Second course at Fort Lee to implement new training methodology
July 3, 2014
FORT LEE, Va. (July 3, 2014) -- Another Ordnance School course here will soon implement the Skills Based Training program.
The Quartermaster and Chemical Equipment Repairer Course, or military occupational specialty 91J, is scheduled to begin teaching the new instructional method later this month. SBT is an instructional innovation that promotes critical thinking skills using a diagnostics-based problem-solving approach.
QCER Course graduates are charged with maintaining and repairing a diverse mix of equipment to include Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units, digital water purification systems, laundry systems, space heaters, decontamination systems and liquid pumps. It falls under the Tactical Support Equipment Department located in Rozier Hall.
TSED's Power Generation Repairer Course was the first here to implement SBT more than two years ago.
Anthony Clark, senior training specialist and QCER course manager, said the transition to the new methodology, which might be described as innovative and groundbreaking, has not been difficult, owed to the fact that much of 91J training is already diagnostics-driven.
"The use of scenarios and the emphasis on critical thinking is something that's been a part of this course for years," said the former Soldier, noting three pilot classes were conducted over the past 18 months to support the implementation. "It was the specific methodology that was the hard part -- teaching some of these old dogs the new tricks."
Clark was referring to the reactions of some to at least one feature of SBT, specifically how information is delivered to students. He said, for example, that under direct instructional methods, students receive lessons from an instructor, memorizes them, and then is expected to repair a piece of equipment based on the information received and reinforcement from course leaders. SBT offers a radical change to this practice.
"Under SBT, students work as teams," said Clark. "If we have a class of 16 students, we'll have teams of four. They'll be matched up with others based on prior knowledge, ensuring each team is as equally balanced as possible. Those with the prior knowledge facilitate the learning,helping those who are least knowledgeable learn at a more rapid pace."
When the students undertake the lessons, input and discussion among the team members are factors that drive the learning, said Clark. Each student is offered a role in helping the group arrive at answers and solutions.
"Students get more bang for their buck," he said, noting they learn more and don't require as much time one-on-one time with instructors, "and besides engaging the students, the instructors are engaged as well."
SBT also boosted student confidence during the pilot phase, a quality that Clark said can help them take on greater levels of learning. "Seventy-five percent of the students in the current course have that confidence," he said. "Eighty-five-90 percent of the SBT students carried that confidence. That's been the big turnaround."
In addition to the changes from a student perspective, SBT requires major adjustments from instructors. They have to take on the role of facilitators -- charged with guiding the instruction to meet objectives rather than taking a dominant teaching role, said Clark. This was a challenge to several instructors.
"We had instructors who were locked into direct instruction as opposed to letting the students fall back and do things on their own," he said.
Staff Sgt. Keith Lampkin, an instructor who was present for one of the pilots, said letting go of the traditional role as a distributor of knowledge was difficult.
"My personal feeling is that it hurt my feelings," he said with a bit of a chuckle, "because you're not as engaged with the Soldiers. Overall, though, it's great for the Army."
For one, said Lampkin, SBT is likely to produce more Soldiers who can accomplish their maintenance and repair missions because the team learning approach is more effective than its predecessor.
"With legacy training you could have one strong Soldier (who has grasped the lessons and excelled at the training)," said Lampkin, "but with SBT you can have an entire team that is strong."
Producing strong teams of Soldiers will depend on a heightened level of expertise on the part of instructors even in a facilitator's role, said Ismael Diaz, a civilian course instructor and former 91J.
"SBT demands that the instructor/facilitator be more knowledgeable and well-prepared to conduct the training because he or she is no longer the lead," he said, implying a refined set of skills will be required to guide students to the objectives rather than leading them.
Master Sgt. Rogelio Gonzalez agreed. The 91J course chief instructor said the facilitators have to gauge the knowledge level of the group, establish the pace for learning and strategically move the group toward the objectives.
"The instructor may not be what he used to be, but he is still the key person," he said.
John Hodges, a former Soldier and 13-year civilian instructor, said there will be a "crawl, walk, run" phase for instructors after implementation.
"There are stages the instructors will go through in order to become not just a good facilitator but the best that he can be," he said. "He's got to put in some sweat equity. That's the only way this will work."
Based on the pilot classes, Clark said he is encouraged and expects SBT to meet expectations and truly benefit the more than 500 graduates the course produces on an annual basis.
"It will save time, the students will learn more and it will engage instructors," he said.
Only time will tell whether SBT will have an impact on how well Soldiers perform in the field.