The COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation overnight with unprecedented closures and uncharted mitigation tactics in an effort to remotely resume everyday business as seamlessly as possible. The Army is no exception, and it has kept a forward momentum through methodically calculated mitigation planning and keen oversight. Army Logistics University (ALU) at Fort Lee, Virginia, has been the tip of the spear in leading the transition to a virtual learning platform. Commanding General of Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) Maj. Gen. Rodney Fogg’s top priority is to minimize risk to the force by modifying and adapting all of our professional military education (PME) to digital platforms, enabling emergency remote teaching, and conforming to social distancing guidance.The COVID-19 threat has shown us the vulnerabilities of traditional training. It provides us the leverage and momentum to quickly migrate traditional instruction to a secure, responsive, and effective digital training environment that will secure Army training readiness in future unknown variables. ALU quickly moved to deliver curricula with numerous available collaboration and delivery methods, but needed to centralize to a single lesson management system. For the majority of the departments under ALU, the transition was smooth and well-received. The faculty understands the importance of continuing the mission to train the Army’s future leaders, many of whom were able to see a foreshadowing push toward a distance learning environment when Virginia’s public-school system began to close districts. Staff already began to transition to an online forum in preparation.On March 12, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency. This enacted the mitigation planning ALU already took initiative with and shifted focus on removing students from classrooms and used the material online as seamlessly as possible. A Phased Approach ALU has a two-phase plan for execution to ensure all Soldiers are safe and able to practice social distancing.Phase one began in mid April with a main goal to rapidly shift personnel from a traditional classroom setting and begin training online by May 25. The push was to ensure that the country’s fighting force is healthy, ready, and able to execute the mission of the Army without compromise to their training and development as leaders. By the first week of May, ALU had 27 courses out of 59 already underway virtually while the other 32 classes standby ready to make the transition.Phase two started May 26 and focused on refining the tools and platforms used in phase one. ALU’s goal was to improve its foxhole with recalibration and an after action review that would determine what were the most successful platforms, learning tools, and teaching methods.Not conducting PME and functional courses has a domino effect. As of today, 45 resident course non-conducts affect 921 students. Using the 30th of May as a right limit, we will have 113 non-conducts that will affect in excess of 2,575 students. Looking forward, we are reworking start dates for PME and functional courses post-COVID-19. Projections past the 30th of May show a cumulative 114 non-conducts will affect 2,579 students across all courses. CASCOM is leading a surge operation that is looking at later start dates, a blended curriculum (in-person and distance learning), and a percentage-based distribution over the upcoming courses. The primary focus of the operation is to generate solutions for current conditions to allow for PME and training to continue with minimal delay and backlog while still maintaining appropriate learning levels and outcomes. We have revised instructor training to include "How to teach in a virtual environment."The Captain Career Training Department (CCTD) transitioned three PME courses, effortlessly, a year ago. Their goal was to streamline curricula across various digital platforms in order to standardize the program of instruction (POI) for three audiences: instructors, students, and the logistics community as a whole. CCTD moved lessons and other course material from the Fort Lee shared drive to a SharePoint site, which serves as the repository for all POI and supporting classroom materials. SharePoint is directly linked to Blackboard and milSuite sites, which allows for continuity and standardization of all content. Blackboard allows students to access their assignments and lessons from the classroom or their residence with the added benefit of allowing international students to access the material without a CAC. MilSuite allows former students and the entire logistics community to reach back and review the most up-to-date material, based on current doctrine, to use for their professional development, leader professional development for their units, or to provide feedback to the course. CCTD uses Microsoft Teams and Defense Collaboration Services Connect for digital classroom environments.Basic Officer Leader Department (BOLD) fully embraced the transition for the larger learning curve with the instructors rather than their recently collegiate-graduated student body. One challenge that BOLD faced differently than some of the other departments was that their students were in lodging at one of the hotels on post. This presented new challenges with internet connectivity for an online platform being blocked by protective firewalls the hotel had in place. The solution was to use Google Classroom; this allowed for access to everything anywhere there was internet connectivity.Best Tools to Facilitate a Virtual Classroom, Knowing When