The New Revolution In Army Learning


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Professional Military Education methods must change in the US Army.

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The New Revolution In Army Learning

  1. 1. The Beginnings of a New Revolution in Army Learning Tell me and I’ll forget; Show me and I may remember; Involve me and I’ll Understand. ~ Chinese Proverb How and what the Army learns is vital to national interests, regardless of whether the learning occurs in the operational force or the generating force and whether the learning concerns officers, warrant officers, or non-commissioned officers. Currently, the Army’s learning dangerously descends into irrelevancy; for Army learning lacks the adaptability necessary to compete in a global learning environment that rapidly leverages technology and innovation. More often than not, the content does not inspire interest, curiosity, and creativity; content delivery doesn’t help or increase knowledge transfer and, in truth, current delivery methods may decrease creativity and learning. Learning occurs in chunks, instead of a continuum of lifetime learning. Current Army learning binds instructors as content delivery systems instead of facilitating the learners’ growth in critical thinking and problem solving, which undermines and delegitimized instructors. Those competing against the United States’ national interests rapidly progress themselves within a global learning environment. Because the United States’ current threats rapidly adjust and potential future threats rapidly adjust, adaptation is the central learning concept theme. The Israeli military historian, Martin Van Creveld, notes that “in 2005, Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip – proof, if proof is needed, that even one of the
  2. 2. world’s most advanced, most sophisticated armed forces operating against an extremely weak opponent could fail”1. Usually overwhelmed by a more sophisticated and lethal force, the weak opponent adapts fast to survive. Some examples include employing networks rather than hierarchical organizations, quickly using public information technology to communicate message to a broad audience, and rapidly adapting technology without formal test and evaluation for kinetic and non-kinetic application on the battlefield. To defeat a weaker enemy, it is no longer necessary and sufficient to destroy them. It is, however, necessary to adapt faster than them. The Army’s slow adaptation in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom is proof that Army’s institutional learning also lacked effective progress. Considering second and third order effects, the lack of institutional learning adaptation rarely produced true situational awareness and problem solving for the war being fought, creative thinking, or adaptive leadership and action. There were some bright innovating examples, but these examples may have learned adaptability and, sequentially, critical thinking from other learning institutions. The Army’s adaptation must occur along multiple lines of operation. The Army must teach its soldiers and leaders adaptability, both in action and thought. The Army learning support structure must become more adaptable. The methods by which the Army transfers knowledge, skill, and critical thinking must become more adaptable. The Army must grow more adaptable facilitators. Certainly the path to adaptation is complex, involving multiple stakeholders throughout the Army. Yet, if the Army did three simple things, it would propel
  3. 3. adaptability in our soldiers and leaders, adaptability in the Army learning environment, and adaptability in Army institutions. Those three paths are:  Encourage blended-learning and remove any form of presentation software (such as PowerPoint) from the classroom and distance learning.  Classrooms become problem solving laboratories orchestrated by an engaging facilitator, rather than a teacher or instructor.  Individualize learning with modular content that builds upon a trajectory, which includes measurement throughout a lifetime of learning. Background The integration of fourteen expert interviews largely influenced the genesis of this Army Learning Revolution. The experts practiced their professions within the fields of higher education, learning, or learning technology.2 Given the diversity of the group, there were some diverging expert opinions, conclusions, and experiences. Yet, for the most part, these experts independently converged onto many relevant themes with regards to modern learning in a global learning environment, where the dynamics between ubiquitous information and information technology innovation are revolutionizing the way people learn, how people learn, and what people learn. The major themes point to the absolute effectiveness and richness of blended learning over traditional face-to-face learning and more recent distributed learning. Their trend matches the 2009 US Department of Education’s analysis, which found “students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those take the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction”.3 When comparing the effectiveness between the three forms of learning (Blended, Distributed
  4. 4. Learning, and Traditional Face-to-Face), the research also found that “Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction”.4 Although the experts did not unite upon their personal constructs of the Millennial Generation, convergence did occur on leveraging the generation’s social and technology skills and how to improve the generation’s critical thinking, problem solving, and intellectual courage (staking a claim). Often, the experts expressed the value of a story in transferring content and context because “stories are sticky” and “video hits home in a more visceral way”. 5 In collaboration with blended learning and building upon current millennial skill sets, most discussion involved creating a safe learning environment, moderated by an engaging facilitator, and utilizing class room time to learn by failure, using problem solving exercises. If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten. ~ Rudyard Kipling Using a Story to Relate the Three Paths Many have a few memorable learning experiences in their lifelong development. Most can remember the name of an effective teacher that had a profound effect. For me, the more positive and lasting memories involved an engaging (I wouldn’t say charismatic) facilitator who was able to connect to me and encourage me. This
