Online learning has ability to save lives

Tuesday, 12 October 2004

The University of Adelaide has created a method to prepare for the unthinkable, with a combination of role-play simulation and scenario-based learning helping to prepare responders to crises such as hurricanes, bushfires, industrial explosions, train crashes and bombings.

For the past four years, Dr Holger Maier of the University of Adelaide's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering has been the co-developer of a creative online simulation. Set in the Mekong River Region of South East Asia, it has now run each year, won numerous teaching awards and has been praised by hundreds of students.

And Dr Maier's success has created an exciting collaboration across the University of Adelaide and the Pacific.

"In the wake of escalating risks, many organisations are developing response plans to cater for a potential disaster," Dr Maier said.

"Using the Mekong e-Sim as a model, Ms Sheila Kavanagh, a Burns Nurse educator from the Department of Clinical Nursing, who was involved in the response to the Bali bombing disaster and received an Order of Australia for her contribution, and Mr Allan Carrington, Instructional Designer, reasoned that online role-play simulations and scenario-based learning were an alternative to expensive physical simulations for testing and familiarising emergency response teams with such plans."

These experts have recently combined their skills, expertise and experience to develop "Through the Fire", a Disaster Down Under e-Sim, which focuses on the response to mass burn casualties at a simulated Australian military installation in Central Australia.

"It is quite difficult to familiarise first responders with the hectic environment and help them make good decisions under extreme stress. Too often, these issues take second place to emergency plan tests that are primarily concerned with infrastructure," Ms Kavanagh said.

"Studies like the United States' 9/11 reports showed that it is the skill level of responders that determine success. However, a simulated emergency response event is often too expensive to obtain this training."

Over the years, University of Adelaide staff have developed expertise in online role-play simulations and scenario-based learning activities. Not until this year, however, have circumstances propelled them into combining their varied skills to address the issues of emergency response management.

"A nucleus of collaborators began to address this need, including Allan Carrington, Judi Baron and Dayle Hall, experts in online delivery from the Learning and Teaching Development Unit (LTDU), Ms Kavanagh and I," Dr Maier said.

"In addition, we have been collaborating with Dr Randall Kindley, an expert in simulation and scenario-based learning from The Performance Group in Minneapolis USA."

At this pilot stage, the only participants are burns nurses, but there are plans to expand the simulation to include other disciplines. In addition, given the need for such simulations in many places worldwide, the University of Adelaide is in a good position to make a significant contribution.

"This is learning and teaching methodology whose time has come. Over the last few months, there has been growing interest in this work, with the collaborators giving a multimedia presentation at an online conference on e-learning hosted by the University Calgary (see for the presentation)," Mr Carrington said.

"We were recently involved in a live web cast on the work to a worldwide audience of educators. As a result of this presentation, we have been invited to present six more online events to learning communities of over 20,000 educators before the end of the year."

In today's unstable world, any education that might better prepare our emergency workers to manage a disaster and save lives, needs consideration and development.

The University of Adelaide has the expertise, experience and achievements in this area to help, particularly given the high level of current interest in emergency response measures.


Contact Details

Professor Holger Maier
School of Civil, Environmental & Mining Engineering
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 4139
Mobile: 0406 383 070

Ms Sheila Kavanagh
Clinical Lecturer
Department of Clinical Nursing
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8222 5829

Media Team
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 0814