Surveying the Situation: Experience Is Not the Real Teacher

The classroom versus "on the job training," or, as it is usually called, "experience," is a current hot argument. If one enjoys verbal fireworks and conflict, this is an argument that is easy to start, yielding a large amount of heat, smoke, and no light.

However, what is about to follow is what I, as a Surveyor-Engineer (P.S., P.E., Ohio), see as the most effective means of learning the surveying profession and it is not "on the job training," nor is it "experience."

At this point I am going to make a categorical statement that will set a few teeth on edge:
No one can learn the profession on the job.

Before one can do anything on the job, one must learn something to apply. In April of 1985 when I first arrived at the surveying firm of Johnson and Dillehay in Gallatin, Tennessee, I knew nothing of surveying other than what I had learned carrying a Brunton compass in Flint-Mammoth-Proctor cave surveys. What I learned over the next four months, primarily as a member of a two-man crew, was how to hold the prism pole, and the sort of things we were looking for, i.e., where I was to hold that pole.

After four months I went to my former pre-Engineering advisor at Volunteer State College to discuss classroom training in the evening. He knew of no available classes at that time, reached over to his bookshelf, and handed me a 1966 edition of Moffat and Bouchard, which he had used as a teaching assistant at Vanderbilt, and handed it to me with the comment, "you're an intelligent man, read and learn."

I was privileged to be able to ride to projects with men such as Jackie Dillehay, and George Gregory-men willing to answer questions raised during my studies. Probably most important for me was Howard George, who was head of one of the best Surveying programs in the country which was shot out from under him because he was so good, and his students were so good that none, to my knowledge, graduated-firms hired the students so quickly they wouldn't stay around and complete their English and other "garbage" requirements.

In the final analysis, to learn the tools of the profession one must be able to retreat to a quiet location and study. When questions arise you need to have an experienced, competent practitioner available to answer the questions-an updated Greek academy, a truck seat with the professor at one end and the student at the other end. "The job" is where one gains experience-the laboratory, if you will, where you apply what you have learned in the quiet time alone or with your "professor."


Experience as Teacher
One wag said "experience results from bad judgement." This is simply another way of saying that experience doesn't teach, but it leavens and redirects, in the mind of the practitioner, the application of knowledge. Often this occurs when one is burned by a mistake, or error in judgement. We are then forced to mentally back up and consider what happened so we can avoid the situation in the future.

Experience also has a positive aspect when, usually in retrospect, we consider what could have been better so we can improve our efficiency, or apply something else to produce better work. At times our experience will point out weak-nesses we can correct by discussing with others involved in the profession how they approach the problem.

As a matter of "engineering efficiency" the formal classroom is the most efficient means for learning the tools of our profession, if at the head of that room is an experienced practitioner of Land Surveying (this is a true rarity as the overwhelming majority of University instructors are Geodetic Surveyors). The amount of time required to reach a knowledgeable state is considerably foreshortened. However, to limit entry to the professional ranks to only those who sit in that classroom is an act of extreme foolishness. The person who does not have the ability, for whatever reason, to sit in that classroom, yet has the discipline to study and pick the minds of others, is a person the profession needs desperately.

Richard Hardison is licensed in Ohio as both Engineer and Surveyor. He currently works as the County Engineer for Morgan County, Ohio, and is a member of the County Engineer's Association of Ohio where he is a member of the Surveying and Land Records committee.

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