  5. 5. engagement propelled me in a direction of self learning, principally motivated by curiosity and intrigue. The facilitator transferred content and context that encouraged further individual learning. Peers developed my learning. I still marvel at the incredible knowledge and skill I find in most people serving within the Army. When at the University of Virginia, I often felt like the dumbest guy in the room because I learned incredible things from my peers: skills, ideas, knowledge, content, different approaches to similar circumstances and applications for some freaky theoretical stuff. We learned to critically think. If it wasn’t for my classmates at the Academy, I don’t think I could have graduated. There were just some subjects that didn’t resonate with me regardless of the professor’s quality (think philosophy “P”). Likewise, I never learned more than when I was helping my classmates learn something that didn’t resonate with them. In my youth, I never fathomed the learning design that enabled me to earn multiple degrees. Even the Academy gave me choice to explore my learning interests while still learning a liberal, common and foundational curriculum designed to educate future Army officers. Fortunately, most graduate studies throughout the world accept an academy degree. The degree was portable. The degree also supported a trajectory that would eventually lead to a doctoral in philosophy. Reflecting on the trajectory’s design, there were multiple modules that culminated with a terminating degree. Within a bachelor of science, there were three modules. The Academy designed one module for the broad liberal arts core curriculum. The math, science, and engineering departments designed a basic engineering module. Finally, the engineering and
  6. 6. mathematics departments created the major module. The concept of modularity was also present in the master and doctoral degrees. The same notion of portability, modularity, and trajectory were present in my professional military education, but to a lesser degree. The professional education had a trajectory within the profession, but it lacked portability at the civilian institutes. Although this story lacks the excitement of a modern adventure movie (story) and the high resolution visual effects that mesmerize, it is a story that has some bearing of truth, or partial truth, for many, which relates an experience to three broader themes. The role of the facilitator is crucial. Facilitators, beyond content and context expertise, inspire learners to explore further content and develop their own content and context. People learn from each other, whether in a virtual or live environment. Combining people and a safe environment for experimentation, collaboration, and mastery accelerates learning, critical thinking, teamwork, and personal adaptability. With the changes in duty stations and careers, learning must become portable, modular, and follow a measured trajectory to support the individual through a lifetime of learning. Blended Learning, Facilitating, and Overcoming Presentation Software Flaws PowerPoint and other presentation software create an impenetrable boundary between the facilitator and the learner. This boundary is similar to a one-direction expressway, where the facilitator attempts to drive information towards the learner. Edward Tufte, a reputable, innovative author and lecturer, after much experience, contemplation, and critical thinking states that “PowerPoint is presenter-oriented, not content-oriented, (and) not audience-oriented”6. Adding to the boundary’s distance,
  7. 7. presentation software is expandable; there are no bounds to the information, which potentially permits the facilitator to overwhelm the information dump. The systematic effect of presentation software is an obstacle that provides too much passive boring information and, ultimately, limits transfer and reduces critical thinking. Tufte also notes that forms of PowerPoint corrupt and corrupt absolutely: “Imagine a widely used and expensive prescription drug that promised to make us beautiful but didn't. Instead the drug had frequent, serious side effects: It induced stupidity, turned everyone into bores, wasted time, and degraded the quality and credibility of communication. These side effects would rightly lead to a worldwide product recall… Yet slideware - computer programs for presentations - is everywhere: in corporate America, in government bureaucracies, even in our schools. Several hundred million copies of Microsoft PowerPoint are churning out trillions of slides each year. Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a 7 sales pitch.” Applied incorrectly, presentation software severely limits engagement, which is based almost entirely on two way communication and understanding. And most apply presentation software incorrectly. Presentation software becomes a limiting factor (or a crutch) for the facilitator. The lack of engagement and the software’s format combine to reduce the facilitator’s role in learning. The facilitator, lacking the engagement from learners, receives little immediate feedback on the content’s relevancy and interest. Ideas never receive collegiate challenge. Critical thought wanes and dies. A facilitator’s preparation, research, and application reduce, decaying learning at its foundation. Content relevancy is lost. If anything, presentation software is a form of psychological therapy for the presenter.
