EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – April 2, 2003

The Virtual Campus
for the
National Emergency Training Center (NETC)

Dennis Hickethier
Chief, Distance Learning Branch, Training Division
United States Fire Administration

Amy Sebring

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available upon request to [email protected] .

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Our topic today is "The Virtual Campus for the National Emergency Training Center (NETC)." This is the beginning of a new effort in distance learning for emergency managers.

Now, I am pleased to welcome our speaker, Dennis Hickethier, Chief of the Distance Learning Branch for the Emergency Management Institute, which is now under FEMA's U.S. Fire Administration. Dennis was one of our very first speakers in the Virtual Forum some years ago, when distance learning via the Internet was a new concept. We have come a long way since then. Dennis, we are very pleased to have you back, and I now turn the floor over to you.


Dennis Hickethier: Thank you Amy. As many of you know, the Emergency Management Institute offers over 40 independent study courses. Some of these are print materials, some have videotapes, some are on CD, and some are interactive web courses. Most of our courses can be accessed through our website at http://training.fema.gov/EMIweb/IShome.htm.

However, to make our web courses more interactive and provide randomly generated final exams, we are placing new courses on the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) Virtual Campus and moving any converted courses to the VCampus as well.

The VCampus is powered by Lotus Learning Space. This program was purchased by the National Fire Academy a couple years ago for management and delivery of independent study materials they are developing. Another reason to place EMI courses on the VCampus is to provide users with one place and process for taking all FEMA independent study courses.

And, another reason for using the VCampus is to eliminate our existing independent study database as a system of record and merge it into our Admission's Database that maintains student records for all our resident courses. This one system of record will enable the National Emergency Training Center to issue students one transcript that lists both resident and independent study courses they have taken with us.

A key advantage to using the VCampus for interactive web courses is the ability to track what course units a user starts and finishes. If we find that half our users quit during unit four of a course, we can look to see if there is a problem with the unit that might cause this. We did not have this capability before. In order to accomplish this tracking, courses must be designed with shareable content objects or learning objects.

Each unit is divided into lessons and each lesson is accessed from a table of contents. Each lesson has an objective, information to learn, and activities or evaluation questions. The process for requesting a disaster declaration could be one lesson. It is a shareable content object because it could be used in several different courses for which this is a lesson. Only minimal changes should be needed to share this object in other web courses.

I'm sure many of you have heard or read about SCORM or AICC compliant courses. I don't have time to explain those in detail here, but you can learn about them on the web. They simply provide a standard so courses developed for one learning management system (LMS) can be used in other LMS's without modification, if both systems are compliant to the same standard.

Now I'd like to take you on a quick tour of the VCampus. The first slide shows www.training.fema.gov. To get to the NETC Virtual Campus, you must select that option on the left menu.

[Slide 1]

The first time you go to the VCampus you need to select "New Student" and register. You will be asked to enter your name and email address. It is critical that this information be accurate if you want to get proper credit for completing courses on the VCampus. You will also establish a logon name and of course, a password. I'm sure you can keep track of one more! The next slide shows the logon screen.

[Slide 2]

The next slide will show the main screen for the VCampus. Please notice there is information about "Hardware/Software Configuration." The recommended minimum hardware includes a Pentium 233 with 128 MB RAM and 5 MB free disk space and a 28.8 kbps connection. Software requirements include the Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5 or higher or Netscape Communicator 4.7 or higher on the Windows operating system.

[Slide 3]

If we select Course Catalog at the top, you will see the next screen which only lists a few courses at this time. This list will continue to grow as several courses are under development. You will find that some courses only offer printed materials for downloading while other courses are or will be interactive online.

[Slide 4]

If I select My Courses at the top, I'll get all those courses for which I have access. Since I have special rights and privileges additional courses appear on my screen, but any user screen will be similar.

[Slide 5]

If I then select IS-10 Animals in Disasters, I'll get the next screen which lists all the units.

