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Training Future EMTs Online While Covering Traditional College Curricula

By Thomas A. Hennigan, Ph.D.
Lewis-Clark State College

Lewis-Clark State College (LCSC), U.S. News & World Report's third-ranked public college in the West, offers a broad range of distance learning courses covering the traditional subjects. The institution, however, is taking eLearning further than many other institutions with programs that directly address the region's shortage of health professionals.

Nearly 800 high school students in Idaho and Montana take LCSC's "Fundamentals For Health Professions" course, gaining exposure to careers as nursing assistants, first responders and EMTs. These health professions are critical in a region of the country where miles of barren land often separate the sick and injured from doctors, hospitals, and emergency services. The school also offers online certification courses.

The training fills a course accessibility gap for high school students. Only one out of 22 high schools in North Idaho's Region 2 previously offered the course, a prerequisite to the emergency medical technician (EMT) and certified nursing assistant (CNA) courses in the high school curriculum. Other regions had similar figures with 90 out of 130 high schools having no health occupations courses. With the development of the WebCT-powered course, all high schools in Idaho have the option to offer the prerequisite.

"I got started in the WebCT Fundamentals for Health Professions course in high school," said U.S. Army Pvt. Carol Gilbert from Potlatch, Idaho. "It helped me know what kind of career I wanted. Now I'm a field-trained medic in the Army and on my way to Hawaii where I'll get to go to nursing school."

LCSC uses WebCT Campus Edition to power these eLearning programs, as well as federally sponsored training to campus administrators of Student Support Services (SSS), Upward Bound and Americorps - programs that are helping area students move from high school through college. Approximately 200 administrators take the training every year.

"Since we started using WebCT in 1998, participation in distance learning from both faculty and students has grown tremendously," said Kathy Martin, dean for community programs at LCSC. "WebCT has made it easy for us to adapt our courses for rural and non-traditional students. Nearly 30 percent of our enrollment is through online course delivery."

LCSC's regular academic program is also thriving with an 80 percent completion rate for online courses, which is twice the national average. School officials attribute that success to its dedicated distance learning faculty. In the future, the school plans to integrate WebCT Campus Edition with its portal and Datatel student information system.

Idaho's four-year institutions are all tasked with outreach to non-traditional populations and the state's K-12 students as well. Adopting WebCT for learning and course management solidified and expanded an already-thriving eLearning component of that outreach for Lewis-Clark State College.

The key to this success has been combining the right tools with best practices in the areas of course development and support. Using a homegrown "(Almost) Painless Course Design" tool, support staff is able to help faculty define their learners, learning outcomes, and target instructional methods to meet their teaching and learning goals. "WebCT 101" gives faculty the experience of being an online student as they learn how to use the campus learning management system and related tools. The use of these tools is supported by large-group and one-on-one training and development sessions with course development support staff.

Like many institutions, LCSC faces challenges in terms of infrastructure and facilities scheduling for classes. Currently less than 10 percent of LCSC's online learning objects support hybrid (blended) courses. The college is anticipating great expansion in this area in the next three years and will apply the same solid principles to redesigning courses as hybrids that have succeeded so well in its solely online courses.

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