Amanda Cannon, who works in the School of Justice and Emergency Services, found the inspiration to teach in an unlikely place: while working in the field of emergency communications.
Cannon is a professor and Program Coordinator for the 911 Emergency and Call Centre Communications program. She is a graduate of the program (class of 2011) where she went on to work as an emergency dispatcher at the Oshawa Fire Department.
Cannon says her professors at DC inspired her to become an APCO Institute Instructor in Safety Telecommunications, Fire Service Communications and Emergency Medical Dispatch.
It was when she began to train other employees as an emergency dispatcher that really sparked her interest in teaching. However, she knew she had more to learn.
“I enjoyed teaching so much but quickly realized how much technology and the classroom had changed since I had originally been in school, so, I decided to learn more about it,” Cannon explains. “While working full-time at [the fire department] and teaching part-time at the college, I returned to school full-time to first obtain a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Educational Studies and Digital Technology at UOIT specializing in Adult Education. Then, I went on to complete a Master of Education (MEd).”
Cannon’s dedication to developing her tech-skills paid off when she began working full-time for at DC. She says working with her students ignited a new passion for adult education in a digital age.
“Building strong connections with my students and watching as they make connections with the simulated and authentic life-related tasks in my classroom is the most rewarding experience,” says Cannon. “I really enjoy the challenges this career presents. I enjoy learning new technologies and different ways to teach for deep understanding and promote self-directed and lifelong learners.”
Cannon says her previous work in emergency communications made her a strong advocate for problem-based learning techniques. She says she focuses on exposing students to how to create solutions to real-life scenarios and problems.
“I strongly support education that focuses on the development of transferrable skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, listening skills, collaboration and leadership skills,” she says. “I believe these are just a few of the skills required in order to be successful in adult life, reach employment goals and ultimately promote lifelong learning.”
One of Cannon’s goals for her students this year was to find a way to provide them with hands-on experience in a real communications centre. While she doesn’t discount simulated experiences, Cannon says it’s hard to compare to the real thing.
Cannon connected with the Oshawa Fire Department and was able to bring in a small group of students to experience the training facility, allowing them to observe calls and dispatching first-hand.
However, Cannon, like many professors, had to make the switch to teaching remotely due to the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the shift, Cannon says she already had experience completing a Master’s Degree online, so teaching remotely wasn’t an issue.
“Technology is very powerful – the challenge has been finding ways to do what we were doing in class in such a quick time frame. But it can be done,” says Cannon. “I worked quickly to develop a computer aided dispatch system online that the students could use to practice call taking and dispatching as we no longer have access to the labs at the college.”
Cannon held her weekly lectures in the Virtual Classroom and has simulated emergency calls using Skype and has had her student downloaded walkie-talkie applications to simulate radio calls. She says the experience has been fun.
“I think the biggest thing is being adaptable and having a positive attitude about learning new things and being open to change,” she says.
Since the outbreak, Cannon took the initiative to host panels of industry professionals to talk about the current issues amidst COVID-19. She says the experience has inspired her to have more virtual guests in the future, even when the need for remote teaching is gone.
“I held a COVID-19 panel where firefighters, paramedics, police and communications from EMS, Police and fire all came together to discuss the impact on their daily lives and their duty to serve,” she says. “I will definitely incorporate more virtual guests in the future, the options are endless.”