Dr. Chad Foster is an associate professor and coordinator of the homeland security program at Eastern Kentucky University. In these roles, he enjoys working with students who have an interest in the homeland security and emergency management disciplines. Prior to joining EKU, Foster served as a federal emergency management agency contractor with responsibilities for implementing preparedness programs.
Foster is known as an innovative online faculty member who is not shy of trying new technologies and focuses on student engagement. An example of his innovative course design is HLS 461 – Disaster Resilience, which won a 2020 Exemplary Course Design award from Blackboard. The course is focused on how to achieve long-term disaster resilience. It covers topics such as how communities cope with disasters on the front end and then as part of recovery.
Emphasis on Student Engagement and Collaboration
The course features a number of collaborative activities for students to participate in, which leads to clear engagement. For examples, the course integrates several online learning tools and platforms to enhance the student experience. Google suite is one platform used in HLS 461 to promote collaborative problem solving and teamwork. Using this platform, students can share documents or slideshows and work together to draft and edit materials. Another tool students use to complete online presentations is called Flipgrid, which allows students to practice presenting information to others.
Additionally, in the field of disaster management and resilience, online videos and access to online video sources provide a rich source of content. Whether it’s on YouTube, or other channels, students are engaged using online videos more than in the past. “Students have to be able to really engage with the materials, enjoy it, and almost forget it’s work,” says Foster. “We use popular motion pictures and some films that students really enjoy. Before they know it, they’re actually working harder at those assignments and don’t even realize it.” For example, this course ends with a watching of the National Geographic documentary film Rebuilding Paradise, a film directed by Ron Howard. This film provides first-hand accounts of the rebuilding of Paradise, California, which experienced a significant wildfire called the Camp Fire back in 2018.
Course Design Key for Student Success
Another tool Foster uses when designing his homeland security courses is consistency in how they are organized. He works to ensure that the navigation, or layout, of the course itself is very clear and logical. “It is so important from the student’s perspective that when they enter a course, there’s at least some consistency in how it’s set up, so they don’t get frustrated out the gate. They feel comfortable, they know where to begin, and where to look for next steps and important information,” says Foster.
Additionally, the flow of the course has to be logical, so students understand where they’re coming from and where they are going. Foster uses what he refers to as, “the scaffolding technique” to lead students through the course material. The course topics build upon each other week after week, much like a skyscraper is built from the ground up. Another practice Foster uses is to revisit where students have been in the course, where they’re at, and where they’re going, constantly tying back to what was covered before.
In addition to scaffolding the content, Foster also has students build upon their knowledge and comfort with the technology used. For example, students are introduced to the Flipgrid during week one when students are asked to do an introduction using the tool. This allows students to get experience with the technology they can build upon later in the course.
Supporting faculty at EKU are a cadre of professional instructional designers offering great ideas from the perspective of quality. According to Foster, “Designing high-quality courses takes a village…thankfully we have an amazing team of instructional designers here.”
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