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Visual Aids in Insurance Teaching

David R. Simmons

This article reports no new panaceas or great schemes for reforming insurance teaching on the campus. The theme, in fact, may be "Naught for your comfort."

To begin with, those of us on the company side of insurance teaching have some advantages over the academics in that we often aren't teaching insurance per se at all. We are free to show movies about fire extinguishers and management principles and road-building equipment. We can show slides in details of building construction or hazardous machinery, or use sales presentation on new policy forms via expensive film strips our sales departments devised and paid for. Those of us with large educational budgets can schedule class time for sales or adjusting, have the students get involved in role-playing situations, and then show then themselves in a playback on television tape.

A.R.I.A. members teaching insurance courses at a college don't have these excuses for getting off the subject. A man stuck with the Survey of Insurance Contracts Course or What is Risk or Investment Practices of Life Insurance Companies will find pretty pictures on these subjects are scarce.

It would be nice to think that some charitable, and well-heeled, soul is in the throes of making a really professional, half-hour color firm about the nature of risk—a film that will make its points graphically (if expensively) and spare the insurance teaching profession the labor of trying to get the subject across. However, even if the Committee on Insurance Terminology finally gets the definitions set, and even if all A.R.I.A. members agree the Committee is right and stop writing rebuttal articles, and even if all the textbooks are amended—I still doubt that any of us will ever see that film.

In fact, I doubt that there are ever going to be any good movies on insurance to show a college class. Certainly no one dares show college men any of those How Insurance Started films, with Babylonian merchants and Venetian shipowners clad in costumes that look like leftovers from a Sunday School pageant.

Of course, there are slides. Logically, since courses in insurance are now courses in risk management, it should be possible to do something with slides. All an instructor has to do is to find some commercial property conveniently nearby that's full of hazards and then get management permission to take pictures indoors. Certainly industrial managements will be most pleased to have their faults paraded repeatedly to students. It might be wise to learn how to climb over fences and sneak past factory guards before planning what pictures to take.

Perils of Darkness

The real problem with slides is the same problem that confronts the users of movies, if there were any of them to use. That problem is that the classroom must be darkened and a projector started. During that period, an instructor loses the attention careful. Then, once the lights are out—and no matter how good the movie is or how proud the teacher may be of his skill at making 35 mm. slides—all the students he has kept awake with his forceful classroom manner will start to doze. The only way to wake them is to turn off the projector, put the lights on, and start talking again. This may be primitive, but they are more likely to learn something while being lectured in the light than they will while dozing in the dark.

On top of that, the few students who do stay awake watching slides won't be able to take notes unless they're proficient in Braille shorthand. And after class, the user of slides will find the question-askers among his students asking where the pictures were taken and what kind of camera was used. The subject matter, which was the excuse for the slides in the first place, will never be mentioned. The medium will indeed have become the massage!

It is probably better not to think about closed-circuit television in insurance teaching, unless one is so fortunate an instructor as to have such large numbers of avid students that they can't all be lectured to simultaneously. Generally, though, it would seem logical that a life-sized, living color, living and talking teacher will be far more effective in getting across to students than a small-screen, black-and-white, television tape facsimile of him, where there is no hope of feedback between class and teacher. Agreed, there is a certain novelty value at the beginning if the teacher is one room and the students are in the other watching on monitors, but the wonder of it all will fade quickly enough. People are apparently even tiring of "Bonanza" in commercial television, so it is a vain insurance teacher who thinks students are going to be indefinitely enhanced to see him talking on the magic box. Anyone determined to try the idea is respectfully referred to the experience at Louisiana State. It would be nice to hear how those ideas, adapted to the subject of insurance, turn out.

Television can often be just one more barrier in the way of communication, though disguised as an attention-getting gimmick. Compare it, if you will, with teaching machines. Programmed instruction is undoubtedly a useful tool for beating certain aspects of a particular subject into a student's head, once he gets used to dealing, with a book organized in a new form. A teaching machine, be it simple or be it one that looks like a television set with more knobs and push-buttons than usual, is another physical handicap the student has to overcome. He must get over wondering how it works before he can begin to think about what he's supposed to be learning. Perhaps one could use a teaching machine with some success for a unit on how teaching machines work, but it's likely to be less effective about the coinsurance clause until the student gets bored with the gimmickry and the flashing-light wonder of it all.

Finding a Simple Way

This leaves one simple visual aid—the blackboard, or chalkboard as they must be called now since they are no longer supposed to be black. It has few moving parts, no films to break, no slides to get out of sequence or upside down—and it can be used in a lighted room. There are two advantages in this right away. First, the teacher is not a disembodied voice in the murky twilight, shouting over the projector's mechanical noises. Second, the students can see and take notes.

The chalkboard can be updated considerably by using an overhead projector. Such machines are almost silent—and they work in a lighted room. Using any such visual aid requires some advance preparation, but the overhead projector uses relatively large transparencies that are relatively easy to make. They can be manufactured on an office copying machine and need merely to be flopped down on the table of the projector as the teacher lectures. It is possible, too, to face the class instead of exhibiting one's back while writing on the chalkboard.

Even a course in risk management may relapse into occasional study of insurance contracts. A certain passage needs word-for-word attention. It can be flashed on the screen and the teacher can mark parts of it for emphasis. Since reading anything at a distance may be hard for some if not most people—and because it is the most squinty-eyed students who sit in the black of a classroom and are too shy to admit they can't see—it is unwise to rely on the screen image alone. It is, after all, an aid, not a be-all and end-all. The man in front of the class is an instructor, not a projectionist.

