Axon - Training Aircraft Controllers to Train - Ep12 Published June 23, 2023 Air University Teaching and Learning Center The opinions, conclusions, and recommendations expressed or implied in this podcast are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views of Air University, the United States Air Force, the Department of Defense, or any other U.S. government agency. Dr. Megan Hennessey Welcome to the Axon podcast, the official podcast of the Air University Teaching and Learning Center. I am your host Doctor Megan Hennessey, Director of the AU TLC, here today with Captain Brad Kelly. Captain Kelly is the Chief of Training at the 128th Air Control Squadron out of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. His background is in K through 12 education, and he holds an Ed.D in Organizational Change and Learning from Baylor. Hey, Captain Kelly, how are you? Captain Brad Kelly Doing good Doctor Hennessey. How are you this morning? Dr. Megan Hennessey I’m good! I found you on LinkedIn posting about your dissertation, and that's what we're really here to dive into today because it's, I think, really a unique approach to looking at research on training-specific environments. So, tell us about the problem or the gap in performance that made you start your study, what's it all about? Captain Brad Kelly So first off, before I get into that, I just wanted to say thank you so much for reaching out on LinkedIn and giving me this opportunity to present my research. And I have to give a quick plug. I went through Axon Podcasts, and I went back to episode 2 on neurodivergent learners, and I absolutely loved that episode. So, if there's anybody listening that is interested in going back and looking at a really good episode, I would highly encourage that one. I thought that was great. You touched on a lot of things that I'll probably touch on today such as differentiated instruction, and differentiated learning as a whole. So, I thought that was really good. andthat's my plug for you there. I love the work that you're doing and everything that Air University is currently putting out. So, thank you for that. Dr. Megan Hennessey Wow, I didn't expect a cheerleader. Thank you. Captain Brad Kelly Well, you're welcome. So anyways, back to your question. The problem at hand that got me started with this current research problem that I worked on for my doctorate degree started during my units last deployment, so it would have been in 2017 during my last deployment I went on with my unit and it was a really tough deployment. A lot of the things that we were facing in the Middle East and I guess I should specify, I'm by trade a 13B, Air Battle Manager, so command and control, talking to the jets or talking to the aircraft over the skies of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan at the time, making sure, weapons, sensors, fuel, and everything else is prioritized in accordance with the commanders intent. We were getting the missions done day in and day out and really the thing that I ran into was well into the deployment after we had kind of been run through the ringer, everybody could do their job flawlessly. I truly believe the unit I belong to is the best in the Air National Guard, in terms of the Air Control Squadron community and the operators and the aircraft controllers that I work with are outstanding. But it was self-identified by a few of them when it got to the tail end of the deployment. They could do the job flawlessly, but when it came time to teach or instruct the units that were coming in to replace us, so that we could come back home state side, they were having issues relaying how they actually do or perform their job. And they came to me because they knew I had a background in education, and I was one of the primary instructors at our unit at the time and I thought what is our instructor upgrade training program looking like currently? Are we truly preparing our aircraft controllers how to teach? A lot of the things as a K-12 education teacher in the public-school setting that I maybe take for granted in terms of classroom management, how to develop formative, and summative assessments, things like that. I kind of take for granted because I got my bachelor’s degree in teaching principles. And so really, what I started looking at was the program itself and how I could really kind of start looking at how are we best preparing our controllers and that was really the problem that kind of started me off on this and I do have to admit, it's kind of funny. I recently left my unit for about 3 years and was working on a staff tour with National Guard Bureau and anybody who's worked staff before knows that any operation or mission that comes up, you're pretty much working on PowerPoint slides day in and day out and I found myself, just kind of after a while beating my head against the wall saying, really am I putting this much time into PowerPoint slides versus the actual content, making sure the font was correct and everything was colorized the same on the slides and all of that cosmetic stuff. So really my doctoral project really started off as a personal vendetta against PowerPoint, I have to admit. But that kind of related to our training program, because that was the method of instruction at the time, it is what I referred to as unimodal instruction, meaning a single mode of instruction a lot of times in a military setting its PowerPoint. And so really that's what my doctoral research started off looking at is really these PowerPoint slides or this training program that uses PowerPoint slides as the primary method, is it really effective or is it as effective as it could be? Dr. Megan Hennessey This is amazing. It's like weaponized anti-PowerPoint research. Captain Brad Kelly Yes, absolutely. Dr. Megan Hennessey So, your participants that you interviewed, they were complaining about the heavy reliance on PowerPoint. Did they know that there may have been other options? Captain Brad Kelly They weren't necessarily complaining that PowerPoint was used, they were just self-identifying, that they were struggling with teaching and really doing on the job training for the other aircraft controllers that were coming into theater to replace us it was really kind of just my background in education and that kind of pinpointed me to. Well, what is the syllabus? What is the content delivery method look like? And so, all those kind of things led me to the first glaring problem in my educated opinion was, why are we just using PowerPoint? There's so many other methods and modes of instruction out there. I'm coming from the K-12 education setting. I've been around to see these phases in education, dating back to my years in school, you see the classroom