In 2018, Air University (AU) chartered the Research Task Force originally-named the Innovations in Learning Sciences Research Task Force (ILS RTF). The program’s desired goal was to support AU colleges, schools, and centers in the quest to research the application of emerging technologies and innovative learning practices within the national security enterprise. In spring 2020, the Air Force Agency for Modeling & Simulation (AFAMS) pledged to provide subject matter expertise and financial support to sustain the RTF going forward in exchange for RTF research efforts to align with AFAMS’ mission of supporting the warfighter with well-researched consulting expertise in the arena of immersive learning and simulations. As a product of the AU/AFAMS collaboration agreement, the name of the RTF was re-designated to the Immersive Learning & Simulation (ILS) RTF – thus keeping the legacy acronym yet using a formal title that is reflective of the collaboration agreement.
The 6-credit-hour class curriculum investigates virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), haptic devices, leadership-themed simulations, 3D printing & related technologies as well as myriad learning theories including experiential learning, social constructivist learning, situated cognition, and connectivism. The class integrates efforts of eight AU agencies, three master’s degree programs, and multiple educational and non-profit partners. In AY 18-19, seventeen O4-O6/civilian-equivalent students from three countries completed the 60 contact hours (10 resident students in-person, and 7 distance students live synchronously via VR and webinar.) An hour or more of each synchronous 3-hour class took place “inside VR” using Oculus Rift VR headset devices connected via multi-user VR co-presence platforms including Rumii, Engage, AltSpace, and others. The students also conducted a field research trip to the Lobaki XR Academy to interact hands-on with dozens more developmental haptic devices and VR/AR applications. Each student authored a master’s research thesis on how DoD, interagency, and/or allies could apply VR/AR and related technologies (collectively referenced as XR) to learning, operating, or leading within the student’s native area of national security expertise. In AY 19-20, participation in the class expanded to 20 students of similar demographics with 10 resident students in-person and 10 distance students live synchronously via VR and webinar. AY 19-20 also added attendance by all students in the class at the Inter-service/Industry Training, Simulation, & Education Conference (I/ITSEC), where the students served as mentors to the inaugural “Iron Developer” competition where four joint-service content developer teams competed for the I/ITSEC Iron Dev trophy. In addition to Iron Dev, ILS RTF students took part in multiple presentations, discussions, and educational sessions at I/ITSEC.
Improvements Going Forward
For AY 20-21, as a product of over $65K in investment into the program by AFAMS, the class will be upgrading all existing technologies (new headsets, PCs, and webinar equipment), and will be adding additional emerging technologies to the syllabus (to include Brain-Computer Interface – EEG technology, 3D Scanning technology, and an enterprise account with the premier multi-user educational platform, ENGAGE.) Additionally, in AY 20-21, multiple subject matter experts from AFAMS will be spending time with the class in the beginning of the AY to assist the class in identifying research problems that directly address immersive leaning and simulations problems that have been identified throughout the field across DoD. Lastly, in AY 20-21, the deliverables timeline has been build around an expectation that all 20+ student research papers will be submitted for possible publication as an I/ITSEC professional paper.
- First-ever DoD PME class to integrate live and distance students into the same class through the use of multi-user virtual reality
- First-ever DoD PME class to produce professionally-edited 360-degree immersive video products (covering subjects such as the MLK-led “Selma/Montgomery March”, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, a Day in the Life of an AU Resident Student, and The Dignified Transfer of Remains Ceremony Training Experience: now used for skills training by all new AF chaplains at the AF Chaplain Corps College.)
- Three professional publications produced by faculty and students from the ILS RTF:
For AY21: ISL RTF secured substantial sponsorship from AFAMS and is continuing under Dr. Andy Clayton following the retirement of Dr. Tony Gould and Col. Tony Millican.