U.S. Military Academy at West Point leverages milSuite to grow future leaders
September 27, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Sept. 30, 2013) -- The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., is using milSuite, the military's secure social media toolset, to help save money and turn its cadets into well-rounded leaders.
"The mission of the Army is huge and it's not going to get smaller, but the resources of the Army -- personnel and money -- are decreasing, so we have to do more with less," said Lt. Col. Pete Kilner, director of the Center for Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at West Point. "We have to work smarter; we have to share our knowledge and experience; we have to be able to connect with people across time and space so that people who need the knowledge have access to it. MilSuite is a way for everyone in the DoD to do this so that we can all become more effective."
The migration of six separate West Point online forums onto milSuite provides cadets with a secure environment for candid conversations and access to a larger community for peer-to-peer learning and collaboration. By sharing information and knowledge through the forums, cadets proactively learn about roles, expectations and how to become stronger leaders, reducing the need for expensive classes or to tap into other costly resources.
MilSuite is a Web 2.0 capability similar to popular social media sites, but designed for the military workforce and securely positioned behind the DoD Common Access Card-enabled firewall. The West Point forums were launched on milBook, a component of milSuite that functions similarly to Facebook and LinkedIn. MilBook provides a central hub for professionals with similar interests or work responsibilities to share information.
When cadets join the various milBook forums, they access a collaborative space where questions and conversations are encouraged and other cadets and senior leaders share their experiences. It's more than idle banter; they're discussing real issues and obtaining invaluable information directly from reputable, experienced sources.
"One of the criticisms of online forums is that it's just talk," Kilner said. "However, one of our core assumptions is that all the knowledge that the Army needs to be incredibly effective already resides in our members' minds. Our role is to design the experience and the tools so that the knowledge can be brought out and shared so that those who need it have access to it."
More than 1,600 cadets have joined the six milBook forums. These forums include "Platoon Leader," which helps cadets learn about the role they will perform after being commissioned; "Company Command," which enables junior officers to share their experiences, ideas and tools related to commanding companies; and "Leadercast," a video-sharing platform with more than 1,500 video clips of leaders talking about their experiences, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan. The forums also include a professional reading forum and a "Basic Officer Leader Course" forum, which helps cadets transition from pre-commission through arrival at their first unit.
The sixth forum, "Leader Challenge," was adopted by West Point two years ago. The Leader Challenges are a combination of peer-to-peer forums, required reading materials and videos, now consolidated into a single milBook site. The videos present real-life, interactive training scenarios portraying actual battlefield situations. After responding, cadets are able to see how other users responded to the same situations, as well as how they occurred in real life. Approximately 2,500 cadets will participate in one of West Point's Leader Challenges this fall.
"The goal [of the Leader Challenge] is not to find the right answer, but to learn how to think about ambiguous, difficult situations and the decisions that leaders have to make," Kilner said. "The Leader Challenge is an example of a program that we developed locally, and now that we've migrated to milSuite, the wider Army is able to see it."
Since the training scenarios that are used to create Leader Challenges are stored on milBook, they can be accessed by users outside of West Point. Users can create their own multi-part video training scenarios by utilizing various other milBook components, including discussions, documents and blogs.
In addition to better preparing cadets for leadership roles, the forums' migration to milSuite has produced two additional benefits: CALDOL has reduced costs and can continue its technology-driven strategy.
"From a technical standpoint, we pride ourselves on always being cutting edge, always moving forward," said Tom Morel, CALDOL technical director. "Also, in the larger sense, we do not need to maintain servers and other hardware locally. So, from our standpoint, it saved us [CALDOL] money."
More and more cadets are joining the forums and sharing information online instead of meeting face-to-face. The relaxed, collaborative atmosphere enables the cadets to reach out anytime and anywhere they have questions or need help with an issue.
"Overall, the success of an online professional forum is the ability to create the kind of feel like in the old days, when Soldiers came together at the Officer's Club on a Friday night at the end of the week to talk about what they're learning," Kilner said. "A forum allows peers from across the Army to connect virtually and to talk about their experiences, ask questions and tap into the collective knowledge of the profession."
In addition to milBook, milSuite also includes: milWiki, a living military encyclopedia designed for DoD subject matter experts to share their knowledge; milWire, a micro blogging site for sharing and commenting on news and events; and milTube, a video-sharing platform for the military workforce.
MilSuite was developed by the Military Technical Solutions Office of the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications-Tactical and it is accessible to most DoD military, civilian and contractor personnel through Common Access Card authentication at https://www.milsuite.mil.