Edited Version June 7, 2000
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation

"What Are the Challenges of Teaching Emergency Management On-line?"

Claire Rubin
Claire Rubin & Associates

Joanne McGlown
Jacksonville State University (AL)

J. P. DeMeritt
University of Houston - Clear Lake

Avagene Moore: Moderator
EIIP Coordinator

The original unedited transcript of the June 7, 2000 online Virtual Classroom presentation is available from the EIIP Virtual Library Transcript Archive. The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. Typos were corrected, date/time/names attributed by the software to each were deleted but content of discussions, questions, and responses are as stated by each participant. Answers from the presenter to questions by the audience are grouped beneath the appropriate question to facilitate meaning.


Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Classroom!

We are especially glad to have newcomers in our audience. For your benefit -- if any URL's are used in the discussion, they are live links and will show in your browser window if you click on them. For example, background page for today's session is at <http://www.emforum.org/vclass/000607.htm>. Please review the information and complete bios on our speakers today after our session.

Please do not send Direct Messages to the speakers or the moderator during the formal session. It is very distracting and hinders the flow of the discussion.

After we hear the formal presentation, I will review briefly the protocol for the Q&A session so we can maintain order. We want to get right into our dialogue today because our guests have a lot of information to share with you.


Today, we are very pleased to have three distinguished speakers in the Virtual Classroom. They will be addressing the topic, "What Are the Challenges of Teaching Emergency Management On-line?" We are aware that many schools and universities are expanding their programs to include emergency management degree and certificate programs. Some programs are currently delivering courses via the Internet but how are they doing? We will look at the challenges of distance learning and end with a look into the future of teaching emergency management online.

Our speakers today are very qualified to talk about this topic. First of all, we have Claire Rubin, Claire Rubin & Associates, EIIP Partner. Joining Claire is Joanne McGlown, R.N, MHHA, Ph.D., Jacksonville State University (AL), and J. P. DeMeritt, University of Houston. Each of these fine people has a very impressive bio. Please read them after the session. Help me welcome our speakers of the hour, please. We are glad each of you could join us in the Virtual Classroom. Claire, I turn the floor to you now, please.


Claire Rubin: Teaching Emergency Management, whether by traditional or new methods, is a challenge. The field is new; the teaching resources are few; and counterpart educators are few and far between. Teaching on campus, with traditional university resources (such as a well-stocked library and helpful reference librarians) is the most desirable option. Teaching in off-campus locations, but with a live instructor, places a premium on texts, handouts, and use of the Internet. Teaching entirely via distance learning requires special resources and special techniques.

Recently, there has been a surge in demand for education and for educators (professors, instructors and trainers) in various aspects of emergency management. Colleges and universities are scrambling to meet the demand. And students, both college age and working people, anxious to upgrade their knowledge and skills --- are hunting for appropriate places to take courses.

Some traditional education locations are available, and new ones are springing up all the time. FEMA's Higher Education staff keep track of all of the college and university programs offered. They list them on the web site: <http://www.fema.gov/emi/edu/higher.htm>.


Although I was an experienced emergency management researcher and consultant, starting to teach emergency management at the GWU's Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management, presented a major challenge to me <http://www.seas.gwu.edu/seas/institutes/icdm/>.

At GWU the graduate program and its curriculum were new; no one had taught most of the courses before. I had to create the course, Introduction to Crisis and Emergency Management, in about two months. Luckily, I attended the summer Natural Hazards Conference before I had to start teaching, and I received a great deal of help from several experienced academics at the conference.

Among the reasons it is hard to teach Emergency Management is that conventional texts have yet to be written. (Prof. William Waugh has been a big help, however.) Other materials, such as reports and journal articles are useful, but may be hard to find. In order to teach EM, readings have to be compiled, and topical modules have to be created. I was fortunate with respect to the latter in that I have a sizeable personal library from my 20 plus years of consulting and research.

FEMA's Higher Ed program has been very helpful, having supported the creation of some useful Instructors Guides on a broad array of subjects <http://www.fema.gov/emi/edu/higher.htm>. The Instructor Guides (IG) are available at no charge, but you have to download and print them out yourself. I have the used the IGs and also have assigned segments as reading to my students.

Educational Intranets:

An important on-line teaching aid is the educational Intranet. At GWU we use an Intranet system called Prometheus; it is limited to those students enrolled in a course, since one must have a password to access the system. Prometheus allows the instructor to post the course syllabus, outline, entire text files (including PowerPoint slides) and details of each class session: topic, assignments, recommended web sites, etc. The system allows for e-mail exchanges among instructor and students and also for live chats. It also has a grade book service. I have required the use of Prometheus by all students in my classes; typically they like it when absent or away on travel they can see what is going on, what future assignments are and the like.