  8. 8. The elimination, or near reduction, of presentation software creates an environment where the facilitator and the learner engage each other. Both have a meaningful and rewarding conversation. The facilitator remains the content and context expert, but the facilitator’s approach is more Socratic. “The Socratic Method (or Method of Elenchus or Socratic Debate), named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas. It is a dialectical method, often involving an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against the defense of another; one participant may lead another to contradict him in some way, 8 strengthening the inquirer's own point.” For the Socratic Method to work well, the learner has responsibility to learn the fundamental content and context of the subject. The engagement refines and broadens content and context. It should also motivate and inspire the learner to invest more into the content with self learning. The facilitator, using this age proven method, creates a critical thinking environment. Learners and the facilitator thoroughly examine and discuss ideas. The group participates in a safe form of problem solving. Yet, the responsibility to learn fundamental content and context rests on the learner. The classroom is not the location for learning basic content and context; the classroom becomes a testing ground for content and context. Mostly because of content responsibility transfer, blended learning environments provide the best opportunity for employing the Socratic Method. The facilitator uses blended learning to further engage the learner and motivate further self and group learning. Blended learning combines face-to-face instruction with technology mediated content, which may include mobile computing devices (iPhone, Droid, iPad, etc.), eBooks (Kindle), internet video (YouTube), chat room, social media,
  9. 9. blogs, video teleconferences, cloud computing centers, movies (old and new) 9, and other learning technologies. The use of blended learning also leverages the strength of the Millennial Generation. By leveraging millennial social media preferences and the learners’ technology strengths, blended learning creates trust between the learner and the facilitator. By employing blended learning, facilitators demonstrate they are willing to communicate on the learners’ terms. The personalized engagement of blended learning has a better chance of creating trust. Or, at least more trust than created by one way information feeding. Trust is vital because trust opens communications and creates safe environments. Blended learning provides learners the opportunity to learn together within a live or virtual group or by themselves. The blended environment increases the options for greater quality and quantity of human interactions in the learning environment. Blended learning creates an environment where learners have the potential to interact at any time and at any place. Designed well, blended learning uses the right mix of face-to- face interactions, technology interactions, and self learning to create a richer and socially supported learning experience. Technology also gives students opportunities for taking ownership of their learning. ~ DRAFT Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology (2010), page 12
  10. 10. Blended learning design generally incorporates three parameters: 1) The analysis of the competences at stake (examples are marksmanship, language, engine repair, or regional studies) 2) The nature and location of the learners (such as initial military learners located at basic training centers or junior leaders located at Forces Command installations) 3) Resources.10 Inherent to blended learning design is determining the timing and the amount of face-to-face interactions between learners and facilitators. Blended learning moves a significant amount of learning activities online. Time within the classroom significantly reduces but withstands elimination. Face-to-face interactions between learner and facilitator remain important, but those encounters reduce. Reduced face-to-face interactions are possible because technology allows different venues for facilitators to inject themselves within the learners self paced learning. The current Army learning model predominately uses distance learning as an extension of a “brick and mortar” classroom. There are few examples of blended learning. The majority emphasize instruction in the classroom. But what if some, if not most, of the Army Professional Military Education and functional courses transformed from “brick and mortar” classrooms with distance learning extensions into blended learning (“brick and click”) classrooms? Blended learning increases learning and creates a richer and socially supported learning experience.11 The blended learning advantages are in the Army and soldiers’ best interests. Shouldn’t these interests motivate transformation into blended learning? Or, does tradition or retention fear trump the potential learning richness associated with blended learning?
