Edited Version of April 8, 1998
EIIP Classroom Online Presentation

"Online Hazardous Materials Initial Response: Awareness Course"

Bruce Piringer
Fire and Rescue Training Institute University of Missouri at Columbia.

Gary Wilson
Associate Director
Fire and Rescue Training Institute University of Missouri at Columbia.

The original transcript of the April 8, 1998 online Virtual Classroom presentation is available on the EIIP Virtual Forum (http://www.emforum.org). 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 discussion, 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.


Amy Sebring:

Before I introduce our special guests, I would like to review how to use links to display Web pages in another browser window for the benefit of our newcomers. When a full URL is typed in the message area, it becomes a hot link, so you can just click on it, and a webpage will display in another browser window. I will put up an opening screen URL so you may take a moment to size and arrange your windows so that you can swap easily between windows.


Amy Sebring: One more reminder --- please do not send direct messages to the speaker or the moderator. We are very busy trying to keep things running smoothly. If your question does not get answered during the session, you will have a chance in the Virtual Forum afterward.


Amy Sebring: And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Bruce Piringer, Director, and Gary Wilson, Associate Director of the Fire and Rescue Training Institute University of Missouri at Columbia. Gentlemen, welcome and thank you for being here today.


Gary Wilson: Good Morning --- at least for those of us in the Midwest and West. The University of Missouri Extension’s Fire and Rescue Training Institute has been involved in several distance learning initiatives.

1. Early 1980's correspondence study courses through the University's Center for Independent Study; Hazardous Materials and Urban Wildland Interface.

2. 1990 Training in Context; Satellite Video Teleconference.

3. Instructional Television Network to over 8 sites statewide with the Carbon Monoxide and Terrorism courses. Amy, if you would go to the Course Home Page.


Gary Wilson: Purpose for the Internet Course. Two Fold --- was determined by the Missouri Emergency Response Commission (MERC) that Hazardous Materials Awareness training was needed by many LEPC's and emergency responders.

1. FRTI was developing curriculum to meet the 1997 edition of NFPA 472.

2. Wanted to provide as many opportunities for individuals to receive training.

We had already decided to provide hazardous materials training available for hand off by part-time instructors via the train-the-trainer method.

Special initiative from the Vice Provosts office for Distance Learning:

1. Allowed some of the costs to the absorbed.

2. Provided access to the University's Distance Learning Design Center to develop the Internet course.

3. Outside contractor for programming was hired to develop a general template for Extension Internet courses.

Recognition of training by the Missouri Emergency Response Commission and the Missouri Division of Fire Safety (DFS) was critical in going through with the development. Missouri Division of Fire Safety is the nationally accredited entity in Missouri for Fire Fighter certification. Internet course would be accepted by Missouri Division of Fire Safety as an approved course for Awareness prerequisite for Fire Fighter I certification.

Development Preplanning:

1. System requirements to not eliminate individuals with older and slower computers.

2. Delivery format. In non credit programs we needed open enrollment year round, not traditional semesters.

3. We wanted student access to be activated as soon as they enrolled and paid the fee. For immediate enrollment using a credit card required a secure server and a variety of security protocols.

4. Lesson had to be totally rewritten for this format . Instructor outlines for live courses need to be rewritten for televised delivery as well. All lessons used the second person pronoun; you.

5. Examination questions and assignments were written before the lessons. This seemed awkward, but ensured that all the materials within the lesson and examination were integrated. Amy could you please go to the graphic slides.

(This is a reproduction of lesson page; only links from atmospheric tanks are enabled.)

6. Graphics were added to reinforce learning but also to break up long runs of text.

7. Size of graphics affected speed. We had to remember that many of the users are paying for their time while using slow modems/connections.


8. Questions regarding how the student receives the print material. Do we mail materials, download PDF files or print straight from the course?

9. Test on-line with a grading key was important to provide immediate feedback to the student. A powerful test generator software was used that allows randomly generated on-line exams. These exams are generated from a test bank of over 100 questions.

10. Eight months in production. Not continuous time, but became more of a time consuming project than a regular delivery program.

Contributing factors were more people involved than in traditional course design projects. Computer programmers and network administrators were some of the individuals who had to be consulted with.

Pro's for Internet delivery (From our evaluations):

1. Interactive.

2. Individualized.

3. Ability to study anytime.

4. Organizations needing to qualify only a few members, made this method cost effective for them.

5. Pushing this type of technology in the fire service; if we don't begin to use it, we'll never learn it.

6. Easy maintenance and revision by the developer (FRTI), can adapt to new changes in laws, regulations or standards. Instead of having instructor guides, student materials and slides throughout the state which needs to be revised, we simply have one site.


1. Up front capital. Not only the up front, but in many cases cost per student is higher than if we would have sent an instructor to the field.

