Because students have to participate in the classroom, working through real scenarios and problems with feedback from the instructor, the level of learning is much higher than in a traditional setting.

“I think this has been a real plus for TSPS to go down this path,” Avis said. “Given the amount of energy spent, we’re starting to reap rewards. We have a virtual army of course developers now out there, and they continue to come out with new ideas. These course developers learn presentation skills, how to talk and speak without butterflies and jitters, and they understand the subject matter better than when they started. They also develop real friendships and bonds.”

The benefits from these TSPS-brand courses extend even beyond the land surveying community. “These courses increase the education experience itself, which motivates the students,” Carrozza added. “It increases the quality of the jobs they do, which increases the perception of the profession because of the quality of work being done.

“A section of Article I – Objectives of the TSPS Constitution states, “The Texas Society of Professional Surveyors shall be a non-profit organization incorporated under the laws of Texas; to aid and contribute to the education of its members and the general public in attaining high surveying standards, both technical and ethical.”

With that mission and mandate as target, the TSPS Course Development program is hitting the bull’s eye with each new project it undertakes.

You can read more about TSPS Course Development and its sister program, Speaker Development, at the TSPS website at www.tsps.org.
Doug Loveday is the TSPS communication director and managing editor of The Texas Surveyor.

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