It's sensible, then, to let the students have the actual printed materials in front of them, which they can annotate. The image on the screen merely helps them find what's being talked about. As an aid, the transparency should be more than a verbatim copy. It won't be an aid at all if the screen is cluttered up with a whole page from a policy. A paragraph at a time is ample, and it may help to break it up into sections. An alternative is to use a shield over the transparency (a piece of paper or cardboard will do) and expose one small part of the text at a time.

Flashing bits and pieces of a contract on the screen is not going to win any prizes for imaginative teaching or for effective utilization of visual-aid materials. Here is where the teacher's imagination in confecting visuals that are aids to learning comes in. An instructor needn't, and shouldn't, go to the other extreme of the fancy stuff that gets students wondering "How did he do that?" instead of "What can I learn from this?" Aids can be kept simple, and still be effective. Perhaps more effective than the fancy ones.

One of the great clichés of teaching is the march to chalkboard with the pronouncement beginning "I can't draw very well, but--". This Can't Draw syndrome is usually most acute when someone has to draw things large, and draw them on the spot while the students watch. It is considerably easier to draw diagrams on a standard-size piece of paper, with a pencil and a ruler. Such diagrams can be turned into transparencies and projected large. They are more likely to be useful to a class than something scribbled all over the board in hot haste.

A simple transparency may help a class get the extensions of the dwelling coverage straight the first time. A business-interruption worksheet with previously prepared overlays may help solve the problem of teaching students how the form is filled out, and may even help them to come to understand what Gross Earnings are. Further, if they don't get it the first time (and they never seem to get it the first time), the teacher needn't erase the blackboard. He just uses the transparency again.

It's also useful to borrow things and make transparencies. A teacher determined to subject his students to complicated tables can flash them on the screen with an overhead projector. Or he can reproduce graphs from learned journals. A simple Xerox copy can be manufactured into a transparency, and whole classes bored or edified by it.

It is easy, of course, to get carried away by the whole process, especially when the overhead projector is a new toy. Experience will suggest, though, that it is useful to get transparency off the screen as soon as it's been discussed. It's easier to remove it than to erase a chalkboard and it isn't left there to be a distraction. There are students who will go to any lengths to avoid the subject matter, even to the point of adding up the number of letters in the caption on the screen. It seems prudent not to give them any more opportunities for such meditations. And there is no point, of course, in using transparencies for transparencies' sake; unless something is germane and useful, it's better left unused.

The Most Fundamental Visual Aid

No instructor should overlook the possibilities of his most convenient and portable visual aid, one that's always with him—himself. Everyone has known the speaker who distracted his audience into indecision whether he was supposed to be a Dutch windmill or the lead tenor in a third-rate road production of I agliacci. But the experience shouldn't frighten a teacher into leaving his hands in his pockets, when a gesture or two would help make his meaning clearer.

Ever ham acting can help students see a principle that might otherwise be unclear and remain so. A class of mine that resolutely refused to remember, believe, or understand that a reporting form does not attach or become insurance until the specific policy is exhausted finally got the point. I had to lean heavily on the lec-turn, gasping "I'm a specific policy. I've done all I can to help, and I'm exhausted." Then I had to follow this up by charging across the room, announcing that I was brandishing a sword of fire and crying, "I'm the reporting policy, and I'll take over."

Dreadful acting, I admit; and poor pedagogy according to some textbook, I suppose. But the class got the idea because they had a visual aid of a sort to reinforce what was being said; if they remember the image, they may remember the idea. Lest insurance classrooms come to resemble Victorian tent shows, let it be added that the ludicrous images can be purely mental. Try discussing the business interruption manufacturing form with a glue factory as an example. It doesn't make any difference that glue isn't made mush any more by boiling horses' hooves. Your students won't confuse raw stock, stock in process, and finished stock after you've finished with the glue factory. It is possible, I admit, to get a reputation as a campus doing this sort of thing. But if your students learn, don't worry about your reputation. It is worse to be known as the campus embalmer.

It is necessary to face the fact that most students do not find insurance interesting in itself. They are not going to come capering in large numbers to attend B-226, Risk Management in Business, the way they do for FA-175, Pornographic Drawings of the Florentine Masters (The latter course, by the way, is a natural for slides as visual aids, while B-226 isn't.) Mobs of students will not invade the school of business administration to hear anyone give readings of his next learned article for the Journal of Risk and Insurance. Nor are they going to troop to class bursting with enthusiasm because they think the Collateral Trust Receipt Bond is an exciting, interesting, vital literary document.

The insurance teacher's job is to make that bond interesting, relevant, and comprehensible. It isn't easy. It calls for a sense of commitment to teaching and to the subject that the fellow over in Fine Arts with Florentine pictures doesn't need to worry about. It means more than knowing the subject. It means knowing how to translate it so the people who took Risk Management in Business because they need another business elective will, in their own terms, see why it's important and understand what it's about.

Thus the theme of "Naught for your comfort." Nobody is going to provide insurance teachers with a convenient list of films, even if any existed, that are going to do his job for him. There is, perhaps, one comforting thought. If, as an insurance teacher, you've thought your subject through from the student's point of view, if you know what it is you want him to learn, and if you know how to put it in his terms, the visual aids that can help do the job will suggest themselves to you. They may not even be necessary!




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