Coping with a ‘Perfect Storm’

In any large, well-established organization, making changes can be as challenging as reversing the direction of an aircraft carrier. The military is no exception. But three different elements came together

In any large, well-established organization, making changes can be as challenging as reversing the direction of an aircraft carrier. The military is no exception. But three different elements came together to create the “perfect storm” for radically changing the way the U.S. Navy provides advanced training to its personnel around the world: 

>> In 1997, President Clinton issued a White House memo instructing federal agencies to find ways of using “emerging technologies” for staff training.

>> At about the same time, the Department of Defense developed the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, which set standards for electronic content, allowing material to be transferred easily from one platform to another.

>> Lastly, the Navy was on the verge of establishing the Naval Post-graduate School (NPS) in Monterey, Calif., as part of a “learning continuum” to provide personal development throughout the chain of command and to maintain service readiness.

Beyond the Classroom

According to Tom Hazard, director of the Office of Continuous Learning at NPS, the school began as an on-site facility, but the expense and logistics of “importing” students quickly became prohibitive. NPS had to find alternative methods to meet the needs of increasing knowledge requirements and to avoid taking personnel out of the environments where they need to apply their newly acquired skills.

The Blackboard Learning System and the Blackboard Community System provided the solution.

Implementation has been so successful that NPS uses the products in all its classes, whether students are on the Monterey campus or as far away as forward operating fire bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Tangible Results

Incorporating Blackboard products into the NPS curriculum has produced several benefits:

>> Reduced expenses;

>> Greater overall student participation (including international students who might be self-conscious of their English language skills in a traditional classroom setting, as well as “leveling the playing field” when lower and higher ranking officers participate in the same class); and

>> Increased reliability (in one instance when NPS servers went off-line, students were able to use Blackboard’s servers to access course material).

‘Home Base’

In addition to facilitating learning opportunities around the globe, the Blackboard platform has become an organizing feature on which instructors and students rely — even those in residence at Monterey.

Class time is no longer lost passing out information, showing where various resources are located or what assignments are expected and when they are due. Professors do not waste time in front of students with organizational or administrative minutia. For example, the “Announcement” section in the Blackboard solution is a way of “collecting” everyone, making sure they understand class priorities and are all headed in the same direction.

In this way, the Blackboard solution becomes “home base” for classes. Students access lectures there and do not have to take their own notes because they can download the professor’s.

Technical Compatibility

The NPS curriculum can include everything from audio and video to tutorials for satellite design software. The Blackboard technology’s ability to function as a host portal that can accommodate a wide variety of content formats has been a great benefit to instructors.

Some professors utilize Microsoft PowerPoint slides, music, video clips and “excursions” to other Websites to enhance students’ learning experience — all through Blackboard’s technology. For example, because so much Congressional business is digitized and available to the public, professors can provide students access to incredibly valuable resources such as a virtual tour of a Website like Thomas at the Library of Congress and then help students access parts of a new budget proposal. With these kinds of capabilities, the Blackboard solution helps illustrate the immediacy of the entire budget process and facilitates students’ realizing they’re dealing with real and important issues.

Exponential Growth

Since introducing Blackboard’s products, the number of NPS distance-learning students has increased 300 percent. The school has been able to scale its programs up, thereby providing more value to the Department of Defense.

—To learn more about Blackboard’s Professional Education Solutions, visit the Website www.blackboard.com/ProEd or telephone (888) 719-6123.

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