If you ever find yourself responsible for the education of hundreds of
thousands of students whose absolute competence in complex, high-pressure,
high-tech environments is essential to their own survival and the survival
of others, you should consider taking a look at how Air University manages
education and training, and how it integrates hardware and software
technology into its instructional activity, which is enormous. Annual
enrollment of military and civilian members of the Department of Defense,
federal agencies, and foreign countries exceeds 300,000, and a large
proportion of those are trained via the Air University, headquartered at
Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
Information technology will allow for the creation of a learning environment
that is continuous, less costly, made available to the entire force, and
characterized by personal networking,� says Lieutenant General Jay Kelley,
commander of Air University. The Air University mission is extensive.
Through its various components, the university commissions officers;
conducts a Community College of the Air Force; offers professional
continuing education, master's, and Ph.D.-level programs; and operates the
Air War College, Air Command and Staff College, Squadron Officer School, the
Senior NCO Academy, and all stateside NCO Academies and Airman Leadership
Schools. It also manages numerous professional development programs,
conducts aerospace research, runs the world's largest correspondence school,
and operates the largest military library in America.
The bottom line is: If you're in the Air Force, you're in for a continuing
�Advances in information technology are allowing us to change the way we do
business. Hardcopy materials are becoming obsolete. Shared research is
rapidly expanding. And virtually limitless numbers of non-resident students
can take advantage of distance learning technologies,� observes Dr. John
Kline, Air University Provost.
The Air Force's interest in distance learning has been fueled by a
combination of two benefits: technology's capability to multiply the number
of students who can be educated without a proportionate increase in
resources, and its potential for rapid updating and dissemination of course
materials. Video telecommunications, as well as other forms of distance
learning, also produce significant administrative and budgetary benefits.
Through the Air Force Institute of Technology, the Air Technology Network
provides one-way video and two-way interactive audio and includes five
planned uplinks with downlinks at 72 Air Force bases. Since it began
operation in 1992, more than 45 course offerings have been delivered to more
than 6,000 distant learners.
For its distance learning programs the Air War College uses an electronic
bulletin board to disseminate information to students. They can use the
board to make inquiries about course requirements and check on the status of
submitted papers and exams. Staff has instant access to each student's
academic record, as well as faculty productivity figures, attrition rates
and other management indicators. The Air Command and Staff College has
developed a computer program to deliver coursework to its distance learning
students. Scheduled for release next fall, the package combines video,
sound, color and animation in each lesson, and includes a self-paced
interactive testing component. NETWORKING
General Kelley points out that �information technology now provides the
opportunity and means to change the education and training paradigm for
military personnel.� At the leading edge of the Air Force's efforts to
integrate the newest and best high-tech wizardry in its educational and
training programs is the Air Command and Staff College.
Upon arrival, each student is issued a personal laptop configured for access
to the college's local area network�a link that students soon come to view
as their academic lifeline. Through the LAN, students have access to e-mail,
class schedules, course descriptions, lesson plans, a CD-ROM library and the
This Internet access is seen as crucial to the Air Force education mission.
The Air Command and Staff College has its own home page on the Internet,
requires a course in Internet usage and has recently created a department
dedicated to incorporating Internet usage. The college also hosts a home
page on the World Wide Web and is actively involved in networked wargaming.
Air Chronicles, maintained on an Internet home page, provides a dynamic
mechanism for students to engage in discussion and dialogue. Check it out at
Via the Internet different Air Force school commands can now share
information resources stored on their own LANs . Particularly relevant is
the ability to share library reference materials, research reports, and war
gaming exercises on a real-time-demand basis. Networking has become critical
to the rapid dissemination of information stored in databases located
anywhere in the world. The Air University Library, largest federal library
outside Washington, D.C., plays a major role in this effort. All major
library functions are automated, with on-line access to the library's
collection. An Internet link will soon make all of its electronic services
INFORMATION WAR: VIRTUAL REALITY AND THE ROLE OF "FUTURE" STUDIES
Air Force interest in information networks has implications beyond their
usefulness as education and training tools. Controlling and exploiting the
flow of information is considered the next great threshold in warfare.
