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338th TRS ‘flips’ the classroom

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

What did the last classroom you sat in look like? Probably a few rows or a U-shape of student desks, with an instructor podium and white board at the front? Oh, and how about that curriculum? Regimented, PowerPoint or bulleted list-style torture . . . Maybe even with a Charlie Brown-esque droning instructor?

Luckily for students in the 338th Training Squadron’s cyber transport course, their classroom experience is in the process of getting ‘flipped.’

“We’re following the constructivist approach to learning,” said Brandon Dusin, 338th TRS training manager. “People learn though successes and failures; they learn through discovery. We want to engage the students’ brains using active learning techniques instead of have them jot down notes and highlight bullets all day long.”

 To do that, instructors and staff took a look at the psychology of learning.

“One of the first things we did was change the classroom,” Dusin said. “We got rid of the desks and put in round tables to make the room feel more open and free. Then we got rid of the podium and Smart board, and gave each student and instructor a tablet instead. With this open environment, we can rearrange the room, put students in groups and have space to physically demonstrate some of the more difficult concepts in the course.”

To fully ensure the learning space could handle its new student-focused approach, 338th TRS personnel even built their own separate, in-house network for the students to do their coursework on.

Once the classroom was taken care of, they looked at how the material was being taught.

“Instead of the instructor presenting the material, students are interacting with it,” Dusin said. “Textbooks are gone, instead it’s wiki-style webpages with pictures, diagrams, quizzes and videos. Students are allowed to bring their personal devices and work on those too. We’re presenting the material in a variety of ways to touch every different kind of learner.”

Dusin likens this process to how one might inspire a mechanic to learn: Fill a room full of every car part they need and a bunch of reference guides, then let them figure out how to build an engine. Assembling it may take a while, but by the time they’re done they’ll know why every bolt is in its place and they may even identify a few engineering flaws along the way. In the classroom, the parts are the course material and the reference guides are the instructors.

So far, three of the 10 learning blocks in the course have been ‘flipped’ to this new self-paced format, with Block 9 actually dropping the students into a live, in-house network to play and get real hands-on experience.

“Our self-paced training modules allow the instructors to focus on individualized feedback for students and lets them target Airmen who may be struggling,” Dusin said.

Capt. Adam Smith, 338th TRS flight commander, said results from the first three courses who went through the ‘flipped’ classroom have been eye-opening.

“By moving blocks to the self-paced format, students are graduating more quickly and showing proficiency in every module because they’re able to move quickly through things they already know and spend time on the concepts they struggle with,” Smith said.

Dusin said this course’s new focus on student-centered learning has made an obvious impact on the training squadron; the majority of students in the first six classes graduated one to four days ahead of schedule.  In fact, the current record-holder is a student with an engineering background who finished 8 days early.

“They’re not just graduating more quickly, they’re also showing more proficiency than before because we give them the time and opportunity to focus on coursework they need help on,” Dusin said.

The 338th TRS is working to expand its ‘flipped’ training environment throughout the cyber transport and radio frequency transmissions courses, with plans to branch out to nearby Jones Hall, Winters Manor and Foster Manor. Once expanded, students would have access to agile, on-demand training that’s accessible from any device, at any time.