London Regional Coach Gillian Bell reports on arranging the first Instructor Foundation Course to be held at Imperial College in Central London.
Being a Regional Coach is mostly about helping other people to learn, however, organising a BSAC event is a massive learning curve in itself. Running an Instructor Foundation Course (IFC) in central London turned out to require a little creative thinking and a lot of help.
After taking up the position of London regional coach early in 2018, I quickly found myself forming a relationship with Imperial College Underwater Club (ICUC). Anyone who has ever organised a BSAC event can attest to the value of an offer of venue and instructor help – even better if they prove to be of first-class quality. After holding a series of smaller regional events in their pool and lecture rooms, a pint in the union bar lead to the subject of possibly running an Instructor Foundation Course at the university.
To run an IFC you need exclusive access to a suitable pool for two hours on a Saturday afternoon, and again on Sunday morning. You also need six or seven ‘classrooms’ for the whole weekend for theory teaching. The venue needs to be in a location where up to 30 or so divers can arrive with dive kit.
The course is always an action-packed weekend and time is tight, so all these facilities need to be close to each other to allow swift and seamless transfer from one activity to the next. And for all this, the venue needs to be cheap enough for the event’s finances to break even… it’s a tall order.
Imperial College’s South Kensington campus offers a plethora of classrooms, a pool and a compressor (not to mention a bar) all within a few minutes’ walk from each other. As a university sports club, ICUC has access to all these facilities at a fraction of the usual cost. I wasn’t the first person to consider the possibility of running a course there, but to date, the challenge hadn’t yet come to fruition. Perhaps now was the right time.
Challenge 1: Availability
Traditionally, the first London IFC of the year is run in February, but as this is in the middle of university term time, the first week of the Easter holidays was our best option (being sure not to clash with ICUC’s annual Easter training trip to Cornwall). We chose the 6-7 April and we booked the pool.
Now for classrooms. Our first choice was near the kit store, but kit logistics made it more sensible to pick the building opposite the pool. Local organisers Aithne, Jacob and Joe from ICUC went to work, enquiries were made and we soon had a small lecture theatre and seven classrooms booked.
Challenge 2: Kit
30+ sets of scuba kit, 24 students, six Instructor Trainers, and Zone 1 Central London… could be the start of a bad joke, for us it was the second challenge. Many of us who live in London don’t have a car, so it made sense for people to have the option of using public transport. At the same time, it is expected of students and trainers to bring full pool kit, but people tend to stare if you take cylinders on the tube. We came up with a workable - if non-standard - solution: ICUC and my east London club Clidive would provide everyone with kit. Although not standard, this overcame the obstacles of running an IFC in central London and streamlined logistics for many of our attendees.
While the students were spending the morning learning how to teach, we would assemble the kit. We could use Clidive’s ex-RAC van ‘Clidive Orange’ to transport the kit from the store to the pool, and as students arrived at the pool they would take their kit from the van before heading in to get changed.
A £5 charge was agreed to cover the costs of kit hire and a gas fill (ICUC have a compressor – lucky devils). Attendees' sizes, to fit buoyancy compensators, and weight requirements would be taken when they registered on the day.
Challenge 3: Access
Imperial College buildings are regulated by card-controlled security doors. Aithne, the ICUC Training Officer, arranged card access to the pool and the classrooms for the local organiser team. A member of the team stationed themselves at key points and key times to ensure everyone could get to where they needed to go and didn’t get lost along the way. The bonus was a spot in the staff car park for Clidive Orange.
The main event
On Saturday morning, off I went to pick up the Clidive van and load it with kit, instructor lunches, tea, coffee and IFC packs (almost forgot them – shhhhhh, don’t tell the boss!). I picked up one of the Instructor Trainers and arrived at Imperial College at 7.30am to meet the rest of the local organiser team. Our first task of the day was to get the coffee on. After welcoming each student, their BC and weight-belt requests were recorded before sending them to the coffee room to meet the rest of the attendees.
The students spent the morning thinking about how people learn, discussing what makes a good diving instructor, and finally bringing it all together with BSAC’s key teaching concepts. You’re guaranteed to learn more acronyms on this weekend than you will in a lifetime.
Meanwhile in the ICUC kit stores… Aithne, Jacob, Joe and myself juggled 31 scuba sets and packed them into Clidive Orange.
After a short break, students were introduced to underwater teaching – or how to teach when you can’t talk. Good and bad examples of theory and pool lessons were shown before breaking for lunch.
The afternoon was largely devoted to the pool session; we had kit ready and waiting for students. Soon instructor trainers were demonstrating how to teach a number of key skills from the Ocean Diver syllabus. One lucky group even had their poolside debrief in the jacuzzi.
In the final dry session of day one, students are coached in groups to plan their own theory and pool lessons, to be delivered the next day. Underpinning it all are the 3Ps – Planning, Preparation, Presentation.
Starting again early on Sunday morning, it’s over to the students to run their own practical and theory lessons, with feedback from their instructor trainer and the other members of their group on how the lesson went. Finally, students are introduced to how the pool-teaching techniques need to be adapted when taught in open water.
The weekend takes a group of divers, who can be newly qualified Sports Divers or above – sometimes not entirely sure they are ready to start teaching – through an interactive process that results in them becoming Assistant Diving Instructor (ADI). They have been taught how to teach theory and pool skills in a structured, progressive and interactive way. These are skills that many find useful to take back to the ‘real world’ and the workplace. Some will go on to complete their instructor development within the next few months, while others will choose to take longer practising their skills as ADIs. What the IFC does for everyone is give them a new toolbox of skills, allow them to be involved in their clubs in a new way, and refine and update their own skills.
For the organisers and instructors, the rewards for all the hard work are the smiles, enthusiasm and positivity that comes from a cohesive group of newly minted ADIs.
We hope to run a Central London IFC at Imperial College annually during the Easter holidays, subject to continued support from ICUC and Imperial College Union. We also hope to pilot a midweek evening Theory Instructor Exam in the autumn – all eligible candidates with a London address will receive a note about this when it is added to the programme of events.
The newly-qualified ADIs with their trainers
Attending an IFC
The two-day IFC introduces a qualified diver to the essential elements of both theory and practical diving instruction.
To enrol, you must have already successfully completed a BSAC Sports Diver course (or have equivalent certification from another recognised training agency). You must also be at least 16 years old.
Once you have attended an IFC you will be an Assistant Diving Instructor (ADI). You can then begin to teach diving in a club with the help of qualified instructors.
Exactly what you will be able to teach depends on your personal diving qualification, but in essence, you will be able to teach Ocean Diver and Sports Diver classroom, pool and open-water lessons, under the supervision of a BSAC Open Water Instructor.
- If you are a Sports Diver, you will need to develop your personal diving skills to Dive Leader before you can expand your instructing options further.
- If you are a Dive Leader, you can become a nationally-qualified classroom instructor by taking the Theory Instructor Exam (TIE).
- If you are a Dive Leader, you can develop your open-water instructing skills by signing up to an Open Water Instructor Course (OWIC).
- If you have completed an OWIC, you can take the Practical Instructor Exam (PIE).
- When you pass both theory and practical assessments you will be an Open Water Instructor (OWI).
This Learning Curve article was originally published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 93 August 2019.
Image credit: Gillian Bell
Images in this online version may have been substituted from the original images in SCUBA magazine due to usage rights.