Technical Divers International/Scuba Divers International
TDI, the other big name in technical diving, has also taken the plunge into recreational diving. Formed in 1994 in the USA by technical diving 'guru' Bret Gilliam, its approach is refreshing to see in this millennium: 'Re-examining limits that are arbitrarily or solely based on tradition.' This is balanced by the fact that its new scuba-diving courses are written to have, as their core curriculum, standards laid down by the American Recreational Scuba Training Council. SDI was launched as a training agency in 1999 and operates from the same base as TDI. The entry-level course for recreational diving is Open Water Scuba Diver. I received an SDI Scuba Diving pack, including manual, video and Knowledge Quest answer book, and the instructor and facility manual.
SDI SCUBA DIVER The first thing that caught my eye in the manual was the introduction by actress Lauren Hutton. I'm an admirer, though I don't think any agency can beat that brief intro in the BSAC's Sport Diving manual from Prince Charles. The front cover of the SSI manual calls this 'Dive Training for the 21st Century'. Those concepts that have been turned on their heads reflect this. When diving equipment is introduced, for instance, the use of computers is stressed. The instructor material reflects this, with comments such as 'teaching dive tables is outdated' and 'all active divers now use a personal diving computer'. Although the SDI has gone for an integrated approach to training, there is little indication to the trainee of how this is to be achieved. I assume it's for the instructor to dictate. Each chapter starts with an overview which fails to make the learning objectives clear, but ends with a knowledge check that would reinforce the learning. First-class diagrams and pictures effectively illustrate the text. Progress through the manual is well-structured and sequenced. The video provides a course overview followed by an introduction to equipment selection, with the 'most important purchase' again a dive computer. The video demonstrates only skills likely to be used by the trainee, as opposed to simply repeating all the theory visually. It demonstrates using a computer to make an ascent, yet there is no mention of maximum ascent rate. Even the visual representation of logbook completion shows happy trainees downloading a dive from their computer onto their laptop (I always take one on holiday, don't you?). The video is set guess where (by now I was fed up with calypso soundtracks) and in no way typifies an international experience. The tendency to refer to all divers as 'he' displays a lack of sensitivity, too, especially when the diver referred to is female! Another interesting moment comes when we are told that a speciality course is required before drysuits can be used. Is this why freezing trainees in wetsuits can be seen in winter in quarries around the UK - because their course didn't include a drysuit speciality? The instructor guides are full of top tips for presentation techniques that are active for the learner, but for the academic sessions there are no clear learning objectives. This changes with the practical sessions, where the objectives are clear and measurable. The methodology advocated for the practical sessions is very thorough, which should lead to consistent assessment. The knowledge checks don't use multiple-choice questions but require written answers, and these require a deeper level of comprehension than the other courses evaluated. A strong health and safety policy, reinforced throughout the programme. All activities require the instructor to complete risk-assessment forms. I'm convinced that increased use of and training in risk-assessment would help reduce diving-related incidents. The whole product looked very professional - until I read the founder's contribution. In the instructor guide, Bret Gilliam describes diving litigation, using as an example a fictional character who died as a result of a training exercise. It manages to be both tasteless and unprofessional. The chapter comments on how deaths that in the USA would fall into the category of 'shit happens' are described by the British as 'death by misadventure', and that this sounds even better when said with a British accent. This is no place for such humour, which is likely to encourage flippancy rather than awareness in beginners.
UNDERSTANDING NITROX From the TDI side I received a course manual and instructor and facility handbook. Understanding Nitrox has instructor guidelines similar to the SDI course, all very thorough and without Gilliam's ramblings, but the lesson guides are less precise. The objectives are just aims and the methodology simply states which subjects need covering, so I assume it's left to the instructor to determine the level to which subjects are taught. The course material, in the form of a student reference guide, isn't written to the same corporate format as the SDI course. There are no learning objectives to start each chapter, though there are knowledge reviews at the end. Pictures are all black and white and the manual looks to have been produced from a PC rather than professionally printed. Once it loses its tekkie fanzine look and gains some specific objectives, the TDI course can compete with the likes of PADI. At the moment, I think theinstructors are being relied on too much. It costs£60 to£75.
SDI's course structure can take the trainee to instructor level, and it has adopted the logged dive and speciality course approach to qualifying its divers. For example, SDI Advanced Diver involves 25 logged dives and four speciality courses. Only 10 are listed in the manual, but the website indicates that such courses as Ice Diver, Diver Propulsion Vehicle and, topically, Solo Diver are now available. TDI offers a full range of technical courses from cave-diving to rebreather qualifications. The SDI course is launched at the Dive 2001 show. I suspect that the SDI will move into training its recreational divers in the use of nitrox, so that this form of training will no longer be perceived as 'technical' diving. With the approach advocated by TDI, we'll soon all be technical divers who describe ourselves as recreational divers.