[Slide 6]

If I then select Unit 2, I will see all the lessons in Unit 2.

[Slide 7]

When I select Lesson 2, I then get an actual course screen, which you can see on the next slide.

[Slide 8]

This slide displays our typical look and feel or layout for EMI courses. The next slide shows another screen with a link.

[Slide 9]

The following screen shows a screen with a question.

[Slide 10]

The next screen is what I see when I select the Online Exam from the course Table of Contents.

[Slide 11]

However, following a discussion last week, users will probably be required to take the existing exam (for print materials) using the existing online answer sheet. The routing will be automatic, but we will not be able to offer the randomly generated exam until we work out some more procedures for feeding data into our independent study database. We are in a transition period which presents some extra challenges as EMI moves to using the VCampus.

If I want to see how I'm progressing in the course, I select Progress Report on the bottom left and I get the last screen showing lots of information about how and when I accessed the course material.

[Slide 12]

I hope you get the picture, but please visit the site and look around for yourself. The first EMI course, "Animals in Disaster" should be listed by the end of next week. The following independent study courses exist as printed courses and have interactive web versions under development:

• The Role of Volunteer Agencies in Emergency Management

• Radiological Emergency Response

• Radiological Emergency Management

• The Role of the EOC in Community Preparedness, Response and Recovery Activities

• Animals in Disaster

Most of these courses should be added to the VCampus during April. Another four courses are under development that should be added by the end of September. Now I'm ready for questions and I will turn it back over to Amy.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Ed Kostiuk: How do you create a course and what are or is the criteria for a course?

Dennis Hickethier: Most courses are created using the Macromedia development tools like Dreamweaver and Flash, although other tools can be used. Anything that produces clean html will work, but there are certain codes that we found were needed in the course materials to make it work properly with Lotus. The FEMA Program Offices determine when we need a course and what the objectives need to be.


Isabel McCurdy: Dennis, will all courses at EMI be on the VCampus?

Dennis Hickethier: All Independent Study courses will eventually be on the Virtual Campus, but we are not converting classroom courses to this format, with the exception of the Professional Development courses that are conducted by the States.

Amy Sebring: Did I understand you will be converting the PDS courses?

Dennis Hickethier: Yes, there are plans to provide IS versions of all the PDS courses, and these are already available as print materials. But the funding for creating interactive web versions has been lost for now.


Jan Male: Since some of us are from Canada, will we be able to take the courses and receive certificates?

Dennis Hickethier: Unfortunately, we do not have funding to support the workload involved in handling anyone other than a US citizen.


Jason Corcoran: Roughly how long does one class take to finish, and are there certificates for completion?

Dennis Hickethier: Each course takes about 6-10 hours to complete, but some complete the courses in less time. Every course has a completion certificate and it takes about two weeks to receive your certificate.


Avagene Moore: Dennis, I greatly appreciate the IS courses. I am in the midst of re-certifying for my CEM and rely on the courses for my EM training. Once I am registered for the VCampus and a particular course, can I work on it at my own pace, go back and forth in the modules, etc. as I would with a hard copy of the material? Does the system keep up with where I am in the course?

Dennis Hickethier: Yes, you can continue to work at your own pace, but the system will not return you to the middle of a lesson. It only tracks for complete lessons and courses will use many lessons, so that is not a problem.


Paula Gordon: To what extent are you providing for interactive discussion?

Dennis Hickethier: Due to limited resources, these courses do not provide any interaction with instructors. For the same reason, we do not provide for discussions among students.


Mike Morrow: In response to Jan's question, please be aware that my company will be offering ICS, EOC and other eLearning courses over the next few weeks, and we are also using the same technology (LearningSpace). We can chat outside this session or you can visit http://www.emistech.com/products.asp. We would love to collaborate with you Dennis!

Dennis Hickethier: We always like to see what others are doing and look for ways to improve the training experiences we provide, but the reality of limited resources precludes things we'd like to do.


