The BSAC was formed in 1953 by a group of diving enthusiasts in London. It has since grown into an international organisation with more than 1300 branches and some 42,000 members. BSAC 0151 350 6200, www.bsac.com
Most of its courses are run through its branches by qualified instructors who volunteer their time. There are also BSAC schools - profit-making dive centres that may also offer courses run by other agencies.
Entry-level recreational qualification within the branch structure is Club Diver, the BSAC school equivalent is Ocean Diver and the basic technical course Nitrox Diver.
Both Club and Ocean Diver qualifications have published aims for students. These make it very clear what their diving limitations will be in terms of depth and the expected experience of their buddies. This is commendable, and is missing with other agencies except the SAA.
The BSAC sent for evaluation a Sport Diving manual, Club, Sports and Ocean Diver students study books, videos for both courses, instructor underwater prompt cards, CD-Roms containing theory lesson material and Nitrox Diver student notes.
This course includes theory and sheltered-water lessons, a theory assessment, five open-water dives and an open-water assessment. The students study book lacks any colour diagrams or photographs, though the introduction contains a useful course description.
Each chapter begins with achievement targets that describe what the student should know, understand, appreciate and (for a complex subject) really understand.
Such terms are obscure. What do trainees have to do to demonstrate that they know or understand a subject and, if they and the instructor arent sure, how can their progress be assessed
This is where the use of specific objectives helps. An example occurs in the lesson dealing with scuba gear, where the achievement target is that the trainee should understand the purpose and function of the regulator.
Three short paragraphs explain the function without a diagram. The explanation is simple until you are referred to the Sport Diving manual, where there is a complex explanation of the inner workings of both first and second stages, including a photograph of a twin-hose, single-stage regulator (when did you last see one of those).
To what extent is the trainee meant to understand this area This theme continued through the sheltered-water lessons and open-water sessions.
Being asked to use the Sport Diving manual as a further source of learning throughout the study book is confusing. Often the information and diagrams used are simply repeated, and many of the illustrations are dated. I remember many of them from my days as a trainee, especially the ones that show divers in Spirotechnique horse-collar-type BCs.
I also found the content of each chapter/lesson confusing. For example, the one on buddy-diving contains achievement targets on dive-planning and diving incidents, but these targets are repeated in a later one on gases under pressure. Instead of each piece of learning building on the last, the course jumps from subject to unlinked subject.
I would recommend that the Club Diver course uses a single book which clearly indicates what the lesson objectives are, and introduces subjects in more manageable chunks.
The instructors CD-ROM contains Powerpoint slides, well put together with simple, colourful pictures and appropriate use of words to illustrate the points.
There are no lesson plans in the package, so I assume the objectives are as described in the study book. Having no recommendations on how to deliver the course could affect instructor consistency.
The student video includes sections on the Sports Diver course that follows on from Club Diver. According to the study book, the video is intended to allow the trainee to review each lesson both visually and by ear. Such repetition using different methods helps reinforce learning, though at times it seemed that, after the book and the lecture, the video would be over-repetitious. The video suffers from the same sequencing problems as the study book.
Some of the examples used in the video are inappropriate. Reviewing the use of tables, the example given is for a 32m dive for 37 minutes with a 1min stop at 9m and a 12min stop at 6m. Im not sure when I would conduct such a dive and question the use of such examples for a course on which the depth limit is 20m. There is also a demonstration of an emergency buoyant ascent, after which the commentator states that the BSAC does not advocate its use. Why demonstrate it, then
The video is a high-quality production with plenty of moving charts and pictures to build theory into practice.
Its a pity most of it had to be shot in the Cayman Islands and Malta - if not for the BSAC logo, you could be forgiven for thinking it was produced by a US agency.
Of course, visibility and weather are big considerations when filming, but if the BSACs greatest strength is its club approach tailored for a UK divers needs, this was a lost opportunity to show trainees the realities of diving where most of them will learn.
I can understand why there was confusion when the BSAC introduced this qualification. You would expect the course to be identical to Club Diver, and it is - almost.
The study book is similar in style and content, as you would expect, but the BSAC has mixed up the content, causing more sequencing issues. For example, in the Club Diver study book the achievement target on regulator use is in the chapter/lesson on scuba equipment, while in the Ocean Diver course it is in Introduction to Scuba Diving.
It seems that the Ocean Diver course was put together by cutting and pasting the contents of Club Diver, with a bit of shuffling around. At one point in the text, the trainee is even referred to as a Club Diver.
The video, intended for the trainee to use as a self-study guide, is an edited version of the Club Diver version, with even more emphasis on the Cayman Islands. If this form of distance-learning is appropriate for Ocean Diver, why not for the Club Diver course
The Ocean Diver course has after-lesson assessments to be performed by the instructor. These dont seem to appear in the Club Diver course, but if used in a club setting could speed up the learning process.
There are also differences in the sheltered and open-water assessments for the two courses. For Club Diver, the ratio of trainee to instructor is consistently set at 1:2. For Ocean Diver it seems to change to 1:4. Why
The Club Diver qualification has an assessment dive that requires a 1:1 ratio. Presumably this would not be possible in a commercially run school, so instead of providing an alternative, the BSAC has simply removed this part of the course from the programme.
For Ocean Diver I could find no reference to a final assessment of skills, reflecting a lack of consistency in two courses designed to produce essentially the same qualification.
The branch structure allows for Club Diver training to be included in club membership fees. I called around for prices for Ocean Diver at some UK schools. They ranged from £299-£325.
There seemed to be confusion about equivalency, with one centre saying they were sort of the same, another that branches dont run Club Diver any more, only Ocean Diver. Not a bad idea. If student-directed learning is OK for Ocean Diver, why not for Club Diver Removing the need for lectures (over a period of weeks) could be the boost the BSAC seeks in keeping up its numbers.
I wasnt sent anything to explain the Nitrox Diver course structure, so had to go by Student Notes, a small book with few pictures or diagrams. The three objectives at the front are more of an aim for the course. One is the use of nitrox mixtures with a nitrox computer, but it cant be much of an objective as only three short paragraphs are devoted to it.
The book is a handy reference guide but lacks other products sophistication.
Only one of three centres I asked could quote a price for the course -£82 for a day. It called it the TDI/BSAC Nitrox course. The others said they didnt offer the course as theres no call for it.
Perhaps the BSAC should simply revert to its strength, offering the public a way to dive within a club structure that has safe diving practices built in. The other strength of the BSAC courses is that from the outset the trainee practises rescue skills.
While other training agencies offer speciality courses such as navigation, drysuit, wreck and deep diving, all these skills are developed within the main core courses that exist within the branch structure. This has an added financial benefit for the trainee.