"Disasters for Dummies" is my own Intranet idea. About a year after I started to teach EM, I started to get requests for help from other new academics teaching emergency management.

[Slide 1]

In an effort to help them, I started the free Intranet service (called Disaster for Dummies). The name is light-hearted, but the intent is serious: to provide a medium for the exchange of ideas, techniques, syllabi etc. in order to help those person new to teaching and/or emergency management. For sign up information, write to: <[email protected]>.

The "Dummies" Intranet has almost 55 members now. Some of us are new to teaching and others are experienced teachers but new to the field of emergency management.

[Slide 2]

The Intranet service is free (although you do get ads in your face). It allows us to post announcements about conferences and current events; post information, files, documents and clippings of interest; share lists of useful web sites; maintain a membership roster with e-mail addresses, etc.

[Slide 3]

In short, the intent is to have an on-line community of people with similar interests but who are separated in time and space. (We also have members outside the U.S.) We have asked some members of the Intranet group to share their views, after the short presentation. They include one experienced academic in the field of emergency management, one "newbie" to the field, and one aspiring teacher.

Distance Learning: It's Coming, Like it or Not!

Many hybrid versions of traditional classroom teaching in a college setting are sprouting; two types are:

(1) Classroom teaching in an off-campus location (students interact with a live instructor and with their classmates, but they are not likely to use the university library and other on-campus resources; out of class interaction is by e-mail)

(2) Distance learning where interactions with the instructor are by CD-ROM and/or the Internet. (No live interact with the professor or with other students; no access to campus resources; reliance on e-mail exchanges.)

Now it is time to here from some members of the Disasters for Dummies Intranet community, and then we will take questions from the audience.

Avagene Moore: Joanne, would you please share your experiences with us?

Joanne McGlown: Good Day. Our program is a Master's in Public Administration / Concentration in Emergency Management. We have approx. 30 fulltime students taking coursework in various formats: classroom, internet/web-based, College by Cassette (taped lectures augmented with Internet materials) and a mixture of the above.

I am starting my second year of teaching via the classroom and Internet. This fall, all EM classes will be available for internet format rotation, and the entire MPA degree will be available online by January 2001.

We offer 5 core courses in Emergency Management, and a series of electives. The one jewel that has been missing (but will be available this year) is an effective real-time "chat" program. I eagerly anticipate the difference this will make in interaction between and among the students, in my ability to assess and assist students, and in the quality of instruction.

I will summarize my experiences in terms of Myths (my "realities" are provided in parentheses. [Disclaimer: These are my sole, personal views, and in no way reflect the experiences or desired responses of my University].

MYTH 1: Once on the course web-site, the majority of the Instructors work is complete. (Hah! You've only opened Pandora's box.).

MYTH 2: Students should find it easy to access materials and communicate with the Instructor. (You have no idea what equipment the student has - if any at all).

MYTH 3: Web-based course preparation does not differ from that of classroom instruction. (Wrong. There are few appropriate texts, article augmentation may be required, readings provided - and it is difficult to illustrate anything.)

MYTH 4: Students will research from a variety of sources. (The web becomes their primary information source - as if libraries were non-existent).

MYTH 5: There are no compromises required in testing and grading from the classroom setting. (Poor writers will suffer and timid public speakers get a reprieve - yet skills necessary for this field must be addressed.)

MYTH 6: Technological advances, such as video conferencing, will make it easier to teach distance students. (How much can we require a student to purchase?)

A major strength of this approach rests in the wealth of information and sites for use as student readings and resources. However, the more creative teaching tools (i.e., educational videos) are not available to you. Students may be unable to discern credible information, and risk information overload. Meaningful communication is jeopardized as all visible clues for student-learning are missing.

The comfort factor for students (i.e., at their own pace, comfortable and less-stressful environment) is not disputable. However, poor time management and self-discipline skills may cripple students. Testing and evaluation are more complicated; and sometimes you just miss "teaching"! For those who enjoy the classroom experience - the interaction with students (who have faces, attitudes and real problems), the group-dynamic, and creativity in imparting information, distance education offers little.

