SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – It isn’t very often that an individual or organization is rewarded for failure, but the 365th Training Squadron here achieved just that when it was awarded the Adapt Award as part of Air Education and Training Command’s 2017 Innovation Challenge.
The honor was announced March 21, 2018, at the AETC Senior Leaders Conference at Vandenberg AFB, California. The Adapt Award was given to the organization that showed a Continuum of Learning Innovation was attempted but failed to reach its desired results. The unit also had to show lessons learned and how they could continue moving toward full implementation.
Dewey Back, a 365th TRS avionics instructor supervisor, said in an age where technology in the classroom has transformed how students learn, members of the forward-thinking squadron began looking into installing some high-tech tools in their avionics courses following a Continuous Process Improvement event in 2016. New Airmen arriving at technical training accustomed to using gadgets such as tablets and smart TVs were set aback a little with the lack of technology in the avionics classrooms.
It was speaking with roughly 100 Airmen in training that drove home that reality.
“Out of those interviews, the first thing – and it’s sad to say – the first thing the students said they experienced was a disappointment when they came to Sheppard Air Force Base classrooms,” Back said. “We have great commercials and great recruiting tools. They were expecting the latest and greatest technology in their classrooms, and they were sadly disappointed when their high schools had better technology than their Air Force classrooms.”
The group working on the project came up with a low-cost, flexible and mobile solution that had the possibility of reshaping technical training classrooms. At a cost of about $4,500, the plan called for replacing the $15,000 infrastructure-strapped configuration of projectors, smartboards – made obsolete by Windows 10 – and student computers with a smart TV and student tablets.
Back said the tablets could connect with the smart TV, making the class not only more technologically advanced, but more interactive for the students.
Master Sgt. Brion Kennedy, an avionics flight chief, said the ability to connect tablets to a smart TV was one of the aspects the group liked about the plan.
“Currently, everything is instructor-centric,” he said. “He goes up, he’s got an overhead projector, which is shooting slides onto a smartboard, and he goes through everything. Then he turns to the class and says, ‘Do you understand?’ Ninety-nine percent of the time, the class will nod, and we give them the test and find out they don’t understand.
“With this style, we could actually have someone project to (the smart TV) and have them do work from their desk and show us that they truly understand.”
The squadron hit a couple snags that prevented the initiative from being implemented, the first of which came when they attempted to purchase the equipment. Although the specific equipment was on the Defense Department’s list of approved items to purchase, the selected tablet wasn’t listed on AFWay, the Air Force’s website for purchasing approved information technology, or IT, hardware and software.
The second hurdle, Back said, was the off-network, standalone systems that would be in each classroom instead of connected to the .mil network. He said official guidance was written for net-centric devices and didn’t allow for off-network systems.
“There was no clear-cut guidance on how to acquire a non-network set up,” he said. “A lot of different information packets were given to us for configuring these separate systems like they were a large network, and we really had no network.”
In the proposed modernized classroom, the tablets would connect to the smart TV without the need of a network, he said. All of the instructional materials used to train the Airmen now would be uploaded to the tablets.
Back said they will continue to push ahead with the initiative to develop one or two test classrooms that use the technology to improve the delivery of instructional content to students who pass through Sheppard, a possibility that would transform technical training classrooms hopefully in the near future.