teacher walk in and have the students crack open the textbook, and read the chapter and answer the questions at the end of the section, day in and day out and then, I'm old enough to remember the overhead projector and transparency papers in that whole phase. And then, we had a short phase with smart boards and thankfully that's gone, I was never a fan, but now a lot of the schools that I was teaching in, we had one-to-one iPads and there's a ton of apps out there for iPads these days that are super beneficial, and I was very thankful when I did my internship. I worked with a school teacher who he refused and made it a goal for himself and for me when I was working with him, to not use the textbook a single time or PowerPoint a single time and instead what we did was small group work. We did project-based learning. We used supplemental videos, supplemental readings. Just a whole wide variety of instructional methods, and it was really effective and what we saw throughout that course of time, it was about six months to a year, students were excited to learn, they were really, really engaged. Likewise, I've been in the classroom where it's a PowerPoint slideshow given day after day and it's what I refer to as a “sit-and-get” type of method of instruction where students are just sitting in their chair all day long, and they're just getting information kind of shoved their way. It's not exciting for a lot of people. It's not engaging, and research shows that [differentiated instruction] is really what helps in the retainment of knowledge and learning process. Dr. Megan Hennessey There's one quote or excerpt from your dissertation that really stood out to me. So this is from your work. You say, “The ABM instructors did not know how to intervene appropriately when their students fell behind and failed to keep up with the intense number of aircraft pilot requests coming over the radio simultaneously from dozens of military aircraft cockpits.” That seems pretty intense and when I read that I immediately thought: what are the implications of this when it comes to authentic assessment? Captain Brad Kelly Yes, absolutely, it definitely can be an intense career field at times where you're talking to sometimes dozens of aircraft over a frequency at the same time and making sure altitudes are deconflicted, certain assets are getting overhead targets and dropping bombs. Other aircraft at the same time are simultaneously just transiting an airspace to get to, let's say, a tanker orbit. If it's an aerial refueling platform like a KC-135. So, there's a lot happening. There's multiple mission sets happening simultaneously. So really, to your point it can be a safety issue, so instructing and teaching our instructors to the best of our ability should be at the foremost of all of our priorities, because literally lives are on the line and so, when it comes to assessments and how to implement when somebody's instructing an operator or an aircraft controller over the shoulder, they really have to be on their toes and there's not necessarily a written script that they have to follow, they just have to know when to intervene and when is the proper time to intervene before something goes wrong or something starts to become a safety issue. Dr. Megan Hennessey How do you teach that and get after the replication of stress from the operational environment, but in a safe learning environment? Captain Brad Kelly Absolutely, so we do simulated missions a lot. I would say that's a good majority of the missions that we do in-garrison home station are a lot of simulated missions where we can replicate talking to dozens of aircraft at the same time and high stressful situations and really it just comes down to reps, unfortunately, reps and just instinct and gut feeling and so when you're instructing and things are starting to go bad, if you're an experienced instructor, you start to know, hey, this situation that's about to unfold or is starting to unfold can get kind of tricky or dangerous and so you just kind of start to pick up after you know years of experience that innate instinct to step in, intervene if you have to, and, guide that student that's talking over the radio to the pilots.. You may have to tell that student these are my radios now or this is my mission now. And the student may need to get up and let the instructor sit down. It's not always the student’s fault either. It's just a very dangerous situation that's happening and let the more experienced instructor sit down and finish the rest of the mission. Dr. Megan Hennessey Is that like, in Navy speak, an “I've got the con” moment? Captain Brad Kelly Yes, yes, absolutely yes. Dr. Megan Hennessey I've got control, yeah, or in Driver’s Ed, how the instructor sitting in the passenger seat had that emergency brake. Captain Brad Kelly Yes, that's a great analogy. That's a great way to put it, yes. Dr. Megan Hennessey Yeah. So, you talked about experience levels and something else that really was striking from your research was this comparison of metrics regarding pre-reqs. So, prerequisites for Air Battle Managers in the Air National Guard, which is 0, compared to thousands of hours for pre-reqs for pilots and ICBM operators and also, you know, a fairly rigorous prerequisite requirement for active duty air battle managers. So why the disparity between Air National Guard and active duty? Captain Brad Kelly Yeah. So, I don't know the 100% answer to that, but I can reasonably conclude that a lot of that comes just due to the nature of the organization. So, the Air National Guard and our instructors, we see them one weekend a month. So, we're not seeing them Monday through Friday, every single day of the week, a lot of them, unless they're a full timer such as myself, whereas the active-duty component, on the other hand, you know it's full time Monday through Friday, seven days a week if necessary. And so, when it comes to, let's say a standard or a prerequisite standard we'll call it 300 control hours; for example, before you can be admitted into the upgrade program to become an instructor. Well, that's going to take somebody in the Air National Guard years when we only see them one weekend a month. Whereas on the active-duty side you know it could be a year or two. They are a young captain or mid-level captain and so now they're seasoned enough they should probably become an instructor. So, I think there's some differences there in why we see that. But it was definitely one of the things in my research that I was able to highlight, and I reached out and I had done interviews with an A-10 pilot like you mentioned, ICBM operator, a tanker pilot as well. And I just asked around the rest of the operational community, of what are