  11. 11. Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are your own fears. ~ Rudyard Kipling Since classroom time significantly reduces within those courses that transform into blended learning environments, where should the classroom time occur? Should the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) leverage the goodness learned from employing mobile training teams, which supports Army Force Generation and reduces soldier time away from family and friends, by conducting learning on the Forces Command installation? Or, should TRADOC revert to traditional methods by bringing soldiers and leaders back to Centers of Excellence for blended learning courses’ face- to-face classroom experiences? What Professional Military Education courses should remain on TRADOC installations? Given the significant transition and transformation of a civilian into a soldier and leader within a value driven organization, initial military training should remain at Basic Combat Training Centers and Centers of Excellence. But, at what transition points in a non-commissioned officer and officer’s career is it necessary and valuable to thoroughly engage with peers and facilitators within the Socratic Method context, investing time, personnel and physical facilities, if any?
  12. 12. The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall. ~ Nelson Mandela Transforming Classrooms into Problem Solving Labs Much of blended learning’s richness generates from the transfer of content responsibility from the facilitator to the learner. The learner has the opportunity to learn at their pace, engage peers in non threatening environments, and test hypothesis in safety. Blended learning’s use of technology delivers content to the student in more engaging methods, such as video or eBooks. Learners begin mastering content (and some context) and collectively validate content within the blended learning environment using technology. The classroom naturally transforms from a content delivery room into a problem solving and critical thinking laboratory. The “lab” is a controlled and safe environment where an engaging facilitator guides learners to experiment with the content and context acquired from self learning. The lab joins learners into a team and the facilitator creates scenarios that require the team to collaborate and experiment. Through problem solving and critical thinking, content is refined, context and methods are exercised, learners safely make many mistakes, and repetition increases transfer and mastery. When Michael Jordon contemplated the factor that created his success in basketball, he reflected “I've failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”.12 Mistakes and the ability to make and discuss mistakes transfer learning and aide critical thinking in exponential ways.
  13. 13. Although blended learning naturally creates a condition for problem solving labs, much is still required in re-tooling facilitators and learning developers. Both will require significant and emotional transformation. Engaging facilitators require training, education, validation, and practice. There should be a requirement for a pool of expert facilitators and the Army must provide the right incentives to retain the pool. Army culture will have to reward talented officers and noncommissioned officers who become detailed facilitators. Both facilitators and learning developers must become experts in technology’s effective use. Learning developers will have to include movie production and application development in concert with most of their current skill and knowledge requirements. Or, learning developers will have to broaden their field to include movie production and application development experts. Ultimately, the facilitator and learning developer population must become more diverse in terms of knowledge, skill, and experiences. Education is an enterprise that asks: What’s worth knowing and being able to do? ~ DRAFT Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology (2010), page 13 Much of the re-tooling also involves a few penetrating questions. Without these questions, the temptation to convert all classroom content into blended learning content exists. This temptation would be counterproductive to the potential richness and effectiveness of the blended learning environment. The first question involves what knowledge, experiences and skills do the Army desire for its soldiers and leaders at various levels of their career. Once the Army answers this question, the next two
  14. 14. questions complement each other and drive the content and context of the blended learning environment. Those questions are: 1) What content and context is no longer suitable or valid to grow the soldier and leader? 2) What content and context are missing, limiting the growth of soldiers and leaders? The answers to these questions create the structure for the content and context. They also shape the design of the modules and trajectories. Modules are blocks of learning content and context, much like a standard curriculum or the additional curriculum required of a major or minor. A trajectory is a sequential alignment of modules to form a certificate or degree. As an example, within the context of an undergraduate education, a college may join two or more modules for their four year students earning a bachelor degree. The combination of a standard curriculum module and a major curriculum module create the bachelor degree. If other modules were portable, then a transfer student could combine their previous modules and add the module to earn a bachelor degree at that college. Measurement, Modularity, Exportability, and Trajectories But, what is the motivation of the learner and why should the learner invest into this system? The system must appeal to the learner; it must be relevant to and hold some value for the learner. The learner must be part of the learning system. Yet, the Army must have soldiers and leaders with the right competencies and skills. The win-win proposition meets the needs of the learner and Army by customizing learning based on promotion, duty assignments, learner interests and learning