You only know the students as a name on a piece of paper, with an address and an email. Your experiences are more difficult to share: your stories fall flat and there's no room for your jokes or humor (as it may be misinterpreted). You can't assist if they don't ask for help. If they elect to not participate, you can't encourage them. You can't inspire the shy, hush the braggart, or moderate a discussion. There is much missing, and I have found no creative solutions for resolving the empty struggle of teaching a computer to teach.

I also find that students have difficulty with the following skills:

1.Technical aspects of Internet coursework, usually from failure to read or follow directions;

2. Syntheses of new material and content;

3. Learning from their errors in a void of peer interaction; and

4. Time management and preparation.

From the Instructor side, I find web-based instruction unbelievably time consuming and very dry. Many traditional university settings are struggling to integrate the demands of distance learning in an equitable manner, within an infrastructure resistant to change. And, a course is not a course is not a course. Teaching load remains an issue in many colleges and university settings.

I would suggest the following as solutions to prevent creativity stalemates:

1. A real-time chat vehicle is imperative for students-teacher interaction;

2. Listen, question, share and learn from others who are facing the same issues;

3. Ask students for their constructive feedback following each course and make improvements;

4. Use "Disasters For Dummies" and other Instructor tools for sharing teaching ideas and methodologies;

5. Talk about this topic at meetings. Share successes and failures. Become knowledgeable, resourceful, and part of the solution!

6. Encourage those who can to author texts designed for EM courses, and support FEMA Higher Ed authors in their efforts to provide relevant Instructor Guides (which have been real life-savers!).

Thank you for allowing me to share some of my observations with you. I'll be glad to answer any questions you may have during the Q&A section.

Avagene Moore: And now, we will hear from J. P. DeMeritt.

J. P. DeMeritt: Thanks, Ava. I'll be talking about some futures of online education.

There are several possible futures for online education. I've outlined two here. The first represents what I believe is most likely. The second, called "Just-in-Time U," is what I think most interesting.

The Most Likely Future:

A mixture of current real and virtual world education, this scenario features online education taking on an increasing share of courses taught, but never replacing conventional education. More courses are offered online, with online courses gradually gaining respect in the education world.

Online instruction supplements more traditional instruction through use of special web sites, chat rooms, and online tests. Texts for courses are increasingly offered online or through CD-ROM, with CD-ROM texts hyper linked to particular sites on the Web.

Nonetheless, "bricks and mortar" schools remain dominant for the foreseeable future (20 - 30 years). Most futures coming to pass in the real world are a combination of the old and new. Very few new technologies completely replace old ones: they simply supplement existing technologies.

The next scenario, Just-In-Time U, is interesting because it offers a real alternative to traditional education efforts. It may come about because we insist on speeding things up, even in education.

Just-In-Time U:

Online courses allow people to tailor their education to the positions they seek, rather than having to invest long periods of time taking general courses that may be interesting, but may not apply to what they eventually do.

Rather than get a specific degree in Emergency Management, people may seek a traditional degree in Public Administration with a few background courses in EM. When they seek jobs in EM, they order online courses to give them the education they need to qualify for the specific position. If, for example, they're looking for a planning job, they take courses specializing in planning, with a practical emphasis. They present the planning document produced as part of their resume and portfolio when applying for the job.

This may be particularly attractive if current efforts to professionalize the emergency management field do not take hold. There is evidence that emergency management may not gain recognition as a profession, and this evidence demands further investigation!

That completes my presentation: Back to you, Ava.

[Audience Questions /Comments]

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Claire, Joanne, and J. P. for that stimulating presentation. You have given us a lot of information to think about. I am sure our audience has questions for you. But first, please input a question mark (?) if you wish to ask a question of any or all of our speakers. Compose your question and hold it until you are recognized please. We will keep order in this manner and take questions in the order submitted. Please indicate to whom your question is addressed to expedite the Q&A. We are ready for the first question now. Just pop in your question marks.


Maria Toral: This is not a question, but a contribution to the discussion. I teach at the University of Puerto Rico and I am currently teaching an on-line course which I prepared. We have live interaction with students through voice chat. We have made animations using "Flash" and the course content has all the material the students need for the course, although you can use a textbook if you want to.

Avagene Moore: Libbi, please. Thanks, Maria.


Libbi Rucker Reed: Claire, although I am directly out of the EM field right now, I would like to participate in your group. How do want us to log on to get a password?

Claire Rubin: Write to me at <[email protected]> and I will fill you in.


Rick Tobin: The interesting connection in this topic will be the integration of Artificial Intelligence and online training. Any comments?

Claire Rubin: I cannot.


Joanne McGlown: Specifically what type of AI?

