New instructional methods challenge students to become critical thinkers
March 26, 2014
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FORT LEE, Va. (March 26, 2014) -- The change could be likened to the uproar generated more than a decade ago by mere talk of replacing the Army's black combat boot, an old standby that held a ton of tradition for generations of Soldiers. There was a hefty amount of opposition against replacing it, but necessity ushered in a better boot and the old footwear took its place in generational lore.
Skills-Based Training, or SBT, which is a new instructional method implemented at the Ordnance School here, has faced a similar challenge. Now two years old, the SBT program was confronted with staunch opposition but has gradually gained acceptance and support, said Clifton J. Wiley, chief, Power Generation Division, Tactical Support Equipment Department.
"When I first presented this to my staff, there was a wall of resistance that you would not believe," he said. "It took some time getting folks used to the idea. We had training developers from [Combined Arms Support Command] sit down with our instructors and explain the concepts, and once the instructors got involved with it and understood it, it took off."
Wiley's division was the first at Fort Lee to convert to SBT. It teaches the 10-week Power Generation Equipment Repairer Course for advanced individual training students.
SBT, which emphasizes critical thinking skills, arose from the demands of modern warfare, specifically the wars in Southwest Asia where commanders required logistics Soldiers who could quickly adapt to an ever-changing array of circumstances. The schoolhouse training is part of an effort to fulfill those requirements.
Aside from the initial resistance and skepticism that are a part of any significant change, SBT seems to be running smoothly, said Gary F. Neuser, director, Tactical Support Equipment Department, the element that oversees the Power Generation Equipment Repairer (91D) course.
"The reaction of the students over time really convinced us that this is the way of the future, the way to go," said Neuser. "Right now with that class of 26 students, it is broken down to groups of four or five students working as a team. The collaboration that takes place in those groups and the competition amongst them is powerful. It truly is."
Pvt. Christian Dorr, a current 91D student who knows nothing of SBT, said the course structure and content presentation is stimulating.
"The instructors are always giving us challenges," he said, "and that keeps you motivated to want to outdo the other teams in a little friendly competition. That's good, and it personally keeps me in the mindset of learning."
A distinguishing feature of SBT is learning facilitation. Although the instructor is the chief facilitator, that role is also assumed by skilled students who are encouraged to share their knowledge with group members. It makes for dynamic learning, said Sgt. 1st Class Deryl Gensler, a 91D module chief.
"We're building off of Soldiers' knowledge," he said. "Obviously that varies the class we have now -- basic engine principles -- we have several students who have spent time in maintenance shops. It's peer-led versus having some E-7 talking to them. These guys see sergeants all day long telling them this, that and the other. They better connect with each other."
Although SBT has won over most administrators and trainers, there are those who still believe that legacy-based instruction is a still a viable method of teaching.
"The legacy training, in my opinion, is the best type of training you can have because it's lockstep," said Jackie Wilson, a 91D writer/instructor and retired NCO. "You get the chance to teach them as they go along, and they learn things as they go so the learning compiles upon itself. They learn things that way."
The Ordnance School has fully implemented SBT in several courses. The 91J course -- quartermaster and chemical equipment repairer -- is still in the pilot phase. The last pilot is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of this year. SBT also has been implemented for Ordnance School courses taught at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Although SBT is showing encouraging signs, it may be too early to make any conclusions. It will be formally evaluated and assessed through surveys and other methods to determine its effectiveness. Neuser said he thinks it has a place at the Ordnance School and beyond.
"It's the way of the future," he said. "As the March 2012, a TRADOC (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command) Accreditation Team assessed, it was really thrilled to see Skills-Based Training in action. The feedback was very positive, and they felt this was a best practice that needs to be expanded -- not just at the Ordnance School and our sister schools here at Fort Lee -- but throughout all of TRADOC."