Tag: education



As I’ve done for the last several years, I worked with folks to schedule training classes for police officers. This year, they were scheduled in Alabama, Louisiana and New Jersey. The New Jersey sessions were successful; seven groups of officers, from multiple municipalities all across the state participated with great, thought-provoking ideas and discussions in each. In Alabama (one session only), the officers of one agency in a town that sees many bicyclists daily, learned a lot about how and why bicyclists and pedestrians act in certain ways, and we discussed what the law really says versus what many people think it says about the rights and duties of road users. The chief of police in that agency already wants to schedule another session. I’ll be heading back in the fall.

Louisiana, though, was a different story. Sessions in three parishes were scheduled for July. A fourth had been promising to get me and the course into their academy to work with new recruits. I was excited to be able to work in my home state since Louisiana is a focus state under the federal guidelines…that means that the number/rates of injuries and fatalities is higher than most states. Pardon my bluntness, but that means that yes, we’re doing a better job of injuring and killing road users than most other places in the country. What happened? Even with registration open for several weeks I had ZERO registrants for any of the sessions. Another region tried to get a session scheduled. We offered several dates…twice…and then (crickets). I’ve gotten radio silence from the agency that wanted me to present in their academy…

Not the response you might expect. I do understand that staffing is problematic most everywhere, and I’m asking agencies to give me several officers for a half- or a whole day. But there are requirements for continuing education anyway. How does this education not matter? Doesn’t keeping all road users safe make the list? This in a state that has FOUR of the top 50 most dangerous counties (parishes) in the entire country for bicyclists. And those four are all in one region! And in that region, we’ve been trying for three years to get agencies to participate, to no avail.

Given that, I’m not sure Louisiana will renew my grant for the next fiscal year. And that will be the worst thing, because I won’t be able to back and try again for another year. But believe me, I will try again. Because it’s too important not to try!

Two Sides of Changing a Flat

Two Sides of Changing a Flat

Which one do you want to hear first? Let’s flip a coin. Oh, it doesn’t matter because they’re both relevant.

Several years ago, the League of American Bicyclists revised the Smart Cycling curriculum. There were some things that needed to be updated. The focus before the revisions was on roadies. Spandex-clad, skinny-tired, long-distance road riders…With the revision, the whole point was to be more inclusive, with anyone pushing the pedals considered a bicyclist.

That was good, because, of course, not everyone driving a bike wants to do a century, or to race. Far more people use their bicycles for transportation and/or recreation, so the shift was appropriate.

One thing that fell off the plate left me wondering, though. The basic course taught by LCIs nationwide included basic bicycle maintenance. It included a bike check (the ABC Quick Check) designed to make sure your bike is ok before a ride. It also included brake and derailleur adjustments (that many folks may never attempt to do…). Finally, it included changing a flat.

All of those except the ABC Quick Check went away when the curriculum changed. All of those changes seemed OK to me, except…changing a flat. I, and several others, pointed out that everyone riding a bike ought to know how to do that. And…even in training to become an LCI, there was officially no requirement that someone know how to do that. We felt then, and I feel now, that there is an issue of (dare I say it) fairness, or equity, in that change?

In my experience, working with many LCIs over the years, more men than women know how to change a flat. And here’s where the two sides I mentioned earlier come in. Shouldn’t we equip all riders with that basic knowledge? Undoubtedly, some people riding bicycles will never do it themselves (bike shops will do it quickly, and at low cost). But there are some who will do it themselves, because it empowers them to take care of their vehicle, or because it frees them to go wherever/whenever without major concern. But if no one ever shows you how to do it, you’re at a disadvantage.

Here’s the other side. I’ll illustrate with a story. On a long charity ride, my (adult) daughter got a flat. Several of the men in our group jumped in to fix it. They assumed 1) she didn’t know how to do it, or 2) she would take too long. My daughter, having been taught to do it, told them all to back off (it was fun to see!). She quickly and efficiently changed the tube, and we went on.

So now we see the issues. We don’t teach people to do it, and then even if we do, we assume they can’t (or they aren’t good at it). How about we give people the skills they need, and then let them decide how to address the problem?

A random musing about online learning

A random musing about online learning

I recently read an article about online learning. It was based on work done by psychologists Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA. Between them, they conducted three studies to test whether taking notes by hand or on a laptop affected learning.

All subjects (students) got the same lectures. Some interesting differences in learning came out of the studies, however. The concepts were better learned by those who took notes by hand. For immediate simple fact retrieval there was no difference between the two groups. But, when allowed to then look at their notes, those taking notes by hand did better.

The conclusion was that longhand note-taking was better.

So why am I talking about this in a blog about bicycling? I’ve taught a number of students the League of American Bicyclists’ course Traffic Skills 101. There are two ways one can take that course: the full course can be taken in the classroom/on the bike, or students can go to a website that has the classroom portion online, and follow up with just the on-bike portion in person.

My interest was piqued by the article, since I had experienced a difference in learning, albeit not the same difference studied by these researchers, among TS101 students.

In 2012, I had exactly one student who elected to take the classroom portion online. When he arrived for the on-bike portion, I had the distinct impression that he had not internalized many of the concepts that had been presented in the classroom section. Principles of traffic law, in particular, were not as well understood, and during the on-bike portion of the course, I noticed this rider taking more chances/riding in less-than-optimal positions during the ride. At the time, given my sample of exactly one, I just filed it away as an interesting and possibly wildly inaccurate conclusion.

More recently, though, I’ve had more students who have done the online/on-bike version of the class. More experience corroborates my initial feeling that taking the course online led to a shallower experience, and left students less-well prepared and educated.

What really made it hit home was a class of students who were interested in becoming instructors. There is an assessment given before the start of the class to make sure students are operating from the same knowledge base. Students are given a second chance to pass the test if they score poorly the first time. Here’s where it got interesting: All of the students in this class had taken the online version of TS101. When they sent in their first pass at the assessment, scores were lower than usual for many of those enrolled. A greater proportion of students than in other classes scored poorly; I had to ask most participants to re-take the test to reach the minimum passing score required for attendance.

They all did fine on the retest, so there was no problem in the long run – but it took more work on their part to wrap their minds around the material. The “convenience” and “time-saving” of online learning was offset by insufficient absorption of the material.

I realize that I’ve extrapolated (probably inappropriately) from the original research. I think it’s an area that we don’t know enough about right now, and that it needs more work. Based on my (relatively small) sample size, though, I will recommend to any potential students that they take the class in-person rather than online.

Your thoughts?

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