Rick Tobin: A student will be more effective if the practicals they encounter are early and often, especially if based on "institutional memory."

J. P. DeMeritt: It's hard to say where AI will go, Rick. However, supercomputers are becoming faster and cheaper and software writers are ingenious. I expect you'll be using AI to supplement human intelligence.

Joanne McGlown: AI may help fill the gaps that hinder us now. If we could bring "practicals" to the students - it would be wonderful.

Amy Sebring: For those who may not be aware, we distribute reports from the FEMA Higher Education program via a mailing list. You can subscribe by clicking Mail Lists under Quick Picks on our home page.


Amy Sebring: Is anyone trying to use voice chat for distance learning in this field?

The question re: voice chat is for Claire, or anyone who might know.

Claire Rubin: I have not used voice chat, since I see my students weekly. No experience there.

Joanne McGlown: We are not. I have limited knowledge of it, but it sounds interesting.

J. P. DeMeritt: I don't know if anyone is using voice chat, but using Internet based voice to supplement text transmission offers powerful opportunities.

Joanne McGlown: Voice chat comes back to the basic question of "How much is too much cost to expect students to incur?"


Avagene Moore: Joanne, as you prepare to start another semester, how do you plan to address the lack of interaction in your distance learning classes?

Joanne McGlown: We are implementing some type of "live chat" and will hold frequent, yet flexible, sessions with the students. I am excited about this.


Debbie Miller: Maria, in regards to your on-line training, I also do programming in Flash, and I would be very interested to view your work, if it is available for others to view. If you wouldn't mind sharing ideas. My email address is <[email protected]>. Thanks.

Joanne McGlown: Same here, Maria.


Craig E. Zachlod: Is there any taxonomy of skills and competencies in the DM field?

Claire Rubin: Ava can probably answer that.

Avagene Moore: There have been some attempts at this. Can't say there is a taxonomy, Craig. The standard and certification programs will help.

Joanne McGlown: I'm pushing to recall academic writings that would lay it out in the true "academic taxonomy" format we are familiar with.

Claire Rubin: Quarantelli and other sociologists have done some work on taxonomies.

J. P. DeMeritt: I've just run across a dissertation entitled "A study of the relationship between competencies or tasks and their frequency of performance as required by emergency administration and management"

Craig E. Zachlod: Thanks. I would be interested in collaborating with anyone working on such an overview for academic and field application.

Carolyn Harshman: Craig, what a great question. What I'm reminded of here is the need for training fundamentals. All the bells and whistles of distance learning will fall flat if the training is not developed and delivered effectively. I am a contract instructor for FEMA's Emergency Management Institute Master Trainer Program. It is a 6-week (one at a time thank goodness!) opportunity to learn training fundamentals - course design, development, delivery, and evaluation.

Debbie Miller: Craig, as far as competencies available in DM, I would suggest the FEMA Professional Development Series certification (comprised of 7 basic classes), and also the emergency preparedness and hazardous materials classes at Governor's State of California Specialized Training Institute in San Luis Obispo, California. They have a wealth of information for all areas of Incident Command structure and disaster recovery, including PIO training. They are just beginning to go on-line with training.


Kenn Honig: Claire, does GWU offer an undergrad degree totally through distance learning, as commuting from NYC may be difficult?

Claire Rubin: The GWU program in EM is a grad program; at the moment we offer no courses by distance learning.


Peter Picanso: There seems to be a lot offered for certificates and for graduate level, but not much for BA/BS levels of study. Any hope for more offerings for a Upper division BA level student?

Ivo Roospold: At Red Rocks Community College we offer ten EM courses on-line, all based on FEMA courses, many of which rely on videos to supplement the courses. Anyone have any experience in this area?

Peter Picanso: Aren't those lower division courses?

Claire Rubin: At GWU we would let an undergrad into the courses, but no one has yet applied.

Joanne McGlown: We do not offer undergraduate at this time. However, I would be interested in reviewing on-line videos in our field, however I'm not certain I should assume that the majority of students would be able to view them.. I have a few students who work off a library computer, or computers from other public sources where they are not allowed to download, etc.


Donna Rogers: Do any of you use threaded discussions in your on-line classes and could you comment on student participation?

Ivo Roospold: We use threaded discussions more than chat rooms because of the flexibility.

Joanne McGlown: We do have this capability. Unfortunately, our students were afraid to use it for lack of trust of "who was listening". I had assured them I would not be on-line on their private bulletin board discussions unless asked!

