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Officer Training Goes Virtual, Mobile

Jan. 29, 2013 - 11:51AM   |  
By LAUREN BIRON   |   Comments
The virtual soldier in ELITE helps officers practice interpersonal skills in an immersive environment.
The virtual soldier in ELITE helps officers practice interpersonal skills in an immersive environment. (ICT)
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Developers are moving a leadership training simulator for officers from an immersive trainer to a laptop, making the technology both more mobile and less expensive.

A proof-of-concept demonstration at the University of Southern California on Oct. 4 was the first attempt to shrink the Emergent Leader Immersive Training Environment, or ELITE, from a full-room simulator to a laptop version.

ELITE is a project from USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies; it currently consists of a life-size virtual human that is projected onto a wall, recreating an office-type scenario. A student can interact with the virtual human and attempt to provide counseling or mediate a problem.

The program is meant to teach leadership and communication skills to officers, who are often responsible for moderating such disputes. Using a virtual entity means consistent interpersonal training without having to hire a role player.

While one student interacts with the human, an entire class of students can follow along and select their own answers using remote controls. An instructor then leads an after-action review and helps the students recognize the best method of confronting subordinates.

The laptop version of ELITE will lose the life-size human and instructor, but gain portability and individualized training.

“The institutional version is great, if you have a building that will house it, and you’ve got the instructors and a classroom full of students,” said Todd Richmond, head of advanced prototype and transition at ICT. “The laptop version addresses the low-overhead concept of ‘What if you don’t have a classroom?’”

The demo included digitization of the upfront instruction, materials that would normally be distributed and taught to the ELITE class before running the scenario. It also included animated vignettes showing how to correctly employ those tactics. Interacting with the virtual human, a subordinate seeking counseling or being disciplined, would look more like a video teleconference than an in-office chat.

ELITE was developed with the U.S. Army Simulation and Training Technology Center and the Maneuver Center of Excellence and installed at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2011. ICT also created a similar version for the Navy, the Immersive Naval Officer Training System, which is used by Officer Training Command in Newport, R.I.

John Drake, director of learning strategies at the Naval Service Training Command, said that transferring an immersive program like INOTS to a more individualized setup would be challenging.

“You can always have the student read that same material on the laptop, and even read the material that’s covered in lecture,” Drake said. “But the greatest learning seems to take place when they are together as a group, reviewing the different choices [in the after-action review].”

He said the mobile program would need better artificial intelligence to give students “good feedback and additional instruction based on their performance during the scenario.”

Developers recognize that the individualized ELITE will have to fill in that missing feedback.

“We have to address that gap by integrating intelligent tutoring and digital coaches,” said Matt Trimmer, project director for ICT. These aids, adapted from ICT’s existing virtual tutor lineup, could bring up suggested talking points and provide guidance in the after-action review, much like an instructor would.

The virtual human used in ELITE is adaptive, meaning the conversation can go in different directions based on the student’s answers. While the classroom version of ELITE could incorporate verbal responses, mouse clicks will do the job on the laptop edition. The Army plans to run the program on laptops that lack video cameras and microphones, though the ICT developers say it would be possible to integrate the ability for computers that have the hardware.

The next steps for the ELITE developers include programming and refining, delivering a self-contained course that can teach sans instructor by October 2013. But developers are already thinking about the iteration after that.

Richmond said he would like to take advantage of the networked capabilities to link single-player laptops back together, creating a remote cadre of students that could have peer review and an after-action review. Additionally, developers would like to incorporate a camera or device such as a Microsoft Kinect to pick up nonverbal cues that can influence interpersonal situations.

And while ICT is not currently creating additional scenarios, Richmond said various individuals and private groups have approached them about adapting the technology. Students could interact with virtual humans to learn about everything from interviewing skills or human resources training to suicide prevention.

Ultimately, the developers at ICT hope that the laptop version will allow greater access to the system and let users train when they have the time, rather than during a scheduled class.

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