By Emily Gee, PEO C3T June 18, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 18, 2013) -- Lee Lacy, an assistant professor in distance education for the Army, cannot see or meet his students in a traditional classroom.
Instead, he relies on the DOD's professional networking application, called milBook, to create dynamic, virtual classrooms that enable him to teach anywhere, anytime.
"Often, there are scheduling conflicts and students cannot make webinar sessions," said Lacy, who teaches at the Army's Command and General Staff College, or CGSC, located at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. "MilBook allows students to participate in group projects or discussions of classroom topics without the artificial constraints of time and space, and it allows me to maximize the time I have with students."
By adapting milBook for education, Lacy has "transformed how distance learning courses are delivered and (boosted) his students' ability to learn, think, collaborate and create in a virtual classroom," according to Federal Computer Week magazine, which recently recognized Lacy as one of its top 100 federal employees for 2013.
MilBook is a component of milSuite, a DOD-wide, secure suite of four collaboration tools that mirror existing social media platforms such as Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube, but are located behind the DOD firewall. Any registered milSuite user can create a group on milBook for instant collaboration. MilSuite is assigned to the Army's Program Executive Office Command, Control and Communications-Tactical Military Technical Solutions Office and is accessible to all DOD military, civilian and contractor personnel through Common Access Card authentication at https://www.milsuite.mil.
For each of his classes, Lacy creates a private milBook group, open only to enrolled students. The group then becomes a virtual classroom, where Lacy and his students share and discuss assignments on blog posts and discussion forums, collaborate on projects and schedule webinar sessions on a customizable event calendar.
"For me, milSuite is one-stop shopping for collaboration," Lacy said. "It is easy to track students and easier for them to work on class projects. The [group] blog is how I communicate with my students; I rarely send an email," he said.
MilBook's virtual environment is especially beneficial to Lacy's students at the CGSC, who take his classes in addition to working their full time jobs.
The CGSC administration is also utilizing milSuite to help standardize its curriculum, which is taught to Army and sister service officers around the world. CGSC maintains its standard operating procedures in a milBook group, which provides guidance for lesson authors and curriculum developers to formalize how course material is to be presented and ensure doctrinal updates and college polices are properly implemented.
"By posting our procedures on milBook, we can ensure our lesson authors have direct access to everything they need to properly develop the curriculum. This ensures our resident and distance education classes have standardized instructions, regardless of geographic location," said Bernard Harris, a curriculum operations and support specialist at CGSC.
Lacy is leading the effort to extend the use of milSuite by his fellow professors at CGSC and across the DOD. He presented a briefing on his use of milBook for distance learning at the 2012 Army Training and Doctrine Command's Distributed Learning Conference. He also shared his methods in the "milSuite in Education" collaboration group on milBook.
"MilBook is the best kept secret in DOD education," Lacy said. "My message to the DOD education community is: milSuite isn't just for distance education. It's appropriate for both the traditional classroom and the virtual classroom."
The milSuite team hopes other DOD educators will be able to adapt the tool set to meet their needs.
"The CGSC uses milSuite in innovative ways to accomplish the very important mission of teaching its students, who we recognize as future leaders in the armed forces," said Tom Curran, milSuite product director. "We are proud that Mr. Lacy was recognized for his adoption of milSuite, and hope the toolset can continue to be used by DOD educators to support courses and to help students in the future."