2. Finding the right people to do the work. Experience in graphics, html editing, web design and distance learning concepts.

3. Currently we have a program for a limited audience. Based that not everyone has Internet capability. However, we believe we are today with Internet capability as we were ten years ago or.... better with VCR's in fire department training rooms.

4. Technology is constantly changing. To do the cool stuff; requires fast, powerful and expensive computers. Most employers do not have what it takes, but their employees may.


Results to date:

• Around 35 people have enrolled since 11/1/97. This represents individuals from Kansas, Missouri, New York, South Dakota and Canada.

• 10 have passed the exam. It should be noted that we have had individuals who failed the exam on their first try. Thus, a message is being sent that people are taking the exam seriously.

At this time Amy, I think Bruce and I are available to take questions.

Amy Sebring: Thank you Gary. Reminder to audience, please type a ?. Get your question ready, and wait to be recognized.



Kevin Farrell: Have you advertised your distance learning program, and what has the reaction been? How has the concept been received?

Bruce Piringer: Kevin, we have not done a LOT of advertising. This is a test bed course for the design and concept.

Kevin Farrell: 35 enrollees since November is pretty good then.

Amy Sebring: Reaction, reception?

Bruce Piringer: We have done a little advertising. It is on our web page. We advertised in the fire fighters association newsletter and enclosed information in regular course announcements.


Mark Wood: I like the idea of agreeing on the exam questions first. Did the course developers suggest them or was an expert panel consulted?

Gary Wilson: Mark, we had several people involved. First, myself along with the Institute's HazMat Specialist developed questions. Second, an educational specialist in Distance Learning assisted as well.

Bruce Piringer: One of the reasons a hazmat course was selected for the test was good objectives, which also made writing the questions much easier.


Bryan Zak: How much administrative work goes on to keep the virtual classroom alive in all respects, enrollment, testing, curriculum, etc.?

Gary Wilson: There are two sides regarding maintenance. First, from the curriculum we will make a few minor changes in the next week because of some changes in regulations and some formatting errors we caught. Second, and probably the most time consuming to date is the registration administration. Currently there are two of each maintaining a Filemaker Pro database along with the password security issues. This has taken a little more time than we had hoped. Sometimes technology does not cooperate.

Bruce Piringer: Bryan, I think that administration is fairly easy. Program is well designed, it sends us email whenever someone registers, takes an exam etc. It works slick. However, getting to that point was not easy.


Avagene Moore: I am intrigued with your comment, Gary, about the costs of setting the online capability up. Do you think there will be a cost savings with online instruction over time vs. field instruction? Why or why not?

Gary Wilson: No! Currently we can send an instructor to any site in Missouri. This eliminates travel and other expenses. Distance learning savings comes from the unreachable areas.

Bruce Piringer: Avagene, on-line instruction is just ONE of the tools we can use to reach students.

Gary Wilson: Most universities do not like to leave their kingdom. This type of course can accomplish this. We do believe, however, that there is a future and we will continue to pursue new ways for distance learning


Mark Wood: I can see how excellent this method is for testing knowledge, but have you done any research into how to test 'skills' by Internet?

Bruce Piringer: The 'skill' for the awareness course, gathering info from the ERG, etc, could be tested. But Internet courses cannot be used to test many hands on skills. The Internet course is just one tool for learning. Good instructors select the best tool for the job.

Gary Wilson: It should be added that this type of testing would not be accepted by an accredited body since we can not proctor or have security in the student taking the exam.


Isabel McCurdy: What are the program differences ? Canadian vs. American? Does your program truly fit "one-size-fits -all?

Gary Wilson: The course is written to NFPA 472 as well OSHA. There are several differences, I believe, between the US and Canada. However, the NAERG is to handle all North American chemicals.


Gary Wilson: You would have to check which differences exist between the Canada's Dangerous Goods and the OSHA regulation. If you use NFPA 472, it's applicable.

Bruce Piringer: One of the sites we hot link to is the Canadian Department of Transportation.


Amy Sebring: Can you tell us a little bit more about the support provided by the university design center?

Bruce Piringer: Our Distance Learning Design Center has a link from the Internet course page. They help University departments do all kinds of distance stuff. Train instructors how to use instructor TV. They also "broker" for us with the advanced technology center folks, who do the programming. DLDC has educational specialists, editors, technology specialists, quite a good resource.


Avagene Moore: From your experience in distance learning, what types of courses are best suited for the Internet? Not only fire service related but other disciplines?

Gary Wilson: Duke University is offering a degree program. Many nursing schools are offering graduate credit courses.

Bruce Piringer: Gosh! Anything more knowledge based rather than psychomotor. Anything with high visual content. Internet is more suited too for nonlinear learning. It is just another tool.

