— June 2003
By Ben Ellison
CD Summer School
|Three cheers for those who succeed at teaching us about technology by using technology.|
Have you come across any of those little video tutors that pop up in PC tax programs and the like these days? Cute, right? But doesn't your mouse head for the exit button as quickly as mine does? I find that while most computer-based training products are a step up from audiotapes and films, they still tend to be way too stiff and/or boring. That's why I'm pleased to report on some learning tools for navigators that use the available technology so well that you may even enjoy spending some precious summer time with them.
First up is Navigating VNS from Course Line PC Navigation, or more specifically from a creative fellow named Dan Bessmer. While this product is focused on using a single PC charting program, Nobeltec's Visual Navigation Suite (VNS), it also effectively demonstrates how well the intricacies of electronic navigation can be explained using multimedia computer tools. I hope navigation instructors and students--and, let's face it, in this era of rapid transition we're all one or the other or both--take notice of the possibilities. And then let's all encourage the electronics and software makers to include tutorials of this quality with their products.
At any rate, Bessmer set up a PC and a studio so that he could simultaneously record his computer screen and voice as he performed various tasks in VNS. It's almost like you're looking right over his shoulder, but in some ways better. While you can't ask questions (actually, Bessmer does offer optional live phone and seminar services), you can control the pace of the instruction in numerous ways. The lessons are broken up into manageable morsels that you can instantly pause or repeat, and there's a unique facility to skip ahead or back a few seconds--particularly valuable to those of us now experiencing "senior moments." And when you view the main menu, you find a thorough outline of all the chapters (called Waypoints), lessons, and sublessons.
Bessmer also includes some short regular videos in which he introduces and concludes subjects. They let you get to know your instructor better plus enjoy a bit of the Pacific Northwest boating scene but are not entirely necessary. More important is how well he has prepared and executed his core course material. This is not simply another version of the VNS manual, though having manual-type instructions animated and verbalized is a big help. Instead, Bessmer often includes the whys of different procedures along with the hows. Why develop a strategy for naming routes and waypoints? When might you use the VNS tool that locates a particular lat/lon on the chart? It's all here. He's also willing to include general Windows tips as necessary, and he knows how to use bullet points without being ponderous, how to script lessons carefully, and how to speak in a relaxed, even comforting, style.
The four hours of Navigating VNS do not cover its 3-D and radar options but do thoroughly go through all the basics and many of the subtleties of this powerful software. While I already knew the program pretty well (I thought), I found myself going through all the lessons and was rarely tempted to use the nifty skip control. And I'm definitely a more able VNS jockey for the experience. I came to quite enjoy the intimate teaching environment Bessmer has created and wasn't surprised to later find out that he brought significant relevant experience to this first CD product (which costs $149). He spent years managing teams who marketed highly complex industrial printing systems, in the process witnessing and then learning to build effective training presentations. When he decided to pursue a career related to his boating avocation, he went to work in and eventually managed--aha!--Nobeltec's customer support department.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.