W3BE'S BE Informed!
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BE Informed No. 2.8

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GOTA Experience 

As Our

License Qualifier

John B. Johnston W3BE

Q. We want to expand our amateur service community by bringing youngsters and as many other citizens as possible to our hobby. Exams scare off a lot of folks. People don't learn to drive a car from memorizing multiple-choice answers from the owner's manual; they practice driving a car. Likewise, the GOTA on-the-air experience we provide to unlicensed and under-licensed persons is superior to memorizing the VECs' answers to a lot of superfluous questions. GOTA experience facilitates personalized hands-on training by mentors at real amateur stations. How about using GOTA experience as our license qualifier?

A. You apparently observe that our amateur service Section 97.301 spectrum allocations have the capacity to accommodate very large influxes of additional stations, indeed.

   Our amateur service community seems to have embraced the notion of GOTA experience. To replace testing with GOTA experience, no changes would be required to the international Radio Regulations. Those RRs should, however, be taken into account within our needed regulatory revisions; in particular, the scope of ITU-R M.1544 minimum qualifications of radio amateurs. It recommends that any person wishing to operate an amateur station have certain theoretical knowledge. That seems to encompasses a GOTA operator.      

Q. How about requiring our VEs to give examination element credit for a GOTA experience.

A. Simple enough. Section 97.505 element credit already incorporates the fitting rubric. Just expand that section and add new sentences to require our Section 97.509 administering VEs to give credit for the GOTA experience.

Q. That GOTA sounds like an excellent project for our radio club members to offer at our club station. 

A. Yes, personalized hands-on training by active seasoned amateur operators at real amateur stations should be a lot more direct, effective, and responsible use of two highly valuable public resources: our allocation of electromagnetic spectrum and our technical and operational experts.  Personalized GOTA student operator mentoring should help expand our amateur service community, bring home license qualification training, and buildup our clubs' memberships. 

Q. Our clubs should each obtain a stack of free club station licenses for its mentors to loan out to GOTA student operators who just want to give ham radio a try before investing their time and effort in memorizing the answers to the exam questions. They would use that call sign until they receive a call sign of their own, or lose interest.

A. Your suggestion does provide a workable trail: call sign - ULS - license trustee mentor - student operator. The onus, however, would be entirely upon your Section 97.5(b)(2) club station licensee to impose, on a case-by-case basis, any operational or technical limitations necessary to assure compliance with the rules.

Q. What should be covered in the GOTA experience curriculum?

A. GOTA experience should result in the person acquiring the operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of an amateur service licensee.

Q. Would the question pools be helpful as a GOTA guideline?

A. Possibly, but those Section 97. 523 question pools cover a broad range of topics, some- if not most - of which may be of little interest to the trainee, then or later on. The mentor should purposefully tailor the GOTA experience to the person's interests and intended usage so that he/she can get underway with his/her own amateur operator/primary station license grant without unnecessary delay and irrelevant baggage.

Q. Would all of the GOTA experience consist of actually engaging in over-the-air amateur station intercommunications?

A. Not necessarily. The curriculum would depend upon the trainee's intended use and his/her prior related experience.

Q. GOTA experience as a license qualifier will be more effective than answer memorizing only if all mentors carefully monitor their trainees progress and follow up using their expertise to correct their trainees' errors and misunderstandings.

A. Yes. A major disillusionment with the current system is that the Section 97.509 administering VEs' work is predominantly accounting in nature. Theses VEs, moreover - quite disappointingly - do not seem to follow up an examination using their own expertise to enlighten the examinee as needed, even though their incorrect answer choices pin down for them the specific areas where it is that their examinee's technical and/or operational knowledge is faulty. This inaction tends to signal that the VEs do not firmly accept that such knowledge is all that essential. 

   Our Section 97.507 preparing VEs, moreover, seem to be caught up in a 1960s-era incentive licensing time warp. The Element standards that they should be using are codified in Section 97.503: prepare written examinations such as to prove that the examinee possesses the operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of an amateur service licensee. Element 2 is supposed to be concerned with the privileges of the basic Technician Class operator; Element 3 with the privileges of the intermediate General Class operator; and Element 4 with the expert Amateur Extra Class operator.

   If, in their Element 2 questions, the VEs have accurately identified the operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of a Technician Class operator, there should be little need for additional qualifications for the General Class and practically none for the Amateur Extra Class. There are very small differences between the three classes in duties to be performed.

Q. But it is the FCC rules that stipulate 35 more questions for the General test and 50 more questions for the Extra. So our Elements 3 and 4 pools have to be padded with hundreds of unessential questions just to fill the voids.

  1. A. There is your roadblock. Somewhere during the period starting with the 1983 initiation of the volunteer examiner system, our VEs should have called this inconsistency to the attention of our regulator and advocated for more reasonable numbers of examination questions. The VEs are the persons who are supposed to have identified the operational and technical qualifications required to perform properly the duties of each class of operator. So they should best know the proper number of questions to ask on the written examinations that they prepare and administer. Perhaps Section 97.503 should be divested of specifying numbers of questions.
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March 20, 2017

Supersedes all prior editions