to Use ThemIn order to reach all of the students across various departments, with different required class material, and learning objects required ALU to find digital platforms to use in order to meet specific curricula criteria. ALU has primarily used Blackboard.mil, SharePoint, and milSuite as primary collaboration and knowledge management forums. The Network Enterprise Center (NEC) recently launched Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Geospatial Intelligence Visualization Services (GVS), and Defense Collaboration Services (DCS) Connect. Numerous platforms lead to multiple solutions. ALU is still using a wide variety of commercial delivery methods such as DCS Connect, Google Hangout/Classroom, and Zoom. With so many tools and resources available, ALU is defining the industry standard in order to influence our current teaching programs.In order to be able to reach family members across the country, Col. Brent Coryell, commandant of ALU, is conducting graduation speeches via Facebook Live. Small group leaders (SGL) are using GVS for collaboration. Town halls are being conducted via Facebook in order to connect to as many people as possible.As with any unprecedented mass change, there are going to be growing pains. DCS Connect is the predominant method used for large class content delivery, but is often unreliable. It works well when it works. Students are unable to access YouTube videos while on the NEC, which limits access to valuable information and tutorials for students. Microsoft Teams does not work while on Virtual Private Network whereas the desktop application works better. ALU faculty and students are experimenting and learning from all of these delivery methods. ALU leaders see Blackboard.mil as a promising way forward which will migrate to Blackboard.com/collaborate.Blackboard.com/collaborate enables instructors to lead interactive instruction; students to create working groups internal to Blackboard for group projects; and staff can work remotely. The higher file capacity allows for a faster transfer time that eliminates frustrations with uploading and downloading material.Classes run smoothly until about 9 a.m. when most of Fort Lee logs onto the network, slowing down DCS Connect due to the influx of users on an unadjusted bandwidth. ALU is working with the NEC and G6 (information technology) to improve bandwidth to accommodate for an increase of digital users at any given time.Best Practices for Instructing in a Virtual ClassroomIntroduce yourself. Post a professional photo with a short biography to allow students to relate and connect to a real person. Be an engaged leader. SGLs have noticed a significant difference in class discussions online versus in the classroom. Instructors need to encourage and remind students to engage in discussion during the briefing portions. SGLs have found it easier to engage students by name than to ask generic questions. This forces students to be cognizant and understand the material. Those who would engage in the classroom lack the visual and personal cues that it is ok to talk during presentations. The facilitator must develop ways to bring them into the discussions. Some instructors have solved this with the traditional hand raising when they are on a video conference. Another solution is to have a second instructor monitor a chat while the other instructor teaches their lesson. This allows the second instructor to cue the primary when questions arise. SGLs might need to pause more often or ask more questions to encourage discussion. If you want discussion, you need to push harder than you would in class. The faculty member should have techniques to break the silence.It’s best to have two instructors. For our instructors who have a partner in the classroom, divide the roles. Have a primary who leads the facilitation. The partner monitors the chat room, reinforces comments, or focuses the group when needed. Additionally, they can keep track of those student-officers not engaged and draw them in. Even in the virtual classroom, breaks are needed. Nature continues to call and a few minutes may be needed to take care of things on the home front. The faculty member also needs a break to just collect their thoughts. As you all know, the virtual classroom can be a mentally demanding environment. Latency issues midday impacts some of the delivery.Focus on critical thinking. Many people will raise concern with not being able to teach hands-on PME classes; specifically with newly commissioned officers in Basic Officer Leaders Course (BOLC). Over the last few years, BOLD has consistently improved their field training exercise (FTX) into a multiple-week program, including a range week and a week in the field operating in a field trains command post (FTCP) conducting convoy operations. Due to COVID-19, BOLC students are not able to conduct their FTX. However, Capt. Bruce Martin has praised the BOLD tactics instructors for creating challenging critical thinking exercises that students need to complete online. It is valid training for lieutenants to go into the field and get hands-on experience with seeing what operations look like, but what is more important is developing their critical thinking skills. They will be required to make on-the-spot decisions as platoon leaders. That is what we can focus on in virtual learning.Create a pace plan. An example could be: Blackboard Collaborate with screen sharing as a primary form of communication followed by students dialing in to the Collaborate room. If primary and alternate communication fail then text notifications will be utilized