by CW5 Wayne Jensen
The Signal Center is in the process of transforming and expanding the learning environment for Signal soldiers. This initiative consists of an unprecedented array of educational offerings � including synchronous and asynchronous collaboration tools � which provide a rich learning environment for Signal soldiers where they live and work.
This lifelong-learning environment begins when soldiers take their first course at the University of Technology based at Fort Gordon, Ga. From that point on, soldiers are able to access this environment anytime and anywhere to refresh and enhance their skills, knowledge and abilities as they progress through their careers.
UIT�s extended-campus and extended-classroom concept is a key component of the Signal Center�s new lifelong learning approach. The concept consists of paperless classrooms with one or more personal computers per classroom. The PCs are tied into extended campuses (see the following figure) with fault-tolerant architecture, providing the virtual classrooms high availability, scalability and responsiveness.
|The Signal Center at Fort Gordon, Ga., serves as the central or "home" campus, connecting to extended campuses of webserver farms. The extended campuses connect in turn to extended classrooms, which can be formal classrooms or a hookup in the barracks, at home or in a hotel room while on temporary duty.|
The result is a dynamic learning environment that provides the soldier the capability to access training support and services reliably anytime/anywhere 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year from virtually any location worldwide.
Extended campuses provide a simple and inexpensive solution to technical problems such as time differences and slow worldwide-web access. The term "extended campus" doesn�t denote an area where you�ll find physical classrooms; "extended campus" denotes the technological part of the concept. Extended campuses consist of the webserver farms required to support web-based training and simulations for the regional extended classrooms (following figure), as well as individual soldiers accessing training services and support via the Internet. Also, these regional facilities provide soldiers and commanders a wide array of Internet technologies and techniques to foster collaborative learning and forge bonds with counterparts in other components.
The "extended classroom" is what the Signal soldier will see and use. Extended classrooms are as simple as a PC connected in the soldier�s home or as complex as a formal classroom with 20 PCs connected to the Internet. The classrooms provide individual soldiers the ability to access a training environment rich in content. Formal extended classrooms provide an environment for facilitators to administer proctored tests, provide assignment-oriented training and train small groups of soldiers. Finally, extended classrooms allow soldiers to obtain just-in-time training tailored to their individual requirements without having to attend classes at formal training facilities.
These virtual classrooms incorporate a set of modern training tools, such as a study guide, notice board, student forum, online mentoring and an interactive, multimedia courseware library, all of which are aimed at meeting the individual soldier�s needs. The virtual classroom provides many benefits of the traditional classroom while enjoying the major advantages of training delivered over the Internet that can be accessed at any time from any place.
The advantages of e-learning to individual soldiers is equally impressive, including fast, easy access to an integrated, standardized user interface for all courseware, with a consistently applied set of navigation tools. Soldiers are able to choose the most convenient time and place to enjoy their e-learning experience and to structure the training program to suit their precise individual requirements.
Fort Hood, Texas, has agreed to become UIT�s pilot extended campus, since Fort Hood�s digital-training facility will open in June 2002. The digital-training facility, although a separate project from UIT, could provide the expertise and platform the Signal Center needs to begin a pilot extended campus. We also plan to explore the possibility of establishing other potential extended campuses at the Army School System Signal battalions; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Korea; and Europe.
Keep in mind, however, that UIT is very new and � as COL Peter Farrell mentions in his article � and is still evolving, still being defined in scope, so the locations of extended campuses and classrooms may change.
UIT is committed to providing an e-learning environment that delivers just-in-time training with just enough practical exercises and simulations to commanders and soldiers at any location worldwide. UIT�s resource center (see related article) is staffed with highly trained e-learning developers, in partnership with private industry, dedicated to ensuring the web-based training products delivered to the virtual classrooms through the network of extended campuses is consistently updated.
Extended campuses and extended classrooms will be staffed with UIT people dedicated to ensuring the e-learning experience for all soldiers � including soldiers accessing e-learning products and services from the Internet � is a rewarding experience.
The UIT resource center provides the foundation the Signal Center requires so we can offer this rich web-based leaning experience to Signal soldiers. Extended campuses � combined with paperless virtual classrooms � provide the infrastructure necessary to deliver this robust lifelong learning environment worldwide. The combination provides the repository of critical technology required as the Signal Center transforms to an online learning environment providing access to a wealth of e-learning resources worldwide.
CW5 Jensen is the warrant-officer proponent manager in Office Chief of Signal at the Signal Center, Fort Gordon, Ga. He is supporting the university task force with hardware and networking expertise.
(Editor�s note: contributions to this article were also made by Barbara Walton, a supervisory instructional-systems specialist and chief of the Training Support Division, Directorate of Training, at the Signal Center. Ms. Walton is also deeply involved in the UIT project and the information-technology and digital-training master plan.)
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Army Communicator is part of Regimental Division, a division of Office Chief of Signal.