  15. 15. assessment. Since learning occurs over the lifetime of a career, the assessments and the individualized learning trajectories are over the lifetime of a career. To mitigate and reduce thousands of possible trajectories, it is possible to design modules that build upon each other within a trajectory over the career lifecycle of a soldier or leader. Assessment, typically reserved for course completion, can assist in modular reduction when applied early within a module. Modules and trajectories will have to be flexible as well, incorporating life changes and Army requirements. Soldier or leader’s self learning progress determines both promotion and duty position. Completion of modules along specified trajectories measures progress.13 The concept of trajectories, modules, and exportability expand beyond the Army’s professional military education and functional training. There are many universities, colleges, institutions, and other learning and training organizations that have exportable certificates and degrees that fit into various trajectories. As an example, does the Command and General Staff College or the War College have the content and context market on regional studies or national power? Or, could officers and senior non-commissioned officers learn these subjects at a college or university? Can another learning organization teach small engine repair? Does a master degree in international relations create the same module(s) as Intermediate Leader Education’s potential modules? Call to Action This document asks the reader some important questions without providing answers to the questions. No doubt, there is much experience, feeling, and opinion
  16. 16. expressed in each individual reader’s answers. The call to action challenges the reader to take the responsibility to learn the current content and context of the blended learning discussion, which is occurring within higher education and K-12.14 Although previous experiences, education, and training form legitimate mental models, the call to action asks the reader to invoke the Socratic Method and, without bias, challenge the presented questions, but only after some personal research. Conclusions Education experts, education literature, and the US Department of Education predominately agree, either through research, observation, or experience, that blended learning is more effective than other methods. The dynamic effects caused by the interaction of self paced learning, safe learning environments, transfer of learning responsibilities to the learner, and the injection and guidance of an engaging facilitator improve learning. Transforming from “brick and mortar” to “brick and click” learning centers requires informed and thoughtful discussion and analysis. With the exception of officer, warrant officer, and enlisted initial military training, most all other functional and professional military education could drastically improve by implementing blended learning. But, to what end? The challenge is determining the amount of time and the timing of the face- to-face decision making laboratories for each valid course. Migrating “brick and mortar” course content and context into the blended learning environment requires new design. Blended learning’s potential richness and effectiveness rapidly declines without design. Learners should receive content that matches course and lesson objectives in a mix of
  17. 17. text, video, audio, and pictures. Collaboration requires open source information technology that blends email, open threaded discussions, blogs, and chat rooms. Collaboration environments also blend between learner-to-learner discussion and learner-to-facilitator discussions. Assessments must change from assessing the back- end to assessing the front and back end of a course or module, which allows skilled and knowledgeable learners to accelerate through a trajectory towards mastery. Other than initial military training, few courses still benefit from full time immersion in face-to-face engagement. These courses are predominately professional military education at key development transition points. The transition points create additional value by facilitating the exchange of experiences that complement the content and context in an experiential manner. Yet, which courses remain “brick and mortar”? The remaining functional training and professional military education courses should leverage the lessons learned from mobile training teams and use some Forces Command installations for the limited face-to-face engagement. The TRADOC will have to invest first in new learning developers and facilitators before the Army reaps a return on investment, measured by improved learning at a lower cost. Both developers and facilitators will have to become technology experts. Learning development will broaden to include audio and visual creative arts. Facilitators must be expert technology operators, effectively using information technology and social media to engage their learners. Little should distinguish the difference between a leader and a facilitator. As John Quincy Adams once said “if your actions inspire others
  18. 18. to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”. These qualities exist in both leaders and facilitators. Although some front end investment occurs, immediate savings occur when the Army fully utilizes its Centers of Excellence to design and build lessons, courses, or modules within the bounds of their unique expertise. As an example, the Sustainment Center of Excellence should design and build all lessons and modules pertaining to maintenance. Within a blended learning environment, the other Centers of Excellence provide these lessons in their trajectories when appropriate. Though this task looms large and complex, with more unanswered questions than answered ones, the Army could begin revolutionizing learning by following three paths.  Encourage blended-learning and remove any form of presentation software (such as PowerPoint) from the classroom and distance learning.  Classrooms become problem solving laboratories orchestrated by an engaging facilitator, rather than a teacher or instructor.  Individualize learning with modular content that builds upon a trajectory, which includes measurement throughout a lifetime of learning.
