Building Bridges

Heating Things Up: Pilots Provide Useful Feedback

Practicing a classroom course polishes and improves it. Typically, practice comes with a pilot, during which instructional designers and trainers iron out classroom kinks.

Two pilots (an abbreviated pre-pilot and a full pilot) were employed in a class entitled Operationalizing Emergency Plans: Incident Command in Action, on which EnVision consulted for a public agency. The example shows how a pilot helps the design process when it works well.

This four-hour, immersive simulation was designed for nurses, administrators, and emergency medical technicians in healthcare environments such as long-term care facilities, hospitals, community health centers, and public health commissions. During the simulation, the learners make decisions to help their organization transition from day-to-day operations to a true-to-life emergency situation; a fictitious, extreme heat wave hits the area with no relief at night, producing health and medical complications for the learners to handle.

The learners are divided into teams of various medical and healthcare agencies seated at separate tables, with each learner playing a specific Incident Command System role. The scenario begins three days before the heat wave hits and progresses from the early stages to mid- and late-stages when serious repercussions occur, including power loss, a medical surge, and mass fatalities. The simulation ends with action reporting and improvement planning.

In the class, each team determines which actions to take. EnVision’s client utilized facilitators from different community agencies to help shape discussion at each table. In addition, each table had “injects” sporadically arrive with information that could impact each table’s decisions.

“During the class, the learners explore what it takes for organizations to be ‘operationally ready’ for emergencies, and to experience the Incident Command System in action,” explained Marilyn Kobus, an EnVision team member who worked on the project. Kobus supported the client subject matter expert/course designer-developer by offering design consultation, providing project management services, and contributing to the course instructor guide.

Following the pilot, the learners shared positive feedback. First and foremost, they felt more prepared for a large-scale emergency. The immersive nature of the class enabled the learners to envision what professionals in the different job roles might actually be thinking during an emergency. One learner called the class “a complete revelation.”

In addition, the learners liked the choice of a heat wave as a learning scenario versus a more typical New England event, like a blizzard. Their main challenge was playing “catch-up” following the fast-paced first module.

The instructional designers and trainers learned also, especially in the pre-pilot.  Delivered to students in the Public Health Program at Tufts University School of Medicine, the pre-pilot uncovered necessary changes in the course timing, content, and organization of materials. The team also decided to add pre-work for the pilot session.

From the design team’s perspective, the pilot largely hit the bull’s eye.  The team planned for minor changes for the actual course, such as having a participant assume the role of team scribe and modifying the pre-work.

Kobus was pleased with the pilot’s success, and believed the design team’s focus on gathering input from community stakeholders to create the scenario played a big role in it. “I have not seen a pilot with so many moving parts run as smoothly as this one did. Despite the fact that there were multiple players, detailed scenarios for the simulation, and unique “injects”…despite that complexity, I thought it was an outstanding pilot. Learners were fully engaged from the start with high energy, and said they gained great skills and information to take back to the job.”