the rest of your career fields doing in terms of instructor upgrade and that's kind of how I got my rough numbers in my research of just kind of the disparity and a lot of times to when individuals are finally admitted into that instructor upgrade program. I looked at, what is the venue or what is the content which they're receiving to become an instructor certified operator? And so, a lot of times like the active duty Air Battle Managers. They have a dedicated squadron where they pull their 13B ABM's off the line squadrons. Then they send to the schoolhouse. Now we [ANG] don't have that, have a dedicated schoolhouse where we can just send somebody to become an instructor. A lot of times when we’re talking national guard, a lot of these individuals are balancing civilian careers at the same time, it may be difficult for them to go to an in-house training venue away and take that time away from their civilian jobs. So, there's definitely some trickiness to that and how can we provide the best product with the limitations within the left and right bounds that we're working with in the Air National Guard? Dr. Megan Hennessey So, let's flip it and take a more positive outlook. What are some of the strengths that the Air National Guard ABM's bring to the community, to the operational forces that can help establish the argument that we should keep this? That we should keep going even with these issues? Captain Brad Kelly Yeah, absolutely. So, at the end of my research I put forward a proposal of how we can maybe close the gap, how can we beef-up this instructor upgrade program? So, I've got a proposal out there and we're already starting to do some of it within my squadron in terms of our next batch of instructors who are going through the program. I think the next thing isI already hit on it, but the civilian occupations that the Air National Guard brings to the total force fight is, you know you can't diminish that. I'm working with young Airman First Class/Senior Airmen who are engineers in the civilian world. They are in the younger enlisted ranks, but yet they've already got their master’s degrees. So, it's really incredible we have a diverse workforce that comes in one weekend a month and really, the experience that they bring from the outside civilian world is incredible. We got a ton of people that are always bringing in knowledge that they have a way that they built a product or maybe a policy that they have at their civilian place of employment that it's really good, we never thought of it before and so we asked them to tell us more about it and we try to incorporate it and implement it as best as we can. So, I think there's definite value in the Air National Guard, the C2 community in the Air Control Squadron community when it comes to outside experiences of individuals. Dr. Megan Hennessey Thank you, you sold me on it. Narrowing down just a little bit with sort of our closing question here, you mentioned project-based learning. Are there any other specific instructional strategies or methods of teaching or curriculum design that came forward as you were thinking about what you would recommend to meet this problem? Captain Brad Kelly Yes, absolutely. So, when I look at the current instructor program, it's pretty much self-guided PowerPoints for the most part. And so, looking at what the A-10 community is doing, and talking with some of my research participants from the that community or with the active-duty component in the Air Battle Manager community, they’ve got some great ideas and they're doing some really wonderful things. So, like you mentioned, there’s project-based learning, small group work, mission planning, small mission planning cells or what we call ROC drills or rehearsal of concept (ROC) drills are effective. The one thing I really like that the ICBM operator participant pointed out in my research was they shadow every single crew position. So, I think that's definitely important. We have a lot of different crew positions that make up a team of controllers and so I think it's important for us to shadow each crew position personally, so that we know what all of our teammates are doing, what their responsibilities are, what we can expect from them, what we cannot expect from them. So, I think that's important. But then also getting people more in the books, and the way to do that is maybe some short, interesting and engaging supplemental readings that are a few pages long. Supplemental videos can be very effective as well. There's a really good mission planning video that I showed during the instructor upgrade training program at my unit from a joint mission planning process perspective that [real world], didn't go so effective in the war in Afghanistan early on, and so we use that as kind of the lessons learned from that event as an emphasis on why mission planning is important and how to do it properly. So, I think there's just a ton of different avenues in which we can all more effectively teach, whether it's my community and the 13B community or any Air Force AFSC out there. At the end of my research proposal I simply ask us to all just stop and ask ourselves a simple question. Are we doing absolutely everything to the best of our ability when it comes to training our people? If the answer is well, I just slap up the PowerPoint that's been given for the last 10 years and call it a day. That's probably not the right answer, so I would just simply make the request that everybody ask themselves that question and then see where they can go from there and can we start implementing some of these different instructional strategies to really help our people learn to the most effective means possible. Dr. Megan Hennessey Captain Brad Kelly, thank you. I don't think we can end on a better note than that. Is there anything else you want to share with us before we sign off? Captain Brad Kelly I don't think so, I just want to thank you once again and, thank Air University for all the work you're doing. For years, as a K-12 education teacher, I went through all the PME, the commissioning source, as I was prior enlisted as well. So, I went through basic training and Airman Leadership School and then when I became an officer, I went through SOS a couple of years ago so I've always been wondering who are the brains behind the PME operation in terms of how content is delivered and how effective individuals are being trained throughout the PME and Air University channels. So again, it's finally nice to put a face with the name and I just want to thank you for all the work that you're doing. Thank you very much. Dr. Megan Hennessey Thanks Brad, we'll see you at ACSC. Captain Brad Kelly That's right, hopefully. Dr. Megan Hennessey OK. Thank you so much.