Henry Fleischmann: What is the difference between the NETC courses you showed us and the Independent study courses on EMI's pages ? Are they both maintained in "My Courses"?

Dennis Hickethier: The NETC courses include courses from the National Fire Academy (NFA), while the EMI courses are only found on the EMI website. Both will eventually display in "My Courses."


Isabel McCurdy: Dennis, are there any prerequisites for taking any of these courses?

Dennis Hickethier: No, there aren't any prerequisites, but some of the courses are intended for specific audiences like Radiological Response Teams and damage inspectors. But anyone can take the courses and attempt to complete them.


Avagene Moore: Dennis, regarding the certificate of successful completion of courses -- will I be given notification of passing the exam on the site, by email and then a mailed copy? Or will I be given something I can print as my documentation?

Dennis Hickethier: The VCampus should tell you that you passed the exam and a certificate will follow, but we still have some procedures to work out so I can't guarantee this will happen right away.


Amy Sebring: Dennis, what kind of schedule are you hoping to achieve, funding permitting, e.g. number of courses per month put on this system, years to get all of them?

Dennis Hickethier: By the end of December I am hoping we will have 6-10 interactive web courses on the Vcampus, with another 6-10 being added each year.


Avagene Moore: Since the VCampus is a new endeavor, are students asked to evaluate the function itself?

Dennis Hickethier: That's a good question and I don't recall that it has been discussed, but there is a way to send comments, and I'll raise this issue with the others involved in operating the campus.


Amy Sebring: You mentioned a group that was overseeing course priorities? Do you expect terrorism-related courses to receive priority?

Dennis Hickethier: Yes, terrorism courses do have a high priority but I don't have a separate budget for developing interactive web courses. So, it depends on the money available for course development and what is decided as the delivery mechanism. This means that a mitigation course may appear before a terrorism course because it is further along in the development using separate funding. I hope that makes some sense!


Isabel McCurdy: Dennis, are these courses free or is there a fee involved?

Dennis Hickethier: All courses are free, and our success is greater than we can support sometimes. In the last five years, enrollments jumped from 30,000 to 150,000.


Lloyd Bokman: Do you have the capability for streaming video and audio or is that more for future development?

Dennis Hickethier: We do have that capability and actually use it for IS-120, Community Exercise Program on our current site. We are planning to use it in the VCampus as well, to a limited degree. I should also mention we have procurement actions in process to add two T-1 lines and necessary router equipment to improve the access speeds for our site.


Paula Gordon: Have you considered using Blackboard to augment the approach that you are currently using?

Dennis Hickethier: Since we don't have communication between instructors and students, or between students, we have not seen a benefit to adding that capability. However, we do have a Web course that uses instructor interaction and asynchronous chats using other software, so we are always interested in looking at how to improve our delivery systems.


Ed Kostiuk: As a first responder I am all for this type of training, but "down the road" do you foresee the possibility of having instructors for training? Many low budget fire/police departments just cannot afford to send their first line personnel to schools! You may have just answered this question.

Dennis Hickethier: Yes, I would hope that as we move down this road we will use several different delivery methods, including Web material with instructor interaction. But right now upper management has more concern with conserving resources so I think more pressure will need to come from field personnel asking for this type of training.


Isabel McCurdy: Dennis, are there any future plans to include Canadian access to your programs?

Dennis Hickethier: Anyone in the world can use the materials we provide on the Internet but unless we are able to charge for services at some point in the future, we will not be able to process completion certificates, and I don't see additional funding coming for that.


Amy Sebring: I am glad to finally see this coming true Dennis, and I think it is about time to wrap it up for today. Thank you very much Dennis, and good luck in the future as you continue your project. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements.

If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

We would also like to take this opportunity to welcome a new partner, Emergency Visions, http://www.emergencyvisions.com. If your agency would like to learn more about becoming an EIIP partner, please see the Partnership link on our home page.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Our session is adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Dennis.