Gary Wilson: If it has knowledge skills associated with it, I think it will work. The fire service still has to learn which programs fit well. Instructor I in my mind would not. We could however, do Incident Management System (IMS) training. If the money is available, the cool stuff could enhance these programs greatly.


Amy Sebring: How much does it cost to take the HazMat course?

Gary Wilson: $30.00. This also includes a personal copy of the NAERG and some supplemental materials.

Bruce Piringer: We take credit cards!


Bryan Zak: Do you have to be a government employee to take the class?

Bruce Piringer: No. The course is open to anyone.

Gary Wilson: No. This course is open to anyone who feels the course would benefit them.

Final Question:

Tim Murphy: Are the fire fighter associations in favor of this type of training?

Gary Wilson: Ss far the reaction from our evaluations have been VERY positive. We advertise in our associations newsletter as well. What's also encouraging is that many people outside the fire service have complimented us on going outside the box. The fire service in Missouri, I feel, realizes that FRTI is not afraid to be a pioneer in any type of training activity.

Bruce Piringer: We have had good support for this initiative. It makes training more available. This course can be taken 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Tim Murphy: Thanks, great idea.


Amy Sebring: Thank you very much gentleman for what looks like a very thorough course! We will have the transcript of today's session posted in a few days with the background material.

Thank you audience, and since our time is up, we will close down the Classroom for today, but we will be in the Virtual Forum room for a few minutes longer, and you are welcome to join us there for open discussion. Thank you for your cooperation.


Further Discussions and Questions in the Virtual Room - After additional expressions of appreciation to Gary Wilson and Bruce Piringer, a few participants stayed for a few minutes with additional comments and discussion related to the Classroom presentation; the following are excerpts that convey additional information about "Online Hazardous Materials Initial Response: Awareness Course".


Bryan Zak: Can I learn more about the software and hardware being used?

Gary Wilson: The programming is out of my league. The software is just regular html stuff. We used PhotoShop for the visuals.

Bruce Piringer: I don't know much about that. The server is a University server. We can modify the page in house using common software on a Mac and an HTML editor.

Gary Wilson: Hardware is wide open. We decided that either Netscape or Explorer were going to be used. These come loaded on most all new computers.


Amy Sebring: We didn't get to ask you if you are planning any more courses for the future.

Mark Wood: Eventually I hope to make my course available for distance learning. I will be working with Don Schramm on that.

Bruce Piringer: Amy, yes we plan to explore more options for Internet courses. We're trying to figure out how to use Quicktime VR, for example.

Gary Wilson: Update the HazMat Awareness. I'd also like to do some healthcare code stuff. We've figured out how to use it, it's paying for it and finding the time. Using VR is very time consuming.

Bruce Piringer: The course was not simply ported over from the classroom version. It was rewritten.

Amy Sebring: I especially like your capability to update the material readily. This is a problem with printed materials, carrying out of date info.

Mark Wood: The browser approach is catching on. For example the next generation of equipment will be dialogued with by browser and not by special interface programme, just because in the future a browser will be standard for any computer. So going HTML looks like the best way to go for the future.

Bruce Piringer: We have best features too. Let me try again, we think the update ease and no printed materials stocked are advantages.

Amy Sebring: Very professional looking job on the course, and the content is pretty serious stuff as well. Serious in terms of being in depth.


Avagene Moore: Is the awareness course online equal to an 8-hour physical class? Or less? I am interested in time involved (hours) because of demonstrating hours for re-certification purposes.

Gary Wilson: It's student dependent. An advanced student wanting the course for a refresher should finish much earlier than a student learning hazardous materials for the first time. We did however, make sure that the student had to complete each lesson before they could take the exam. I think if you work the activities and take time to read the text, you're looking at 8 hours.


Amy Sebring: Have you thought of distributing via CD, with exam online, in addition to online course?

Bruce Piringer: CD-ROM development gets expensive, fast. We've explored using CD-ROM for Quicktime VR supplement to the Internet course lots of folks, lots of technology involved. A complex project.

Mark Wood: Also there is no way to keep the CD current and up to date.

Amy Sebring: You would basically need to just copy your website down to the CD, and perhaps put a browser on the disk.

Bruce Piringer: The CD information could be updated via Internet, we really explored this in depth with DLDC.

Gary Wilson: I guess we could contact our administrator and see if we could tell the on-line time each student has used. This may be worth it in the long run. Never thought of that angle.

Bruce Piringer: Enjoyed the experience, folks. Feel free to email us piringeb or wilsong @ext.missouri.edu

Gary Wilson: Amy and Avagene, again thank you for this opportunity. Also for all your help in understanding the concept.

Amy Sebring: Thank you both so much.