In an ideal world, all instructors of safety and health courses would be masters of course subject matter as well as the theories and practices for effective teaching. In practice, however, most instructors are much stronger in one or the other. This paper provides an example of how some fundamental knowledge from educational experts can be useful for improving a traditional safety course.

Is there a problem with the way traditional safety and health (S&H) courses are taught? It is asserted by this author that S&H education, in general, places too much emphasis on acquisition and comprehension of facts at the expense of helping students develop higher-level cognitive abilities. This paper explains the basis for the assertion and reports an experience upgrading a traditional fire protection course to include more assignments involving the higher-level ability known in the education community as synthesis.

Cognitive Abilities

A foundation for understanding levels of mental abilities comes from an often-referenced handbook by Benjamin Bloom and colleagues (Bloom et al. 1956). Professor Bloom and his colleagues at the University of Chicago developed taxonomies for learning. Their approach began with classification of three domains: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Of these, the cognitive domain is emphasized in college instruction for careers in occupational S&H. Within the cognitive domain, Bloom and colleagues proposed the six levels of cognitive development listed in Table 1. These categories have been cited extensively in the educational literature to support planning curricula, courses, units, assignments, and tests. Although some revisions have been proposed, respect for the Bloom taxonomy has endured for over 50 years (Krathwohl 2002, 212–218; Betts 2008, 100).

(Table in full paper)

This paper uses the original Bloom taxonomy for four reasons. First, the proposed revisions may be subjects of debate among educational theorists for the foreseeable future. Second, the Bloom taxonomy is widely recognized throughout the educational community. Third, the Bloom taxonomy is sufficient for planning S&H courses. And fourth, the Bloom categories list synthesis. This particular cognitive skill is the primary one used to upgrade the fire protection course.

The Bloom categories are seen as progressive levels of learning. That is not to say each level is a discrete step which must be completed before starting the next. The levels involve overlapping and interacting mental activities (Krathwohl 2002, 212–213). For example, acquiring factual knowledge about a subject, and developing deeper comprehension of the subject, often involves a back-and-forth process between the first two Bloom levels.

This concept of progressive cognitive development forms the foundation for education from the elementary grades through high school. As students progress through the grades, educators are expected to help students move upward in the Bloom levels. When students first enter college, their abilities in the lower Bloom levels (1–3) far exceed their abilities in the higher levels (4–6). Thus, undergraduate students typically feel more comfortable with assignments requiring memorization and other lower level skills. During the college experience, students should have multiple opportunities to continue strengthening their lower-level abilities and grow abilities for the higher-levels.

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