Warfare in the future will have an information component with opposing
forces seeking to gain information superiority and to deny the enemy any
advantage in tactical, operational or strategic knowledge. The Air Force has
conceptualized these ideas under the term Information Warfare, and has
developed courses on the subject.
Recognizing that an enemy is a highly intertwined set of political,
military, and economic systems provides a new perspective for targeting.
Visualizing highly interdependent sets of systems and locating the linchpins
that can be targeted to cause the enemy to fall apart is an exceedingly
difficult task. The emerging virtual reality and scientific visualization
technologies promise to make such complex interactions comprehensible.
The Air Force Wargaming Institute's combat simulation model is used by
several institutions in the conduct of their wargame exercises. Game moves
are input to the model and a graphical user interface communicates over the
network to servers which store and manage the students' game orders.
According to Colonel C.G. �Snip� White, the Research Coordinator, � . . .
this is state-of-the-art education that is evolving as fast as computer
technology and creative minds will allow.� As part of its mission to
facilitate such creativity, a year-long (1993-94) "future study," SPACECAST
2020, was conducted by students and faculty at Air University. The task was
to envision high-leverage space technologies and systems that will best
support the warfighter into the 21st century.
SPACECAST 2020 featured a study methodology which used high-risk creative
processes (creative technique teachers, science fiction writers, movie
producers, futurists, and the intelligence community); a world-wide
electronic call to scientists, engineers, and creative thinkers; and a
�watering hole� at Air University for free exchange of ideas by
participants. Included in the study were a network of researchers from all
the services' space commands, the intelligence community, government
agencies, universities, laboratories, and a myriad of �think tanks.� The
study produced hundreds of concepts about emerging technologies and an equal
number of creative future applications.
This "future study" process is being institutionalized as a part of Air
Force long-range planning and it is the genesis of a new study to begin in
August 1995, called 2025. The new study will follow the SPACECAST 2020
methodology and feed Air Force planning for 2025-2050. To support this major
study, the Air Force is creating homepages and a database to accept
abstracts and papers from worldwide contributors.
According to the Air Force, compact disk-interactive technology will soon
"deliver education to students where and when needed, in the amount needed,
in structures suited to their learning styles, in contexts suited to the
material, and at speeds optimal for individual students." Expert systems are
being used to help students create an education plan that meets their
educational desires and also satisfies criteria for graduation.
In the summer of 1993, the Air Command and Staff College began using
multimedia lesson authoring software to revolutionize its curriculum. The
result was more than 50 wargame and other interactive multimedia
applications. Distributed on a CD-ROM to graduating students and others,
these applications are now in use throughout the Department of Defense and
The Air Force is also moving from printing course materials in bulk to use
of Print-On-Demand to produce and distribute courses. To this end, the Air
Force's Extension Course Institute is digitizing course materials into
print-ready text files that can be updated as changes are received. These
procedures can then be used to print a current course and send it to a
student within 24 hours of enrollment.
CLIMBING INTO THE COMMAND SEAT OF THE TECHNOLOGY AIRSHIP
Managing change in a complex organization is never simple, and the Air Force
road to technological change has had its share of dangerous curves. To name
a few, there are the problems of hardware compatibility and software
suitability, the complications of video card resolution differences, sound
card universality, hard disk storage limitations, graphics format
differences, and RAM memory configurations.
Where Air Force personnel cannot provide needed expertise or manpower,
provision has been made to employ outside contractors. To help secure
continued support for these efforts, the Air University has installed a
Technology Management curriculum, with certain courses specifically targeted
for attendance by general officers. Clearly, high-tech exists as a bright
vision on the Air Force education and training horizon. In this time of
budget cutbacks and restraints, a significant bright spot in that vision is
the promise that technology will not only improve instruction, but do so at
a reduced cost.
� 1995 Educom.
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