  19. 19. Notes 1 Martin Van Creveld, The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat, From the Marne to Iraq, Ballantine Books, New York, New York, (2006), page 225. 2 Between February 25, 2010 and March 9, 2010, Mr. Michael Starry, Mr Lou Iorizzo, and I interviewed a total of sixteen experts. I personally interviewed fourteen of the experts: Dr. James Shaeffer, James Madison University; Dr. Jim Blake, PEO-STRI; Dr. Harvey Sapolsky, M.I.T.; Dr. Michelle Sams, Army Research Institute; Dr, Christopher Dede, Harvard Graduate School; Dr. Dex Fletcher, Institute for Defense Analysis; Dr, Elliot Masie, Masie Center; Dr. Elizabeth Samet, U.S.M.A.; Dr. Billie Miller, Cosumnes River College; Dr. Rob Foshay, Foshay Group; Dr. Jeanne Farrington, J. Farrington Consulting; Dr. Randall Hill, University of Southern California; Dr. James Keagle, National Defense University; and Dr. Tony Wagner, Harvard Graduate School. 3 US Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service, Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies, Washington, D.C., (2009), page XIV. This finding also collaborates many of the findings and recommendations in the US Department of Education, Office of Education Technology, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology, Draft National Education Technology Plan, Washington, D.C., (2010). 4 Ibid, page XV 5 When interviewed, Dr. Hill made the first remark and Dr. Shaeffer made the second remark. 6 Edward R. Tufte, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within, Graphics Press, LLC, Cheshire, Connecticut, (2006), page 4. 7 Tufte, “PowerPoint is Evil: Power Corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely”, Wired, obtained on April 29, 2010, from 8 Wikipedia, Socratic Method, obtained on April 28, 2010 at 9 Dr. Samet, United States Military Academy English Professor and author of Soldier’s Heart, uses relevant older movies to transfer context and content. In our discussion, she described the older technologies and movies rich contribution, which challenges learners by introducing something new and outside of their comfort zone. Her book, Soldier’s Heart, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, (2007), speaks of using older, classic movies throughout the book. 10 Wikipedia, Blended Learning, obtained on April 28, 2010, from 11 D. Randy Garrison and Heather Kanuka, "Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education", The Internet and Higher Education Volume 7, Issue 2, (2004), pages 95–105 12 Michael Jordon quote, obtained from Brainy Quote on May 6, 2010 at 13 The concept of individualize learning trajectories built in modules and based on assessment should not grow the learning development and facilitator populations if they are designed to be exportable and transferable. 14 In addition to the US Department of Education references cited in this manuscript, see also Michel Dernt and Renate Motsching-Pitrik, “The Role of Structure, Patterns, and People in Blended Learning”, nd The Internet and Higher Education, Volume 8, Issue 2, 2 Quarter 2005, pages 111-130 and Jared M. Carman, “Blended Learning Design: Five Key Ingredients”, KnowledgeNet, (2002), available at:
  20. 20. About the author: Colonel John Halstead, Ph.D. currently serves as the Training Analysis and Evaluation Director, G-3/5/7, TRADOC. He earned a doctoral degree from the University of Virginia and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and the Army War College. Previously, John led the transformation of the largest and most popular engineering core sequence at the Academy, enriching a future generation of Army officers.