When the pandemic shut down in-person activities in mid-March, the Fort Belvoir-based Army Force Management School quickly adjusted to meet their students’ needs.
This was no small order since leaders, Soldiers and civilians Army-wide come from all over the world to attend AFMS to learn in-depth force management processes and procedures. In fact, two classes were halfway through their curriculum when everything came to a halt.
In response, AFMS went virtual, relying first on Zoom and then WebEx and finally a government program called the Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) across the Department of Defense that proved to be extremely effective in connecting students with the instructors.
As of November 12, 33 classes have been conducted virtually (ranging three days to nine weeks in duration.)
“The COVID crisis has forced us (AFMS) to review and reconstruct our teaching methods so that we can effectively educate these complex processes through the virtual media,” said Col. George Lewis, AFMS Commandant.
Even though the environment changed, the mission remained the same for AFMS.
“The need to have a trained and educated corps of individuals who truly understand how the Army runs did not go away when COVID hit,” Lewis said. “In fact, it became more important as changes to the Army’s force structure continued to evolve and the staffs that are responsible for instituting these changes were not always able to effectively collaborate due to social distancing requirements. “
AFMS was established in June 1994 as a way to “provide the Army with the means of providing a professional, educated and trained workforce in order to execute force management activities,” according to its brochure. AFMS is located at Fort Belvoir because of its proximity to the Pentagon.
The switch in presentation had an upside in terms of finances. With AFMS unable to host in-person instruction, Lewis said the Army has saved over $2 million in travel funds.
Typically each class is taught by one instructor. But for virtual purposes, classes have one primary instructor and one secondary one who moderates the chat room. To meet the needs, AFMS reallocates its instructor pool.
In one way, the virtual set-up benefits those leaders who can remain at home and help with family responsibilities instead of being away for a length of time.
In some cases, that requires students to attend classes at odd hours of the day depending on where they live. All courses are taught on Eastern Standard Time. But the tradeoff is worth it. Students receive a wealth of educational training materials and can continue to access resources long after they leave the course. They also have the ability to reach back to the faculty with any questions they may have once they get in the field.
Lewis was concerned at first whether the lack of in-person connection would impact interest in the courses offered. But signups have remained steady. Each class allows for a maximum of 48 students. Some classes are as small as 15 students.
“Student interaction is a critical multiplier when it comes to learning. Students often learn much from their peer-to-peer engagements,” Lewis said. “We are able to accomplish this through open chat on our online platform. This allows students to ask questions (without interrupting the instructor) and allows students to engage in chat pertaining to that question.”