The US Navy intends to move nearly all of the applications currently hosted in its data centers to the “cloud” by 2021. Learning content and training applications are included. MS&T’s Chuck Weirauch highlights an example.

One of the first prototype efforts to move training curriculum to the cloud is being conducted by the Naval School Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD)’s Scalable Mobile Application and Ready Training (SMART) team. The Navy’s Task Force and Innovation (TTI) Office and the Office of Strategy and Innovation (S&I) provided the initial funding for the SMART project.

NAVSCOLEOD is a Navy-managed command, jointly staffed by Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps personnel. The command trains officers and enlisted personnel of the US Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, Department of Defense civilian personnel and some international military students. They are taught all aspects of the art of explosive ordnance disposal of conventional surface and underwater ordnance, both foreign and domestic. The school trains approximately 1,800 students annually.

NAVSCOLEOD students currently use SMART e-tablets to access the school’s courseware. The Navy is promoting the SMART project as a primary example of its most recent effort to modernize training: Ready, Relevant Learning (RRL). RRL has three lines of effort: a career-long learning continuum, learning at the point of need, and integrated content development. The learning continuum spans the brick-and-mortar Navy schoolhouse to just-in-time training at the point of need, as well as performance support. Mobile technologies and the cloud play key roles.

Smart Device Exposure

The leadership of the brick-and-mortar NAVSCOLEOD schoolhouse, located at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, initially envisioned a modernized schoolhouse that would leverage smart devices such as e-tablets, and employ a cloud environment to host online classrooms that would feature individual study apps, virtual laboratories, game-based training and “ocular immersion“ technologies such as virtual reality. They also wanted to employ a modernized method of measuring, evaluating and grading student performance via an electronic gradebook that would reduce instructor time for such tasks and provide immediate feedback for the students.

So far, through the SMART project, the schoolhouse has issued more than 1,500 Android-based tablets to students in over 100 classes. Each tablet holds 80 instructional videos that were developed and produced by the SMART team, individual and group study apps, a mobile publication app and 130 digitized documents. The tablet is currently a supplemental study aid to traditional schoolhouse courses, with no requirement for a student to watch an onboard video or take a quiz; however, instructors can monitor how much a student employs the device. While that data does not suggest changing any of the current brick-and-mortar classroom curricula, the school is using the data to investigate ways to incorporate technology into the training.

Demand-Driven Improvement

There reportedly was an increase in demand for the tablet by students, stimulating an increase in the number of devices that were distributed and increasing the scope of the project. Despite not being required to use the tablets, the distribution of the devices proved to have an immediate effect on student academic performance and staff training processes. There were fewer students failing the courses in four of the school’s divisions, and NAVSCOLEOD saw a drop in academic attrition of over 11 percent. This may be attributable to the student 24/7 access to courseware, allowing students to learn at their own self-pace.

NAVSCOLEOD created 80 “YouTube-like” videos and five apps, such as the “Individual Study App,” for the e-Tablet. The data showed students frequently used the videos to review previously taught skills. Students and instructors also favored quiz apps and other digital content, including slides, curricula, and technical publications. NAVSCOLEOD also was able to migrate the school’s digital curricula and evaluate a prototype for an electronic gradebook.

The plan is to expand the program to Microsoft Windows 10 devices, according to the SMART team’s leadership. Some of the value-added benefits of using Windows 10 are mobile security solution hardware, software and apps, as well as a network connection that has already been approved, certified and accredited by the Naval Enterprise Network (PMW-205), they explained.

Into the Cloud

With the success of the initial phase of employing the e-tablet as a classroom-based supplemental learning aid, the next steps to realizing the NAVSCOLEOD school’s dream are to move content to the cloud and provide a cloud-based means to grade student performance. Moving training to the cloud will help the Navy solve one of its major problems, namely providing access to such content across the globe to distant and remote areas.

According to the NAVSCOLEOD SMART Team leadership, “Allowing access to a cloud or wireless capabilities provides students access to sensitive but unclassified learning content, such as publications or ordnance research. This material is used by students for study. Also, instructors can grade outside the classroom environment through the cloud.”