as a tertiary measure. Lastly, as emergencies arise, emails with the instructors to conduct offline work will be implemented.Post class schedules and calendars in advance. Many instructors have found it useful to post a calendar in advance of the whole course in order for students to better prepare for their workload. This allows students to own their time and practice good time management skills. Instructors will also use this avenue of approach for students to schedule one-on-one appointments. The students are able to see when the instructors are free and can edit the calendar to request additional guidance or help.Allow students the maximum amount of time with the class schedule. This will allow them to do any preparations for the next class. Posting the class schedule no later than 24 hours in advance is suggested.Decide how to present the material. Before class, decide whether the instructions should be taught by a live video stream or by a picture and live voice recording. How can lessons be understood with minimal confusion? A reminder: keep it simple and less distracting.Best Practices for Students in Virtual Learning EnvironmentsShow up. Ensure your area is set up at least 10 minutes prior to the start of class. This will allow you as a student time to troubleshoot any issues without missing any vital classroom work. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself to learn. Focus on your class and put aside all outside distractions.Create an environment conducive to learning. It’s imperative for students to create a work space without distractions. This should be a quiet place with enough room to lay out classroom work. Create an environment that you as a student want to learn in; where you are comfortable but focused.Be interactive. This is your education, be active in your learning experience. The more actively engaged you are, the better quality you will receive. Ensure you are responding to discussion board posts, asking questions, and being an active participant in the class. Build connections with your peers and be an active member in group projects.Craft your communication skills. One of the great skills students will learn from virtual training is the skills and tools to work with a team that is not co-located. Although traditional classroom settings are a great source of collaboration and teamwork, are they realistic? How many times in a deployed scenario are staff sections located in the same room? Most often when we deploy, or even in garrison, our leadership—whether it be battalion or brigade—are located in separate buildings, possibly on a different installation, or even different countries. This new virtual learning provides Soldiers with the understanding of what works for a team working apart from one another. It creates a more realistic training environment.Use time management and personal accountability. Virtual learning creates an environment for students to learn, self-manage, and take personal accountability. They are required to be actively involved with their own learning and need to take the initiative to interact with others to complete all assignments. Time management skills are crucial for online learning. It is most important for students to block out time, create a priority list and study plan, and to take ownership of their own education and training.Be professional and respectful. Professionalism and respect are still pivotal values that should be observed in a virtual learning environment. Treat others with respect and be patient when waiting for your time to speak. Refrain from using inappropriate language. Remember that there is no difference when in a traditional or a virtual classroom environment, the same professional etiquette demonstrated in a classroom environment is required.Standing Ready to Train Our Future LeadersThe Army is doing what the Army does best during uncertain times: Adapting, continuing mission, and overcoming obstacles. Our duty at ALU is to ensure the Army’s future leaders have the skills and knowledge to lead Soldiers in combat. It is my humble opinion that ALU is leading the way for the Army to migrate courses to a digital learning environment. What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that the Army is resilient and continues to adapt and overcome.--------------------Col. Brent Coryell is commandant for Army Logistics University, Fort Lee, Virginia. Coryell commissioned through Montana State University's Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in 1995. He earned a Bachelor of Art in Sociology from Montana State University, a Master of Science in Logistics Management from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Military Arts and Science from Command and General Staff College. He recently served as deputy commander to Defense Logistics Agency Pacific and, prior to that, as senior logistics trainer at the National Training Center.Capt. Jessie Vallerga currently serves as assisting public affairs officer at U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, Georgia in 2014. Upon graduation from Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, she was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps. Vallerga attended Basic Officers Leadership Course and Captains Career Course at Fort Lee, Virginia.--------------------This article was published in the July-September 2020 issue of Army Sustainment.RELATED LINKSArmy Sustainment homepageThe Current issue of Army Sustainment in pdf formatCurrent Army Sustainment Online ArticlesConnect with Army Sustainment on LinkedInConnect with Army Sustainment on Facebook