J. P. DeMeritt: I recently participated in online threaded discussions as part of one of my classes. The instructor made participation part of our grades, and I thought it contributed immensely! I do plan on starting more structured threaded discussions this Fall.


John Hardcastle: Currently, is there any available information on the upcoming "distance MPA" program?

Joanne McGlown: We will have our revised brochure completed by July 1, and we have web access. Please email me at <[email protected]> and I'll be glad to link you directly to us!


Carolyn Harshman: I guess comments need to wait their turn too. The rest of my comment on training fundamentals was that without them, it's very difficult for students to experience productive training, i.e. to learn. I am developing one-week and two-week Master Trainer courses and would welcome inquiries at <[email protected]>.


Amy Sebring: I would like to make an offer to do some experimenting with voice chat for this purpose, and will follow up on your Dummies site, Claire.

Claire Rubin: Ok


Avagene Moore: Good idea, Amy. I have another question for Joanne. Based on your experience thus far, Joanne, are you hopeful for the future of distance learning via the Internet?

Joanne McGlown: Yes, very, although I have been a reluctant starter. It has provided wonderful opportunities for Emergency Managers and those aspiring to be. It's ideal for the adult learner -- and those who travel. It's here to stay. I've just got to identify ways to make it more creative and enjoyable for my students.


Carolyn Harshman: Claire, you mentioned the need for "conventional textbooks" in the field of emergency management. I agree! Do you have specific topic suggestions and do you have any ideas for publishers?

Claire Rubin: I have lots of ideas for topics, but none about publishers. Mostly, I would like to prepare some readers of best papers I know of.


Joanne McGlown: May I butt in here? We are in dire need for a textbook for Legal Aspects in EM course.

J. P. DeMeritt: There are a LOT of potential futures of online learning, many of which are favorable. But we have to look for some of the hidden problems people seem to be glossing over now.


Peter Picanso: I hate to be the squeaky wheel, but there doesn't seem to be any way to get from lower division to graduate level in EM. I have an AA and a certificate from Santa Monica College (JC) but can't seem to find an upper division course of study in EM without going through PA, and they only will accept EM courses as electives.

Claire Rubin: I'm afraid I cannot be of specific help.

J. P. DeMeritt: Try Thomas Edison State College in NJ! They have a well-established BS program via distance learning.

David Hunter: Peter, The University of North Texas has an undergrad program in EM. I think that I read somewhere that they offer online study options.


WJVaughn: I have one comment. I see web-based learning for myself, and I am sure lot of others like me, as the only way that a line grunt so to speak to ever get the advanced education that is becoming more needed in the job market. I wholeheartedly support all of your efforts in this regard.

Joanne McGlown: We do not require an undergraduate in a specific field for consideration for acceptance into the Graduate Program. Our theoretical basis (in disaster management) lies in Sociology. I would check out a related field, and set your sights to an EM Masters.

Final Question:

Carolyn Harshman: Since FEMAs Professional Development Series is the present "backbone" of emergency management training, is there any hope that EMI will go distance with these courses?

Avagene Moore: Does anyone have an answer for that? Wayne Blanchard was on-line earlier but is gone now.

Ivo Roospold: Red Rocks Community College has six of the seven PDS courses online. "Developing Volunteer Resources" should be on-line by the fall semester.


Avagene Moore: We will have to talk about EMI distance learning another time, folks. Our time is up for today. Claire, Joanne, and J. P., this has been a very interesting day in the Virtual Forum. Thank you all for being here and sharing your experiences with us. Audience --- thank you for your presence and participation. And now, Amy, will you please tell us about next week's Upcoming Event?

Upcoming Events:

Amy Sebring: You are all welcome to stay for further discussion. if you would like. Thanks Ava. Next week, researcher Elaine Enarson will be back with us in a session in the Library entitled "Reaching Women and Children in Disasters." This is the theme of a conference that took place in Miami Beach, FL the past few days, and Elaine will tell us about the results. See <http://www.anglia.ac.uk/geography/rwcidconference/> for further information about the conference.


Avagene, we also have a new pledge this week, Brenda B. Jones, with the Association of Contingency Planners. < //bell http://www.emforum.org/pledge.wav> Thanks Brenda!

That's it for now Avagene.

Avagene Moore: Thank you, Amy. Does anyone have an announcement they would like to share with all of us? If so, now is the time to drop it in -- no need for the question mark protocol.

If there is nothing else, we will adjourn for today -- Classroom dismissed! You can stay around and chat for a few minutes if you like. Please feel free to express your appreciation to Claire, Joanne, and J. P. for a fine session.