VTRA: A Virtual Practicum

The Virtual Terrorism Response Academy is a reusable advanced distance learning environment that supports the development and dissemination of terrorism response courseware. Figure 1 provides an overview of the general configuration, set up for the WMD-Hazmat course. Trainees enter the Academy and travel through its halls (Figure 2), selecting different learning experiences, under the guidance of one or more instructors who are simultaneously master practitioners and master trainers. Please note that all elements in the Academy are virtual. The mentors are real individuals who have been videotaped according to courseware designs; they are subsequently available for training at any time or location.

The Hazmat Learning Lab (Figure 3) provides reviews of a variety of hazmat principles, mainly by doing computer-based activities. Topics include the use of instruments and PPE, triage and casualty care, crime scene management, etc. It also contains a final exercise that the trainee must pass (demonstrating adequate grasp of fundamentals) to get a key to the Simulation Area of the Academy. The Web Room provides links to relevant complementary web sites. The Learning Resources Room contains valuable talks on topics such as Risk Management and Operations Security. There are also interviews with individuals who have direct experience with terrorism and/or WMD.

The Simulation Area is a suite of rooms. Trainees travel from room to room getting briefings (Figure 4), selecting PPE and instruments (Figure 5), then entering a 3-D space where they must deal with various situations related to WMD Hazmat (e.g., in Figure 6 and Figure 7). Simulations are done under the guidance of Greg Noll, a master hazmat trainer, who functions a coach, asking questions, pointing out things, explaining his reasoning at various points in the simulation. This is followed by a debriefing and discussion of lessons that could be learned from the simulation and the trainee's decisions.

These strategies are specified in the Virtual Practicum training model 1. The Virtual Practicum is based on educational models that support the development of expertise as outlined by Graham and Klein: Schön's "reflective practicums 2, Senge's "microworlds" 3, Boisot's Epistemological Space4, and Kolb's Learning Cycle5. If you'd like to learn more, you may read a paper describing the model. .

The WMD-Hazmat program is intended for operations level hazmat responders in the fire service, law enforcement, and EMS. Mentors: for fire fighters, Alan Brunacini; for law enforcement, Gordon Graham; and for EMS, Jim Page. For WMD-Hazmat, all trainees work under the mentorship of John Eversole and Greg Noll.

1. Henderson, JV. Op. cit., The Virtual Practicum.
2. Schön DA. Educating the Reflective Practitioner: Toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1987.
3. Senge PM. The Fifth Discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Doubleday, 1990.
4. Boisot MH. Information Space: A framework for learning in organizations, institutions, and culture. London: Routledge, 1995.
5. Kolb D. The Learning Style Inventory: Technical Manual. Boston: McBer, 1976.

Figure 1. Top-down overview of Academy configured for <i>Ops-Plus for WMD-Hazmat
Figure 1. Top-down overview of Academy configured for Ops-Plus for WMD-Hazmat.


Figure 2. View of VTRA hallway.
                     Point and click to navigate and select different learning experiences. Hazmat Learning
                     Lab is to the right.
Figure 2. View of VTRA hallway. Point and click to navigate and select different learning experiences. Hazmat Learning Lab is to the right.


Figure 3. Right side of Hazmat Learning Lab showing three of six stations,
                     each dealing with a different topic. Each is led by an instructor who is an expert on
                     the indicated topic.
Figure 3. Right side of Hazmat Learning Lab showing three of six stations, each dealing with a different topic. Each is led by an instructor who is an expert on the indicated topic.


Figure 4. Simulation Area Briefing/Planning Room, Simulation #3. Mentor Greg Noll
                     tees up a simulation in which the trainee responds to a dispatch call that may involve a
                     WMD.
Figure 4. Simulation Area Briefing/Planning Room, Simulation #3. Mentor Greg Noll tees up a simulation in which the trainee responds to a dispatch call that may involve a WMD.


Figure 5. Equipment Room where trainee selects type of PPE and picks up instruments
                     to take into simulation.
Figure 5. Equipment Room where trainee selects type of PPE and picks up instruments to take into simulation.


Figure 6. Sim Room for Simulation #2. Trainee uses the Ludlum radiation meter to check
                anteroom for background radiation levels. Note live meter readout in left lower area of the
                screen. Dosimeter reading is in the right upper corner.
Figure 6. Sim Room for Simulation #2. Trainee uses the Ludlum radiation meter to check anteroom for background radiation levels. Note live meter readout in left lower area of the screen. Dosimeter reading is in the right upper corner.


Figure 7. Interior of the ALARA Room, Simulation #2. Mentor Greg Noll
                     summarizes findings after trainee has experimented with the shielding effect of
                     different materials.
Figure 7. Interior of the ALARA Room, Simulation #2. Mentor Greg Noll summarizes findings after trainee has experimented with the shielding effect of different materials.


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