By David Howey, Army Management Staff CollegeOctober 2, 2019
Army Management Staff College takes great pride in its resident leadership and leader development programs. The two-week Basic Course, the three-week Intermediate Course, and the four-week Advanced Course, are important professional-development events for Army Civilian Corps (ACC) members who attend them, either at Fort Leavenworth, or at a Mobile Education Team (MET) site.
However, not every ACC member is able to travel to Fort Leavenworth, either for personal or professional reasons, and not every ACC member is able to attend a MET.
To address this problem, in early 2019, AMSC designed a fully-online version of its three-week Intermediate Course Phase 2. The design was meant to provide in-grade IC students a resident-like experience with no travel, and the ability to complete the course in their workplaces.
"It's important that Army Management Staff College become more responsive to our Army's future needs. Institutional adaptability is critical. The Army Civilian Corps' world is changing at a rapid pace and the AMSC needs to change with it," said Mr. Stefan Banach, Director of AMSC.
On September 27, AMSC completed a group trial, or "pilot" of the 116-hour all-online version of the Intermediate Course Phase 2. The newly-designed course employed online learning commonly referred to as "Facilitated Distance Learning," which features an instructor facilitating a course with 16 students in a virtual seminar.
"Leveraging technology and enabling the ACC to work, learn, and collaborate in the digital world is key to our Army's future," Banach said.
The Learning Outcomes and the Terminal Learning Objectives for the all-online version are identical to the ones used in the resident course. Students in the all-online course are still required to complete the 60-hour Intermediate Course Distributed Learning Phase 1.
Online students are assigned to sixteen-person seminars which are further divided into five or six-person "table groups." These replicate the table groups, or small groups in AMSC's resident programs.
One difference between the Resident Phase 2 experience and the Facilitated DL course is the time length; the Intermediate Course Phase 2 is three weeks, while the Facilitated DL Intermediate Course is fourteen weeks. The general design principle was to take one day of resident class and spread it over one week of online learning.
One of the significant benefits of the all online format is the students' ability to apply their learning immediately in their workplaces.
Andrea Vozzi, one of the pilot students and a Lead Budget Analyst at Tobyhanna Army Depot said, "While the obvious benefit from the online course format is the ability to stay at your workplace and continue performing your job duties around the course…the greatest benefit is the ability to apply lessons learned throughout the course immediately in your real-world work environment."
Another benefit is flexibility. "I chose to take the CES Intermediate Course online due to the flexibility provided by this format. Additionally, the online format saves money by eliminating travel costs." Vozzi said.
Vernon Ragasa, who is a Protocol Specialist at Camp Zama, Japan and also a student in the pilot, said "I chose to take the Intermediate Course in this format since it is not physically possible for me attend the course at Ft. Leavenworth for an entire month."
Ragasa, who is the only student from outside of CONUS enrolled in the pilot, also cited the flexibility of being able to contact peer-students any time, regardless of the time difference. "I can post, email, text message, chat and collaborate with my classmates anytime throughout the week," Ragasa said.
The learning platform for the course is Blackboard, just as it is for the Intermediate Course Phase 1 and Phase 2. Blackboard offers a feature, "Blackboard Collaborate Ultra" which enables real-time on-line collaboration between people all over the world. "Collaborate," as it is informally known, allows video, voice, and text communication, as well as file sharing, application sharing, and screen sharing.
During a typical course-week, students complete one or two individual activities and one or two group activities. Each week, a two-hour Synchronous session between students and faculty helps solidify the week's learning.
"When we are collaborating on Thursdays, we can interact with our instructor and classmates using video, voice and chat. There are also various other tools on blackboard that are very useful and informative too," Ragasa said.
Twenty-nine students completed the pilot course which ran from 17 June through 26 September. The graduates are now fully-qualified IC Phase 2 graduates. A second pilot is planned to take place in January, 2020 with the goal of future deployment of the Facilitated IC DL Course to be determined in mid-to-late 2020.