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Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology is “flipping out” over its new style of teaching pilots.

In fact, the overhaul of its aviation flight program has been so successful that the technical school is making the same curriculum change for its maintenance program.

In July 2013, Spartan College converted its aviation flight program curriculum from textbook style learning to a “flip-learning style.” The entire course work was redeveloped and placed on iPad only.

The change has resulted in improved pass rates, accelerated degree times and better preparation for students entering an industry in which pilots increasingly use electronic flight bags, Spartan officials said.

“What we wanted to do when we chose this is radicalize the traditional flight education,” said Ryan Goertzen, college president.

Jones Riverside iPadIn the previous 30-month associate’s degree program, aviation flight students had been taking 16 one-month ground-school classes throughout the curriculum with limited integration or cohesion between ground classes and actual flight operations.

“We decided that wasn’t working because we were seeing higher failure rates of ground classes and flight checks,” Goertzen said.

Now, curriculum has been altered to fit an integrated, seven-hour day. Two hours consist of classroom lecture; three hours are made up of lab activities like desktop simulators; and flight training takes place in another two-hour block.

At the end of every classroom lecture students have a homework assignment that they’re quizzed on electronically first thing during their next class, Goertzen said.

The quiz helps the instructor key in on content to focus on, the students who need help, and the students who didn’t do their assignment.

Rooting out or turning around students who aren’t dedicated to the flight program is especially important because of the nature of the profession they’re training for, Goertzen said.

“A pilot has to be all in; they absolutely have to be all in,” he said. “It’s not for the weak of heart, because you can’t pull over at 30,000 feet. You have to deal with it.”

The education technique is referred to as “flip learning” because the students are required to study the course work, watch videos and flight simulations prior to entering the classroom.

This has led to an increase in more teacher-student instruction time and has also significantly increased the amount of hands-on learning time.

The flipped class movement was started in the mid-2000s by two high school science teachers in Colorado. During the past decade, the teaching and learning style has become increasingly popular in the U.S. and worldwide.

“I think it’s back to the heart of teaching,” said Jon Bergmann, one of the science teachers who pioneered the technique. “It maximizes the face-to-face time. There’s more one-on-one attention given to students and often the right kids (who are having more trouble with the lesson) are getting the attention, too.”

Research conducted by the nonprofit Flipped Learning Network of which Bergmann is a board member show that 67 percent of flipped classrooms reported student test score improvement and 80 percent reported students’ attitudes improving.

The Federal Aviation Administration requires Spartan and other aeronautics schools to maintain an 80 percent first-time combined pass rate for the two tests aspiring pilots must take, the hands-on FAA flight test and the written FAA knowledge test.

The combined first-time pass rate under the old, traditional learning style program was 83.9 percent, college data show. The combined first-time pass rate for the new program is 96 percent, a more than 12 percentage point increase.

Overall costs of the program have been reduced for the student because every time a student failed an FAA test they would have to go back and retrain, Goertzen said.

“Every failure you have is almost a $1,000 mistake,” Goertzen said.

Students can now complete the associate’s degree program in 17 months, about half the time required for the previous model. The new program also added the option for students to earn their commercial certificate after 12 months.

Accelerated degree times not only help students begin earning money faster, but it also helps get pilots into the industry pipeline, which has been experiencing serious personnel shortages in recent years, Goertzen said.

“There will be a large number of airline pilots retiring in the next five to six years, and there aren’t many pilots in the pipeline to replace them,” said Jeff Mulder, airports director for Tulsa International Airport and R.L. Jones Jr. Riverside Airport.

There are multiple reasons for the workforce shortage, but Mulder and many other airport executives feel one major reason is the recent 1,500-hour rule Congress passed during summer 2013.

The new rule requires airline pilots to have 1,500 hours of flight time compared to the previous 250-hour requirement.

“That’s in our view an impediment to getting people interested in the career,” Mulder said, referring to feedback the American Association of Airport Executives have given members of Congress.

Some smaller airports have had to cut flights because of the pilot shortage, Mulder said. Tulsa International Airport has not had to cut flights, but it will be a long-term challenge, he said.

In addition to getting pilots into the industry faster, Spartan’s electronic curriculum mimics the way pilots in the workforce now operate, college officials said.

American Airlines replaced all of the paper maps and manuals in its pilots’ 40-pound flight kits with iPads that contain “electronic flight bags” in 2013. Other airlines like Delta and Gulf Air have also begun setting pilots up with electronic flight kits.

“Our pilots are getting this Day 1,” Goertzen said. “In their world, they don’t even know what paper is, really. This is their manual; this is how they operate.”

This July, Spartan kicked off its reworked air-maintenance program in the same flipped style, Goertzen said. Instead of using an iPad, however, the maintenance program uses a Surface pad because manuals in the maintenance industry are Microsoft-driven.

Casey Smith 918-732-8106


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