Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gamification Strategies for Developing Air Force Officers by Fil J. Arenas and Andrew G. Stricker

Developing a high degree of problem-solving skill appropriate to each career stage is an important function of military training from the recruit level onward. The ultimate goal of this training is agile, adaptive military professionals, particularly the leaders. This is more critical now than ever before.

The US Air Force Air University’s Squadron Officer College (SOC) develops company-grade officers (CGO) into effective leaders (CGOs are second lieutenants through captains). “The Air University uses technology innovations to transform learning environments in an effort to keep them efficient, effective, relevant, and adaptable to tomorrow’s challenges,” according to Lt. Gen David S. Fadok, commander and president of Air University.

In keeping with the commander’s vision, SOC must continually search for available technology conducive to the learning management system now in use. After exploring several virtual world platforms (Second Life, OpenSim, and Unity), it became evident to SOC staff that Second Life was the right one for our needs. Working with outside resources, and using Second Life as the primary virtual-world platform, SOC has designed several multi-player educational role playing games (MPERPGs) that support their basic curriculum. In this article, we will describe how these MPERPGs evolved, their relevancy to the SOC curriculum, and their importance to future development.

While people define the term virtual world differently in various settings in the professional literature, for our purposes virtual world refers to a learning platform in a computer-based environment. In these platforms, a third-person avatar represents the individual learner. (Nelson & Erlandson, in the References at the end of this article, provide additional discussion of the virtual world as learning platform.)

In today’s lean times of dwindling resources, all Air Force organizations must seek creative solutions to meet mission requirements. Over the last few years, the Squadron Officer College has been exploring alternatives to costly state-of-the-art technology to support their curricula.

SOC embarked on a quest to acquire affordable multimedia in 2008. Initial efforts used Flash-based avatar vignettes (scenarios) developed by Carley Corporation to support professional military education (PME) requirements.

Those first avatar vignettes were comprised of short scenes depicting typical situations in an Air Force environment (flight line, hangar, clinic, administrative, etc.). The scenes highlighted various subjects within SOC’s PME lessons. The vignettes (Figure 1) typically run two to five minutes and culminate with a multiple-choice slide to elicit student responses at the comprehension level. For self-directed distant learners, the vignettes also provide short textual feedback.

Figure 1: Early avatar vignette (2009)

Later vignettes are longer, with more content, and their design makes them useful for distance learning as well as for resident environments. Beginning in early 2009, the primary use of the avatar vignettes was in a self-directed distant learning course; nearly 14,000 students to date have used this material. In 2011, SOC delivered these Flash-based vignettes via Blackboa… Subscribe or log in to read the full article.
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