This summer, five law enforcement officers, firefighters, and teachers—all Adler School students—will spend 48 hours as incident commanders leading rescue and recovery from a collapsed building.
They will create operational plans and provide technical support. They will search for victims, and provide care for emergency response personnel.
Their work actually will be part of a complex disaster simulation using state-of-the-art software that emulates the operational activities of an actual emergency operations center—providing intensive tactical training for these students enrolled in the Adler School’s M.A. in Emergency Management Leadership program. Beyond the simulations, the program is offered entirely online.
Preparing for trends & work in the field
“The field of emergency management is moving from paper-based recordkeeping to automated digital and computer-based documentation—so use of management software is quickly becoming the norm,” said Michael Schulz, M.S., a former law enforcement officer and fire department command officer, and head of a Chicago emergency management consulting firm, who directs the Adler School program.
Schulz explained that emergency management professionals—and Adler School students during the simulation—use simulation software for training in multiple critical ways: monitoring impending hazards and threats, tracking personnel and resources available for disaster, enumerating operational priorities, documenting activities and distribution of emergency personnel and equipment, coordinating operations with other emergency management and first-response agencies, and maintaining required documentation for after-action reports and financial reimbursement.
Over the two-day training, “students will be required to critically analyze and create an action plan quickly,” Schulz said. “They will have no knowledge about the situation until arriving on site. Using experience and concepts learned in the classroom, they will make decisions and get to see the realtime results of these decisions.”
An 'ideal' program
The two-day simulation is one of three residency weekends for the students over the course of their two-year program at the Adler School. It prepares emergency management professionals to lead disaster prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts while also—uniquely and systemically—addressing the psychological trauma sustained by victims and emergency response personnel.
After each residency, students return home across the country to their lives, their jobs, and their online coursework as Adler School students.
For students like Stephanie Leinwohl, the blended degree program is ideal: blending hands-on training during the face-to-face residency weekends, with online courses that can be completed from anywhere, any time.
Fifteen is the maximum number of students in every online class at the Adler School. In recent studies, students in small online classes report learning more and engaging much more strongly with classmates and faculty.
In addition, “one of the best things about online learning is meeting so many different people with different levels of experience who come from diverse backgrounds,” said Leinwohl, a native Chicagoan who teaches English with an emphasis on business.
Online education grows
Across the country, blended and online enrollment continues to grow as prospective students increasingly seek programs offering flexibility and balance with their work, family, and life commitments. In fall 2012, more than 7 million higher education students took at least one online course—continuing growth at a pace much higher than that for overall higher education enrollment, reports Babson Survey Research Group in partnership with the College Board.
Each online program is specially developed to embed coursework and training with the Adler School’s unique focus on socially responsible practice. For example, the Emergency Management Leadership program exposes students to decision-making based on population and systemic needs.
“Students must understand how their leadership and decisions affect the overall well-being of the community,” Schulz said.
Expert design and high standards
Expert course development, design, and execution is critical in producing a successful online learning experience. At the Adler School, coursework is developed by field experts like Schulz who are specially trained in online instruction and receive ongoing support from a dedicated team of instructional designers and multimedia experts.
“Each course is created by design and content experts who ensure the proper tools and resources are in place for an ideal interactive online experience,” said Sarah Fornero, Director of Design and Delivery, Department of Online Education.
High standards and evaluation also ensure a consistent experience as students move from course to course throughout their programs. Each course design is based on researchbased standards developed by the Quality Matters Rubric for Higher Education. The standards ensure that courses incorporate elements crucial to students’ success—including accessibility, learning support, and learner engagement.
All courses are asynchronous, meaning there are zero real-time requirements: Students from the United States to Canada to India, the Czech Republic, and anywhere in the world can log on to their computers and complete assignments, tests, and video forum discussions conveniently in their own time zones.
Intensive real-life application
The Adler School also designs its online classes to ensure that faculty and students interact beyond posting in an online forum. Students create introductory videos, narrate PowerPoint presentations, and take part in interactive real-world simulations.
Criminology students, for example, examine legal processes in multiple countries and create wiki pages that document their findings. In the M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology program, students create work-related deliverables such as business plans that can be shared electronically and collectively discussed through online discussions.
To teach an online course, Adler School faculty receive specialized training—including a course in which they are the students. “Faculty get a different perspective during training— they get to see what it’s like to be a student and experience a course as a student would,” Fornero said.
The result is an intensive program of learning for real-life application and a positive student experience. Said emergency management student and certified emergency manager Mindi Mattson: “I’m thinking about things differently and this is positively impacting my work and the decisions I make.”