This case study reports on the curricula for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's (USMMA) full-mission, ship-bridge simulator-based watchkeeping course (Meurn, 1990) and its implementation. The recorded grades for 31 courses involving 233 three- to four-person cadet watch teams (approximately 900 cadets) over a 10-year period (October 1985 to March 1994) were reviewed. The objectives are to examine the application of instructional systems design concepts,to quantitatively identify trends in cadet performance over the course of instruction, and to develop insights and lessons about the application of simulator-based training for third mate candidates with limited, prior nautical experience.

The data that were available were not collected as part of a research experiment. There were no control groups, nor was there follow-up monitoring of real-world performance. It was not possible, therefore, to compare course performance data for ship-bridge simulator-based training with the results of traditional training. Also, there were no data to assess transfer effectiveness for the individuals who participated in the training.

The analysis presented in this case study indicates that the development of watchstander knowledge, skills, and abilities can be significantly improved using simulators as a training medium. The data are not available to determine whether ship-bridge simulator-based training is more effective and efficient than traditional training. The analysis does suggest, however, that the ability to control the learning process (including the ability to design scenarios, monitor performance, and debrief cadet participants), in contrast to the lesser control over learning situations about ships at sea, leads to improvements in efficiency.

The Evolution of Simulator-Based Watchkeeping Training

The USMMA began using simulator-based watchkeeping training in 1980 to supplement other practical training opportunities. Simulation enabled the cadets to become actively involved in decision making on the bridge, in contrast to the observation status associated with most cadet sea-time training aboard commercial vessels.

The USMMA substituted ship-bridges simulators in form and function for a real ship's bridge. Basic operational scenarios were used. Little attention was given to creating scenario designs that would bring the trainees into specific learning situations with specific training objectives. Instructor-cadet interaction was similar to the relationship found aboard a school ship in which a licensed officer is responsible for safe vessel operation. During drill critiques, the instructor interacted as a lecturer rather than as a mentor or facilitator.

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