FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. – The Air National Guard’s primary learning and broadcast center is generating military education solutions for the total U.S. Air Force in immediate and long term challenges, said its Airmen teleworking in East Tennessee this week.
The I.G. Brown Training and Education Center staff are following the guidance and directives of the CDC, the National Guard Bureau, and the Department of Defense concerning COVID-19, which includes personal distancing, teleworking, and other actions to stop the spread.
More than 80 regular Air Force, Guard, and Reserve staff are now working from their homes through the pandemic. All classes are suspended at the campus, which usually graduates thousands of total force Airmen in enlisted professional military education and PME annually.
While there are no alternative learning methods in action for the shutdown, TEC is planning and considering ways to accomplish the mission, should the USAF and NGB direct the call for such. But those plans include a transformation that was already underway, long before the current events made it their homework, said its leaders.
“They are going at it, dedicating much more time now than they normally were able while teaching, to develop our concepts of blended learning,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kenneth Lozano, the commander.
“We have been in conversations for months in how our education will look going into the future, how the technology that we have today, and that is emerging, can integrate as a teaching vehicle that advances educational opportunities for the total force,” said Colonel Lozano.
The commander said that they would wait and see, like everyone else across the nation, as to how and when group gatherings will become safe enough for in-resident classes to return to campus.
For now, the organization’s Lankford Enlisted PME Center is focused on its coursework revisions and transformations, discussing it from home in different groups using online meeting apps and other capabilities. By sharing and meeting in more ways than just the conventional email, in retrospect, they are also testing potential learning platforms.
U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Steven Durrance, the EPME center commandant, said that their efforts include preparations to instruct a new NCO academy curriculum.
“They are going over the blocks of training and familiarizing themselves with it to instruct it,” said Chief Durrance. “They are also looking at new approaches to future NCOA blended learning courses, such as recording the new curriculum in TEC’s broadcast studio, as well as ALS distance learning improvements to make it more comparable with in-resident attendance. They are going over many blocks of training and innovating new approaches to how these curriculums are currently being presented while looking to the future platforms to meet the EPME needs of the 21st century Airman.”
“That’s keeping us employed gainfully, for sure,” said Chief Durrance. “We are doing our best through this calamity, we are looking out for each other, maximizing this time so future EPME will withstand the changes in how everyone else is living and learning.”
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kam Spottiswood is the commander’s support staff superintendent, who is tracking the staff’s accountability and welfare through morning and afternoon roll-calls. Her daily text messages and replies reinforce the stay-at-home guidelines, but they also encourage Airmen to connect virtually as well as exercise and eat healthily.
TEC practices and encourages social connections to foster resiliency, build trust, and go through a difficult time together, said Sergeant Spottiswood.
“I talk to more people now – which I like – than when I did at work,” said Sergeant Spottiswood. “I’m constantly texting everyone … they are all quick to respond and communicate too.”
Sergeant Spottiswood said that the work-from-home status allows her to refocus her energy on other parts of her service and home life, rather than stop being productive. TEC’s ability to innovate and rethink its way of doing things is a familiar skill-set for most staff, she said.
The commander challenged the organization’s Airmen last summer to prepare for a possible future with less in-resident learning. They started the transformation with their culture and priorities. The group underwent a Baldrige Excellence Framework as a means of reaching new goals, improving results, and becoming more competitive. They retailored their mission and vision statements as well as drafted a new strategic plan for release this April.
Last fall, TEC renamed the professional continuing education division to TEC University, as well as outlined several milestones for the division in transforming to distance learning platforms.
“In reality, our world hasn’t stopped,” said Colonel Lozano. “This pandemic has just forced us to go more aggressively after a strategy that we were shaping to execute in our PME and EPME later this year.”
If anything, Chief Master Sgt. Shaun Withers, the TEC-U division chief in charge of PME, said that some burden went to their production group, which became restricted from traveling to produce new videos.
“Once they complete their current projects, they will refocus on what they can do in developing new coursework, like revising our Public Affairs Manager’s Course,” said Chief Withers.
Chief Withers is also taking questions at home from senior leaders on how to put TEC’s off-air multi-million dollar broadcast studio capabilities and experts to good use by communicating with the field. He is open to anything possible, especially in rethinking learning platforms.
“Blended learning is not limited to what comes to mind as online broadcasts and then in-resident classrooms, and it does not have to be. Blended is simply using different learning methods,” said Chief Withers.
“And I think that’s what we’ve been preparing for, and what we’re setting up right now. TEC is going the way 21st century Airmen want to learn, and we were not far from delivering that, teleworking through a virus or not.”