The prototype effort to get into the cloud has been dubbed “Jet Stream - Learning”. The goal is to develop a cloud-based solution to deliver remote learning and better manage curriculum, instructors, and students. The initial phase of the prototype was completed in February. The NAVSCOLEOD leadership did not reveal which commercial cloud service was employed to host the prototype curriculum database, but the Amazon Web Services (AWS) GovCloud service was available at the time.

One of the key deliverables was the Jet Stream Forms App, which did work in a “non-optimized configuration,” allowing the schoolhouse to demonstrate grading multiple students, and to submit grades through the cloud. This grading record was then synchronized to the student’s profile in the Jet Stream Adobe Experience Manager database.

According to the SMART Team leadership, “The Jet Streams Forms App enhances the legacy method of grading by providing extensive drop-down grading criteria that transfers that data to the student’s profile upon submitting the grade. Once submitted to the website, the grades and applicable comments will be immediately available for review and for data mining purposes. This capability will significantly reduce the previous administrative methods and time it took for staff members when managing the grading process.”

Other Navy schools have expressed interest in applying the NAVSCOLEOD SMART model. For example, the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center has procured and incorporated Android-based e-Reader tablets for their SMART program.

The Navy expected a large enterprise cloud contract to be in place by June.
The Navy expected a large enterprise cloud contract to be in place by June. Image credit: Johans Chavarro/US Navy.

Permission to Expand?

Since the end of the prototype phase, the NAVSCOLEOD school is awaiting approval to expand the capabilities of its cloud-based and e-tablet-accessible curricula and Jet Stream - Learning program. That funding may again come from S&I, which has also previously provided assistance for NAVSCOLEOD for its Learning, Talent and Knowledge Management, and Collaboration project, focused on providing a cloud-based enterprise software system for Department of Defense (DoD) forces operating globally across several networks. NAVSCOLEOD had been working with the S&I Office and the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command on the initial Jet Stream Learning prototype.

Accelerated Timetable

The Navy expected a large enterprise cloud contract to be in place by June, with multiple vendors offering a variety of cloud services. The goal to move almost all applications to the cloud by 2021 represents a speed-up of the five-year timetable announced last year by Navy Assistant Secretary for Research, Development and Acquisition, James Geurts. According to Geurts, “The shift to the cloud is part of a larger effort to make the Navy's procurement process significantly more agile.” Currently, some Navy commands and organizations have their Web sites and applications hosted on AWS GovCloud. The new enterprise contract is to provide a much wider service with more expansive capabilities.

The Navy is not alone in its push to move IT systems to the cloud. The DoD was expected to award a multi-billion dollar single ID/IQ Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract this September; however, the RFP, originally expected this May, has been delayed.

From eSailor to eLeader

Based on preliminary information from the Navy Recruit Training Command (RTC), another Navy e-tablet-based learning program – the eSailor – is about to become eLeader.

Launched in 2015 as the brainchild of Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Mike Stevens to provide mobile devices for all sailors for self-paced basic initial training through career advancement, the first eSailor tablets were initially issued to new recruits and recruit division commanders at RTC. MS&T provided an overview of the program in 2015.

Since inception, the initiative has been experimental. This May, seeking an update, MS&T found that eSailor had moved on. According to RTC PAO Sean Brophy, the e-Sailor concept did not necessarily fit with the RRL goal of providing the “Right Training at the Right Time” in the context of recruit training.

“We have recognized that such mobile devices have a lot of potential for this type of training success, but lately we have been realizing that this is the right technology, but in the wrong place.” Brophy said. “We don’t have much time to turn recruits into sailors (eight weeks), so we want to utilize that time to emphasize hands-on practice, such as handling lines, fighting fires or standing watch, basic warfighting skills. We don’t want them watching videos on how to do this. So now it makes more sense to use this type of technology at the follow-on training site (such as at an A School).”

While mobile device-based supplemental training for every recruit at the RTC now seems not to fit into its basic training needs, the Command does see it as a management tool for division commanders, Brophy pointed out. Leadership personnel can use the e-tablet as a means to track individual recruit training progress without having to chase files and paperwork to see where those recruits are as far as performance. “That’s why the name change has transitioned from eSailor to eLeader over the past two years,” Brophy added.

The eLeader project is still in its pilot phase and funded until the end of fiscal year 2018, after which overall evaluations recommendations will be made as to the future of the project – Chuck Weirauch

Originally published in MS&T Issue 3, 2018.