ALS goes virtual

  • Published
  • By Charles J. Haymond
  • 55th Wing/Public Affairs

The James M. McCoy Airmen Leadership School here was the first school of its kind to gain approval and complete a previously paused course completely online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

There are more than 60 ALS’ around the world which normally instruct their students on Enlisted Professional Military Education in-person, but with COVID-19 the instructors now have to teach strictly online.

“Adjusting how we deliver curriculum to fit the virtual environment while maintaining the intent and rigor,” said Master Sgt. Jody Bowles, 55th Force Support Squadron ALS commandant. “Being open to a radical change delivering instructor-led EPME online versus in-person.”

Before going virtual, the ALS had to gain approval from their program managers and curriculum team at the Thomas N. Barnes Center for enlisted education at Maxwell Air Force Base Gunter Annex, Alabama. This would allow them to finish their course and capstone.

“We were on a short time-table for completion, the instructors and I spent the few days we had going over every detail of all the remaining lessons,” Bowles said. “Things like guided discussion are fairly easy to translate to an online setting, facilitating an exercise with 16 flight members who are designated to play roles in a negotiation scenario carries significantly more difficulty."

Once receiving the consent to teach strictly online, the team went right into action to determine ways they can accomplish this task.

“We found a feature in our learning management system … and we began self-learning on how to use it, the features and how best to utilize it,” Bowles said. “To our advantage, it's built into (our system), so it comes at zero cost and is a very robust conferencing tool.”

The ALS team began to adjust exercises, feedback and presentations to an online setting. The team also held staff meetings on line which allowed them to become more familiar with the online infrastructure.

“We were able to include nine of the ten Guard and Reserve students who began class with us. The one who didn't was unable to leave his civilian job to finish the course.” Bowles said. “These students were from as close as Lincoln to as far away as Massachusetts.

Being able to include them with the rest of our local students is an absolute victory.”

The students at the ALS are now graded on how they communicate and respond in ten scenarios. The exercise evaluates these students in four areas: mission, leadership, problem solving and Air Force culture. The instructors would soon realize they would have to soon practice what they were preaching.

“These young leaders were asked to meet the mission needs of our wing, solve complicated problems and challenge EPME culture with their leadership,” Bowles said. “This is a testament to their commitment and belief in the principles that they are instilling in the Air Force's front-line supervisors and I could not be more proud to work for the team.”

With the success of the ALS going online, a few commandants from other bases are now reaching out to them so they can accomplish this feat at their respected schools.