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commentary

Commentary: For usability’s sake

My blood pressure is high.

I know it is because I’ve been monitoring it for some time.

But this is not a health editorial for those who pull their sleeve up daily for a pressure cuff — with memories of saltier meals — will testify.

We march through many stressful changes in the services. Some of us are managers and designers in the comprehensive technology that encircled us. And we know the universal question of what systems win battles and what makes us boil. Is it usable?

I push the Start button on my BP monitor and calmly hope for 120/80: it’s simple, intuitive, and makes sense.

That one-button design is something that smart people factored in for me, and now it enhances lives. Perfection in simplicity, it’s said, comes from managing the details.

But it still seems that I woke up one day surrounded by the complex pushed down on me.

So when I finger through the intricate — the messes of poor design so many spend defeat and time on — it makes me cry for usability.

I was shopping at my market when a disabled woman sitting in an electric cart turned to me, frustrated, and said: “Could you hold this [door]?”

She wanted to reach into a fresh vegetable cooler to get an item.

“I don’t know why they put these on,” she said. “More handles makes no sense,” referring to the pandemic.

I held the flimsy plexiglass door open, recalling exposed vegetable sections during my last shopping trip. I offered more help, but the woman thanked me, said she was OK, and wheeled on.

She was right. Cooler doors are installed throughout that market now. I need to grab handles everywhere — using a disinfectant wipe. Opened, they cram shopping carts and shoppers together. I tried to think from the market’s financial perspective, how they save energy. There’s no way they make the experience quicker or safer.

On my BP monitor, I’d probably rate that usefulness 130/85.

I was due a computer-based training course. The services have them as part of our readiness. Emails warn those with an approaching due date, and it’s a good start.

But I navigated through menus to find it from two similar-looking but different online learning sites. First, I stumbled through the correct security login certificates. Then I froze three web browsers. Finally, I picked from like-named course titles incorrectly and considered if popup messages involved my needs.

They did not. After navigating nearly 40 minutes, I accomplished the 10-minute CBT. Others maybe gave up. We have schedules. Some started in a good mood, and by the end of that training, were tight-fisted. How much knowledge did it assume from customers in a chain of critical actions to completion?

That user-experience felt like a BP 140/90.

I’ve tried to take deep breaths when I encounter designed systems not inclusive to users but serve managers or are dust-covered and haphazard. I am certain that you have examples.

Often, I consider if the “close enough for government work” idiom is the reason. Or the “they’ll figure it out” brush off. Then I bite my tongue, but now it comes to this.

As managers, I feel we can do more in familiarizing ourselves with customer’s experiences. Some call it proactive usability testing. We continue seeking improvements, fixing things before they break, and always make stuff more useable. Others call it empathy. 

I saw a social media post by Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass in December concerning the “U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Action Orders to Accelerate Change Across the Air Force” and the “call to Airmen to move forward aggressively in the push toward change.”

Chief Bass shared a meme of a complicated military website menu to make a point. It was similar to my online training story. I am thankful for her empowering post. I realize that a people-first approach cannot develop fully without systems and designs that value usability.

Usability fits into the four CSAF Action Orders of Airmen, Bureaucracy, Competition, and Design. It begins with studying and appreciating users. It applies through hard work on improvements, with simplicity and ease of use. When we do not support that continuous effort, it is exasperating to others.

There are books on usability that can help with innovations. Why not study them? Our efforts may not be as simple as a single button like my BP monitor, but it can undoubtedly uncomplicate the complicated as we accelerate change and lower this tension.

(U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith is the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s public affairs manager and studied Professional and Technical Communications with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute.)

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News

Air National Guard training and education center reviews 2020

By U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — Taking a look back at a jarring 2020, the Air National Guard’s I.G. Brown Training and Education Center staff said that they faced extraordinary challenges with bold ideas, innovation, and teamwork amid isolation and unfamiliarity.

Like past national crises, the COVID-19 pandemic made a demarcation line, but with an impact like no other. The year was marked by before health protection conditions and after.

TEC is now into its 10th month of the deadly virus that suspended most in-resident classes in March and pushed staff and faculty to rethink every facet of meeting, teaching, and serving in uniform.

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News

Air Guard’s Lankford EPME Center graded HIGHLY EFFECTIVE in Program Management

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – The Air National Guard’s primary campus for training and education in East Tennessee recently achieved the highest grade awarded after a U.S. Air Force review of its enlisted education for total force Airmen.

The Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center, a division within the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center, earned HIGHLY EFFECTIVE by the U.S. Air Force’s Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education in a Program Management Review.

“COVID-19 can’t stop the passion and energy of Team TEC!” said U.S. Air Force Col. Kenneth Lozano, the commander, in an email to faculty and staff.

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commentary

Commentary: The combat effective couch commando

“I forgot how to do homework. My back is killing me. I need to get off of this old couch.”

“Then you need to take care of that,” my wife recently told me over the phone from Missouri. “There’s no one there besides you to see it and point that out.”

“You’d think for a writer that I’d have telework down,” I replied. “I need to use a desk and a good chair. I’m too old to get by long with poor posture.”

Alright. In perspective, my aches and pains are small potatoes in this terrible pandemic. Hardship and suffering are rampant. And I was not battling the virus or at any significant risk, unlike our courageous health care workers and essential services workers. I was working from home, writing an article about how U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center are teleworking.

As it turns out, that and my hurt back all got me thinking about ergonomics.

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Uncategorized

Air Guard’s primary learning center transforms through homework

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.

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Chalk Talk: New Year’s resolutions

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ebonie Hills, enlisted PME instructor and professional bodybuilder, spotlights TEC’s fitness equipment in this video news series: Chalk Talk. In this episode, she talks about fitness as a New Year’s resolution.* (U.S. Air National Guard video/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)  #USAF #ANG #fitness #chalktalk

* Talk to a doctor before embarking on or ramping up any exercise. Always read/follow the manufacturer’s guidelines first on the safe and proper use of any equipment.

 

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Division of Air National Guard’s education center changes its name, direction

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — The Air National Guard division that manages Professional Continuing Education for thousands of Airmen, including its satellite Warrior Network television studios, has changed its name.

The I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s PCE Division announced recently that it now will be called TEC University, effective Nov. 1.

The new name, which leaders say identifies a new approach in learning, comes from years of listening to requests by ANG Airmen to broaden its offerings and innovate education methods to upgrade their skills and knowledge, its officials said.

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EPME faculty discuss fiscal year accomplishments

Airmen serving as faculty at the U.S. Air Force’s largest enlisted professional military education center considered their year of accomplishments this week just as the first NCO Academy and Airman Leadership School classes started for 2020.

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Education center considers future with new mission, vision

By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
I.G. Brown Training and Education Center

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — Less than a month after taking charge of the U.S. Air National Guard’s primary learning center here, its Commander, Col. Kenneth Lozano, challenged faculty and staff to retailor their mission and vision statements.

“We want to take TEC to new heights, and developing a shared mission and vision is an important step in that,” Colonel Lozano said.

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Instruction on instruction is their function in demanding Air Guard course

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rachel Lewis led off a two-hour lesson July 9 on methods of instruction during the Instructor Certification Program at the Air National Guard’s primary education center located on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base in East Tennessee.

“Our students put in a lot of hard work,” Sergeant Lewis said. “I love seeing the progression of those with or without training experience who learn that instructing is a whole different thing.”