FORT KNOX, Ky. (April 6, 2020) – Along with the way most of America is making changes to how they do day-to-day business, so is U.S. Army Cadet Command. With social distancing and travel restrictions in place across the country, the command has had to find a ways to adapt in order to continue to provide training for cadets and cadre alike.
One of those initiatives, even across hundreds of miles, is the Distance Learning Common Faculty Development – Instructor Course (DL CFD-IC).
The course, which is usually held in person at Fort Knox, lays the foundational education for new or returning Army Instructors, according to Tom Burgess, commandant for the School of Cadet Command Army University’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence.
“The course provides an introduction into adult learning theories, educational technology, collaborative instructional strategies, and student-centered methods of instruction,” he explained. “This is the same goal/outcome that our distance learning version of the course has.”
Burgess said making the move to online coursework hasn’t really changed what is taught, just how it’s taught.
“The course is done entirely online. Most of the lesson sessions are synchronous where the students join an online session simultaneously with their fellow 15 students and their two instructors. There are also two teaching practicum where the students will teach lessons online to seven of their classmates and be evaluated by one of their course instructors,” he said. “Approximately a third of the lessons are asynchronous where the students will individually complete a lesson and then finish a lesson assessment which will often be a combination or quiz, submission of a written product, and Blackboard chat room/discussions.”
The DL CFD-IC is a two week, or ten academic days, course of instruction.
“This is the exact same length that the resident version of this course has. This allowed us to keep the same course schedule that we already had for this year and allowed the ROTC Brigades to register their cadre for the course as they normally would,” Burgess explained. “Army University considers CFD-IC conducted face-to-face the “Gold Standard,” so we wanted to replicate the in-person experience of the course as best we could in the distance learning version of the course we are now providing.”
The distance learning model has been a necessity in the current environment of travel restrictions and distancing, but Burgess said he has seen benefits to this new way of doing business.
“One great thing about the transition to teaching Cadet Command instructor course online is that in many cases our students are much more ahead of our CFD-IC instructors with online teaching,” he said. “This is providing an opportunity for our CFD-IC instructor team to learn from the field, who in some cases have been doing online Army ROTC classes for almost a month now.”
Leadership at JROTC has also implemented new online learning options to keep student’s education on-going during the current high school shutdowns across the country. JROTC is currently offering 11 online blocks of instruction to students, and 11 more beginning April 11.
Online courses were already in the works for situations where schools would be closed, like weather situations or emergencies, allowing for continuous learning, according to Dr. Joseph Cross, Chief, Education and curriculum for JROTC.
“Our offices were in the process of reviewing and creating an online learning pilot for our current cadets in Leadership Education Training (LET) 3 Juniors and LET 4 Seniors who still wanted to be in the program but could not continue,” Cross explained. “These cadets are those who, in order to meet graduation requirements, needed to drop JROTC as JROTC is an elective and not a requirement.”
Cross said the courses teach parts of the core JROTC curriculum. This is all done online through google classroom or authorized online system through the school district.
Offering the online courses has allowed JROTC leadership and cadre to maintain the education and mentorship of their students.
“The Army JROTC Education team has been looking at ways we can help the instructor and cadets during this time of crisis,” Cross said, “Our entire team are educators and tend to think along those lines of ‘if I was teaching these cadets, what would I need to be successful and continue to help motivate young people to be better citizens either in person or online?’ This is our philosophy.’
While the events around the current learning environment were unexpected, Burgess said it did provided a challenge for the CFD-IC instructor team meet and succeed in by making an incredibly rapid transition of the course to online instruction.
“The COVID-19 travel and group restrictions forced Cadet Command to quickly develop a distance learning version of CFD-IC,” he said. “We had already started looking hard at converting significant portions of the our staff functional courses; Human Resource Assistant, Recruiting Operations Officer, Logistics, and University Senior Leader courses to distance learning, but the current environment has greatly focused attention and effort on distance learning in a way that we never would have normally had.”
Burgess said that with these current changes in the Cadet Command education environment, this could also lead to beneficial, alternative teaching methods in the future.
“I’d say that it will be hard ‘to put genie back in the bottle.’ I expect distance learning to have more prominence in all educational institutions, even when life returns to normal,” Burgess said, “This period is making educators at every level rethink what is best taught online and what is best left for resident classes. In the past, the answer was mostly 100% one way or the other. The future will certainly be more of a mix of the two.”
Burgess added, given the great size and geographic dispersion of Cadet Command, investment in expanding in distance learning is a must.
“Resident instruction is often the best option, but then we have course wait times and limited options for reach-back instruction. In some cases, Cadet Command instructors have to wait as long as four months for a resident course seat,” he said, “Distance Learning allows Cadet Command cadre and staff an option for immediate initial instruction that perhaps could be followed by later, shorter resident courses where the focus could be more on advanced topics, discussions, and practical exercises and less on basic information/knowledge pushing that may be as effectively done via distance learning. Distance learning also allows immediate access to the cadre or staff to later go back to the course modules for retraining.”
“In the future, I would expect to see Cadet Command employ a more blended approach to instruction balancing both resident and distance learning online instruction to achieve maximum effectiveness in cadre and staff development,” he added.
Burgess said there are also plans to implement a Distance Learning University Senior Leader Course (DL USL) in the near future.