Online Master of Public Safety program gains 200 students in first two years
In 2016, with support from eCampusOntario, Wilfrid Laurier University faculty and staff began developing a Master of Public Safety (MPS) to be responsive to an evolving public safety field in Ontario and Canada. Delivered completely online, this first-of-its-kind program is designed specifically for working individuals – such as police officers, military members, firefighters and border officials – who require upskilling in the public safety field.
Dr. Scott Blandford, a professor and program coordinator in Wilfrid Laurier’s Faculty of Human and Social Sciences and Anna Barichello, the campus’s Manager of Instructional Design, were instrumental in bringing the MPS to life.
Providing targeted knowledge
The program has three main goals: Improvements in public safety service delivery, more efficient use of public resources though advanced training for management professionals, and educational support to help individuals develop skills to meet changing requirements in public safety practice.
Scott describes how the practical public safety focus makes this program more relevant to many in-practice professionals than other comparable programs.
Scott: “A criminology degree looks at things from a very broad perspective. It looks at a lot of the social aspects of crime, but it doesn’t talk about operational issues or how to manage an organization with a budget of $19 million dollars. It doesn’t teach you how to recruit or to hire, and it doesn’t discuss the current issues facing practitioners who are on the street. Criminology is a highly theoretical discipline; it flies at about 30,000 feet and gives a big picture view, looking at social theory that will explain why things are happening…Our program is designed for practitioners in the field who are facing these challenges and need ‘pocket tools’.”
Tools for the needs of today
The program has six core components, as well as electives based on specific areas of the public safety industry. In addition to material covering topics like national security, emergency management and the future of policing, the program focuses on emergent, technology-based subjects, like data science.
Scott: “How do you streamline your organization? You do this with data. Data drives everything – it can help you set up your patrols or identify what areas you should concentrate on for certain types of crime … so the ability to analyze data, interpret it, and then operationalize it is critical and a theme that runs through all our courses.”
To make each course straightforward to navigate, the program designers include videos, graphics and visualized “pillars” to categorize content and the specific areas that content relates to.
Anna: “Content in this program has to be highly organized and succinct for web delivery. You don’t want the student to expend mental effort learning how to navigate the course or figuring out what the instructor wants them to know. We make all the instructions explicit so that students learn what they are supposed to learn, rather than become experts on online course navigation.”
Web delivery + digital hangouts = engaged, empowered learners
The program’s online delivery is convenient for a demographic with varying work hours and irregular shifts, which don’t lend themselves well to traditional daytime and face-to-face course delivery. The development team opted for a fully online program that enables public safety practitioners to remain close to work and home. Learners interact with educators and fellow students through discussion boards and chat rooms. There’s even a virtual “water cooler” where learners can voluntarily discuss course material or current events with each other.
Scott: “This [hanging at the ‘water cooler’] really gratifies me because that shows that the students are really engaged. It’s not just a paper chase for credentials. They’re very engaged in the material, and for an online program, that’s very hard to achieve.
“Online conversations provide information that we probably couldn’t have written into the curriculum. Canada is a big country, but public safety is a relatively small world. Creating networks among like-minded practitioners is where real benefit will come because it will increase communication and the sharing of ideas around strategies and processes.”
Meeting a growing need
When the program’s first course launched in January 2018, 14 students were enrolled, nearly double what Blandford and Barichello predicted. By the launch of the second course, that number had grown to 24. By the time the fourth course was offered, the number of students enrolled reached almost 50. For September 2019, approximately 200 students will be enrolled.
Laurier reports a growing diversity in registrants as well, including students who work in the military, in emergency management, and in the policing and firefighting industries.
Scott: This [more diverse enrollment] tells me that our program’s reputation, with good marketing, is starting to be recognized across the disciplines. The fact that we are starting to have firefighters show up to our courses is a good measure of the fact that we are starting to break down those silos with the program.”
Dr. Scott Blandford, IACP, IPSA,
Program Coordinator, Bachelor of Arts Policing
Graduate Coordinator, Master of Public Safety
Faculty of Human & Social Sciences, Wilfrid Laurier University
Anna Barichello, BA, BEd, Med
Manager, Instructional Design
Teaching and Learning, Wilfrid Laurier University
This project is just one example of eCampusOntario’s commitment to leveraging technology-enabled learning, which has the power to provide increased options for workforce training.
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