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82nd TRW faculty development tests avatar-based counseling platform

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The 82nd Training Wing Faculty Development Flight is jumping on board the technology train to teach new technical training instructors an old technique in a tried-and-true, yet innovative way – simulation.

Airmen learn during professional military education such as Airman Leadership School and the NCO academy how to counsel young Airmen on everything from dress and appearance to customs and courtesy and a myriad of other topics that might catch the attention of their leadership. But that form of counseling doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the type of counseling needed to help technical training students be successful in learning their craft.

Danny Taylor, chief of the faculty development training development element, said the traditional set-up for Basic Instructor Course students to learn the concepts of academic counseling was accomplished through lecture and then peer-to-peer sessions in which the participants would take turns role playing the instructor-student interaction. The effectiveness of the technique was lacking, he said, because the BIC students were too familiar with one another, making it difficult to reach the end goal.

BIC students are provided an overview of the technology they are about to experience during the roughly 10-minute simulation scenario, which can range in topics from suicide and depression to purposefully failing and mental aptitude. The system uses artificial intelligence and live inhibitors injected by a simulation specialist at another location.

While the sessions are meant to be realistic, the student is in control of the session as he or she can pause and resume the simulation as needed and end the training once objectives are met.

VIDEO | 01:39 | 82d TRW Faculty Development employs avatar-based counseling training tool
The private sector has been using an avatar-based training module to teach counseling methods in a variety of settings and career fields, which has proved to be more effective, Taylor said. With the use of software, a monitor and webcam, students were able to interact with a behind-the-scenes simulated person who was being counseled.

“It puts it in a safe place,” he said. “The avatar is going to challenge them, to throw things out there. If there is a multi-faceted issue going on, it’s going to challenge them to get to both parts. It’s going to keep going until they come to a resolution or until the instructor in the classroom decides that the student has reached the mark.”

Taylor said a number of factors could lead to a technical training student not performing well in their studies and hands-on practicums. He said it takes a good understanding of academic counseling to drill down to the root cause of the performance issue. The BIC goal is to help new instructors see the difference in approaches in regards to instructor and supervisor roles.

 Jeremie Canaday, faculty development chief, said most new instructors going through BIC are coming straight from the field or operational Air Force, where their idea of counseling is discipline and “tough love.” The avatar-based teaching method, or immersive counseling simulation, teaches them how to be more empathetic toward the Airman and use interpersonal skills to help them.

“That’s our goal; to get them to switch that mindset from a being a discipline-type counselor to an empathetic mentoring-type counselor,” he said.

Two BIC groups have used the simulation trainer as part of an early test bed to gauge whether or not students are using the counseling methods taught throughout the course. Early indications showed the participants had to pay closer attention to what the avatar was saying as well as read body language during the session.

After each counseling session round, time was blocked off for BIC instructors and students to provide feedback on the technology as well as the performance of the student. The faculty development leaders said they have been impressed by the technology and results thus far as BIC students have performed better in the simulated counseling sessions, and the time it takes to teach the counseling portion of the course has been reduced.

The hope is to continue the avatar-based counseling training for the 52 BIC classes scheduled in Fiscal Year 2020. Each class has 12 students.