Blending Media and Education

The Air National Guard (ANG) Center for Strategic Communications and its broadcast arm (TEC TV) delivers training content from McGhee Tyson ANG Base outside of Knoxville, Tenn. to more than

The Air National Guard (ANG) Center for Strategic Communications and its broadcast arm (TEC TV) delivers training content from McGhee Tyson ANG Base outside of Knoxville, Tenn. to more than 200 U.S. bases and other defense organizations via its satellite-based Warrior Network, according to Air Force Major Jim Evans.

TEC TV leverages a selection of communication channels, including two-way videoconferencing and digital signage. In addition, TEC TV is implementing the ability to deliver streaming content over the Warrior Network to desktops.

All airmen must take the Air National Guard’s Satellite Enlisted Professional Military Education program, which consists of 9 to 12 hours of college-credited education. Because of its use of the Warrior Network, the ANG saves $3 million per year in travel costs. With certified instructors in a central studio broadcasting all over the world via satellite, the program reaches 4,000 sites worldwide.

“Teaching in front of a camera is nothing like teaching in front of the classroom,” Evans said at the Interactive Technologies Conference in August. “That impacts the instructional quality. So on-camera instructors must be picked intentionally.

“Another factor is whether learners are paying attention to the broadcast programs. If they’re on campus for six weeks for traditional learning, they’re focused. But if they’re home, they could be paying more attention to their kids, wives and other distractions.”

That’s why there are some concerns regarding test scores. “Satellite students average eight points lower at the end of course than do traditional students,” Evans admits. “Graduation rates are about the same, but knowledge retention isn’t as high.”

He notes that instructor sets can only change a course grade by 1 or 2 points.

That’s why Evans had a hand in establishing a blended learning program that employs two-way interactive learning (all voice, not face-to-face) using Hughes “Spaceway” technology.

“Now, instructors and students can see each other in high-definition 720p/1080p video,” Evans says. “Instructors can hold learners accountable and keep them engaged.”

Though minor technical issues have been encountered (lighting, microphone placement, etc.), students who took the blended learning, high-def courses said they felt more engaged and had a sense of community with fellow e-learners.

“It’s not that expensive, either,” Evans says. “Just sixty-five dollars per hour for satellite time.”

Other learning innovations being employed by the ANG include using Facebook to create class communities, setting up Yammer to provide for more privacy in “tweeting,” and working with blogs. Some classes have even established mini-competitions using Sony’s Wii Fit game, since learners eventually have to pass the National Guard’s physical fitness test.

“It sounds kind of stupid and kind of is,” Evans admits, “but it brings the students together, and it’s fun. We’re still trying to explore these worlds without getting into trouble spending taxpayer money.”

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